I am aware that the "Eye of Sauron" in Peter Jackson's movies was not Sauron's actual physical form.

What the answers at 'Was the "Eye of Sauron" Sauron's actual physical form?' don't indicate is, despite this, what abilities of vision Sauron may have had. Did he have the ability to see from afar? If so, what are his limitations or details of this power? Is it some kind of Elvish-sight like Legolas but stronger? Was it a magical power? Or perhaps with the help of the Palantir (I'm not sure of this last one because I dont remember if the Palantir could only see what other Palantíri were seeing or anything he wanted)?

  • But I don't want to know that, I KNOW he wasn't the eye, he had a physical form in the events of the war of the ring, what I want to know is how was he able to see from afar? or better, if he was even able to see from afar? is there even a proof of this in the books? – IamVeryCuriousIndeed Jun 8 '14 at 3:40
  • I've edited this question to clarify that it's not a duplicate. @OP: if this changes your intent, please feel free to roll back. – user8719 Jun 8 '14 at 10:26
  • Since @JimmyShelter has edited the question, it's clear in my opinion that it's not precisely a duplicate. The question is asking for new information (about Sauron's powers, not about his physical form) which I don't see in any current question. I think it should be re-opened. – Matt Gutting Jun 12 '14 at 1:45

We don't get much of anything in the Lord of the Rings about Sauron's actual physical form, but there's nothing to my mind that suggests this is anything like the keen sight of Legolas.

Remember that Sauron, being a Maia, probably had powers (as for example Melian did in the First Age) which extended beyond the purely physical. Melian's abilities allowed her to ward strangers off from a distance (creating the Girdle of Melian around the forest of Doriath); Sauron seems to have been able, perhaps not to literally see but to understand and detect events at a distance.

There are a few times we see Sauron's sight; the first is at the end of The Fellowship Of The Ring:

And suddenly he felt the Eye. There was an eye in the Dark Tower that did not sleep. He knew that it had become aware of his gaze. A fierce eager will was there. It leaped towards him; almost like a finger he felt it, searching for him. Very soon it would nail him down, know just exactly where he was.

Here this seems to be much more a presence or a "will" that Frodo feels. Sauron doesn't appear to know where he is exactly, but can focus his will on the general area where he feels Frodo's (magically-enhanced) gaze coming from. The encounter with Sauron is described in terms of touch as much as in terms of sight.

The other times I can remember any sort of encounter with Sauron are in the Return of the King.

One moment only it stared out, but as from some great window immeasurably high there stabbed northward a flame of red, the flicker of a piercing Eye; and then the shadows were furled again and the terrible vision was removed. The Eye was not turned to them: it was gazing north to where the Captains of the West stood at bay, and thither all its malice was now bent, as the Power moved to strike its deadly blow; but Frodo at that dreadful glimpse fell as one stricken mortally. His hand sought the chain about his neck.

This is the closest we ever get to seeing something like what Peter Jackson had in the movies. Note, though, that Eye is capitalized. We're not talking, it seems, about Sauron's literal eye; perhaps about some manifestation of his searching presence - a great evil, which nearly strikes down Frodo.

We see this sort of manifestation once more when Frodo claims the ring:

The Dark Lord was suddenly aware of him, and his Eye piercing all shadows looked across the plain to the door that he had made; and the magnitude of his own folly was revealed to him in a blinding flash, and all the devices of his enemies were at last laid bare.

Again, this seems to be not physical sight but some sort of physical or somewhat physical manifestation of a strong will searching for something.

Sauron certainly did have, and use, a palantir at Barad-dur; but we see little evidence of him actually using it; his encounters with Pippin or Aragorn are the only time I can see that. He may or may not have directly encountered Denethor as Denethor was using the palantir of Minas Tirith; certainly he realized what Denethor was doing. But I don't think that most of his knowledge of events far away was gained that way. The palantir could give views of places in general, without needing to communicate with other stones, but this would have been inconvenient, as Sauron would have had to walk around the stone to look in different directions.

  • 1
    Gollum also mentions to Frodo that the Dark Lord only has Four fingers on his hand - which implies that Gollum has seen a physical form of Sauron – Steven Wood Sep 23 '14 at 14:30
  • @StevenWood Perhaps; though there were enough stories around about Sauron and his overthrow that perhaps Gollum sourced his information from there. – Matt Gutting Sep 23 '14 at 15:44
  • The "blinding flash" at the end there appears to indicate that at the moment Frodo claimed the ring, Sauron was instantly aware of everything Frodo knew via a direct connection. No powers of sight required. – OrangeDog Jul 12 '18 at 11:08

There is another hint from Silmarillion, after taking over Tol Sirion and it's fortress Sauron turned it into watch-tower for Morgoth:

"No living creature could pass through that vale that Sauron did not espy from the tower where he sat."

At that time Sauron had no palantir or other device at his disposal, so we must assume that it was his own ability. Also in Unfinished Tales we are told that while Sauron indeed used the Ithil Stone he could not look into it all the time:

"It must also be considered that the Stones were only a small item in Sauron's vast designs and operations: a means of dominating and deluding two of his opponents, but he would not (and could not) have the Ithil-stone under perpetual observation. It was not his way to commit such instruments to the use of subordinates; nor had he any servant whose mental power were superior to Saruman's or even Denethor's."

As we know Elves (and to some extent the Numenoreans at least when they still lived in Numenor, as it is said that the most far-sighted could see from peak of Meneltarma glimpse of Tol Eressea's haven) have 'supersight', capable of seeing things in clarity from miles away (Legolas saw well from distance of about 15 miles/5 leagues) so it's not that big stretch that Ainur, the divine beings, could in their physical form also possess such acute senses, or maybe even better.

If to assume that elven eyesight is rather effect of their spirits mastering the body to far greater extent than in case of mortals rather than some physical/anatomical aspect of their bodies, then Ainur would have far better senses because their spirits are much stronger.

Of course there is also matter of so called 'mind-sight' (in one of Tolkien texts such term appears) which would be form of extrasensory perception, in a world where telepathy if a confirmed fact it's only natural issue :) :). There is also reference to Morgoth ''seeing in the eyes of his mind'' aside from gathering news from his spies and servants.

Regardless of the look of physical form of Sauron, he surely had eyes:

"There he took up again his great Ring in Barad-dûr, and dwelt there, dark and silent, until he wrought himself a new guise, an image of malice and hatred made visible; and the Eye of Sauron the Terrible few could endure." Akallabeth, Silmarillion

"There now he brooded in the dark, until he had wrought for himself a new shape; and it was terrible, for his fair semblence had departed forever when he was cast into the abyss at the drowning of Númenor. He took up again the great Ring and clothed himself in power; and the malice of the Eye of Sauron few even of the great among Elves and Men could endure." Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, Silmarillion

This ability of far sight is to certain extent 'magical', and in addition quite effective. If to believe Gollum, who had doubtful 'honor' of being in the presence of Sauron :), Sauron's ability allows him to oversee borders of his own realm, which is quite vast. It's quite a distance straight from Barad-dur. Of course there are limitations:

"His Eye is all round, but it attends more to some places than to others. He can't see everything all at once, not yet." (interestingly here it might be implied that the One Ring would enhance Sauron's ability in this regard).


I suppose it's is worth noting that we know Sauron is Maia only since release of "Silmarillion". Before that true nature of Sauron in Lord of the Rings is unclear and even Tolkien himself considered Sauron at that time as "powerfull Eldar".

  • Untrue; the nature of Sauron was always intended; see scifi.stackexchange.com/a/47768/8719 for more. – user8719 Jul 2 '14 at 23:10
  • In addition, The Silmarillion as published in 1978 (?) was mostly, if not entirely, written before The Lord Of The Rings. – Matt Gutting Jul 3 '14 at 1:44
  • As I said since RELEASE of Silmarillion :) And I don't recognize any passage in LOTR (however only read polish translation) that describes Sauron as Maia. Jimmy Shelter - I would disagree but cannot remember now the source to cite :( – Sebastian Jul 3 '14 at 14:03
  • @Sebastian - I didn't know anything about aniur or maiar when I read the lord of the rings but I definitely got the impression from the appendix that the wizards were messengers from the Valar - whatever the Valar were beside guardians of the world - who came to Middle-earth 2,000 years earlier and kept their true identity secret, and that Frodo believed that Saruman was of a high and holy nature. The similarity in the deaths of Sauron and Saruman indicated that they were members of the same "species" of beings. – M. A. Golding Feb 13 '18 at 17:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.