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I'm a bit confused as to the ordering of events leading to Sauron's demise at the end of the second age.

From the Silmarillion it appears that Sauron was hewn down by Gil-galad and Elendil, and afterwards the Ring was cut from his dead body's finger by Isildur. Is this the correct order of events? Or was Sauron weakened by Gil-galad and Elendil and then Isildur cut the ring from his living body causing it to be destroyed?

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    i would take the word of the silmarillion over what is shown in the movies, and the scene with isildur cutting off saurons fingure i believe is only found in the movies. – Himarm Oct 30 '14 at 13:46
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    @Himarm I do not mean to contrast the movies with the books. I'm asking about clarification regarding what is written within the books. I can edit this question if it's unclear what I'm asking. Please let me know if that would be helpful. – a_a Oct 30 '14 at 13:56
  • @Himarm - I'm fairly sure Isildur cut the ring from Sauron's finger in the books too. I don't have them to hand, but check the bit in tFotR where Gandalf tells Frodo about the Ring's history. – Rand al'Thor Oct 30 '14 at 14:32
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    im not arguing that, from the movie, sauron messes everyone up and isildur accidently cuts the ring off and destroys sauron. that is what didnt happen, it downplays what i imagine was an epic battle between sauron gal-galad and elendil, in which after they hurt sauron enough that he is as the quote below says thrown down, isildur walks up and cuts the ring off. – Himarm Oct 30 '14 at 14:37
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    When I first read the title of the question I was confused, because I had always thought Sauron's body perished when Numenor sank, but it is of course clear from the body of the question, that we are talking about the shape he managed to take afterwards... which arguably was probably at least partly manifested by the power of the ring, so when he was weakened and lost it, when Isildur cut it off, he literally couldn't hold it together... – BMWurm Dec 11 '14 at 21:05
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You're correct; the order of events based on the published texts is unclear.

In Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age we read the following words of Isildur:

This I will have as were-gild for my fathers death, and my brothers. Was it not I that dealt the Enemy his death-blow?

This is absolutely unambiguous; according to this text it was Isildur who killed Sauron. Yet, in the Fellowship of the Ring we read a different story:

It was Gil-galad, Elven-king and Elendil of Westernesse who overthrew Sauron, though they themselves perished in the deed; and Isildur Elendil's son cut the Ring from Sauron's hand and took it for his own.

This suggests that Sauron was killed by Gil-galad and Elendil, and that it was only after that that Isildur cut the Ring off.

Ultimately it seems as though we must accept that this was an event from very ancient history (over 3000 years before the Fellowship formed) and that, while there were people around who remembered it (specifically Elrond, who was there) the event itself is clouded by conflicting accounts.

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    The "ancient history" bit is actually a plot point: almost nobody remembers what happened, and actual first-hand recordings of the event are only stored in some old books in Gondor's library. Even Gandalf doesn't initially know the full story and has to research it for a while, which is the reason he only manages to warn Frodo of the Ring's danger when the Nazgûl are already coming for him. – Massimo Oct 31 '14 at 7:08
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    Perhaps Isildur is an unreliable narrator? – user11521 Oct 31 '14 at 20:32
  • My take on this: Sauron was incapacitated by Gil-Galad and Elendil, but he would have recovered fairly quickly if Isildur hadn't cut off his finger and taken the Ring. So Gil-galad and Elendil put him down, Isildur made sure he stayed down (for the foreseeable future). – Wad Cheber Jun 11 '15 at 22:02
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According to The Silmarillion, Sauron was weakened after killing Gil-Galad and Elendil. That allowed Isildur to make the "Coup de Grace" of cutting off the Ring.

Peter Jackson's version is actually pretty close to what Tolkien wrote.

Here's the relevant passage from The Silmarillion:

Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age:

Then Gil-galad and Elendil passed into Mordor and encompassed the stronghold of Sauron; and they laid siege to it for seven years, and suffered grievous loss by fire and by the darts and bolts of the Enemy, and Sauron sent many sorties against them. There in the valley of Gorgoroth Anárion son of Elendil was slain, and many others. But at the last the siege was so strait that Sauron himself came forth; and he wrestled with Gil-galad and Elendil, and they both were slain, and the sword of Elendil broke under him as he fell. But Sauron also was thrown down, and with the hilt-shard of Narsil Isildur cut the Ruling Ring from the hand of Sauron and took it for his own. Then Sauron was for that time vanquished, and he forsook his body, and his spirit fled far away and hid in waste places; and he took no visible shape again for many long years.

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    so while vague i think we can assume that while killing gil-galad and elendil, he had either amassed many wounds or and used a great portion of his physical strength that he was incapacitated, so isildur was able to walk up and cut the ring off of sauron at which point his hope of recovery in that body was nil, so his spirit left it. – Himarm Oct 30 '14 at 14:18
  • That's how I read it, anyway. – Joe L. Oct 30 '14 at 14:22
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    It definitely sounds like it's more of a matter of win by attrition - they fought so long and so hard and lost so many that eventually Sauron himself came out as a last ditch effort, and it took the lives of major heroes to finally pull him down to human level - and there, pulled into the mud and filth, he could finally be dispatched. While poetic, I can definitely see why Jackson re-imagined it as less of a "execute helpless monster" and "glorious final strike of victory". The original indicates more that lesser man could be victorious only because greater beings and heroes perished. Grim. – BrianH Oct 30 '14 at 15:30
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    It basically sounds like, as a Maia, Sauron was defeated after Elendil and Gil-Galad fought him, and he simply didn't abandon his body until the Ring was taken because he knew there was no point in hanging around. Death doesn't exactly mean the same thing for him - even after LotR he's still "alive", just reduced to a shadow of malice. – Shamshiel Oct 31 '14 at 2:54
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    The beginning of the Silmarillion also states, that all Valar have no physical form per sé. They are able to adopt a form at whim, usually something they identify with. The reason why Sauron has a problem regaining a form is, that he took a considerable blow at his first "death" during the fall of Numenor, when his then-body dropped in a chasm of lava. From that moment on, it cost him a lot more to maintain body, and could only still produce one because through the ring, part of him was indestructible. Without the ring, he could no longer hold on to his current body. – Arne Oct 31 '14 at 4:56
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I can answer your question at least partially, but I don't think the complete sequence of events is ever described in detail in book-canon.

The first time we hear about what happened (In publication order) is in Fellowship, during the Council of Elrond. Elrond, who participated in the battle and saw a lot of this first-hand, recounts it like this:

Gil-Galad died, and Elendil fell, and Narsil broke beneath him; but Sauron himself was overthrown, and Isildur cut the Ring from his hand with the hilt-shard of his father's sword.

So we know that Sauron survived Gil-Galad and Elendil. What's not clear, however, is who exactly killed Sauron. If we take Elrond's statement to be a literal sequence, then I would guess that Elendil struck Sauron down but died in the attempt, and all Isildur had to do was cut off the ring to render him completely powerless.

This is (in)famously not the interpretation favoured by Peter Jackson, who in the prologue to the Fellowship movie has Sauron kill Elendil handily, and then Isildur gets lucky and cuts off the Ring, defeating Sauron. Personally this is the interpretation I favour as well, because it's more consistent with how much everyone fears Sauron getting the Ring back; they don't treat that eventuality as "We could stop him again, it would just suck and kill a load of people", they treat it as "Game Over".

Unfortunately I don't have access to my copy of The Silmarillion at the moment, so I can't directly address how that one reads.

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    I don't think they got lucky, but at the end of the Second Age, it took the combined strength of Arnor, Gondor, and the Eldar in Middle-Earth to prevail. By the end of the Third Age, Arnor was no more, Gondor was a shell of its former strengh, the Eldar were greatly diminished (both in number and "vitality"), and there was nowhere near the trust and friendship between Men and Elves that existed at the time of the Last Alliance. – chepner Oct 30 '14 at 16:57
  • @chepner That remark was specifically referring to the movie. Watching the scene, Isildur gets absolutely curb-stomped by Sauron. He only manages to cut off the Ring because Sauron inexplicably decides to reach out to him slooowly, instead of using his murder-mace. Regardless of how Isildur managed to win, I do agree that the consequences were dramatic and wide-reaching – Jason Baker Oct 30 '14 at 16:58
  • @JasonBaker Sauron's a classic bad guy. He deliberately drew out that murder strike because he wanted Isildur to have plenty of time to despair at the impending death of everything he fought for. – Shadur Nov 1 '14 at 19:54
  • @Shadur Which turned out to be a brilliant decision, although I suppose that was kind of the point; defeated by his own arrogance and false sense of invulnerability – Jason Baker Nov 1 '14 at 22:45
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There is no ambiguity. Tolkien was not one to be sloppy with words. "Thrown down" and "overthrown" are synonyms for each other. They are not synonyms for "killed." Elendil and Gilgalad were the ones who "threw down"/"overthrew" Sauron. He was beaten, defeated, knocked to the ground and -- temporarily -- unable to get up or defend himself. He was not dead, though, and the Ring would have healed him. But he was vulnerable. Even in that state, Sauron was still terrifying, and there was no way to know how long Sauron would remain vulnerable, so let's give Isildur his due. Isildur seized the opportunity. He had the courage to approach the monster, and the wits to realize that cutting off the Ring would be Sauron's deathblow.

But of course, it wasn't really Sauron's deathblow, as long as the Ring still existed. Isildur had to have known that what Elrond said was true. That's what makes Isildur's fall so tragic. He basically said, "Sauron won't recover from this until I'm looong gone, so what do I care? I'm keeping the Ring to help me in the here and now." (That was his attitude. It's not a quote.)

So, to answer the OP's question: Sauron's body was destroyed, in the sense of being broken and "cast down," by Gilgalad and Elendil BEFORE the Ring was taken from Sauron. HOWEVER, it was the removal of the Ring by Isildur that prevented Sauron from using the Ring to heal his broken body, causing Sauron to "forsake" the useless body. I like to think that it fell to ash, like in Jackson's movie, but that's not canon.

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Firstly, Sauron did not die, ever. He is neither an elf nor a mortal, rather he is a Maya, sort of the equivalent of a Greek lesser God. Even when Frodo finally destroyed the Ring, Sauron still lived.

Sauron has however seemed to perish before by going to the Abyss when Numenor fell and then coming back, though less powerful than before. As Gandalf described it (paraphrasing), once the Ring were destroyed, Sauron would be reduced to a shadow gnawing at itself in the dark. Dead to this world for all intents and purposes, but not technically.

So if it is a question of what happens to Sauron's physical form once he wrestled with Gil-Galad and Elendil and had his finger cut by Isildur, there is nothing that Tolkien wrote that goes to specifics as to whether his body remained intact, conscious, turned to ash or what.

One thing that is stated in the FOTR is that Gollum after having been captured and personally tortured by Sauron described him as having nine fingers. This suggests that the physical act of Isildur cutting Sauron's finger had a lasting effect. So either Sauron's body remained somewhat intact (conscious or otherwise) or was disintegrated and then reconstituted with a missing finger.

As Gandalf is also a Maya, (but of a lesser order to Sauron according to his own words), Gandalf had fallen in battle against the Balrog, but was somehow brought back to life. Again it's not made clear whether Gandalf's body maintained a physical presence through the process, or if Gandalf was temporarily non-corporeal. I personally imagined the former and feel the same is true for Sauron.

  • Do you have a source for Gollum's description of Sauron? I've never heard that before but it's interesting – Jason Baker Dec 12 '14 at 2:25
  • @jasonbaker it's in the Lord of the Rings 'He has only four on the Black Hand, but they are enough.' (The Black Gate opens) – user46509 Jan 13 '16 at 19:15

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