39

As I have mentioned before, I am only reading the LotR books for the first time right now, and I am only halfway through the second book at the moment, so my knowledge of the third book is based primarily on what I saw in the movies.

Until recently, when I watched the "Crack of Doom" scene (where Frodo enters the volcano in Mordor, ostensibly to destroy the Ring), this is how I always understood what was happening:

It has never occurred to Sauron that anyone would willingly destroy the Ring - this is simply inconceivable to him. Sauron is distracted by the battle. Frodo puts the Ring on, Sauron instantly becomes aware of him (and where he is), realizes that Frodo intends (or until recently intended) to destroy the Ring. Sauron's eye is immediately drawn to Mount Doom, and he is freaking out because he is perilously close to being annihilated. He recalls the Nazgul (at least those of them who haven't been killed by Eowyn or had their fell beasts killed by the Eagles) to Mordor, hoping against hope that they will be able to prevent the Ring from being destroyed by accident or by design. They won't arrive for some time (they are fast, but it will take them some time to cover the 50-100 miles from the Gate to the volcano). They don't get there soon enough, and Sauron has to watch helplessly as Frodo fights with Gollum, and eventually, Gollum ends up swimming in the lava.

But now that I'm reading the books, and reading some questions and answers on this site, I realize that I may have been mistaken. Now I wonder if I was right about what is happening in the movie, but the movie diverges from the books here, or if the movie is faithful to the book here and I have been misinterpreting the movie itself. [*See note 1 below]

  • Did Sauron fear that Frodo was planning to destroy the Ring or was he freaking out because he was worried that the Ring would accidentally end up in the lava?

  • Did he even realize that Frodo's original intention was to destroy the Ring? For that matter, does he even know that the lava is capable of destroying the Ring?


[Note 1: Specifically, until I read Richard's excellent answer, I was starting to think that even when Frodo dons the Ring inside volcano, Sauron isn't necessarily worried that he will destroy the Ring (either by accident or by design). Maybe Sauron isn't worried about anything - maybe he's actually happy because he finally knows where the Ring is and he thinks that all he has to do is send his Nazgul to retrieve it. Maybe it still hasn't occurred to him that Frodo had intended to destroy the Ring. Or maybe he realizes that Frodo HAD intended to destroy it, but he knows that Frodo, like everyone before him, has finally fallen under the Ring's spell, albeit at the last possible second. Maybe he doesn't feel any particular sense of urgency, and is simply eager to reclaim his beloved Ring. Or maybe he feels a sense of urgency only because he realizes that someone might accidentally drop the Ring into the lava, or fall into the lava with the Ring (this fear would be a well founded one, since this is precisely what happens).]

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    Regarding whether Sauron knew the ring could be destroyed at Mt. Doom: yes. Sauron had a hand in making every great ring except the 3 elf-rings, and he himself made the one ring at Mt. Doom. Nobody in Middle-earth would have known more about either the ring or the mountain. – Michael Shaw May 16 '15 at 14:30
  • @WadCheber - Yes, indeed Gollum saved the world, and it's another exemple of Illuvatar's hand in things. – Joel May 16 '15 at 20:37
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    @Joel - considering the facts that: 1. Gollum's evil deeds (the ones we know about, at any rate) were all the result of the corruptive effects of the Ring; 2. He suffered terribly as a result; and 3. He saved the world (albeit inadvertently), do you personally believe Eru would reward Gollum for the hardship he endured in order to fulfill his role in Eru's plans? He should be forgiven at the very least, and really deserves a substantial reward, as I see it. – Wad Cheber May 16 '15 at 20:43
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    @WadCheber - You're absolutely right. Same thing for Melkor, who has been given the worst rôle in the series. Yesterday I was thinking about the discussions we have, and it made me realize that what I love about Tolkien's world is the landscape, the ambiance and that feeling of being able to discover hidden closets in a really beautiful big house. The stories are not really important to me. They are almost always impossible and hang on by a tread. The Silmarillion is full of this too, worst I would say. I just can't imagine how many questions you will have when you read that !!! lol ! – Joel May 16 '15 at 20:49
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    The final part of your question is a dupe; scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/60387/…. I'm gonna roll back to the previous version rather than flagging for closure. – Valorum May 17 '15 at 10:28
86

I think it's fair to say that when Frodo put on the ring in the novel, Sauron was (in order of events);

  • Panicked (what the hell!?)
  • Scared that the Ring is in such a vulnerable position (indicating that he knows that it's somewhere that it can be destroyed)
  • Angry (at instantly realising that everything his enemies have been up to has been an elaborate ruse)
  • Instantly consumed by longing for the ring, to the exclusion of everything else (My precious!!!)

And far away, as Frodo put on the Ring and claimed it for his own, even in Sammath Naur the very heart of his realm, the Power in Barad-dûr was shaken, and the Tower trembled from its foundations to its proud and bitter crown. 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. Then his wrath blazed in consuming flame, but his fear rose like a vast black smoke to choke him. For he knew his deadly peril and the thread upon which his doom now hung. From all his policies and webs of fear and treachery, from all his stratagems and wars his mind shook free; and throughout his realm a tremor ran, his slaves quailed, and his armies halted, and his captains suddenly steerless, bereft of will, wavered and despaired. For they were forgotten. The whole mind and purpose of the Power that wielded them was now bent with overwhelming force upon the Mountain

The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of the Lord of the Rings

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    +1. This shows that scenario 1 is at least involved at the beginning: Sauron is engulfed in the fear, borne out of his realisation of the Fellowship’s plan, that the Ring is going to be destroyed. It's not just “Oh, there's my ring, brilliant! Hey Wraithy boys, go get it for me”. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 16 '15 at 9:17
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    @JanusBahsJacquet - Yes, and it's more a question of suddenly realising that it's in the one place he quite literally never expected to find it. – Valorum May 16 '15 at 17:07
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    A next-level elaborate ruse: numerous books and countless addendums just for an elaborate ruse. – Nit May 17 '15 at 0:43
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    I get goosebumps every time I read this paragraph. Great answer. – molnarm May 17 '15 at 8:28
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    @WadCheber - I'd say yes. He realises that he's been duped. Not only has he been duped, but he's been duped for months. He thought he was being ever so clever then, in a shining moment of clarity (just before his death) he finds himself laid bare and helpless even to stop two hobbits having a fight at the very heart of his kingdom. – Valorum May 17 '15 at 11:04
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Richard's answer was great, but I think there is a little more here as well. "Will" is a powerful force in Tolkien's world. The novels and Silmarillion talk about when Sauron was making the ring he put his will and power into the ring. When it was lost, and his power regained, he cast his entire will out to bring it back to him.

"And much of the strength and will of Sauron passed into that One Ring; for the power of the Elven-rings was very great, and that which should govern them must be a thing of surpassing potency; and Sauron forged it in the Mountain of Fire in the Land of Shadow. And while he wore the One Ring he could perceive all the things that were done by means of the lesser rings, and he could see and govern the very thoughts of those that wore them." [The Silmarillion]

Up until the point in Mt. Doom, Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam had worn the ring, but not with the intent of controlling or commanding it or others, but pretty much for it's side effect of making them invisible to normal beings. At Mt. Doom, Frodo claimed the ring.

‘I have come,’ [Frodo] said. ‘But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!’ And suddenly, as he set it on his finger, he vanished from Sam’s sight.

His will was cast to controlling it and having it's power. Because of what the ring was, this made all the difference in the world.

Sauron also never expected it to be in Mordor. As Gandalf said at the Council of Elrond:

"Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning."

And once Sauron realized that it was at Mt. Doom, he freaked out. Because that was where he made the ring, and was the only place it could be destroyed.

I think that Tolkien weaved such a complex story around the ring, that in that moment it was brought to fruition; the weight of the entire story was brought down upon that moment. It brought together The Hobbit, and all of LOTR. I remember reading that part in the book the first time (pre-movies), and the suspense was so intense. Gollum, and Frodo, and Sam at the mountain... it was an incredible scene. One of the best of all time.

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    "...Thus, this is the first time he says - or even thinks - "The Ring is MINE". It might help to add the unspoken implication of his claim here: He is really saying "The Ring is mine, NOT SAURON'S!"." – Wad Cheber May 17 '15 at 2:30
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    @WadCheber There was a point when I believed it was proximity to Sauron... that because Frodo was geographically near Sauron. But I realized that fell apart because Sam wore the ring in Mordor when he went to find Frodo after Shelob stung him. Geographically, I believe they were actually nearer to Dol Guldor at that point. I am saying that, yes, it is for sure that Frodo claimed it that made the difference. – jwatts1980 May 17 '15 at 2:48
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    It must be a combination of both, now that I think about it. As I mentioned in note 2 of my question, Bibo claims the Ring as his own (probably for the first time) just after his farewell party. He says the same exact words as Frodo, IIRC - "The Ring is MINE!". But Sauron doesn't become aware of him as far as we know, presumably because Bilbo doesn't put the Ring on after claiming it. I don't think he even touches it, except to put it in the envelope. – Wad Cheber May 17 '15 at 2:56
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    @WadCheber Hmm, no I think that the issue there is timing. Sauron was not yet powerful enough to send out his will to find the ring. At that time period, he was, at best, still trying to build a foundation on which he could begin to search for the ring. – jwatts1980 May 17 '15 at 3:05
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    @WadCheber Despite the very entertaining wizard fight in Hobbit 3, where Sauron disguised as the necromancer was big and powerful and was commanding an army of orcs, I don't think any of that holds true to the novels. At the point of The Hobbit, the best he could do was to begin to turn Mirkwood Forest into a seedy place. If he would have been able to command the ring wraiths by that point in the chronology, it seems to me that he would've had the ring in no time. – jwatts1980 May 17 '15 at 3:09
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Tolkein purposefully placed Sauron above and beyond analyzation of this sort (or at least on this level of detail) by making him a demi-god-like character from elder days long gone (and so should he have been were it not for the ring). This is what makes it work so well.

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    This does not seem to square well with the rather detailed description given in Richard's direct quote from the book. – Nathan Tuggy May 16 '15 at 21:58
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    +1 for answering, but the book clearly describes what Sauron is thinking in the passage Richard quotes, which contradicts your argument. – Wad Cheber May 16 '15 at 22:46

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