Lord of the Rings: The Eye of Sauron Explained
The Red Eye, the Evil Eye, the Lidless Eye, the Great Eye, the Eye of Barad-dûr, or the Eye of Sauron. No matter the multitude and multiplicity of its names, one question towers above all the rest: What is it?
The answer might not be as direct as you’d imagine. The Lord of the Rings story is full of rich lore, symbolism, and quite a bit of speculation. While the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings film trilogy depicts the Eye of Sauron as a big flaming and floating fiery eyeball, that appears to be only one interpretation of many. Let’s explore the mystery surrounding this fearsome extension of Sauron.
The history of Sauron reaches back before even the first age. The Silmarillion describes the origins of all beings, even beyond Middle-earth. It explains how the supreme being, Eru Ilúvitar, created immortal angel-like creatures named the Ainur. The Ainur then went into the world to sing its forms and creatures into creation were called the Valar. The lesser Valar were called the Maiar, and though they were also Ainur, immortal and powerful, they had a greater connection with the physical world. Sauron was one of the first Maiar, and even beheld Eru Ilúvitar directly. He was powerful. And when his master, Morgoth, betrayed the Valar and Eru Ilúvitar and became the Dark Lord, Sauron was standing by his side.
When Morgoth fell, Sauron claimed the title of Dark Lord for himself. He hid in Middle-earth, planning to use his powers and influence to rule the entire realm. As a shapeshifter, he could infiltrate any peoples and influence their leaders. He influenced the Elves, he influenced the corruptible minds of Men, and fought to claim the land all for himself.
During the Second Age, Sauron built the fortress of Barad-dúr. It was in the land of Mordor, near the volcano known as Mount Doom, and was created using the magic of the One Ring. So long as the One Ring remained, Barad-dúr could not fall. It was Sauron’s stronghold, and his base of operations. It was a place of dark magic, and close enough to Mount Doom should Sauron ever desire to forge more artifacts.
It was there, in Barad-dúr, that Sauron looked out over the lands and planned his return to power. He created armies of Orcs. Those Orcs bore the symbol of Sauron’s Eye on their armor and flags, representing the idea he saw everything in Middle-earth. He wasn’t truly omnipotent, but his great power allowed him knowledge of many things within the realm. Sauron insisted that the Orcs refer to him as the “Eye” because he did not allow his name to be written or spoken. So when the novels describe the “Eye,” it very well may be a description of Sauron himself.
When Frodo sees a vision of the Eye in the Mirror of Galadriel, the text says that, “The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat’s, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing.”
This appears to describe a real physical eye with a terrible stare. The films insist that Sauron is too weak to take a physical form, and imply that he can only serve as watchful eye over Mordor. And yet, in the novels, though the readers never meet him personally, it seems that Sauron does have a body. In fact, Gollum describes his body to Gandalf, remarking that Sauron has four fingers. This makes sense, since Isildur cut off the finger that once held the One Ring.
While he may not have been powerful enough to fight on the battlefield, the novels implies that he does in fact have a body. This would indicate that Frodo’s vision of the Eye of Sauron could simply be the imposing stare of the Dark Lord himself. And perhaps, the full implications are that the Eye of Sauron is more symbolic than physical.
Once again, though the Eye of Sauron watched over Mordor like a sinister lighthouse in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, the Eye of Sauron was likely more symbolic. Was there ever a flaming eye over the fortress of Barad-dúr? Perhaps. Sauron was a shapeshifter, capable of looking like any elf, human, or even creatures like wolves and bats. Though it’s unclear if he could have used his shapeshifting powers to turn into a flaming eye.
More likely, the Eye of Sauron represented the Dark Lord’s influence. The readers or audience could interpret the Eye in nearly the same exact way as the Orcs who wore its symbol. It was a physical manifestation of the looming threat of Sauron. To cross him was to cross an ancient being even more powerful than Gandalf.
Sauron could sense even the desire the wear the ring, and could inspire others to be selfish and sinful simply based on their proximity to an item under his influence. It’s unclear just how much influence he had, especially since he was able to turn Saruman against humanity.
The Eye sees all, and the Eye influences all that it sees. To be captured in its, or his, stare, was to be under Sauron’s influence.
The Lord of the Rings is meant to be explored, journey through high and low, through every twist and turn of life, just as the Fellowship of the Rings traversed the Misty Mountain tops. It is a journey through a literary and symbolic world. Each reader must have their own relationship with the text, and with the Eye of Sauron.
Do you think the Eye of Barad-dúr was truly Sauron himself? Or do you think it was a symbol? For what? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!