Of J.R.R. Tolkien and status quos: Part XII

Moving on with McGarry and Ravipinto, we find the focus is still on Sauron.


In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf tells Frodo about what will happen if Sauron should triumph: “‘The Enemy still lacks one thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance, break down the last defenses, and cover all the lands in a second darkness. He lacks the One Ring’” (Tolkien, 1954a, p. 56). The first darkness to which Gandalf obliquely refers was dispelled by the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, and the name of that coalition itself gives away the nostalgia for a lost world that suffuses Tolkien’s work.

If Sauron wants to bring about a Second Darkness, surely the existence of a First Darkness implies that the Old Days were not inherently Good? The idea that having a “Last” Alliance of Men and Elves implies nostalgia is a bit odd: yes, there is the implied mourning over the fading of the Elves, but mourning something is different from trying to mummify it or reanimate it: one can still accept change without celebrating it. More importantly, the coalition is called the “Last” Alliance because Men and Elves have gone their separate ways since.

Co-operation between the two species has actually been a patchy thing since their respective awakenings. Boromir’s suspicious attitude towards Elves is nothing compared to Ar-Pharazôn’s, to say nothing of Ulfang’s shenanigans during the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Estrangement between Man and Elf is not new, so it is a mistake to think that in the Good Old Days, the two strains of homo sapiens (Elves and humans being biologically identical but spiritually different) lived in harmony. They didn’t.

The respective forces of evil are, interestingly, also led by figures that are only nominally male, who claim manhood but are no longer masculine in any substantial way. Sauron no longer has a body, having lost his in the Fall of Númenor, and appears only as a giant, disembodied eye:

No, no, no.

Sauron lost his fair form in the Fall of Númenor, which meant that he could no longer play Annatar-like tricks on people. That doesn’t mean he lost the ability to incarnate entirely – if he was merely a disembodied Eye, how did Isildur cut off his finger?

More specifically, Sauron does not look like this:


  • Gandalf to Frodo – “You would have become a wraith under the dominion of the Dark Lord; and he would have tormented you for trying to keep his Ring, if any greater torment were possible than being robbed of it and seeing it on his hand.” (So Sauron has hands)
  • Gollum to Frodo – “Yes, He has only four on the Black Hand, but they are enough.” (So Sauron has fingers, from someone who has met him).
  • The Men of Minas Tirith – “..if the Nameless One himself should come, not even he could enter here while we yet live.” (so Sauron is mobile).
  • The Orcs of Cirith Ungol – “And the prisoner is to be kept safe and intact … until He sends or comes Himself.” (again, Sauron can travel, as per his own servants).
  • Denethor – “He will not come save only to triumph over me when all is won.” (Sauron’s modus operandi is to get his servants to do all the work. That doesn’t mean Sauron can’t travel in person).
  • Aragorn – “Let the Lord of the Black Land come forth! Justice shall be done upon him.” (Aragorn seems to think that Sauron can not only move, but that his physical form is vulnerable).
  • Tolkien’s Letters (1954) – “…the year 1000 of the Third Age, when the shadow of Sauron began first to grow again to new shape.”
  • Tolkien’s Letters (1963) – “Sauron should be thought of as very terrible. The form that he took was that of a man of more than human stature, but not gigantic.” (yes, it is external evidence, but this gels with the internal evidence mentioned above: Sauron had a body).

Moving on from issues of the Dark Lord’s appearance – I have dwelt on it because McGarry and Ravipinto have claimed that Sauron is no longer masculine in any substantial way – we come to their further development of this point: the apparent emasculation of Sauron:

Both Sauron and the Others are ostensibly male, but they do not desire women nor father children, and are essentially emasculated and thus transformed, as are the evils they birth. Such metamorphoses gain an almost talismanic quality in both works, perversions of the right and known. They are embodiments of time, of transfiguration, of inevitability and thus to be feared.

Apparently the Dark Lord is unable to father children, and thus a violation of all that is good and heteronormative.

With all respect to McGarry and Ravipinto, this might be the silliest thing they have written thus far. What to make of the childless Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli? Treebeard? Tom Bombadil? Are they similar perversions of what is right? What to make of Ungoliant and Shelob? Or Glaurung if we take the title Father of Dragons literally? Are they somehow lesser abominations for having offspring?

The case of incarnate Ainur (like Sauron) having children is actually subject to development in Tolkien. Early on in Tolkien’s conception, the Valar and the Maiar had children like any other species. Eönwë (called Fiönwë at the time) is the son of Manwë. Gothmog (then called Kalimbo or Kosomot) is the son of Morgoth (via the ogress Ulbandi on one version, and via the ogress Fluithuin in another).

Now, Tolkien did drop the idea of the Valar having children – the point remains though that they likely could have had offspring had they chosen to do so. Melian the Maia has a (famous) child with Elu Thingol. Goldberry is the River-woman’s daughter in The Lord of the Rings – whatever, exactly, the River-woman is, but it is clearly neither Elf nor mortal. More obscurely, Melkor/Morgoth in one late manuscript rapes the Maia of the Sun, and clearly has ambitions on Lúthien… if Melian and Morgoth in their incarnate form retain the ability to have sexual intercourse, then so does Sauron – and not just in the fanficcy “Angbang” (yes, really) sense. Far from Sauron being emasculated as per McGarry and Ravipinto, he (or indeed Gandalf and Saruman) could, judging by precedent, theoretically have children too.

Now, in the manuscript about Melkor/Morgoth and the Sun, Tolkien wrote – “Melkor could not ‘beget’, or have any spouse (though he attempted to ravish Arien, this was to destroy and ‘distain’ her, not to beget fiery offspring.)

This poses a headache. If evil cannot beget, what to make of Ungoliant, and if Ainur cannot beget, what to make of Melian? It is a statement too at odds with the rest of the world – as though Tolkien wanted to have his cake and eat it, by preserving a cornerstone of the Beren and Lúthien story while giving voice to his belief that evil cannot create. Focusing on Melkor’s childlessness is also rather strange in light of the fact that by this point, Tolkien envisaged all the Valar has being childless anyway. Easier then perhaps to simply run with the idea that childlessness among the Ainur was a choice, or that Melkor had simply spread his power too thinly and thus was a unique case.

If Sauron could theoretically have children, why doesn’t he? Simple – it fits neither story nor theme. Story-wise, the Children of the Valar clutter up the focus on Elves, Men, and the other races of Middle-earth. Rather than having Eönwë as the son of Manwë, easier to have him as a minor spirit in the latter’s service. Sauron in The Lord of the Rings is in the same boat, since it would distract from the Ringwraiths – who (as evidence of the corrupting power of the Rings) are far more relevant to a story focusing on the One Ring.

Thematically, Sauron having offspring also introduces the same sort of problem as the Orcs, but more so –  if one runs with the very Tolkienian idea that nothing is bad in the beginning, and that evil can only pervert, not create, then would Sauron’s children be naturally bad? Gothmog is a much tidier fit as a fallen Maia than as the son of Morgoth: he is evil through choice. Same with the Ringwraiths, who were consciously corrupted but not born into it. Tolkien had enough difficulties with trying to explain the origins of the Orcs (and how it fit with a worldview that rejected Calvinist predestination) without introducing an additional complication.

Essay continued.

3 thoughts on “Of J.R.R. Tolkien and status quos: Part XII

  1. Pingback: Tolkien and Female Characters: Part II | A Phuulish Fellow

  2. Pingback: Of J.R.R. Tolkien and status quos: Compendium | A Phuulish Fellow

  3. Pingback: Into the Land of Shadows: Depicting Sauron | A Phuulish Fellow

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