You could make a strong argument for Frodo, Gandalf, or Aragorn being the main character in The Lord of the Rings, but in terms of overall impact and influence on the events of the series, Sauron is the story’s key player. He's also the franchise's titular Lord and one of the greatest antagonists in the history of popular fiction.
Thanks to the phenomenal success of Peter Jackson's movie adaptations, film fans know quite a bit about the Dark Lord Sauron. He’s a big lover of rings, evil, and fiery eyeballs. Not so much of Hobbits, returning Kings and Ian McKellen. However, there’s far more to the leading purveyor of doom and despair in Middle-earth lurking beneath that accursed surface.
No one has ever accused J. R. R. Tolkien’s work of lacking in detail and there are plenty of facts hiding in the book series that film-only fans won’t know and even more lying in Tolkien’s various appendices and notes that even those familiar with the books won’t necessarily be aware of. In fact the lesser known tales of Middle-earth chronicled in works such as The Silmarillion and The History of Middle-earth reveal far more about the villain than The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit ever did. Here are 16 Things You Didn’t Know About Sauron!
16 He once followed another villain called Morgoth
Sauron has the position of main bad guy in The Lord of the Rings pinned firmly down, but those who haven’t explored the wider world of Tolkien may be surprised to learn that an even more dastardly villain existed in the story: Morgoth. Even more shockingly, Sauron began his life of evil as an underling of Morgoth and served him loyally in the years leading up to the One Ring’s creation as a trusted leader in his army.
After his master was defeated, Sauron gradually became a threatening force in his own right and quickly amassed the same level of power, influence and intimidation Morgoth had enjoyed previously. Sauron’s black armor and spiked helmet design seen prominently in Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy actually look very similar to Morgoth’s own appearance, furthering the link between master and servant.
15 Tolkien was deliberately vague with his appearance
Thanks to Peter Jackson, the overriding image of Sauron in the social consciousness is a tall being in black armor but in the literary world, Tolkien’s intention was to leave the villain’s appearance deliberately vague. This is helped by the fact that Sauron was a highly skilled shape-shifter in his early days.
Sauron has been known to take the form of a wolf, a man, the infamous eye atop Barad-Dur and many other forms and this ability has helped him both manipulate the inhabitants of Middle-earth and hide from them when necessary. Subsequently, very little is known about his true physical form. As one of the few characters to come out of Mordor alive, Gollum confirms that Sauron has black hands but is still missing the finger that was severed by Isildur but other concrete details are scarce.
14 The Hobbit movies greatly expanded his role
It’s still a mystery as to why Peter Jackson felt the need to take a modestly sized book in The Hobbit and adapt it into three rather long movies and it’s certainly hard to imagine financial gain didn’t play a part in the decision. Whatever the reasoning, Jackson managed to pad out his second Tolkien trilogy by including a raft of new plots and characters and greatly expanding the roles of others.
One such character is Sauron who has a very minor role in the book version of The Hobbit as ‘The Necromancer’ but features to nowhere near the same extent as the Benedict Cumberbatch-voiced incarnation in the The Hobbit trilogy. Although not taken from the book itself, Sauron’s presence in those movies was based on other notes and stories by Tolkien.
13 He was a Maia
The wider world of Tolkien places far greater emphasis on spiritual themes than The Lord of the Rings, for instance Gandalf wasn’t merely a wizard, he was actually one of several beings sent into the mortal realm by the Valar, spirits responsible for shaping the world.
Sauron was originally a similarly divine being, belonging to a group called the Maiar and the future villain was one of the few to take a physical form. This background provides an explanation for the power and durability Sauron displayed during The Lord of the Rings. Although many casual fans may have put these feats down to dark magic, Sauron’s power is actually divine in nature, essentially coming from the God of Tolkien’s universe.
Interestingly, the Balrog that Gandalf famously refuses to let pass is also a Maia who was previously corrupted by Morgoth and later forced into hiding.
12 Mairon was his original name
Many of the Maiar altered their names over time - Saruman was first known as Curumo and Galdalf’s true title is Olórin. Sauron is no different and before being corrupted by Morgoth was called Mairon. This name was often extended to ‘Mairon the Admirable’ but after his descent into evil, the label was altered to ‘Sauron the Abhorrent’.
Aside from his original moniker, Sauron has been known by many other names in the series. The The Lord of the Rings books often refer to him as ‘The Dark Lord’ or ‘The Enemy’, the other Maiar labelled him Gorthaur (a translation of Sauron) and he was known as ‘The Necromancer’ in The Hobbit.
Sauron has used other names during his time in Middle-earth and this was largely a result of him being a master of disguise.
11 He worsened the Dwarves' lust for gold
The story of The Hobbit showed that the race of Dwarves had a lust for gold and jewels that would ultimately almost lead them to destruction. This desire for treasure partly comes from the normal greed of mortal beings and is increased due the Dwarves’ natural ability for mining and metalwork.
However, the evil influence of Sauron made the Dwarves’ obsession with gold even stronger and far harder to satisfy. As with the Elves and Men, Sauron gifted the Dwarves with Rings of Power that he intended to use to corrupt and control them. The Dwarves proved far more resistant to influence than Sauron anticipated however, and he was unable to bring them under his sway. Instead, the rings only served to make the Dwarven race hungrier for gold and more desperate to obtain it.
10 Destroying the ring didn't kill him
It’s a common misconception that when Frodo and Gollum managed to bundle the One Ring into the fiery cracks of Mount Doom, Sauron was finally destroyed for good. This isn’t completely accurate, however, since Sauron’s status as a Maia makes him more or less immortal. Instead of killing Sauron, the destruction of the Ring merely reduced the villain to a state of weakness he could never recover from.
In Return of the King, it is said that the destruction of the Ring will cause Sauron to fall “so low that none can foresee his arising ever again...he will be maimed forever” thus confirming that the villain isn’t truly dead in the traditional sense. However, those fearing the Dark Lord may one day return can rest easy for the passage also states that the Ring’s demise means “a great evil of this world will be removed” which sounds very much like a conclusive defeat.
9 He is a Cat Prince in earlier drafts
Before J. R. R. Tolkien had fully fleshed out the character of Sauron, the author’s earlier drafts depicted him as a feline Prince called Tevildo. Although some may argue that Tevildo is a character in his own right, he is perhaps better described as a prototype incarnation of Sauron and the primary villain in some of Tolkien’s early Middle-earth musings.
The character is explored in more detail in The Book of Lost Tales section of The History of Middle-earth which sees Tevildo working under Morgoth before being beaten by Huan - a similar fate to Sauron. Unlike the Dark Lord however, Tevildo controls cats, rather than armies of hungry wolves and orcs.
Interestingly, the cat influence never disappeared completely and served as inspiration for the Eye of Sauron which looks strikingly similar to that of a feline.
8 The Hobbit movies suggest he is allied with Smaug
Although the book and movie versions of The Hobbit differ as to the extent Sauron is featured, both versions paint Smaug as the primary villain and for the most part, the dragon is unconcerned with the larger events taking place in the background.
However, in the extended version of The Desolation of Smaug (yup, it gets even longer!) a connection between Smaug and Sauron himself comes into play. During a cut scene set in Dol Guldur, Thrain tells Gandalf “they are in league, The Dragon and The One”.
Although the Appendices in Return of the King did suggest that Gandalf feared a potential alliance between the two, confirmation of such was never published and fans continue to debate whether Sauron could even control the dragon in the first place. If Sauron and Smaug did team up though, Middle-earth would surely be done for.
7 He could emit intense heat
Due to his origins as a Maia, the extent of Sauron’s abilities are somewhat mysterious and aren’t fully explored in the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. One power that many are unaware of is the villain's ability to emit an intense heat from his body strong enough to kill nearby enemies.
This very fate befell King of the High Elves Gil-Galad in the War of the Alliance where it is claimed he fell by “the heat of Sauron’s hand”. To kill such a powerful Elf is no mean feat, although the fact Gil-Galad managed to greatly wound Sauron before his death suggests the technique is not quite an irresistible force.
It could be argued that the “heat” described in this line is of the metaphorical variety but elsewhere, Isildur describes Sauron’s hand as black and burning with fire, supporting the notion that some sort of dangerous magic was being wielded in the villain’s palm.
6 He lived with both Elves and Men
Sauron’s chief method of conquering Middle-earth wasn’t always building an army bigger than anyone else’s, it was often simple deception and the baddie’s history includes long periods spent in the company of Elves and Men in an attempt to corrupt them.
More often than not, Sauron succeeded and this was especially true in the case of Númenor. The Númenóreans were a race of powerful men who managed to subdue Sauron and take him prisoner. With a mixture of charm and lies, Sauron worked his way up from a hostage to the King’s right hand man and used his new position to bring about their downfall.
Similarly, Sauron succeeded in befriending a select group of Elves (although the likes of Elrond and Galadriel weren’t fooled) and convinced them to craft the Rings of Power.
5 He and Saruman shared a mentor
Although the Maiar are powerful and divine beings in their own right, they don’t rank as highly as the Ainur, Holy beings who were the first living creatures to be created. One such Ainur was Aulë the smith, responsible for crafting the land, sun, moon, etc. Allied with Aulë were two Maia: Mairon and Curumo and would later be known as Sauron and Saruman.
It’s interesting that both of Aulë’s Maia would turn evil but perhaps the signs were obvious from the start. In Tolkien's early history, Aulë is responsible for creating the Dwarves because he needed smiths and became impatient waiting for the Elves and Men to be born. Such impatience perhaps hints at the potential for wrongdoing. It’s also theorized that the reason both smith Maiar became corrupted was because Tolkien associated industry with evil.
4 He could be beautiful
Whether clad in heavy, black armor or taking the form of a big fiery eye, the foremost impression given by Sauron’s appearance is one of fear and intimidation. It is somewhat surprising then that the villain spent many years in a form that was not only Elf-like in nature but was also oft described as fair and beautiful.
While in this form, Sauron was referred to as Annatar and he used this guise in his attempts to manipulate and influence others, such as when he was encouraging the Elves to forge the Rings of Power. Interestingly, illustrations of Sauron in his fair disguise look somewhat similar to the character of Thranduil as seen in the The Hobbit trilogy. It’s unknown whether this was intentional or not but the Elf certainly seemed to be fostering a dark streak at times.
3 God beat him
Above the Maiar and Ainur, there is, predictably, an all-powerful omnipotent God in Tolkien’s universe called Eru Ilúvatar. Clearly inspired by the Bible story of Noah’s Ark, Tolkien wrote of a cataclysmic event that saw Eru himself punish Sauron and those he corrupted with a great flood.
As previously mentioned, Sauron spent a considerable amount of time destroying the Númenóreans from within and Eru apparently became tired of these shenanigans, sending a great flood to wipe out Sauron and his new followers. Sauron’s physical body was destroyed in the event and although he was able to revive himself with the Ring, he became permanently unable to take the beautiful and charming form he had used to corrupt the Númenóreans in the first place.
This meant that the next time the Dark Lord attempted to seize Middle-earth (in The Lord of the Rings) he had to do so via war and bloodshed, having been stripped of his powers of manipulation and shape-shifting.
2 He once occupied an island of werewolves
As cool as Barad-dur was, every true villain needs an island lair and nothing says “I’m one of the greatest villains in the history of fiction” like an island lair brimming with werewolves.
In the First Age, Sauron was fighting for Morgoth against the Elves in the War of the Jewels and he scored a big victory in taking over the Elf island of Tol Sirion. Sauron filled the isle with his own minions - wolves in particular - and renamed it Tol-in-Gaurhoth which translates to Isle of Werewolves. He also hung around with vampires. Sauron was certainly in his badass period at this point.
Lúthien would later regain the island but the Elves never returned there after Sauron’s occupation, and it presumably lay bare.
1 Aragorn and Isildur weren't the only men to best him
Aragorn, Gandalf and the Hobbits may have celebrated their victory as if they were the first to ever defeat Sauron but in reality, the villain had been bested several times before and not just by Eru. The Dark Lord was defeated by the Elf/Maia hybrid Lúthien and her wolfhound Huan and forced to relinquish control of Tol-In-Gaurhoth.
And it wasn’t only Elves that got the better of him. In the Second Age, Sauron was subdued twice by Númenórean men, the first instance coming with a military defeat at the hands of King Tar-Minastir and after recovering from that loss, he was taken hostage by King Ar-Pharazôn. Of course, Sauron had the last laugh against the Númenóreans when he almost wiped them out but lesser men Isildur and Aragorn would later be instrumental in two further defeats depicted in The Lord of the Rings.