A notable aspect of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is that its major antagonist, Sauron, doesn’t directly appear all that often. Stripped of his main source of power, the One Ring, the villain has to resort to make his presence felt as a shadowy malevolent force emanating from his dark realm, Mordor. Other than that, it’s mostly left to his monstrous army of orcs, trolls, and other creatures – not to mention his ally, the turncoat wizard Saruman – to terrorize the inhabitants of Middle-earth on his behalf.
That's not to say Sauron doesn’t get the chance to stretch his legs elsewhere in Tolkien’s writings. For starters, he’s briefly mentioned as having captured Gandalf the Grey in The Hobbit, under the guise of “The Necromancer” – something Peter Jackson’s big screen adaptation expands upon considerably. Then there’s his prominent role in The Silmarillion, which not only establishes Sauron as a Maia spirit (essentially an angel) who broke bad, but also recounts his villainous deeds dating back to the dawn of time itself.
Along the way, Tolkien not only fleshes out Sauron’s character more – basically, he was corrupted by his obsession with order – but provides extra details regarding his physical attributes. Now, we don’t learn a whole lot more than what was covered in The Lord of the Rings, but it’s enough to give us a general sense of the various forms he assumed and the powers at his disposal.
Some of these factoids are remarkably interesting, which is why we’ve rounded-up this list of the 20 Weirdest Things About Sauron’s Forms.
20 He Was Originally A Shapeshifter
A major aspect of Sauron’s physiology that’s often overlooked is that he was once an accomplished shapeshifter. Long before he was the primary antagonist in Tolkien's mythology – back when he was only a servant of original big bad, Morgoth – shapeshifting was actually a key weapon in Sauron’s arsenal.
This is purely conjecture on our part, but we’d imagine that at least part of Sauron’s knack for shifting his form stems from his origins as an angelic craftsman. This creative inclination – coupled with his innate supernatural powers – would explain how he was able to not only take on a variety of humanoid forms, but also impersonate just about any beast you can think of, too.
19 His Eyes Were Always Powerful
The Eye of Sauron, a cat-like pupil wreathed in flame, is one of the most iconic images in both Tolkien’s novels and their cinematic counterparts. Adorning the armor of Sauron’s orc hordes – not to mention serving as a substitute for his actual name, which he forbade others to utter aloud – the Eye appears prominently during the Third Age, when The Lord of the Rings takes place.
Both Sauron’s eyes were noted as being daunting, even fearsome, well before this time.
That’s right: even when the Dark Lord was pretending to be on the side of the angels, the intensity of his gaze (and presumably, the mental “eye” that lay behind it) was unmistakably fierce.
18 He Lost The Ability To Assume His Fair Form
Sauron is described at various times in Tolkien’s writings as being less than pleasant to look at. Peter Jackson’s film adaptations likewise present him as a menacing black knight. Even though he’s an unrepentant baddie, you might still be wondering: if the guy is so powerful, why doesn’t he give himself a physical make-over? Well, the answer is “because he can’t”.
When the island kingdom of Númenor sank to the bottom of the ocean during the Second Age, Sauron went down with it. Although he survived, it cost him the ability to assume his angelic disguise (sometimes known as “Annatar”) robbing the Dark Lord of his most effective weapon against Men and Elves.
17 He Became Uglier When He Joined Forces With Morgoth
As we’ve covered already, Sauron is essentially an angelic presence – he’s one of the second-tier order of celestial beings known as the Maiar. As such, when he first entered the physical world, his default appearance was suitably attractive, although it didn’t stay that way for long.
Once Sauron became the right-hand man of Morgoth – one of the higher-ranking Valar, and pretty much the Devil of Tolkien’s mythology – he began to give off a subtly more creepy vibe. True, he could still pass himself off as a benevolent figure, but more perceptive individuals could nevertheless detect via his overall aura that there was something not quite right about him.
16 He Wasn't Just A Flaming Eyeball
It’s fair to say that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy has had a monumental impact on more casual fans’ comprehension of the Middle-earth canon. This has given rise to some popular misconceptions about Tolkien’s mythology – for example: the notion that Sauron could only manifest himself as a great, big, flaming eyeball.
The books aren’t 100% clear on whether the Eye is meant to be taken as Sauron’s literal form, as a metaphor, or both.
They do, however, make it clear he was capable of appearing as a shadowy, humanoid figure, too. Indeed, Tolkien scholars were probably somewhat mollified when this incarnation of the Dark Lord is briefly glimpsed during Jackson’s follow-up Hobbit trilogy.
15 His Physical Form Was First Destroyed Before The End Of The Second Age
A big deal is made about Sauron losing his physical form after being defeated in battle at the end of the Second Age – but this isn’t even the first time that this ever occurred! No, this originally happened many years earlier, when the kingdom of Númenor was destroyed, and the Dark Lord’s body with it.
The difference here was that Sauron wasn’t separated from the One Ring at the time.
That made pulling together a new body markedly easier than the second time around. Sure, this new body was less pleasing on the eye – but it was still more than able to get the job done on the battlefield.
14 His Shadowy Form Was Still Missing A Finger
As fans of the books will already know, when Gollum is tormented in Mordor – a scene only glimpsed in The Fellowship of the Ring movie – Sauron is personally present. Rather than revealing himself as the big fiery eyeball that dominates the big screen version of the story, according to Gollum, the apparition he encountered was a more subtle, shadowy creature.
Interestingly, Gollum recalls seeing Sauron’s black hand, and notes that it’s still missing the finger cleaved off by Prince Isildur after the Dark Lord was vanquished.!This serves as an understated illustration that Sauron has not yet regained his full might. Presumably, Sauron could regrow a lost digit at peak power levels.
13 He Could Burn His Victims With His Touch
From the fiery Great Eye to the volcanic eruptions of Mount Doom, much of the imagery associated with Sauron is fire-related. Well, it turns out it goes even further than that: Sauron’s body is itself a source of immense heat! This is first mentioned in notes made by Isildur and featured in The Fellowship of the Ring, which recount his first-hand experience of Sauron’s touch, which “burned like fire.”
It’s a detail that almost made it into Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Fellowship of the Ring, as well.
In the prologue, Sauron was to be seen setting immortal elven king Gil-Galad ablaze with his grasp, but the moment was cut due to time constraints.
12 His Most Monstrous Form Came After The Fall Of Númenor
We've mentioned that Sauron was once a formidable shapeshifter, and that he was only restricted to stereotypical “evil dark lord” guises after his physical form was first destroyed. Although this was a tremendously helpful development from the perspective of the forces of good – they would no longer fall for Sauron’s “divine bearer of gifts” schtick – it also made their enemy a lot more scary.
This was especially the case after the Dark Lord first reassembled his physical form, having just escaped the doom of Númenor.
Around this time, Sauron’s appearance was supposedly downright monstrous – malice and hatred personified, no less – before he managed to dial it back a tad.
11 He Wasn't Gigantic
When you think of Sauron – a quasi-demonic presence of immense physical and unearthly power – it’s not hard to picture a towering figure of Godzilla-like proportions. Yet that’s explicitly not what Tolkien had in mind when he created the character. On the contrary, time and again, he describes Sauron’s humanoid body as being bigger than that of any man, but not by much.
It seems that Sauron’s size is one of the things that Peter Jackson’s big screen adaptation of The Lord of the Rings totally nailed. He might have been ever so slightly smaller than Jackson depicted him in The Fellowship of the Ring, but let’s not quibble!
10 He Once Became The Greatest Werewolf Of All Time
Back in his shapeshifting heyday, Sauron was able to transform into some pretty crazy creatures. Perhaps the most spectacular of these (and certainly the most hyperbolic) was his werewolf form, which was reputedly the greatest ever seen in Middle-earth’s history. Aside from the obvious benefits of becoming a humongous man-eating canine, Sauron’s rationale for choosing this shape was rather crafty.
See, his opponent at the time was a fellow over-sized hound, Huan, who prophecy decreed would fall in battle to the greatest werewolf ever – so the Dark Lord figured his victory was assured. The problem was that the prophecy actually referred to an even mightier, as yet unborn werewolf, causing Sauron’s cunning plan to backfire.
9 He Had Really Gifted Hands
It’s easy to overlook Sauron’s creative genius – after all, he spends much of Lord of the Rings trying to obliterate the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, and everything they’ve built. Even his crowning achievement, the One Ring, is a fairly simple bit of business, compared to the Rings of Power wrought by the elves. Nevertheless, it can’t be overstated how gifted a craftsman Sauron was.
Put a hammer in the guy’s hands, and he’ll knock out a stunning work of art on the spot.
Then, what else would you expect from a crazy-powerful Maia spirit who learned his trade directly from Aulë, the demi-god aligned with craftsmanship in Tolkien’s mythology?
8 He Was A Supernaturally Good Singer
When you think “evil dark lord”, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t necessarily “superb vocalist” – yet that’s exactly what Sauron was. If this leaves you scratching your head, bear in mind that the Middle-earth creation myth in The Silmarillion involves a choir of quasi-angels literally singing the world into being.
As one of these quasi-angels, Sauron took part in this magical music-making, proving that his singing abilities are genuinely supernatural. This isn’t the only instance of Sauron singing in The Silmarillion, either. Music and magic tend to go hand-in-hand in Middle-earth, and Sauron’s spellcasting during a showdown with elf rival Finrod Felagund also sees him busting out some sweet tunes, as well.
7 He Could Cast Illusions
Movie fans tend to dwell on Sauron’s raw, offensive power, as seen in the opening battle in The Fellowship of the Ring, or his beatdown of Gandalf in The Desolation of Smaug. Those who prefer Tolkien’s novels to Peter Jackson’s films might wish to focus on the Dark Lord’s shapeshifting gifts, instead. Something both groups seldom comment on is Sauron’s illusion-casting powers.
Granted, it’s one of his least frequently used talents – or at the very least, the one which Tolkien tends to only hint at, rather than describe in any great detail. Even so, it’s made clear that Sauron can indeed conjure up highly convincing, misleading visions, capable of ensnaring weak or unsuspected victims.
6 The One Ring Enhanced His Physical Powers
Sauron’s plan for the Rings of Power was solid: make sure that influential figures among men, elves, and dwarves possessed these magical rings, then corrupt them via an even more powerful, ruling ring.
The only way he could actually craft something more powerful than the other rings was by pouring some of his own essence into it.
Basically, he’s the architect of his own Achilles Heel – something that came back to bite him when Isildur hacked off his ring finger at the end of the Second Age! On the plus side, when Sauron wore the One Ring, it actually amplified his existing powers, so it’s not like there weren’t upsides.
5 He Once Carried The One Ring Without Physical Form
Long before the Internet, fans had been pointing out plot holes in popular fictional stories, and the Middle-earth canon is no exception. For example, one astute reader once asked Tolkien how Sauron was able to retain the One Ring after his physical body was destroyed along with the rest of Númenor.
What’s impressive here is that – rather than take the easy route out and reply that the Dark Lord left the Ring behind when he was escorted to Númenor – the celebrated author instead stuck to his guns. According to Tolkien, Sauron definitely had the Ring in his possession on this occasion, however his incorporeal spirit managed to squirrel it away through sheer force of will!
4 He Can Be Physically Overpowered By Certain Men And Elves
If your only knowledge of Sauron is derived solely from Peter Jackson’s big screen adaptations, you could be forgiven for thinking the Dark Lord is pretty much unbeatable in one-on-one combat. Take the opening battle in The Fellowship of the Ring. There, Sauron is able to effortless sweep aside all comers, until the One Ring is sliced from his hand.
That’s not exactly a true representation of Sauron’s power levels in Tolkien's novels. There, Sauron is undeniably powerful, but men and elves of suitably legendary prowess – like Elendil and Gil-Gilad – could go toe-to-toe with him. In fact, those two literally wrestled with him and won, although it did cost them their lives!
3 The Eye of Sauron’s Pupil Is Actually A Silhouette
This entry about the Eye of Sauron only applies to Peter Jackson’s cinematic vision of Middle-earth, but it’s a cool piece of trivia all the same. In the second installment of Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, the Necromancer finally unmasks himself as Sauron.
He first appears as a fiery incarnation of his armored form.
In a clever touch, this initial manifestation soon morphs into a ball of fire with Sauron’s humanoid silhouette situated squarely in the middle – forming the Great Eye! Not only is this a sharp bit of production design, it also puts a new spin on how audiences view the Eye when re-watching The Lord of the Rings movies.
2 He Made His Own Armor
Here's another entry from the Lord of the Rings movies rather than the books, this time related to the armor Sauron wears during the prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring. As mentioned by the design team at Weta Workshop in the special features that accompany the Extended Edition, this protective covering was intended to showcase Sauron’s exquisite craftsmanship.
With its spiky pauldrons, horse skull-like helm and acid-etched finish – meant to suggest the effects of the incredible heat generated by the Dark Lord’s body – the beauty of Sauron’s armor isn’t immediately apparent. Yet take a closer look, and you’ll notice its sophisticated metalwork, and the ornate, fluid patterning that adorns it.
1 His Other Major Forms Include A Huge Serpent And A Vampire Bat
It’s hard to top transforming into the greatest werewolf in Middle-earth history, but Sauron certainly deserves points for trying. He’s also changed into an enormous snake and a giant vampire bat, which nothing less than a mighty hound like Huan could overcome.
Of course, this make us wonder why Sauron never tried turning into a fire-breathing dragon or the like.
Perhaps there were limits to even his remarkable shape-shifting abilities – indeed, it’s entirely possible that there could have been physical limits that prevented him expanding beyond a certain size.
What are some other weird things about Sauron’s forms in The Lord of the Rings? Let us know in the comments!