A correction on Sauron, the Ring and Numenor

Darren Grey

Member
In episode 127 Corey states that Sauron left the Ring behind when he went to Numenor, and this explanation is kinda weak. Not sure if anyone has corrected this already, but Tolkien actually clarifies in letter 211 that Sauron took the One with him to Numenor, made use of it to conquer the minds of the Numenoreans, and was able to carry it through the water in his incorporeal form during the fall. This has zero bearing on the text, but I feel the facts need to be exposed! Otherwise the leaving of the Ring would be a pretty major weakness in the plot.

From letter 211: "Ar-Pharazôn, as is told in the 'Downfall' or Akallabêth, conquered a terrified Sauron's subjects, not Sauron. Sauron's personal 'surrender' was voluntary and cunning: he got free transport to Numenor! He naturally had the One Ring, and so very soon dominated the minds and wills of most of the Númenóreans. (I do not think Ar-Pharazôn knew anything about the One Ring. The Elves kept the matter of the Rings very secret, as long as they could. In any case Ar-Pharazôn was not in communication with them."

"Though reduced to 'a spirit of hatred borne on a dark wind', I do not think one need boggle at this spirit carrying of the One Ring, upon which his power of dominating minds largely depended."

Of course this does seem to conflict with the way the Akallabêth is worded, but then we don't know how Tolkien would have finalised that if he had lived to publish it himself.
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
When I read your post Darren, and then started looking into it, I thought that Tolkien had simply dug himself a hole in writing the text which he was then trying to dig himself out of in Letter 211.

More careful reading has lead me to question that starting point.

We have evidence that the Nazgûl can interact with physical objects, but as they were originally Men this is hardly surprising. Mortals (Isildur, Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam) can interact with physical objects when wearing the One Ring too.

As Sauron's body is worn like clothing, rather than part of his being, what evidence is there (within the published text) for him being able to interact with physical objects while in purely spiritual form?
None.

In searching the Silmarillion e-text (which admittedly has some errors as it appears to be the result of OCR on a scan) I can't find evidence to suggest that Sauron laid down his ring before going to Númenor, merely that he took it up again when he returned and reformed his body.

As the One Ring doesn't do much for the wielder unless they have followers, I submit that this doesn't preclude him having carried the Ring back from Númenor while in spiritual form, but his physical form was necessary to ensnare more followers and therefore regain use of the One Ring. He does have his starter set of nine Nazgûl followers, but the more followers he has the powerful he becomes.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
You beat me to it, Darren. Here is the post I wrote this morning before checking the forums:

Did Sauron have the One Ring in Númenor?

Corey mentions in episode 127 how puzzled he was that Sauron left the Ring behind when he went with Ar-Pharazôn to Númenor. "Sauron laid aside the Ring" is the quote he gave, but I'm afraid I missed the source of the quote. "Did he leave it in his memory box in the attic at Barad-Dûr? I can't believe that!" was his reaction.

Well, I recalled a different story:
JRRT in Letter 211 said:
Ar-Pharazôn, as is told in the 'Downfall' or Akallabêth, conquered a terrified Sauron's subjects, not Sauron. Sauron's personal 'surrender' was voluntary and cunning: he got free transport to Numenor! He naturally had the One Ring, and so very soon dominated the minds and wills of most of the Númenóreans....
Sauron was first defeated by a 'miracle': a direct action of God the Creator, changing the fashion of the world, when appealed to by Manwë: see III p. 317. Though reduced to 'a spirit of hatred borne on a dark wind', I do not think one need boggle at this spirit carrying off the One Ring, upon which his power of dominating minds now largely depended.
Of course I do boggle. But this letter does give a different account, one that allows Sauron to have kept the Ring and perhaps even used it -- subtly (no wraithifying anyone and giving things away) -- in Númenor.

And on further consideration, it boggles me less. Does Ossë need to embody in order to call up storms on the seas of Middle Earth? Seems like that would actually make it harder! And the Ring itself does not seem to be made of ordinary matter: it "grows and shrinks unexpectedly, slipping off a finger where it had been tight", according to Bilbo. It seems to gain weight in Frodo's little fire, in addition to remaining cool and showing the inscribed poem in firey letters. Maybe Sauron's spirit-form /could/ pick it up from the ruin of Númenor and bring it back to Middle Earth, though his body was destroyed. At least this idea averts the other boggle -- Sauron actually leaving the Ring behind in Barad-Dûr.
 

Arnorion

Member
Many salient points, but I'm still boggling.

Also, if he could pick it up in spirit form after being separated form his body in the downfall of Numenor, then why wouldn't he be able to do so again a bit later when his spirit is separated form his body by the valor of Gil-galad and Elendil?!

How canonical are the letters themselves? Must we take all the content in them at face value alongside the published stories or do they rate more at the level of previous/alternative drafts?
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
Many salient points, but I'm still boggling.

Also, if he could pick it up in spirit form after being separated form his body in the downfall of Numenor, then why wouldn't he be able to do so again a bit later when his spirit is separated form his body by the valor of Gil-galad and Elendil?!

How canonical are the letters themselves? Must we take all the content in them at face value alongside the published stories or do they rate more at the level of previous/alternative drafts?
Why couldn't he pick it up after his defeat by the Last Alliance? We can't know for sure.
Maybe because Isildur had hold of it; physical trumping spiritual.
Or, maybe he had expended so much effort in resisting defeat that he had insufficient strength to try to change the physical realm at that time, and by the time he'd built his strength up enough it was too late because the Ring was in the river.
But that is speculation without hope of confirmation, and therefore an unanswered question.

My approach is that the letters can support and help explain the published text, but never override it. In this case, the published text is silent on the Ring in relation to Númenor, so the Letter can provide the extra detail if you choose to accept it. If you reject it then you are left with the unanswered question.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
if he could pick it up in spirit form after being separated form his body in the downfall of Numenor, then why wouldn't he be able to do so again a bit later when his spirit is separated form his body by the valor of Gil-galad and Elendil?!
I like Anthony's response, to which I'll add that it seems like each re-embodiment takes something out of a Maia (or maybe out of a fallen Maia like Sauron in particular). After Numenor was destroyed he built a new body rather quickly. He apparently had the Ring with him the whole time and that probably helped. After the war of the Last Alliance, the Ring was taken from him and it took thousands of years before he re-manifested in Mirkwood. It was a lot harder for him to do it the second time.

I do think that having the Ring taken away was very significant there.
How canonical are the letters themselves? Must we take all the content in them at face value alongside the published stories or do they rate more at the level of previous/alternative drafts?
That's a very personal decision. They're more like later drafts (since they were of course written after the book), but we are still free to ignore or argue with them.

My favorite example is his plan, later in his life, to remove the flat-earth-changed-to-round at the sinking of Numenor because the Silmarillion's sun and moon were "astronomically absurd". I hate that plan! To me, the ability to not only change the flat earth to a round one, but to do it retroactively, so that it was always round (and always orbited the sun), despite the clear memories of the Elves that it wasn't always so, is one of the hallmarks of Eru's transcendent deity.

Eru can make a stone so heavy that he can't lift it. And then he can lift it anyway! That's the whole point of omnipotence!
Augustine would not agree (and I suppose that is the ultimate source of JRRT's uneasiness with the whole business).
 

Arnorion

Member
Aquinas would also disagree on the ability of Eru/God to make a stone so heavy he couldn't lift it, not because of insufficient omnipotence but because logically contradictory things aren't rationally executable tasks regardless of the power of the assignee. A clearer example might be an inability to make a circular square or failure to create a married bachelor. They are self-contradictory statements and therefore reveal more of the intelligence of the asker rather than saying anything useful about the power of the individual being tested.

In any case, I rather agree with his plan to abandon the temporarily-flat world theory. The destruction of Numenor and the removal of Valinor from the already-round Arda alone would cause widespread devastation as described in the text. That said, I love the making of the sun and moon and would hate to lose those tales and their significance in the wars against Melkor. In any case (for me) the stories don't have to be perfectly consistent for them to be beloved.
 
As Sauron's body is worn like clothing, rather than part of his being, what evidence is there (within the published text) for him being able to interact with physical objects while in purely spiritual form?
None.
All of the Ainur, including Maia, can interact with physical matter. They did so in the creation of Middle-Earth, and some (like Osse) continue to do so while in spirtual form. At the downfall of Numenor, Sauron lost his ability to take fair forms. I don't read that as taking away his ability to interact with matter at all.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
Aquinas would also disagree on the ability of Eru/God to make a stone so heavy he couldn't lift it, not because of insufficient omnipotence but because logically contradictory things aren't rationally executable tasks regardless of the power of the assignee. A clearer example might be an inability to make a circular square or failure to create a married bachelor. They are self-contradictory statements and therefore reveal more of the intelligence of the asker rather than saying anything useful about the power of the individual being tested.
And that is precisely where I disagree with Aquinas!

What could be more revealing of a transcendent divinity [edit, was: divine transcendence] beyond the possibility of human comprehension than the ability to reconcile logical paradox? That's why I say Eru could make a square circle if he wanted to, and it would be round and it would have four corners too! (and it would probably drive us mad to look at it, like an eldritch Lovecraftian horror...)
 
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