"Of old there was Sauron the Maia..."
Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age
Originally a Maia of Aulë's people, Sauron was early corrupted by Melkor and became his most trusted lieutenant. In the Wars of Beleriand, Sauron was the most feared of Morgoth's servants, but after the War of Wrath and the expulsion of the first Dark Lord, Sauron rose to become the greatest enemy of Elves and Men in the Second and Third Ages.
Sauron's History Before the First Age
Sauron was one of the mightiest (perhaps the mightiest) of the Maiar, and in the beginning of days he served Aulë the Smith. From Aulë he learnt much of forging and making, knowledge that he would make use of many thousands of years later when he built the Barad-dûr and forged the One Ring.
In the earliest days, Melkor seduced Sauron and took him into his own service, and Sauron became the greatest and most trusted of his followers. While Utumno still stood in the dark north of the world, Sauron was given command of his lesser fortress of Angband. At length, the Valar assaulted Melkor and took him in chains back to Valinor, but Sauron escaped, and remained in Middle-earth.
Sauron in the First Age
While Melkor was captive in Aman, Angband was made ready for his return, and it must be assumed that Sauron had a large part in this work. After the Darkening of Valinor, Melkor returned indeed to Middle-earth, and took up his abode in Angband. Soon after, he travelled for a while into the eastern lands to seek the newly-awakened Men leaving Sauron in command of his forces once again.
Though Sauron doubtless continued his evil works in the service of his lord, we hear nothing of these for many centuries after the return of Morgoth, until the days after the Dagor Bragollach. For two years after the Dagor Bragollach itself, Finrod's tower of Minas Tirith had guarded the Pass of Sirion against Morgoth's forces. In I 457, Sauron himself came against the tower; he cast a spell of fear upon the Elves who held it, and they were slain or fled back to Finrod in Nargothrond.
Sauron then took Minas Tirith to dwell in, and watched the Pass of Sirion himself from its topmost tower. The isle on which it stood, which had been called Tol Sirion, was renamed Tol-in-Gaurhoth, the Isle of Werewolves.
After the Dagor Bragollach, the last remnant of the House of Bëor became a scattered people. Barahir, its lord, took shelter in the uplands of Dorthonion at Tarn Aeluin with his son Beren and eleven others and was hidden for a while from Morgoth. Sauron was sent to find and destroy this desperate band of outlaws. This he did by capturing Gorlim, one of Barahir's followers, and using his sorcery he discovered the outlaws' camp, and destroyed all of Barahir's band but his son Beren.
Beren himself fled southwards through the treacherous paths of the Ered Gorgoroth, and Sauron's army of werewolves failed to capture him. Fate drove Beren into Sauron's hands eventually, though: some years later as he travelled northward on the Quest of the Silmaril, Sauron captured him with Finrod and their companions and imprisoned them in Tol-in-Gaurhoth.
Sauron knew nothing of Beren's quest; sensing some danger to himself or his master, he sent wolves out throughout the lands of the Elves, and meanwhile he flung Beren, Finrod and their companions into a deep pit. There they were devoured one after the other by one of his werewolves, and eventually all were lost but Beren. As the werewolf slew Finrod, though, Lúthien came upon Sauron's Isle with Huan, the Hound of Valinor. Sauron sent wolf after wolf to investigate Lúthien's song, and each was slain in turn by Huan. At last, he sent the mighty wolf Draugluin, and he too was mortally wounded by Huan, but with his dying breath he returned to Sauron and warned him of the danger.
So Sauron went himself to one of his greatest defeats. He took the form known as Wolf-Sauron, the shape of a mighty werewolf, and went out to meet his foes. First, he attacked Lúthien, but under her enchantment he stumbled, and Huan sprang upon him. Though he shifted shape and struggled, he could not escape; at last he yielded the tower to Lúthien,and Huan released him. He fled eastward then to Dorthonion, where he dwelt in the dark pine forests of Taur-nu-Fuin.
Sauron in the Second Age
After the War of Wrath and the defeat of his master Morgoth, Sauron fled for a time into the east of the world.1 A period of one thousand years followed in which Sauron was not seen in the west of Middle-earth. As the first millennium of the Second Age turned, Sauron came back. He took the fenced and mountainous land of Mordor, and there began building his mighty Dark Tower of Barad-dûr.
The beginning of Sauron's reign as Dark Lord can be dated from this time: he set himself no less a goal than the conquest of Middle-earth, and perhaps even of Númenor itself.
For six hundred years, he pursued a dual strategy. In the guise of Annatar, the Lord of Gifts, he tutored the Elves of Eregion, teaching them the secret things that only a Maia of Aulë's people could know. From his lore, the Rings of Power were forged, but while he worked with the Elves, he continued the fortification of Mordor to make it an unassailable stronghold.
In the fire-mountain of Orodruin, he secretly forged the One Ring. This was to be the first stroke in his conquest of the west - a device by which he could know, and control, the thoughts of the bearers of the other Rings. His plan failed, though: the Elves became aware of his malevolent presence, and took off their Rings.
Angered by this setback, Sauron loosed the hordes of Mordor, six hundred years in the building, and overran Eriador, destroying the land of Eregion where the Rings were made. The Elves called on Númenor for aid, though, and the army of Tar-Minastir put Sauron's forces to rout. After this reverse, Sauron sought instead to build power in the eastern countries, and left the Westlands in peace for many centuries.
When Ar-Pharazôn usurped the throne of Númenor in 3255 (Second Age), he saw Sauron's growing eastern kingdom as a threat. Building and equipping a mighty fleet, he sailed for Middle-earth, and landed at Umbar, to the south of the Mouths of Anduin. Ar-Pharazôn demanded that Sauron submit to his authority and, seeing that the might of the Númenóreans far outstripped his own, Sauron agreed.
The Shapes of Sauron
All of the Ainur had the ability to change their form, but none held so many different shapes as Sauron. During the First Age, his accustomed form seems to have been that of a dark sorcerer, commanding a host of evil things, and especially werewolves and their kind. He shifted form many times in his existence, though, especially during his duel with Huan; among the shapes he wore were:
- Wolf-Sauron. This was the monstrous wolf-shape he chose when he went forth from his fortress on Tol-in-Gaurhoth to battle with Huan.
- During the battle, he changed his form to that of a serpent in his struggles to escape.
- Finally, after Huan released him, he became a great vampire, and fled into the east, 'dripping blood from his throat upon the trees'2.
It is very noticeable that there is no mention of Sauron taking part in the War of Wrath. After the loss of his Isle, he fled to Dorthonion: the next we hear of him is then after the War, when he parleys with Eönwë, the captain of the Valar's forces. The simple fact that Sauron survived Morgoth's obliteration is very telling, and strongly suggests that he must not have taken an active part himself.
This is consistent with what we know of Sauron's character - he always prefers to work from behind the scenes, manipulating events to his favour. On the rare occasions where he goes into battle himself, he is always defeated. This perhaps helps to explain his decision in the later Second Age not to offer battle to the armies of Númenor.
Sauron's desire to work from the shadows is most strongly represented in The Lord of the Rings itself: although he gives his name to that book, and is of pivotal importance to the plot, he never makes a physical appearance.
This quote comes from The Silmarillion, 19 Of Beren and Lúthien, and hints at a peculiar characteristic of the Ainur's shape-changing abilities. Injuries sustained in one form - in this case wounds from the battle with Huan - seem to persist to other forms. We see this again in The Lord of the Rings; Gollum says (in IV 3 The Black Gate is Closed) 'He has only four [fingers] on the Black Hand'. This is a reference to Isildur's cutting the Ring from his hand at the end of the Second Age, but Gollum is speaking at the end of the Third. Though Sauron had built himself a new form since his defeat, he could not, it seems, recreate his lost finger.
Accursed Years, Aiwendil, Aman, Amandil, Amarië, Amon Amarth, Amon Lanc, Anborn, Angband, Angelimir, Angmar, Annatar, Ants, Ar-Pharazôn, Araglas, [See the full list...]
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