Revisionist Sauron headcanons

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Revisionist Sauron headcanons Empty Revisionist Sauron headcanons

Post by Eldy Fri May 28, 2021 4:15 am

NB This began as an aside to a post in the "Questions for the Lore Masters" thread, but I split it off since it (a) got way too long, and (b) drifts further into speculation and headcanons than I typically do in Lore posts. It draws heavily on research I did last fall while thinking about trying my hand at writing an Annatar/Celebrimbor slash fic. (I have yet to do so since I'm still waist-deep in Númenórean ninjas, but it remains on my list of potential future projects. Said list also includes a Thuringwethil/Adanel crackfic concept that got way out of hand but required less background research.)

For those unfamiliar with the term: "Headcanon ... is a fan's personal, idiosyncratic interpretation of canon," usually about characters and their relationships (Fanlore).



I.

I'm of the firm belief that Sauron's repentance at the end of the First Age and for much of the Second was genuine. His activity in this period is a fascinating subject that doesn't get nearly as much attention as it deserves. It starts with Sauron's interaction with Eönwë at the turning of the Age. You'll sometimes hear that Sauron was captured, but I don't think this is borne out by the text. Eönwë "commanded Sauron to return to Aman and there receive the judgement of Manwë" since he didn't have the power to grant pardons to a being of his own order (OTROP), but when Sauron refused, he was allowed to simply walk away. This suggests Eönwë believed Sauron was genuine, or else he presumably would have taken him West as a prisoner, as with Morgoth.

OTROP goes on to state that Sauron's "return to evil" began when he "[saw] the desolation of the world [and] said in his heart that the Valar, having overthrown Morgoth, had again forgotten Middle-earth; and his pride grew apace. He looked with hatred on the Eldar, and he feared the Men of Númenor..." But although "his desire [in Eregion] was to set a bond upon the Elves and to bring them under his vigilance," he was not yet in full Dark Lord mode. His intention in making the One Ring was to dominate the others, but he felt genuinely "betrayed" when the Elves took off their Rings as soon as they detected the One. OTROP implies this sense of betrayal was because the Rings were only made with Sauron’s "lore and counsel," but it’s not a huge stretch to read it as a personal sense of betrayal by people he'd worked alongside for centuries. Additionally, Sauron desired the Three because of their intended purpose of "ward[ing] off the decays of time and postpon[ing] the weariness of the world," suggesting that even at this late stage, his stated goal of improving Middle-earth was genuine.

People often act as if Sauron's professed desire to improve Middle-earth for its inhabitants was pure pretext, but Tolkien in Letter 183 makes note of pre-Dark-Lord Sauron's well-intentioned concern for "the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth." He went on to have difficulty respecting others' autonomy, but Sauron's "original desire for 'order' had really envisaged the good estate (especially physical well-being) of his 'subjects'"; and even after his fall, traces of these originally good motivations remained (HoMe X, Myths Transformed, Text VII, Notes on motives in the Silmarillion).

Furthermore, this good phase lasted much longer than people give Sauron credit for. Virtually ever discussion of Sauron-as-Annatar claims that he was deceiving the Elves from the start, but—while it's understandable that the Eldar later described events that way in their own histories—this is inconsistent with many statements in the texts. ODAM tells us that "Sauron came out of hiding and revealed himself in fair form ... and endeavoured to win the friendship and trust of the Eldar. But slowly he reverted again to the allegiance of Morgoth and began to seek power by force" (HoMe XII, Of Dwarves and Men). Note the chronology here: Sauron did not revert to evil until after he approached the Elves as Annatar, and even then his fall was a gradual process. This is supported by OTROP, which actually puts Sauron full reversion to evil even later than ODAM. It's not until after the War of the Elves and Sauron that "Sauron's lust and pride increased, until he knew no bounds, and he determined to make himself master of all things in Middle-earth, and to destroy the Elves, and to compass, if he might, the downfall of Númenor. He brooked no freedom nor any rivalry, and he named himself Lord of the Earth."

This deserves a closer look. We can safely assume that all of Sauron's wars included some really nasty shit, but his war with the Elves featured the exceptionally grisly torture, execution, and desecration of Celebrimbor, whose body Sauron subsequently used as a battle standard (UT, Galadriel and Celeborn). That's always stood out to me, and in my reading, it implies a far more personal sort of vindictiveness than an aspiring world-conqueror who hit a road bump in his plans. Sauron and Celebrimbor worked together for centuries; they must have had a close professional relationship—and perhaps personal as well—before things went to shit.

I've never liked the idea that Celebrimbor, one of the greatest geniuses the Eldar ever produced, was too dumb to see through "Annatar's" disguise when every other important Eldarin leader in the Westlands could do so, and warned him. It's not like it was even a particularly good disguise; the Valar sending a Maia to Middle-earth to help improve it is the exact opposite of their standing policy of wanting the Eldar to come to Valinor, and it's not like Noldorin Exiles who refused (or were denied) pardons from the Valar were likely to think very highly of them. I'm personally inclined to believe Celebrimbor did see through the ruse—not that Annatar was Sauron specifically, but that he was a former servant of Morgoth—and allowed him into Ost-in-Edhil anyway.

Why? Well, Celebrimbor was (in the generally-accepted version) a grandson of Fëanor, who watched almost his entire extended family suffer and die because of the actions of his grandfather, and who personally disowned his father for his (Curufin's) attempted takeover of Nargothrond. As a Fëanorian prince, Celebrimbor probably fought in the Kinslaying at Alqualondë, so he had a very personal reason to need to believe in the possibility of redemption for people who committed evil acts. I'm inclined to think those thoughts extended to his entire family, who would need to repent in order to enjoy reembodiment in Valinor. But Celebrimbor would also know that, should he ever sail west, his future relationship with his family would depend on whether or not he was forgiven for turning his back on his father.

Returning to OTROP, its chronology of Sauron's fall forces us to wonder who fought on his side in the war with the Elves. While ODAM implies that Sauron already had armies of orcs at his disposal by this date, and "Galadriel and Celeborn" describes Celebrimbor's body being "shot through with Orc-arrows," OTROP tells us it was not until after the war that Sauron "gathered again under his government all the evil things of the days of Morgoth that remained on earth or beneath it, and the Orcs were at his command and multiplied like flies." If we accept this notion, then his armies were likely composed of Men from the East, where Sauron spent the first several centuries of the Second Age. It's also worth noting that it took Sauron more than 90 years to launch the war after making the Ring and losing the trust of the Elves. There are plenty of possible explanations here; my preferred one is that Sauron simply didn't have vast legions at his command, because he'd spent the past 1600 years not being a Dark Lord, and it took time for him to establish control over a sufficient number of human (and possibly orcish) polities to be able to levy enough troops for a massive invasion.

II.

Despite labeling this a revisionist headcanon, it's not my intention to go full The Last Ringbearer and be like, "Actually, Sauron was the real good guy all along!" He did a lot of really awful shit in each of the first three Ages of Arda. However, my moral philosophy differs from Tolkien's on certain points, mostly because I am not a Catholic (or religious at all). This has gotten me in trouble in Lore discussions on other sites in the past, since some people get touchy about applying non-Christian moral philosophy to the legendarium. I've maintained for years that it's essential to remember Tolkien's religion if you want to understand his works—though that's far from the only thing to keep in mind—but we as readers have the autonomy to make our own judgments about the things we read. So, with that said...

Letter 183 wrote:In The Lord of the Rings the conflict is not basically about 'freedom', though that is naturally involved. It is about God, and His sole right to divine honour. The Eldar and the Númenóreans believed in The One, the true God, and held worship of any other person an abomination. Sauron desired to be a God-King, and was held to be this by his servants; if he had been victorious he would have demanded divine honour from all rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world. So even if in desperation 'the West' had bred or hired hordes of orcs and had cruelly ravaged the lands of other Men as allies of Sauron, or merely to prevent them from aiding him, their Cause would have remained indefeasibly right.

...fuck this bullshit.

The whole question of "divine honour" is inextricably tied up in the story of Sauron's second fall. I already quoted the line in OTROP that said his return to evil began with the observation that the Valar had abandoned Middle-earth—which he was right about. The remaining Noldorin Exiles in the Second Age noticed the same thing. There's an often-quoted line in Letter 131 where Tolkien criticizes the Second Age Exiles for "want[ing] the peace and bliss and perfect memory of 'The West', and yet to remain on the ordinary earth where their prestige as the highest people, above wild Elves, dwarves, and Men, was greater than at the bottom of the hierarchy of Valinor." This framing casts the Noldor in a poor light by making them sound arrogant, but later in the same paragraph we get to the heart of the issue:

Letter 131 wrote:But many of the Elves listened to Sauron. He was still fair in that early time, and his motives and those of the Elves seemed to go partly together: the healing of the desolate lands. Sauron found their weak point in suggesting that, helping one another, they could make Western Middle-earth as beautiful as Valinor. It was really a veiled attack on the gods, an incitement to try and make a separate independent paradise.

I'm skeptical of the notion that wanting to make the Earth as good as possible is disrespectful of divine authority, but even if it is, I totally reject the idea that it's a moral failing. Wanting to improve the world is a good thing! It's an indisputable fact of the legendarium that the Valar largely (not entirely) turned their backs on Middle-earth even before the Awakening of the Elves, and I don't think it takes a radical to say this had many negative consequences. In fact, according to "Words, Phrases and Passages," some of the Eldar said the same thing.

Parma Eldalamberon 17, pp. 178–179 wrote:This is said because the invitation given to the Eldar to remove to Valinor and live unendangered by Melkor was not in fact according to the design of Eru. It arose from anxiety, and it might be said from failure in trust of Eru, from anxiety and fear of Melkor, and the decision of the Eldar to accept the invitation was due to the overwhelming effect of their contact, while still in their inexperienced youth, with the bliss of Aman and the beauty and majesty of the Valar. It had disastrous consequences in diminishing the Elves of Middle-earth and so depriving Men of a large measure of the intended help and teaching of their 'elder brethren', and exposing them more dangerously to the power and deceits of Melkor. Also since it was in fact alien to the nature of the Elves to live under protection in Aman, and not (as was intended) in Middle-earth, one consequence was the revolt of the Noldor.

This is pretty radical stuff, and at odds with many of Tolkien's other comments, but it rings far truer to me than Letter 131. Or "Notes on motives in the Silmarillion," where Tolkien claims "it had been [Sauron's] virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall, and of his relapse) that he loved order and coordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction" (emphasis added). In Tolkien's moral framework, wanting to achieve great things independently of demiurgic authority is a character flaw. Acting on these urges is all but guaranteed to end poorly—because the author is always pulling the strings—and Sauron's misdeeds all flow from this inappropriate ambition. If we take Letter 183 at face value, then said ambition might well be the worst of Sauron's misdeeds, since his opponents could have copied his methods and still "remained indefeasibly right" so long as they gave divine honor solely to God.

So if we set Tolkien's intended (except in WPP) moral lessons aside and say, no, wanting to improve Middle-earth without the authorization of the Valar is not an immoral project inherently doomed to end in disaster, we have to find a different reason why it went wrong. In most cases, the story-internal reason for things going poorly for those who rejected the authority of the Valar is that Morgoth and/or Sauron were waiting in the wings to fuck with them. We can pin Sauron's first fall on that, but with Morgoth banished from Arda by the Second Age, he can't be to blame for Sauron's relapse. At least, not directly.

LOTR tells us virtually nothing of Sauron's character, but we can piece together a picture by looking through all the available posthumously-published evidence, and thus try to gain insight into his motivations. When we do, there's a very striking pattern that emerges: Sauron's greatest fear, and the source of his greatest rage, is not defeat but specifically humiliation.

  • TS, Of Beren and Lúthien: Sauron yields after Lúthien threatens to rob him of his fana: "There everlastingly thy naked self shall endure the torment of his scorn, pierced by his eyes, unless thou yield to me the mastery of thy tower."
  • OTROP: "Then Sauron was ashamed, and he was unwilling to return in humiliation and to receive from the Valar a sentence, it might be, of long servitude in proof of his good faith; for under Morgoth his power had been great."
  • Letter 153: "[Sauron] was given an opportunity of repentance, when Morgoth was overcome, but could not face the humiliation of recantation, and suing for pardon; and so his temporary turn to good and 'benevolence' ended in a greater relapse..."
  • UT, Galadriel and Celeborn: "In the Battle of the Gwathló Sauron was routed utterly and he himself only narrowly escaped. His small remaining force was assailed in the east of Calenardhon, and he with no more than a bodyguard fled to the region afterwards called Dagorlad (Battle Plain), whence broken and humiliated he returned to Mordor, and vowed vengeance upon Númenor."
  • HoMe X, Notes on motives in the Silmarillion: "...Sauron’s whole true motive was the destruction of the Númenóreans, this was a particular matter of revenge upon Ar-Pharazôn, for humiliation."

Different people can interpret this in different ways, but to me, the Sauron glimpsed through these quotes really kinda sounds like an abuse victim who is terrified of being helpless and humiliated by someone more powerful than him, and who lashes out at other people and inflicts pain and humiliation on them in order to give himself some semblance of control over his life. It's not hard to imagine the source for this.

III.

Let's go back to Sauron's origins. He wasn't evil in the beginning, as Elrond famously stated (FOTR, II 2). He was originally a Maia of Aulë, and he remained nominally in the Vala's service for a long time, being simultaneously "a great craftsman in the household of Aulë" and the most important of Melkor's spies in Almaren during and after his first war with the Valar (HoMe X, Annals of Aman, entry for the year 1500). OTROP states that "Melkor seduced [Sauron] to his allegiance"; while I have no doubt that Tolkien did not intend this sexually, we hear elsewhere that First Age Sauron "did not seek his own supremacy, but worked and schemed for another, desiring the triumph of Melkor, whom in the beginning he had adored" (MT, Text X; emphasis added). I'm inclined to read this as romantic attraction because I have permanently-affixed shipping goggles, but even if you don't, I think it suggests very strong personal feelings, not just loyalty to a cause.

The problem was that Melkor was not a deserving subject of anyone's adoration (for many reasons, most obviously his myriad moral failings, though Sauron was clearly willing to overlook those). "It was the apparent will and power of Melkor to effect his designs quickly and masterfully that had first attracted Sauron to him" (MT, Text VII), but Melkor was a nihilistic madman who, at least in "Myths Transformed," was not nearly as good at turning his plans into reality as young, hearts-in-his-eyes Sauron believed. Text X describes Sauron as "less corrupt, cooler, and more capable of calculation" than Melkor. "He thus was often able to achieve things, first conceived by Melkor, which his master did not or could not complete in the furious haste of his malice." Sauron is then given credit for creating orcs during Melkor's captivity in Valinor (a very different chronology from the 1977 Silmarillion) and rebuilding Angband so it was ready for Melkor when he returned.

Sauron was therefore in a tricky position at the start of the Wars of Beleriand. He'd served as acting Dark Lord in Melkor's place for the equivalent of nearly 4000 years of the sun, and by many metrics he did a better job. He remained personally devoted to (and possibly in love with) Melkor, but his skill and accomplishments would have made him seem threatening, in the same way that Primary World dictators tend to fear their most competent subordinates. Furthering the dictator analogy, I envision Melkor pitting his lieutenants against each other, alternating between praise and abuse, deliberately humiliating them in front of their peers, and perpetually keeping them on their toes, unsure of how he'd treat them. While Sauron's relationship with Melkor was unusually close, he was not exempt from this: see the above quote from "Beren and Lúthien" in which Sauron feared Melkor's mockery. This contrasts sharply with Sauron's relationship with his own subordinates in the same tale. Whereas Sauron was so terrified of being (probably publicly) mocked by his master that he surrendered his fortress and ran away to hide in a forest, the werewolf Draugluin, after losing to Huan, dragged his dying body back to Sauron so he could warn him of the danger. That, to me, indicates loyalty and devotion of a sort that Melkor seems unable to inspire.

"Beren and Lúthien" constitutes Sauron's main appearance in the First Age, and he's really awful in it, tormenting and killing people; he even laughs about it when manipulating Gorlim to his death. It's not my intention to excuse any of this: Sauron made the choice to join Morgoth and to keep serving him rather than running away. But by the nature of his role in the story, we're told very little about the specifics of his thought process, so we have to rely on inference. It's not hard to imagine that someone who started off as an idealist and joined the strongest person around him out of admiration and perhaps infatuation would then try to suppress his sense of right and wrong, trying his hardest to emulate the object of his adoration, even in his cruelty and awfulness. Sauron's repentance at the end of the First Age can't have come out of nowhere; he must have had a moral compass buried somewhere deep down, even in his darkest moments. My interpretation is that he deliberately tried to ignore it, and also tried to ignore all the signs that Melkor wasn't actually the amazing, world-remaking figure he'd been built up as in Sauron's mind.

The War of Wrath would have been a massively disillusioning experience, not so much because Melkor lost, but because it stripped away any remaining illusions that he was something other than a nihilist who wanted (forgive the phrase) to watch the world burn. Sauron, on the other hand, wanted to build a world which worked for its inhabitants' benefit—according to his own definition of benefit. I can't see him agreeing with the decision to keep pouring troops into an obviously hopeless war, knowing full well that they'd be slaughtered for nothing. I like to imagine Sauron quietly helping fellow servants of Melkor, ones that he liked and respected, escape the war so they could survive. That's not based on anything particular in the books, though we know a minority of Melkor's followers escaped the ruin of Beleriand and went into hiding. Notably, Sauron was not one of those who immediately went into hiding, since he stayed behind to seek Eönwë's pardon. Only when it was refused did he go East. It's an open question what Sauron would have done if it had been granted, but I imagine he would have stayed in the Westlands and tried to make amends. If his intention was always to disappear into the East, he'd have been better served by doing so immediately, not giving Eönwë the chance to apprehend him if he didn't think Sauron was genuine in his repentance.

I already laid out my case for Sauron not being evil when he approached the Eldar (which can be summarized as "follow OTROP's lead"). If that's the case, it speaks well of Celebrimbor. Dude constantly gets dragged for having been fooled by Sauron, but I much prefer the interpretation in which Celebrimbor took a principled stand in favor of redemption always being an option, and was actually vindicated for the next ~400 years. I like reading the Annatar/Celebrimbor relationship as romantic because of my aforementioned shipping goggles, but even if it was platonic, I imagine them having an exciting and invigorating intellectual partnership. Celebrimbor, in SA 1200, was still living in his grandfather's shadow—who wouldn't be, in his position?—but he already had the talent he'd use to create arguably the greatest work of Eldarin craftsmanship since the Silmarils. It wouldn't have been possible without Annatar, but I think it's a better story if the Rings project is genuinely collaborative, not something Sauron could have accomplished on his own either. They make an unknown number of lesser rings and the first sixteen Great Rings together, but then Celebrimbor and Annatar begin separately working on their own projects—the Three and the One.

It's clear that none of the Elves, including Celebrimbor, were aware of the One until Sauron put it on his finger, but I'm not sure if Sauron knew of the Three before that point. There are a few different accounts of their creation—Letter 131 credits "the Elves of Eregion" as a collective—but Unfinished Tales says they were made by "Celebrimbor alone, with a different power and purpose" from the Rings that were made with Sauron's aid (UT, Galadriel and Celeborn). Note that it says Celebrimbor alone, not the Elves alone. If they were indeed a solo project, like the Silmarils, then it's very possible Sauron didn't know about them. He might not have been in Eregion at that point: according to Appendix B, the Three were completed in c. 1590, while "Galadriel and Celeborn" says Sauron left Eregion in c. 1500. But I should know better than to mix and match dates from different sources so freely, so whatever. (It's 4:00 am, I've been working on this all night, send help.)

If Sauron didn't know, it could help explain his sense of betrayal—that Celebrimbor didn't trust him with his secret project. (Hypocrisy? What's that?) It's in OTROP that we hear of Sauron feeling betrayed when the Elves took off their Rings, because they "were not deceived." But OTROP is also the narrative in which Sauron didn't go full Dark Lord until after his war with the Elves. It is, admittedly, hard to square the One Ring's mind control abilities with the idea of Sauron still at least partially well-intentioned. Because I want to hold on that idea, my tentative solution is that Sauron gave his Ring power over the others (and their wearers) as a fail-safe, because he had difficulty trusting others to use the Rings "responsibly." Also, we have to remember he spent eons in environments (Utumno and Angband) where manipulating and controlling others was just what you did to survive; it would be weird if he didn't have trouble shedding those patterns of behavior, even after many centuries.

This ties in with the abuse victim analogy I mentioned earlier. Living in a toxic environment with someone who lives and breathes manipulation—whether they're a family member, spouse, etc—leaves lasting psychological scars. It's really fucking hard to fully escape the maladaptive coping skills you're forced to use to survive (if anyone has figured out how, let me know). Sauron had literally the most toxic ex in the history of the world, and I see him in the first half of the Second Age as someone trying his best to do the right thing, even though he only vaguely remembers how. I think his relationship with Celebrimbor, romantic or not, would have helped. From what we learn of Fëanor's character in the later volumes of HoMe, Celebrimbor likely knew a thing or two about toxic formative experiences, but he was also putting in a ton of effort to build something different and better for himself and the people around him. A repentant Sauron must have admired that, maybe even seen Celebrimbor as someone to emulate, even if some of his actions just didn't make sense to a person whose world used to revolve around Melkor.

So there we have Sauron in SA 1600. He's done something that seems perfectly reasonable to him—make sure he has final control over the immensely powerful magical artifacts he created, because he knows what it's like to not have control over his work and it's fucking awful—and the result was his best friend and maybe lover ghosting him. So what does Sauron do? He falls back on what he knows, and handles the situation the way Melkor would. Yet OTROP doesn't date Sauron's full relapse into evil to the start of his war with the Elves, but to its aftermath. I think he still, on some level, wanted things to go back to the way they were. "Galadriel and Celeborn" states "Celebrimbor was put to torment" for information about the Rings and gave up the locations of the Seven and the Nine but said nothing of the Three, at which point Sauron "had him put to death." But I imagine there was more to it than that; Sauron was capable of mixing up interrogation methods, tossing in some cajoling between the pain. Surely, Celebrimbor must see that Sauron doesn't want him to suffer, and if he'd just be reasonable and give up the Three, they can once again work together for the betterment of Middle-earth. Sauron might even believe what he's saying; compared to Melkor, he's being downright gentle, so why is his brilliant (creative) partner refusing to acknowledge his clearly justifiable position?

And that's the tragedy of Second Age Sauron in a nutshell. He comes so close to true redemption, but when he feels hurt, he falls back on old habits and lashes out in the way he knows best. Celebrimbor refuses to accept Sauron's "mercy" and acquiesce to his demands, which to a certain kind of abuse-warped mind is evidence that the other person doesn't actually care about you. So Sauron puts him to death, which is standard procedure, but then he has Celebrimbor's body hung from a pole and carried in front of him for the rest of the war, which is decidedly not. But it's a reminder of the dangers of making yourself vulnerable and believing other people won't turn on you. The war continues as it began—the desperate flailing of someone who is hurting and has no healthy way to express it—but it ends in Sauron's crushing defeat and humiliation. So he hunkers down in Mordor, licks his wounds, and broods on what happened. And only then does he fully lock away his feelings and dedicate himself to becoming a Dark Lord—like Melkor, but better, because at least Sauron can now admit that he always was. Maybe love and emotional intimacy were lies, but he can still have fear, awe, and devotion from the peoples of the empire he'll build.

Take away the empire and the fearsome supernatural abilities, and it's a very human story that many of us have seen play out in our personal lives, with either ourselves or our loved ones as the protagonist. Those are the kind of stories I find most engaging, and I think this psychological richness makes all of Sauron's appearances in the legendarium more interesting, even when he's at his most blatantly villainous.

If nothing else, it's better than him being a flaming eyeball. :pac:
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Post by Amarië Fri May 28, 2021 4:37 am

I will have to read this later, but I absolutely LOVE that, of all the things you mentioned in your intro, it is "headcanon" you feel needs a closer explanation.
lol! Kissing

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Post by Eldy Fri May 28, 2021 4:57 am

There ... may be something of a pattern of offbeat Tolkien AUs in my recent creative writing projects. Laughing
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Post by halfwise Fri May 28, 2021 6:25 am

Just started to read but....Numenorian Ninjas? Shocked

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Post by halfwise Fri May 28, 2021 7:20 am

Read it. Wow. What a thunderous opening to a new thread, and hopefully a long re-entry into Forumshire. When I started reading this I was making mental notes along the lines of "there's an original idea I'd like to discuss" but as I went on the number of original thoughts cascaded into an avalanche that will likely spur months of discussion.

Eldy, you have a gift. This, your thoughts on the history of Gondor, other writings should be composed into a a full book (or expanded into separate books) that I think will be a major contribution to Tolkien literature. This topic in particular is strikingly original, pulling on your personal past in a way that so many other writers could not access.

But now I come to my own original contribution, relating to your "shipping" tendencies and Tolkien's post victorian language. I think we're all familiar with the tendency of male writers of Victorian and Edwardian England to use romantic language when talking of male to male friendship. It bears some exploration. I feel it comes from the repression of the very concept of homosexuality - to them such things didn't exist as part of their mental framework, and it would have had a freeing effect on straight men (though lord only knows the full effect on gay men).

Modern day western men have a sort of innate terror of homosexuality (much more so the older generation than the younger, thankfully). I think this has had a huge impact on the culture of friendships between men versus those of women. It has often been remarked that women can form much deeper friendships then men - and I relate that squarely to the fear of homosexuality. Male to male relationships must therefore be purely playful rather than deep. But to Victorian/Edwardian men, homosexuality as a concept essentially didn't exist, therefore freeing them to form deeper relationships to other men. Whether they developed 'romantic' but non-sexual relationships is a question worthy of exploration, but I'd say it's very possible. It certainly comes out in the language of the period.

Going back to Sauron/Celebrimbor - whether they were "lovers" or not is probably not a question that can even be asked in Tolkien's mindset, but certainly they can be thought of as a romantic couple, minus the sex. It would explain a lot as you point out, and I'd even put it up as a candidate for explaining the torture as a sort of substitute for unrequited sex (this is getting really dark, but hey, we're talking Sauron here). For me a major question concerns Tolkien's access to such darkness in his past: surely the theme of death pervades his childhood, but are we reading more into his writing than he intended? Or might he really have intended such things but faithful to his culture hid them in his writings the same way he hid all mention of sex (and defecation, etc)?

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Post by Eldy Fri May 28, 2021 11:27 am

First of all, thank you so much for your kind words, halfy. There's a good chance you do, after so many years, know just how much it means to me, but it's always a wonderful feeling when a big lore post of mine is well-received. Smile

I freely admit that this was primarily an exercise in applicability, as Tolkien used that term in the Foreword to LOTR, rather than an attempt to prove he had this or that intention. I'd like to think I was able to assemble a respectable amount of evidence—almost all of it from the post-LOTR phase—but one could argue that Sauron's role in the story as a physical avatar of Evil is not improved by attempting to (re)construct a psychological portrait of him. Tolkien, in his descriptions of Sauron's motives, seemed content to let him be a cautionary tale about the overweening ambitions of those who want to bring "order" to the world. His hints as to Sauron the person are scattered and never assembled into a comprehensive picture as I've attempted here. But I don't find physical incarnations of Evil particularly interesting, so I deliberately went in a different direction. That this is possible while remaining grounded in the texts is a testament to the legendarium's breadth and depth.

You make some really interesting points about how Tolkien's cultural background can inform our reading of romance or sexuality into the Annatar/Celebrimbor relationship. Most of my detailed thoughts about their dynamic are outright fanfic (meaning they fuck, because I try to write fics I would want to read Pokey Tongue), but I think your ideas are closer to what Tolkien might have come up with had he ever gone in that creative direction. Their relationship would most likely be tied up in layers of repression, displacement, and maybe in the best case sublimation—until everything falls apart. I've read some A/C darkfic (I suppose that's a bit tautological) that handles the torture in the way you describe.

halfwise wrote:For me a major question concerns Tolkien's access to such darkness in his past: surely the theme of death pervades his childhood, but are we reading more into his writing than he intended?  Or might he really have intended such things but faithful to his culture hid them in his writings the same way he hid all mention of sex (and defecation, etc)?

This reminds me of a really interesting quote I stumbled across recently in an article by Verlyn Flieger. I imagine most people here are at least vaguely aware of Tolkien's comment that LOTR is "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work"; this was made in a letter to Fr. Robert Murray in 1953 (though he was not yet ordained). Murray was a personal friend of Tolkien's as well as a proofreader for LOTR, and in 1980 he was asked to give feedback on a Master's thesis about the influence of Catholicism on Tolkien's work. Murray replied, in part, "Tolkien was a very complex and depressed man and my own opinion of his imaginative creation is that it projects his very depressed view of the universe at least as much as it reflects his Catholic faith." (You can read the full letter in Tolkien Studies, which requires authentication, or a partial quote in Mythlore, which is freely available.) It's certainly no great stretch to see Tolkien's literary treatment of death and trauma as relevant to his own experience, and I think he was the sort of person who was capable of writing about the darker parts of the human psyche in a realistic, if oblique, manner. But one can debate whether that's the case here or if it's applicability all the way down.


(Thanks again! As for my ninja AU, that would take a lengthy post to try to explain, but I might try later. Laughing)
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Post by halfwise Fri May 28, 2021 12:20 pm

The one time I saw Verlyn Flieger in the flesh she had dismissed LotR as a "Catholic Work" - she much preferred the phrase Tolkien used "Informed by Catholicism". To reconcile this with "Fundamentally a Catholic Work" I think she would say it doesn't break the constraints of Catholicism, but neither does it strictly follow the model.

What has that got to do with the present discussion? Probably just to agree that in trying to understand Tolkien's work we shouldn't try to cling too hard to the models that informed that work. Insight, not guidance.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Fri May 28, 2021 12:46 pm

{{ First just to echo Halfys words on the excellence of your post Eldy and the ideas it raises. On the subject of male/male releationships in a world where homosexuality was not on the social radar I think Tolkien would probably have been looking further back for his male/male releationships. In the middle ages such close bonding between males was actually an accepted part of society and normal, not the sexual aspect but the use of language we would now associate solely with romantic releationships, such as 'love' when refering to a close male friend was common place. I have read one or two such surviving letters, trying to track them down but was many years ago, but one inparticular sticks out where one knight is writing to another of thier companionship, the bond of love and fondness between them and how much he misess the other whilst he is away on campaign and longs for him to be by his side. By all accounts of those letter writers however there was no other indication of any homosexual releationship in the modern sense, nor was the us eof such language exceptional or unusual in its time, such words of affection were just accepted as normal in the binds between males. Just different thinking.
I also feel this is portrayed in the Frodo/Sam releationship by the end. Bonds of love but without a sexual angle or one of physical attraction. But to the modern eye its hard for people to see such male/male closeness without adding a sexual or attracitve nature to it (even in modern society a wealthy bachelor like Frodo who had never married inviting someone who seems so close to him like Sam to come live with him in his house would probably raise the suspicion of homosexuality, but that is not true in the Shire where no such assumptions are made) So I dont think we can put to much weight on reading into such expresions of love anything homnosexual in nature, at least not as a given. But it does reflect just how close such bonds could be, and indeed how great a sense of betrayal could therefore arise if one party were to dishonour or reject the other or their friendship after many years of such closeness, as perhaps Sauron felt with Celebrimbor. }}

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Post by Eldy Fri May 28, 2021 12:57 pm

That's a very good point concerning older models of homosocial relationships in Tolkien's writing. I am inclined to agree that Tolkien would not have made sexual attraction part of the Annatar/Celebrimbor dynamic (though I find it interesting to speculate on what it might have looked like in an implausible scenario where he did). Just to be clear, I think emotionally intimate friendships are a fantastic thing and I am all in favor of that being normalized for men in both real life and fiction. However, I have my competing impulse to interpret fictional relationships as romantic or sexual when given even the hint of a pretext—the aforementioned shipping goggles—which is something that transcends gender or, if I'm being honest, good taste. Razz
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Post by halfwise Fri May 28, 2021 1:08 pm

As I noted the language of love between male friends was also very Victorian/Edwardian. And you'll notice in Sherlock Holmes and other writing of the time quite a bit of approving descriptions of the physical attributes of male companions. But the medieval context is of course even more applicable to LotR.

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