Tolkien Gateway

Letter 200

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 200
RecipientMajor R. Bowen
Date25 June 1957
Subject(s)The nature of Sauron

Letter 200 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

[edit] Summary

Tolkien explained that Sauron was always de-bodied when vanquished. He was one of the minor "angelic" spirits, belonging to the race of intelligent beings created before the physical world. These beings were permitted to assist in the making of the world as a work of Art. When the Creator made it real, giving it a secondary reality subordinate to his own, those most engrossed with the making desired to enter into it.

This was allowed and they became the equivalent of the "gods" of traditional mythology. However, they then had to remain in it until the Story was finished. Thus they were in the world but did not need to be physically incarnated. They could self-incarnate, but these forms were more analogous to clothing than bodies, except that the forms were an expression of desires, moods, wills, and functions. They had fore-knowledge from their knowing of the Story when it was composed. This though varied in great degree. Manwë had a fairly complete knowledge of the Creator's mind. A lesser spirit might only have been interested in some subsidiary matter, such as trees or birds. Some attached themselves and derived their knowledge from major artists. Sauron attached himself to Melkor, [notes 1] ultimately the inevitable Rebel and self-worshipper. Olórin had been attached to Manwë.[1]

The Creator had introduced new themes into the original design; the chief was the theme of incarnate intelligence, Elves and Men. They were the Children of God and, being other than the Spirits, objects of hope and desire of the greater spirits. They knew something of their form and nature, but also realized that they must not be "dominated" (though they were specially susceptible to it).

Due to this pre-occupation with the Children of God, the spirits often took the form of the Children, and thus Sauron appeared in this shape. When the form was "real", existing physically in the physical world and not merely a vision, it took some time to build up and was then destructible like other physical organisms. But destroying the assumed form did not destroy the spirit nor dismiss it from the world to which it was bound to the end. After battle with Gilgalad and Elendil, Sauron took a long while to re-build, longer than after the Downfall of Númenor (each re-building used up some of the inherent energy of the spirit). Sauron's inability to re-build after the destruction of the Ring is "mythologically" clear.

Tolkien apologized if all this seemed dreary or pompous, but so were all attempts to “explain” mythologies. The stories come first, but it is a test of consistency of a mythology if it is capable of rational or rationalized explanation.

[edit] Notes

  1. From the Unfinished Tales: "The probability is that Sauron was in fact one of the Aulëan Maiar, corrupted before Arda began by Melkor".


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Istari"