A Few Thoughts on Being an Ally of Sauron

There comes a moment on their journey through Mordor when Frodo and Sam are able to look across the “hateful land” towards Orodruin, Mount Doom and the vast shadow beyond of Barad-dûr. Between them and the mountain they can see the armies of Mordor moving along its roads and the many military camps, some of tents and others like small towns “with straight dreary streets of huts and low drab buildings.” To their surprise it is Men and not Orcs that they can see upon the road.

We have already met some of the allies of Mordor earlier in the story. The force that Faramir and his Rangers of Ithilien ambush near Henneth Annûn, the Corsairs of Umbar that are defeated by Aragorn and the army of the Dead at Pelargir and the army of Harad whose king is slain at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields by the charge of Théoden’s knights. In addition to these there are the forces of the Easterlings who dwell near to the great inland sea of Rhûn. What all share in common is that they have long been enemies of Gondor and also allies of Mordor.

Why do those who are not Sauron’s slaves so willingly fight for him? As they journey through the dreary land can they not see that the future that they fight for looks like this? Everything that Sauron touches is spoilt and eventually dies. He values power and control over everything else and it is his power and his control that he values most. The lands of the East may be his allies now but surely the only destiny open to them is to become as much Sauron’s slaves as are the orcs.

Some of humankind have been allies of the dark ever since the First Age, siding then with Morgoth and later from the Second Age with Sauron. It is likely that that some of the Nazgûl, Lords of Men who were given Rings of Power by the Dark Lord, were descendents of these early allies. Others were Númenóreans who had returned to Middle-earth during the Second Age and had fallen under Sauron’s sway. What all shared in common with him was the desire for power and a hatred for the peoples of the West. The glory of the kingdoms of Beleriand in the First Age and then of Númenor in the Second and of Gondor in the Third all excited both envy, resentment and ultimately hatred.

It might be argued that this was not entirely their fault. It is hard to be treated with contempt, to be regarded as deplorables from one generation to another. Even the loyal allies of Rohan feel inferior to Gondor. Denethor’s policy might easily be summarised as “Gondor first…Gondor first”. In fact the words that he actually uses in an angry exchange with Gandalf are, “Gondor alone”. Denethor might need Rohan in time of need but only as an inferior within the alliance. The words of contempt that Théoden and his men actually heard came from the lips of Saruman but might they have come too from Denethor in an unguarded moment?

Sauron certainly shares this contempt as he does for all creatures saving only himself and his lord, Morgoth. But he focuses the resentment of his allies upon Gondor and he offers power, real power. We might be able to see that, as with the Ringwraiths, Sauron’s gifts may bring power but they also ultimately enslave, but when the gift is offered what is most enticing is revenge over an ancient foe and a share in a seemingly inevitable victory. We are more than willing, so it seems, to believe that we might be exceptions to the slavery and the misery.

I end this piece with the word, we, for any wise reader of The Lord of the Rings must know that they or we, too, are capable of falling under Sauron’s spell. All of us are likely to have reasons for envy and resentment at some time or other and the opportunity to have power over someone else will be tempting too. These are the temptations that make us vulnerable to the darkness and its power. Our hearts need to be guarded against them with constant vigilance.

8 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on Being an Ally of Sauron

  1. Some sobering thoughts here. But I suppose we can all see how much hatred of the “other” continues to be a powerful force in world events, and how easily we or anyone around us can fall prey to it.

    Sam’s observation of the fallen Southron in Ithilien has always touched me: “He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace…” A reminder of how like us they really are.

    • Thank you for reminding me of Sam’s response to the Southron warrior. I am sure that Tolkien was putting his own thoughts into Sam’s mind there. It reminds me of a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, who was a tank commander in the 2nd World War. He spoke of having to examine a German tank that his tank had taken out. As he looked at all the dead soldiers inside his reaction was the same as Sam’s. And my father used to tell me about how he was drinking with German soldiers within weeks of the end of the Second World War and doing so in a friendly manner. My experience of soldiers is that more often than not they have a sense of being part of a shared experience, even with their enemies. The demonisation of the enemy usually comes from those who are distanced from the enemy. And that shows the way that Tolkien thinks about Aragorn and Faramir who are never distanced from their men.

    • I rather think that you are right about human nature and the timeliness of Tolkien’s insights. Did Faramir’s longing for a Gondor “not feared save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise” ever come to pass?

      • I know that Christopher Tolkien says that towards the end of his life his father withdrew into thoughts on the metaphysics of his work. I think that his insights into life, death and immortality were always profound. I wish I knew what he was thinking about near the end.
        As to the Elves I have long thought that they hold up a mirror to the nature of humankind.

  2. I think Tolkien also learned the lesson of WW1: “And the King pardoned the Easterlings that had given themselves up, and sent them away free, and he made peace with the peoples of Harad; and the slaves of Mordor he released and gave to them all the lands about Lake Nuremberg to be their own.” Not every individual fights for the stated reasons of his/her ‘government.’ Tolkien created some (orcs, Balrogs, trolls) which were intrinsically evil, but most were just corruptable humans — and if corruptable, then redeemable

    • Thank you so much for leaving your first comment on this blog. I do hope that you will visit again.
      The quote from LOTR on the magnanimity of Aragorn is wonderful. Thank you so much for it. I agree with you entirely that the reasons why Sauron’s allies fought were not the same reasons that he did and, of course, the reasons why an ordinary warrior from one of the client kingdoms would fight were likely to be different and various again. I was thinking, as I thought about your comment, about the history of the Scandinavian peoples in Europe, once the most feared of Europe’s peoples, now, even though there are tensions, a haven of peace in an increasingly troubled world.
      And I agree with you again that whatever is corruptible is also redeemable. An encouraging thought!

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