Lord of the Rings: why was Sauron just an eye?

He's the ultimate villain in the Lord of the Rings movies but why when we saw him in the Third Age was the dark lord Sauron just an eye?

Lord of the Rings: why was Sauron just an eye?

Why was Sauron just an eye in the Lord of the Rings movies? Sauron, the mightiest of Morgoth’s servants and the dark lord who terrorised Middle-earth through the Second and Third Ages, is one of the greatest movie villains and is one of the most iconic Lord of the Rings characters.

But across the whole trilogy, he’s only on screen for about four minutes and spends even less time with an actual body. Instead, Middle-earth’s equivalent to the Anti-Christ spends his days living as the evilest lampost to ever appear in a fantasy movie. So why was Sauron just an eye in Peter Jackson’s trilogy? Could he assume a more humanoid form? And how is he different from the books?

Why was Sauron just an Eye?

In Jackson’s movies, the fiery eye of Sauron that sits atop Barad-dúr is implied to be all that remains of the dark lord after Isildur cut the One Ring from his hand.

The eye is Sauron’s spirit, burning with fury at being trapped without physical form and looking across Middle-earth for the only thing that can restore him, his ring. Saruman actually tells Gandalf that Sauron cannot take on a corporeal body at the moment but that he’s gaining strength.

The eye as we see it, however, was an invention for the films. In the books, we never see Sauron’s physical form, but certain passages imply he has retaken his physical form. Gollum describes seeing Sauron when he was captured by the orcs and tortured for information about the ring and The Shire.

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“He has only four on the Black Hand,” Gollum says. “But they are enough.” Unless Gollum was being abused by a giant eye with one hand, it seems clear Sauron had retaken a humanoid form in the Third Age.

Sauron is also frequently referred to as “The Eye” in the books, but that’s less because he’s an actual eye and more because he banned the evil races, like the orcs, from speaking his name. So to show their loyalty to their Maiar master, they use the symbol of an eye to show his ever-watchful gaze

So why did Jackson choose to turn Sauron into a disembodied fiery eye? Well, he likely took inspiration from the following passage in the Fellowship of The Ring, when Frodo looked into Galadriel’s magical mirror.

Lord of the Rings: why was Sauron just an eye?

“Suddenly, the Mirror went altogether dark, as dark as if a hole had been opened in the world of sight… In the abyss, there appeared a single Eye that slowly grew, until it filled nearly all the Mirror,” Tolkien wrote. “So terrible was it that Frodo stood rooted, unable to cry out or to withdraw his gaze. The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat’s, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing.”

This eye is described as roving back and forth as though searching for something, just like in the film. It’s likely that Jackson took this metaphorical eye and turned it into the evil lighthouse we know and love, as it provided him with a more physical evil for audiences to fear.

Lord of the Rings: why was Sauron just an eye?

There are a few passages that make reference to the Eye of Sauron, Sam and Frodo see “the flicker of a piercing eye” when they make their way into Mount Doom, but again it’s implied this is linked to them both having carried the One Ring and it’s more of a spiritual awareness than a literal eye.

If you can’t get enough of Sauron, then check out our guide to Rings of Power season 2, or we have guides to some of the key Rings of Power characters, we have articles on Durin, Elrond, and Celebrimbor.