Tolkien’s Legendarium is one of our biggest, most popular, and most interesting fictional universes. It is – in a way – the epitome of a fantasy-based universe and served as a prototype for all later similar universes that are part of the fantasy genre. Tolkien’s universe has a lot of mysteries, and while some of them are unclear, some are solved but need further clarification. This article’s story is certainly a mystery, but one that actually has an answer but an answer that needs to be clarified. This article is about the Necromancer, the mysterious character from The Hobbit, and his connection to the Dark Lord Sauron. Are they one and the same, or two separate characters?
Are Sauron and the Necromancer the same characters?
We all know that Sauron and his story were fully presented in The Lord of the Rings, where Sauron was the main antagonist. Certainly, Tolkien had developed the character of Sauron to a certain degree by that point, but not all of the details had been worked out.
On the other hand, the character of the Necromancer was present in The Hobbit, but the connection with Sauron wasn’t initially clear because, at the time of writing The Hobbit, Sauron had not yet been created. So, initially, the character appearing in Dol Guldur was a Necromancer called Thû, and if you had read the novel then, you could not connect the Necromancer to Sauron. Yet, Tolkien always intended for the two to be one and the same person.
Yes, Tolkien intended for the Necromancer (or Thû) to be Sauron even before Sauron was officially introduced, and several pieces of evidence clearly point to that and the fact that the Necromancer and Sauron are the same people. In The History of the Hobbit, which was published in 2007 but contains Tolkien’s original drafts and ideas from before the publication of The Hobbit, it is written (about the Necromancer):
“‘Don’t be absurd’ said the wizard. ‘That is a job quite beyond the powers of all the dwarves, if they could be all gathered together again from the four corners of the world. And anyway his castle stands no more and he is flown to another darker place – Beren and Tinúviel broke his power, but that is quite another story.'”
This is an obvious reference to the story of Morgoth, part of which is a young Sauron. The connection is referenced in both The Lay of Leithian (“Men called him Thû (…) In glamour that necromancer held his hosts”), which also confirms that the Necromancer is Thû, and in Letter 19, a pre-LotR letter written by Tolkien, where the author says: “even Sauron the terrible peeped over the edge.”
Sauron’s character went through a lot of revisions even before the publication of The Hobbit – he was even a giant, demonic cat at one point – but even though the concept of the One Ring was created later, most of his backstory had already been established, which is why there is absolutely no doubt that Sauron and the Necromancer are one and the same person.
Why is Sauron called the Necromancer?
Due to the fact that Sauron, when he appeared in The Lord of the Rings, didn’t seem to have the powers of necromancy, a lot of people were confused as to why he was called the Necromancer in The Hobbit, since it suggested that he had a power he seemingly did not have.
We know that he can extend a character’s life infinitely (as witnessed by the Gollum via the One Ring) or create and control the half-alive monstrosities known as the Ringwraiths, but it was never explicitly confirmed that he could revive the dead, at least not in The Lord of the Rings. Yet, several other sources confirm that he could actually summon the dead, which explains why he was called the Necromancer. For example, The Lay of Leithian states the following in its verses:
Men called him Thû, and as a god in after days beneath his rod bewildered bowed to him, and made his ghastly temples in the shade. Not yet by men enthralled adored, now was he Morgoth’s mightiest lord, Master of Wolves, whose shivering howl for ever echoed in the hills, and foul enchantments and dark sigaldry did weave and wield. In glamoury that necromancer held his hosts of phantoms and of wandering ghosts…
The last two and a half lines confirm both that Thû is the Necromancer – which we already knew – but also that he did have a group of “phantoms and of wandering ghosts” at his disposition. This doesn’t tell us why he was called the Necromancer, but it confirms he could use necromancy for his own goals. Another passage from The History of Middle-earth, gives a proper confirmation:
“It is therefore a foolish and perilous thing, besides being a wrong deed forbidden justly by the appointed Rulers of Arda, if the Living seek to commune with the Unbodied, though the houseless may desire it, especially the most unworthy among them. For the Unbodied, wandering in the world, are those who at the least have refused the door of life and remain in regret and self-pity. Some are filled with bitterness, grievance, and envy. Some were enslaved by the Dark Lord and do his work still, though he himself is gone. They will not speak truth or wisdom. To call on them is folly. To attempt to master them and to make them servants of one own’s will is wickedness. Such practices are of Morgoth; and the necromancers are of the host of Sauron his servant.”
This passage confirms that Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, is the one who knew these practices and that Sauron, his most faithful servant, likewise had the powers of necromancy, which explains the name and his role in The Hobbit; there, he had to hide as the Necromancer because he was not at the height of his powers, since he was in a stage of revival at the time.
Did Gandalf know that Sauron was the Necromancer?
When the character of the Necromancer appeared in the fortress of Dol Guldur, no one was aware of his true identity. The Elves and the White Council suspected that he might be Sauron, but they did not know it; meanwhile, Sauron was gathering his strength and establishing a loyal army of Ringwraiths. Suspecting that the Necromancer might be Sauron, Gandalf infiltrated Dol Guldur on one occasion. Still, Sauron fled to hide his real identity, as he was not yet powerful enough to defend himself.
Not giving up on his suspicions, Gandalf made a second intrusion into Dol Guldur, when he finally confirmed that the Necromancer was, indeed, Sauron. He informed the White Council, who gathered their powers despite Saruman’s opposition and attacked the Necromancer, eventually driving him out of Dol Guldur permanently, but not defeating him.
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