Thursday, May 19, 2016

Debate: Sauron or Melkor?

Well friends, the Hobbit Lifestyle Debate just passed up 12 Things You Should Never Say to a Lord of the Rings Fan as the most popular post. In celebration, my sister Emily and I are back with another debate.

This time, the question is: who is the better “bad guy”? Sauron, or Melkor?

Emily and I actually both agree on who the better bad guy is (who I will not--at this time--disclose) but for the purposes of this debate one of us (not saying who) will be playing devil’s advocate (no pun intended). Emily will be advocating for Melkor and I will be on the side of Sauron.  Emily will be in green.

Since Emily went first last time, I will start out.

Sauron Opening Statement
Sauron the Deceiver clearly learned a lot from his tutor, Melkor. He was able to learn a lot from Melkor’s mistakes and--cunning as he is--reassessed Melkor’s ideas and came up with better ones. The result was a “bad guy 2.0”, new and improved. My first three points in this argument will be the following: a) Sauron is far better at being tricky and stealthy, in opposition to Melkor’s outward menace b) Sauron lasted much longer than Melkor because he had the benefit of education, and c) Sauron was able to rebuild after being defeated not once, not twice, but three times--a true sign of flexibility and cunning.

Melkor Opening Statement
While Sauron undoubtedly changed the face of Middle-earth, it was Melkor, also known as Morgoth, who truly established evil as a force to be reckoned with. As the greatest of the Ainur, Melkor is naturally more powerful than Sauron, and was able to wreak havoc in ways Sauron would never be able to. My argument hinges upon the facts that Melkor is naturally a more powerful being than Sauron, that Melkor prevailed for hundreds of years against a much mightier enemy, and that Melkor created an environment which allowed his malice to thrive for centuries after his defeat, proof that he focused on long term domination rather than short term gratification.

Sauron Point #1
My first point is that Sauron is far better at being tricky and stealthy, in opposition to Melkor’s outward menace. Melkor started off his career by being extremely outward with his hatred toward the Valar as well as the Children of Illuvatar. This became a disadvantage for him because he was unable to subtly corrupt people (like Sauron does so well) but had to resort to outright torture and brute strength. In contrast to this, Sauron is far more mysterious and excels at fooling and tricking people, as he did in the island of Numenor. The destruction of some of the best Men to ever live was one of Sauron’s greatest achievements, and he did it not by laying their island under siege, nor by entering battle (as Melkor undoubtedly would have done) but by infiltrating the elite of the island and planting corruption within the Men’s hearts. The latter is much more effective, as it ends in Men choosing to do wrong rather than just becoming victims. For instance, Melkor tortures and abuses Turin and Nienor in the First Age. These two characters die, but in dying, escape Melkor’s grasp. Sauron corrupts the Ringwraiths and they can never escape his grasp. Similarly, Sauron doesn’t just kill the Numenorians, he ruins them.

Melkor Rebuttal #1
I firmly believe Sauron’s subversion tactics were a) only adopted because he just wasn’t as strong as Melkor, and b) just happened to be the right way to deal with Men because, you know, they are so weak-willed. Melkor never even attempted to conquer Numenor; I have no doubt that he could have. That’s just not how the story worked out temporally.

Sauron Redirect #1
Melkor either underestimated the power of Numenor or was unable to figure out how to conquer it, because whether he liked it or not, the future people of Numenor were some of his greatest adversaries. I don’t think he just decided not to attack the Edain, I think he could not figure out an effective way to. AND EVEN IF HE HAD succeeded in killing them all, they still would not be “conquered”. Like I said before, even in death they would escape his grasp. Sauron completely subverted them so that they would be unclean sinners who themselves would never be free while under his power.

Sauron Point #2
My second argument is that Sauron lasted much longer than Melkor because he had the benefit of education. Sauron was able to see Melkor’s mistakes as he made them, take those failings, and fix them for his own career. Examples of these repaired shortcomings include: being stealthy rather than outwardly evil, corrupting rather than just attacking, exploiting weakness rather than injuring, etc. Just to be clear, it makes no difference that Melkor was originally the teacher. Quite often, students end up better off than their tutors. Could anyone say that Aristotle is less than Plato simply because he was his student? Of course not; he got all of Plato’s knowledge, plus his own intuition. The same is true with Sauron; he had Melkor’s knowledge and his own.

Melkor Rebuttal #2
When comparing the merits of two individuals, you have to look at the accomplishments of each relative to their starting point. Melkor basically invented evil in Middle Earth; all the discord that echoed in Middle-earth since the forming of Arda came originally from him. He was the inspiration and motivation behind Sauron’s behavior and, even though the teacher/student relationship does not automatically establish Melkor as the greater force, we have to recognize that Melkor’s role in establishing evil as a major force in an otherwise Eden-esque landscape is far more important than Sauron’s additional modifications. Comparatively, Sauron’s actions were far less impactful than Melkor’s great strides.

Sauron Redirect #2
Do not forget that Sauron was around throughout the entire First Age aiding Melkor in everything. Chances are that if it were not for Sauron working behind the scenes, many of Melkor’s greatest triumphs would never have come to fruition. While Melkor was the first to have a rough idea of evil, I have shown that Sauron was the first to perfect the design and put it to use effectively and prolifically. Sauron made evil so effective that he didn’t have to be around to perpetuate it, but could sit back and let Men and other peoples bring it to pass.

Sauron Point #3

My final point is that Sauron proves his superiority by coming back not once, not twice, but three times. He follows the motto: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. His first major defeat comes when Luthien cleanses the island of him. Sauron is forced to flee, but returns even stronger. The second time is after Numenor is destroyed and Sauron sinks with it (which is an instance, I may point out, which needed the help of not only the Valar, but Eru himself*--unlike Melkor’s destruction). He loses his physical form, but his spirit comes back even more powerful. The third time is when Isildur and co. defeat him in the Last Alliance. Finally, he is defeated once and for all by Frodo. The point is, that all of these different occasions were obstacles that Sauron overcame and learned from. In the end, he was much more powerful coming back from these events than he ever was before. Sauron demonstrates his tenacity, flexibility, and triumph in adversity through these redemptive returns.
*I am, of course, referencing the fact that the Valar had to lay down their governance of Arda to Eru in order to banish the evil that Sauron had incurred. In Melkor’s instance, they were able to handle it themselves.

Melkor Rebuttal #3
This is a matter of perspective; I would argue that Sauron’s many defeats are signs of weakness rather than perseverance. Melkor’s reign of terror contrasts to that of Sauron in that Melkor was complete and sustained in his control. For long stretches of time, Melkor caused chaos while simultaneously resisting a strong, prolonged attack at the hands of the Elven armies. The fact that he did not falter and have to rebuild during his extensive reign shows that he was stronger in general than Sauron ever was, and that Sauron’s reincarnations occurred only because Sauron was not as staunchy as Melkor from the get go. 

Sauron Redirect #3
“Reign of Terror”, “resisting”, “did not falter”? Melkor did none of these things throughout the First Age. Throughout the thousands of years he was at large he had countless opportunities (many more than Melkor) to cause mayhem, many of which he passed up. Furthermore, Melkor was not a fearless tyrant, but a puppy hiding from the thunderstorm outside. He is not the powerful king marching out and procuring havoc, but he is rather hiding like a coward inside Thangorodrim, who is even reluctant to move when Elven armies literally knock on his door. Melkor even trembles when a single elf--Fingolfin--comes near his “stronghold”. The bottom line? Melkor did not have solid control over Middle-earth. The fact is that Melkor wasn’t defeated as many times as Sauron because he was never as successful.

Melkor Point #1
As stated earlier, Melkor’s status of Vala instantly establishes himself as one of the most powerful beings in Middle-earth. Sauron, while a powerful being in his own right, is intrinsically less powerful than Melkor. The war of the Silmarils began when Melkor, with Ungoliant, destroyed Laurelin and Telperion. Essentially, Melkor infiltrated the most wholesome place in Arda, Valinor, and destroyed the cornerstone of an entire civilization. Sauron was never able to commit the smallest crime in Valinor because, as far as ‘bad guys’ go, he was not as ambitious and blazon was Melkor was in the very beginning of his campaign, and Melkor only increased his attacks from there.

Sauron Rebuttal #1
While Sauron was not as lucky as Melkor to receive all those powers, he still was able to do more with the skills that he did have. Throughout this argument I have illustrated that Sauron accomplished more than Melkor, and the fact that Sauron did this all from a disadvantage just adds to Sauron’s reputation.

Melkor Redirect #1
No. Sauron did not accomplish more than Melkor. He rode Melkor’s coattails until his mentor was destroyed and he had to carry on by himself. And even with all the knowledge he gained from watching Melkor, Sauron was not able to conquer Middle-earth or even restore the empire to the glory it had when Melkor ruled from Angband. Just no.

Melkor Point #2
By the time Frodo was making his way to destroy the One Ring, the peoples of Middle Earth were self centered and scattered. While Sauron struggled to overtake the relatively weak, warring countries of Men, Melkor prevailed against established, expansive Elven forces who, unlike Rohan and Gondor in the modern times, brought the battle to Melkor’s front door. On the one occasion where Middle-earth attacked Sauron directly, he was destroyed by Isildur, a mere human. In contrast, the Elven army that contested with Melkor for Beleriand was strong, well organized, devoted, and sustainable, yet Melkor still succeeded for thousands of years against their assault.

Sauron Rebuttal #2
The Elves of the First Age were anything but “well-organized”! Different factions were constantly warring or in tense situations which deeply divided their power. It took Maedhros hundreds of years to actually convince any of the Elves to do something about the Melkor-situation and even then their strategy was poorly-executed and that is the only reason Melkor triumphed. My point is that it is not Melkor’s superiority but his opponents’ failure that caused his success. As for Sauron, he conquered those that Melkor could not: the Numenorians. Try as Melkor might, he could not tempt the Edain in any way. Sauron snuck onto the Edain home-turf in the flesh and completely corrupted them. This is just one of the many instances of Sauron defeating an enemy that Melkor never could.

Melkor Redirect #2
If we are talking about who defeated the greater enemy, Melkor is the obvious winner! Even the other Valar could not conquer Melkor in his prime! Through history, men have always been the easiest creatures to corrupt, and besides, Melkor never even bothered with Men. I firmly believe that Melkor could have destroyed the Edain if he wanted to, but the truth is he was more concerned with the constant presence of the Elven armies and the war of the Silmarils.

Melkor Point #3
Finally, Sauron’s power, while meaningful in its own right, was from the beginning simple a vestige of Melkor’s reign. In addition to pursuing dominance, Melkor gave rise to great powers, like Sauron, the Great Worms, and Balrogs, that continued to thrive even after the final defeat of Angband. Sauron did not have such insight; his final defeat at the hands of Frodo left the “evil” forces of Middle Earth without an outlet to continue. Melkor, on the other hand, continued to act in Arda even after being banished. Even his final defeat was not total; his malice lived on through Sauron and the plethora of other monstrous beings to whom he gave purpose.

Sauron Rebuttal #3
Sauron’s reign was not fruitless, as you claim. He was able to give purpose to countless creatures he tormented successfully: the Nazgul, the Southrons and Easterlings, the Uruk-hai, the Orcs, etc. Furthermore, Sauron’s spirit did something that Melkor’s battles and brute strength never could: it corrupted Men, Elves, Dwarves, and good peoples who will continue the trend of evil throughout history. After all, the story of Middle-earth is supposedly the story of early human history. Sure, we’re not battling literal giant monsters, but their influence continues to trickle through regular humans. Sauron was instrumental in making sure that this continued to happen.

Melkor Redirect #3

But again, Sauron was an instrument, not the source of the evil. After the Frodo destroyed Sauron, the Nazgul were destroyed, they didn’t continue on like the Dragons did after Melkor’s empire ended.

Sauron Closing Argument
Whatever credit is given to Melkor throughout this debate is also due to Sauron because Sauron lived through all of Melkor’s reign, learned from him, perfected his ways, and put them into action effectively throughout his own rulership. He learned that stealth and trickery are more effective tactics than brute strength and succeeded by implementing that strategy, notably by the conquering of Numenor as well as the corruption of the Nazgul. He lasted much longer than his predecessor by using this education to his advantage. Finally, Sauron was such a flexible and dynamic villain that he was able to adapt to any situation he needed. I would like to close by highlighting one thing. Remember how Melkor was defeated? He was destroyed by the forces of the Valar. Sauron, on the other hand, was only temporarily handicapped by the intervention of Eru Illuvatar himself. As time went on in Middle-earth, evil got stronger and stronger. The strongest of them all, was Sauron the Deceiver.

Melkor Closing Argument
In the end, there is no denying that Melkor was the ‘original’ bad guy; everything, including Sauron, was simply an extension of the original malice that he and he alone bore into Middle Earth. Melkor’s natural constitution, opposing force, and lasting impression clearly establish him as the most predominate force of evil in Middle-earth, and the instigator of all evil that followed his empire.

So, who do you think is the better bad guy? What should we debate next?
  • Do Balrog’s have wings?
  • Movies or books?
  • Was it a good idea for the Valar to bring the elves to Valinor?
  • Was destiny or bad choices more to blame in the story of Turin Turambar?
  • Is Sauron or Melkor the “better” bad guy?
  • Who is the best character?
  • Was Sam or Frodo right about the way they handled Gollum?
  • Was the quest for the treasure in The Hobbit more beneficial for the dwarves or for Bilbo?
  • Is the hobbit lifestyle negative (focused on sensory pleasure and isolationism) or positive (appreciating nature and the little things in life)?
  • Was Gandalf’s idea to send the hobbits without knowledge of Mordor prudent or misleading?
  • Is Thorin Oakenshield a hero or a repentant trespasser?
  • Should more female characters have been included in The Hobbit?
  • Does Gandalf always do the right thing?
  • Is Bard or Thorin Oakenshield right in the argument about the distribution of treasure?
  • Are the Teleri or the Noldor right about their access to land (Teleri claim the land of Middle-earth is theirs, the Noldor claim that they deserve it since they fought the orcs off for the Teleri)?
  • Should The Silmarillion be made into a movie?
  • Who was more to blame in the country flick over the Nauglamir, Thingol or the dwarves?
Thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts. If you’re interested in doing a collaboration post or debate, let me know--it could be fun! Have a great day, you lovers of lembas :)


  1. Hmm... to be honest, I'm not sure which is the better villain! Melkor is characterized more personally, with at least one of the stories being told from his general perspective. But Sauron achieved almost his same level of evil while being a lesser creature. Yet he would not have been able to do so had he not been corrupted by Melkor himself...

    I'm curious- what was your opinion? I know you took a side for the debate, but which did you both agree on?

    For the next debate, I think you should do the one about Thingol or the Dwarves being more at fault. :)

    1. We both agreed Melkor was the better since he was the strongest of the Ainur and Sauron was just a Maia. Having to go through and debate this from the other side really helped me see that it's not a run-away win though--Sauron does have a lot of strong points.

      Okie-dokie, thanks for your feedback!

    2. I see. :) Melkor would have been my first choice too- but Sauron certainly deserves a healthy, loathsome respect.

  2. i always thought of MELKOR/MORGOTH as the best/worst bad guy, as he managed to fight GODS, while sauron fought humans and distant relatives of gods (elves), i think the reason sauron lasted longer, is because he was more cowardly/smart and didn't go into battle, because everytime he had done so, he had been defeated/destroyed. while morgoth held of ALL the ainur's until tulkas, who is like, the god of fighting, and strength showed up. sauron made a ring, that corrupted, and made him stronger, and more corruptive, if that is a word. XD while morgoth made the entire PLANET his "ring", and unlike sauron's ring, morgoth's can't be destroyed, by anything else than ainur. and all the evil in the world, is because of morgoth's ring. and had he not poured so much of his power into that, the story might have been very different, seeing as he was the mightiest ainur. sauron was the pupil of morgoth, and as he was on a entirely different LEVEL than morgoth, being a MAIAR and not a VALAR, could never reach or do many of the things morgoth could. but sure, morgoth has several times been a coward, as when he fled before tulkas, but that might have been a tactical retreat. but it also says, and i quote "After his defeat in the War of Wrath at the end of the First Age, Morgoth (as he was now known) was found cowering in the lowest dungeon of his fortress Angband." so, everybody apparently has fear, no matter WHO they are, or HOW powerful they are! (maybe, aside for eru, who is LITERALLY omnipotent, and unending!) but even though sauron didn't do as bad stuff, or as SEVERELY bad stuff, as morgoth, he STILL created a whole lot of horrible stuff! and teh fact that eru made gollum trip, and fall into mount doom, while still holding teh one ring, either proves how hard/impossible it was for mortals to destroy it, OR that he felt that they had done a valiant effort, and he could help them a bit.

    1. Mm, good points. Thanks for commenting :)