Sauron, Jadis, and the Aesthetic of Evil

Jadis, the White Witch. Art by Leo and Diane Dillon.
Jadis, the White Witch. Art by Leo and Diane Dillon.

What Tolkien and Lewis Have to Say on the Beauty of Wickedness

To both authors evil is a corrupting and destructive force, though Lewis argues for evil as seductive while Tolkien claims evil to be repugnant and coercive.

The goals of the antagonists are the same for both authors: the annihilation of everything he or she cannot control. The means to this end, however, are different in the worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth. Jadis reverts to violence only when her charm cannot achieve her desired results. Sauron, however, has no beauty, so deception and conquest are his primary tools.

The White Witch

Jadis is a queen of Charn, a world she killed while vying for the throne with her sister. In The Magician’s Nephew she says she uses the deplorable word—a word that extinguishes all life—only as last recourse. Despite her selfishness and nihilism, her fierce beauty clouds the minds of Digory, Uncle Andrew, and in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund. She charms men into servitude, which suggests evil is beguiling and something people accept because it appears attractive and noble.

The Eye of Sauron as seen in the Lord of the Rings.
The Eye of Sauron as seen in the Lord of the Rings.

The Eye of Mordor

The Silmarillion says that Sauron because of his treachery “could never again appear fair to the eyes of Men” (280). People are not seduced into his service by beauty since he has none; they follow him because they believe in the lie of Sauron’s omniscience and omnipotence. Sauroman, despairing of victory, joins his enemy, betraying the White Council. Boromir believes there is no hope against an immortal foe and attempts taking the One Ring for himself. Denethor sees what Sauron wants him to see, which inspires the Steward’s suicidal mania. In each instance Sauron succeeds by threats and deception rather than seduction.

The One Ring, as an extension of Sauron, operates the same way. It is not a beautiful piece of jewelry just as its maker is not beautiful. The Ring makes its wearer into a slave by offering the wearer exactly what he or she wants. Through these desires, though, it turns all intentions to evil. Bilbo, for instance, has trouble letting go of the Ring though he is not an evil hobbit. As with Sauron, the Ring and its deception need not be beautiful to make people into desperate slaves.

Kingdoms of the Wicked

Despite the different roads the ending destination is the same. Jadis destroys one great empire, and her other is a static, frozen world without happiness. Mordor, similarly, is a blasted wasteland with nothing green or growing within miles of either Barad-dur or the volcanic Mount Doom. Evil disfigures the world around it. Isengard becomes such a blight the Ents are mobilized to take vengeance for the deforestation, and the Shire, too, suffers under filth and smoking gloom when it falls into evil hands.

Unlike in Narnia, where Aslan’s breath restores the life of the land and people in it, Middle Earth suffers with its scars. For instance, Galadriel’s magic can make a special mallorn tree grow in the Shire, she cannot replace or repair the old Party Tree that was cut down just as the dead cannot be restored to life.

Rewards of Sin

In their fantasy novels Tolkien and Lewis show the different paths evil may take. For Tolkien evil has its own lies but beauty and seduction are not among them, while Lewis contends that evil can have a pretty face to use to its advantage. No matter how divergent those paths, though, the results are always the same: oppression and ruination.

Sources

Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: Harper Collins, 2001. 107-198.

Lewis, C. S. The Magician’s Nephew. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: Harper Collins, 2001. 7-106.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Mariner Books, 2005

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Silmarillion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.

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Comments 27 comments

Obstreperous profile image

Obstreperous 6 years ago from La La Land

I am probably the only person in America that still has not seen any of the Lord of the Rings films, or read the books. However, I am a huge Lewis fan. Great hub.


satomko profile image

satomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA Author

I'm glad you enjoyed my hub regardless of your unfamiliarity with Tolkien's work.


tracykarl99 profile image

tracykarl99 6 years ago from San Francisco

I read Lord of the Rings as a kid and loved it. I saw the movie too. Much of what you have written about here sounds like it comes from the Greek myths ~ very mysterious and mind expanding stuff!


satomko profile image

satomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA Author

Thank you, tracykarl99. I'm glad you like it, and I appreciate your comments.


valeriebelew profile image

valeriebelew 6 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

Interesting hub. I feel like I want to discuss evil, rather than say some hum drum thing about your hub being well written, which of course, it was. I am on the side of those who believe evil is seductive. If not, who would be willing to possibly pay the price. Some evil may not be seductive, but I am having difficulty imagining evil that is not related to somebody's pleasure, even though it may not be something most of us would be tempted to do. Anyway good hub. I'm rating it up. (: v


satomko profile image

satomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA Author

I'm glad you stopped by and gave your comments, valeriebelew. It is always good to hear from you.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

Excellent analysis, my friend. These are two of my favorite writers. I enjoyed your work here. Well done!


satomko profile image

satomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA Author

Thank you, James. Your comments and insights are always welcome.


BumptiousQ profile image

BumptiousQ 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

Fascinating, Sat. Well done.

I first read 'The Chronicles of Narnia' and 'Lord of the Rings' right around the same time, when I was about 14 years old, which happened to coincide with the Fall of Saigon in the mid-70's. Narnia really didn't do it for me back then. On the other hand, the epic scope of 'Lord of the Rings' resonated with the times for me, because I had been weaned on the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the upheaval of the Civil Rights Movement.

My childhood was a world dominated by the Vietnam War and the Cold War, a world peopled by parents and grandparents who had fought in World War II and the Korean "Conflict." Lewis's Narnia seemed a tad too quaint at the time. Tolkien's work struck a very strong chord with my generation, one Lewis's Narnia couldn't hope to match...


satomko profile image

satomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA Author

I'm glad you stopped by to comment, BumptiousQ. I think many readers would agree with you that Tolkien's work seems to present a more fully realized world with serious themes and consequences for the characters.


BumptiousQ profile image

BumptiousQ 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

Incidentally, not long ago my 13-year-old daughter, Alicia, decided she wanted to check out the "Lord of the Rings" movies. She'd been a bit leery of 'em in the past -- thought they would freak her out. She loved the films, and now is just about finished reading "Fellowship."

We share a favorite character: Samwise. I told her "great minds think alike."


satomko profile image

satomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA Author

Good news, BumptiousQ; thanks for sharing.


Dan Barfield profile image

Dan Barfield 4 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

Great hub, Satomko! It is interesting to compare the different incarnations of evil that spring from the minds of authors. I think I have to remain in the camp that sits on the fence. Evil has many aspects and it is a job of authors to reveal the different guises perhaps so that we are not fooled in the real world.


satomko profile image

satomko 4 years ago from Macon, GA Author

Thanks for reading, Dan Barfield. I'm glad these authors were able to provide a lens through which you can examine your own attitudes on the subject.


Jaggedfrost profile image

Jaggedfrost 3 years ago

I wonder if Sauron hadn't been cursed for his deception if he might not have tried seduction. In Eragon evil has both faces and sometimes even reverses fields where elves can be envious and covetous and the desolating barbarian Rams can be honorable after being used by a shade which is both beautiful and ugly at the same time. Jadis had beauty as a weapon so she used it. Sauroman, didn't become evil looking until he lost his tower. Granted the waist he made of his land was evil looking but he seemed very capable of seducing followers in his way. Galadriel seemed to be more then capable of thinking along the lines of Jadis when offered the ring. Frodo describes her as being terrible to behold but also incredibly beautiful in that moment.


satomko profile image

satomko 3 years ago from Macon, GA Author

You're right on many counts, Jaggedfrost. It seems individual beauty can be maintained in some fashion when holding the Ring such as the temptation of Galadriel or when Sam is considering using it to finish the mission without rescuing Frodo. It is pointed out by several characters (Gandalf, Galadriel, and Faramir most prominently) that even if the Ring were to be used for allegedly good purposes, the results would ultimately sour and turn toward wretchedness and evil. In the case of Gollum, readers see that the devastation wrought by the evil can make something pitiable, but only by individuals who possess a kind heart. It really seems to come down to the type of evil the authors are representing. In the case of Lewis, lies, deceit, trickery, and cunning are all the dominion of evil characters, and they will use their beauty as a weapon when possible. For Tolkien, the coexistence of beauty and evil is nearly impossible since beauty implies creation and artistry, and all that evil can do is corrupt, degrade, and destroy.


Jaggedfrost profile image

Jaggedfrost 3 years ago

Jadis wasn't Lewis's only villain. And by the time of the witch and the wardrobe she wasn't so admired. Perhaps Lewis gives us perspective in the decay process of a villain. King Midas isn't described as beautiful in the silver chair. Perhaps this is a question of gender not evil. Sauron managed to beguile a lot of people before he twisted them into the dark. You are right, there seems to be a point of no return that was crossed that seems to have affected all these stories.


satomko profile image

satomko 3 years ago from Macon, GA Author

I agree with you. It just seems that in the Narnia books the villains have more access to a kind of trickery through beauty or appearing beautiful. The witch in The Silver Chair is able to beguile with pleasing music, sweet-smelling drugs and faulty logic, and the Ape named Shift is able to trick his victims by putting the lion skin on the donkey, Puzzle, to mimic the majesty of Aslan. I don't mean to suggest Tolkien didn't believe evil could wear a pleasing face, but it is the works of Lewis where this condition is the most present.


Jaggedfrost profile image

Jaggedfrost 3 years ago

Tolkien didn't mind trickery but it wasn't cleverness per se that he valued in men. Lewis seemed to be making much wider observations. Still Fork Tongue and Sauroman seem to be a nod in that direction.


satomko profile image

satomko 3 years ago from Macon, GA Author

True enough, though Grima was not loved nor considered beautiful by an stretch. The wretched state he and Sauroman find themselves in by the end of Return of the King certainly suggests the inherent difficulty in deception and the burden it carries. Even Gandalf suffers the weight of guilt and doubt for running huge gamble of open warfare as a distraction to let Frodo and Sam attempt to destroy the Ring.


Jaggedfrost profile image

Jaggedfrost 3 years ago

Perhaps Tolkien felt that evil should be apparent but whatever people felt about evil in general, the deceived didn't seem to notice. Frodo took pity on Grolem. And Grima was much loved and respected by the King of Rohan. Tolkien felt it necessary to mention that not all were deceived but the White Council were deceived by Sauroman for a long time and it wasn't until Sauroman the White became overt in his support of Sauron that he was discovered in general. Heck, if it were so obvious to Gandalf he wouldn't have delivered himself into Sauroman's power at such a critical time and had to be rescued by an eagle.


satomko profile image

satomko 3 years ago from Macon, GA Author

Also true, though I think in Tolkien's case, the forces of evil are deceptive because they seem all-powerful rather than attractive. Sauroman believes the White Council cannot win against Sauron, so he betrays it. Grima appears to have knowledge and magic at his disposal, making him appear as an aide to the King of Rohan rather than a saboteur. It seem then when possible Tolkien's villains coerce through power or perceptions of it rather than attractiveness (which is not to say they would not try it if the option were possible).


Jaggedfrost profile image

Jaggedfrost 3 years ago

So is there something faulty in Sauroman or in Gandalf that one could be cowed and the other not. Or are you suggesting that only Sauron was truly evil?


satomko profile image

satomko 3 years ago from Macon, GA Author

The major difference is that Sauroman clearly believes in the use of knowledge and power to achieve his ends, which is why he uses the palantir despite the risks, which is why he can become desponded at seeing Sauron's forces, which is why he betrays the White Council, which is why he plots to get the One Ring for himself an use that power to fulfill his goals. Gandalf, on the other hand, trusts in qualities like loyalty and friendship, which is why he refuses the Ring, knowing the evil he would do when trying to use it for good, and allows Pippin and Merry to be part of the Fellowship rather than warriors from Elrond's house. Because the two Wizards value something different, one is coerced into serving evil while the other struggles against it despite overwhelming odds.


Jaggedfrost profile image

Jaggedfrost 3 years ago

You would think after his defeat in helms deep and the int rebellion that he would have taken heart and turned if those were his only failings.


satomko profile image

satomko 3 years ago from Macon, GA Author

Helm's Deep was a set back for him, but clearly not for the vast forces Sauron had at his disposal. The Ents were an unexpected reversal for Sauroman, but even so he clearly did not believe Gandalf or Aragorn could possibly defeat Sauron in open combat (also note that Gandalf and Aragorn don't believe they could win that conflict either, but trust they can give Frodo the time the complete his quest). Sauroman doesn't fully comprehend the plan to destroy the Ring and also doesn't believe a Hobbit has the wherewithal to evade Sauron's might.


Jaggedfrost profile image

Jaggedfrost 3 years ago

Does not that make him as bad as Sauron. Is it not a lack of faith in transcendent nature that causes great men to fall to tyranny and great women also?

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