The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Lord Is Darker Than Your Lord

For ten years now, the debate has raged on. Who is the better Dark Lord? Who is the better villain? Who is the better character? The Dark Lord, Sauron; or Lord Voldemort. Well, better at what exactly? Let's take a look at these two masters of darkness for a moment.

Sauron is a fallen Maiar. A spiritual being who predates the existence of the world, so think of him as a fallen angel. He followed his master, Melkor, into the world and served as his chief servant. Melkor being the Satan of Tolkien's world was defeated and cast into the void. Sauron arose to claim the mantle of Dark Lord and attempted, for thousands of years to conquer the world, and bring about his own semblance of order by corrupting others and seeking to dominate all life. Had Sauron had his way, he would have ruled us all as a God King and sapped us of our very free will. Sauron is a primeval force of darkness.

Voldemort was born from a loveless union and abandoned to an orphanage where he grew into a dangerous psychopath. He was a self loathing bigot with something to prove, and he wanted to destroy all non-pureblood wizards, and eventually conquer the world. In short, Voldemort wishes he could be like Sauron. But of course that doesn't make him an inferior literary creation in the slightest.

Both of them fill archetypal roles as the Dark Lord. But Sauron represents a primeval force, and through the One Ring, that darkness which exists inside all of us that we are sometimes tempted to release. Sauron, as a character, isn't so much a person, but an idea. And an idea can often times be more dangerous than any singular person.

Voldemort, on the other hand, tried very hard to become this. He was even close to succeeding when his very name was considered a forbidden word, but ultimately, he was a petty, sadistic old man who destroyed himself through his fear that one young man would kill him. Try as he might to deny it, try as he might to change it, try as he might to alter his physical appearance, Voldemort was very much a human being. Not that this makes him a lesser villain, after all, what's scarier than a human being?

Personally, I think such a debate is pointless. I know why it's brought up. Both are very domineering Dark Lords in the two biggest fantasy series (both book and film) of the last one hundred years. Both command legions of followers, and in the end both brought about their own destruction either directly or indirectly. But those similarities are superficial at best. And I don't even think they're close enough to be superficial, both fulfill different purposes to their narrative.

Voldemort is definitely Harry Potter's enemy. Because of his fear of a prophesy, he is determined to kill Harry. He killed Harry's parents, he is responsible for the death of Sirius Black (Bellatrix may have pulled the trigger, but Voldemort was the reason), and so many other deaths. If Voldemort wants you dead, he will personally come after you and make it happen. He is an on screen person, as opposed to Sauron's off screen force.

Sauron is the main villain of "The Lord of the Rings." In addition to being the reason everything is happening, he is also the title character. Is he Frodo Baggins' enemy? No. I don't think he even knew Frodo existed until it was too late. No, Frodo's enemy is Gollum. Nor is Sauron really the enemy of Gandalf. That would be Saruman. Gollum and Saruman both are fallen versions of their respective enemies. I suppose you could make a case that Sauron is Aragorn's enemy. That makes sense to me, and it was Sauron's hate and fear of Aragorn that allowed him to be distracted from watching his own lands long enough for Frodo to make it to Mount Doom. But even then, he is not an on screen character. He is represented by his effect on everyone and everything around him, and his minions represent him appropriately, especially the Nazgul. And being an off screen character, Sauron would have his minions deal with you, or have you brought before him in his tower.

Like I said, the debate is pointless. I think both accomplish what their respective authors wanted accomplished masterfully. And both translated well when adapted into other media exquisitely. Okay, so I wish Voldemort had red eyes in the movies, and I think the Eye on top of the tower looked a little cheesy, but they were still very effective. But, at the end of the day, this is like comparing Lucifer to the Joker. Pointless.

But they're both better than Darth Vader.


  1. Sauron is what most real world tyrants and psychopaths like to imagine themselves as. Voldemort is what they really are.

  2. Sorry for the double post but I found an interesting article on Sauron's motivations by none other then Tolkien himself.

    It's actually more Tolkien comparing and contrasting Sauron with his old boss Melkor. It's kinda funny cause based on this, Melkor comes across less like Milton's Satan and more like some spoiled ten year old throwing a temper tantrum 'cause he doesn't want to share.

  3. Why is this even a question? This is like asking whether Hitler can match Satan in terms of evil. The Potter universe might one day forget Voldemort, but Sauron's influence has been scorched into Arda and will NEVER go away. Then there's the possibility that he might break out of the Void...

  4. I think this was in terms of who is a better character.

  5. It's actually really easy to compare the two. I don't believe Sauron was what Voldemort wanted to be, on the other hand, as they both had different motives and did things differently. Sauron is surely not the "embodiment" of evil and is certainly nothing like Satan in terms of the comparison between him and Voldemort. The beginning of Sauron's rise to becoming what he ended up going down as started with the influence of someone else. The "evil" things he did were advised by his "master," and therefore, he was the effect in a "cause and effect" relationship. Unlike how someone else said, I don't think Voldemort would be forgotten and Sauron would be remembered, but rather the opposite - and my reason is the answer to the question - "Who is better?" Voldemort did things personally, while Sauron guided others to do the things he wanted them to do. And, just to throw it out there, Sirius Black's death was not caused by Voldemort, regardless of the fact that he was Bellatrix's reason to kill him, because Bellatrix made the DECISION to kill him, and it's therefore her fault. Same with Sauron's minions. It's their decision to do the things they do for him, and they have their own reasons to do so - so, the source of Sauron's power is his reason and the fact such a large amount of people agree with that reason (which, regardless of his power with the rings, is true because of the fact that the Elves took their rings off and the Dwarves were too resilient - AND - a Man was responsible for his downfall), unlike Voldemort. So, in the end, Sauron, like Hitler for example, didn't do anything except have a cause that appealed to others who would, in the end, be responsible for what happened - and, in my opinion, that means Voldemort is better. But, I do agree that it's a stupid question, just because they're two different stories and they have different backgrounds and atmospheres.

  6. About the naming the character it is interesting that like Voldemort in Harry Potter universe Dark Lord Sauron causes enough terror that few dare to speak his name, especially in Gondor possibly in other lands too, but mainly in Gondor :) :) he is referred to as Nameless One or Nameless Enemy (well you can imagine that folks of Gondor constantly having perfect view on lovely Black Land, Mordor are discouraged from invoking their greatest enemy's name, not to mention the dreadful tales about his powers and minions).

    It would be also interesting to note that in other works of Tolkien Sauron's character is given more spotlight, ''Sauron was become now a sorcerer of dreadful power, master of shadows and phantoms, foul in wisdom, cruel in strength, misshaping what he touched, twisting what he ruled, lord of werewolves; his dominion was torment.''

    He is also shown some traits of personality, he has dark sense of humour and is described as being ''very wise and weighs all things to a nicety in the scales of his malice'' and he is terrible in anger, very cunning and manipulative and truly enjoys his schemes.

    In my opinion though the power level of Sauron exceeds that of Voldemort, Sauron is of the chief order of Maiar and so is among the most powerful ones, as a divine being Sauron possesses knowledge mortals admire it is easy for him to inlfuence them (hell he can basically mind control his armies like at the battle of Morannon, when his will was removed from them the minions lost some of their effectivness and after the fall of Sauron some of the mind controlled creatures become almost mindless from shock so great pressure of Sauron's will was on them, of course that doesn't mean that there can't be those who serve unwillingly even among orcs).

    In various texts we also have Sauron doing things personally and he's get real (like personally leading armies coming out to fight) in the same time he also micro-manages his realm, actually whole empire of conquered lands and like Denethor said:

    ''’Not - the Dark Lord?’ cried Pippin, forgetting his place in his terror.
    Denethor laughed bitterly. ’Nay, not yet, Master Peregrin! He will not come save only to triumph over me when all is won. He uses others as his weapons. So do all great lords, if they are wise, Master Halfling.'' In my opinion he is the greatest hehe he simply rocks :) and let's face it this description of him from Silmarillion, it's AWESOME.