An image of a red eye is not seen as a good thing too often, especially in stories. It usually depicts foreboding evil or something of that nature. Professor Tolkien appropriately used this symbol to represent the main antagonist in his story, but did a great flaming Eye really exist in Middle-earth as we see it in the films?
To be clear, this issue has been debated since the publication of the books in the 1950’s and is even more relevant now that this generation has a solid film adaptation with a physical Eye of Sauron. The books are not so specific on this point, like many other debated issues dealing with The Lord of the Rings.
In light of my recent post (#49) about what Frodo experienced on Amon Hen, we see one of the first specific mentions of the Eye of Sauron:
“And suddenly he felt the Eye. There was an eye in the Dark Tower that did not sleep. He knew that it had become aware of his gaze. A fierce eager will was there. It leaped towards him; almost like a finger he felt it, searching for him…”
Another mention of the Eye comes when Frodo and Sam are actually on the slopes of Mount Doom. They look back westward and the clouds and fumes part for a moment and they see the topmost tower of Barad-dûr:
“One moment only it stared out, but as from some great window immeasurably high there stabbed northward a flame of red, the flicker of a piercing Eye; and then the shadows were furled again and the terrible vision removed. The Eye was not turned to them: it was gazing north to where the Captains of the West stood at bay, and thither all its malice was now bent…”
It would seem from these passages that some sort of “eye” does indeed exist, but to what extent? It is difficult to say, really. The Red Eye is used in numerous places throughout the story to represent Sauron, such as on the shields of his forces, but such an Eye like the one appearing in the films is probably not extant. Frodo does see an Eye when he looks into Galadriel’s Mirror, but this is not proof of Sauron merely existing in this form. Sauron is said in a few places to still have retained his physical form (at least at some points) contrary to what the movie claims. For instance, Gollum claims to have seen him when he was tortured in Mordor, at least some manifestation of him, as he describes the Dark Lord as only having four fingers on one hand, where the Ring was cut off.
It is also curious to note that other “body parts” of Sauron are capitalized in the written story. For instance, where the Captains of the West ride to the Black Gate for the final battle, the Lieutenant of Mordor comes forth, claiming to be the Mouth of Sauron. Obviously, he is an actual person (he is described as a Black Númenórean; a man), he is just acting as the ambassador of the Dark Lord. Mention is also made at many points of the Black Hand, referring simply to the reach of Sauron’s power and not an ethereal hand of fire existing somewhere in Mordor (as far as I know).
This subject is indeed difficult and there is much more material on it in letters and other books from the legendarium than what is provided here. The debate may never be settled but it is interesting to think about.
[Credit to Jack Moore for proofreading and corrections.]