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The concept of power is a central theme in J.R.R Tolkien’s fantasy epic, The Lord of the Rings. Whether it be the power to do greater good, to protect the weak or to dominate the will of others. As fans of the fantasy universe, it is easy to entice ourselves in thinking about the themes of power and have a sense of envy and curiosity to the beings in the world who wield the greatest of this. Whether this would be the Balrogs, the Ring Wraiths, the elves or the greatest kings amongst men.
Tolkien certainly did have a great ability to contextualize the might and power of the characters in the world he created. Rather than state in detail what a certain character can or cannot do, he would rather explain in vague terms the scope of their abilities and feats that can be accomplished, leaving room for interpretation on the character’s abilities.
You may have thought that Sauron, being the “lord” of the rings would at least constitute one of the greatest powers in Tolkien’s fantasy universe. Yet The Silmarillion and others tales, addresses that this is indeed not necessarily true. Sauron is in fact once the most powerful servant of a greater evil, however he is still one of many amongst a world of great beings.
This might seem difficult to believe, as Peter Jackson’s portrayal of Sauron in his film series depicts Sauron with a magnitude of presence of a god when compared to lesser beings, even Galadriel. So how powerful is Sauron really? and how does he compare with the other characters in Tolkien’s epic fantasy? In this list we will describe the attributes of each stage of power, from lowly men, to the most powerful godly beings in Arda.
Level 1. Mighty men, great beasts, lesser evil captains and lesser elves.
In this stage we have the likes of the men Bard and Boromir, Faramir, Eomer and Theydon, the 8 Ring Wraiths, the spider Shelob and the orc Lurtz and Bolg.
These are great men, spirits and evil creatures, far stronger than their average peers, mighty they would be in battle, yet much weaker than stronger beings in Middle Earth. Most men in this stage are capable of having the will to confront the greatest feats and are of noble lineages. Whilst the Uruk-Hai Lurtz was supposedly the first of his kind to be bred, symbolizing his importance.
Level 2. Mighty Numenoreans, greater evil captains, and greater elves.
In this stage we have the likes of the men Aragorn, Isildur, The Witch King and the elves Haldir and Legolas.
The men of this stage are of noble Numenoreans heritage, gifted with greater strength and wisdom over other “lesser” men. Within Sauron's servants, The Witch King would have likely been enchanted by Sauron’s power and practice necromancy. Amongst the elves there are the Teleri and those that have not seen the light from the two trees of Valinor.
Level 3. Lesser Maias, greater beasts, greatest of men and greater elves.
In this stage we have the likes of Gandalf, Saruman, some of the other, weaker Balrogs noted by Tolkien. There are also the beasts; Draugluin & Huan, hero of men Hurin, the Numenorean Elendil and the elves Glordfindel, Gilgalad and Galadriel.
The Maias in this stage are likely more powerful spirits than the likes of Radagast, they may know greater magic and have great wisdom that dwarves most of the Children of Illuvatar. The elves on the other hand are mainly those who have seen the beauty of the light of the two trees, such as Galadriel and Glorfindel.
Amongst beasts are the werewolf Draugluin and the wolf Huan, the mightiest of their kin, with Huan at one point defeating Sauron in a duel during the First Age. With men there is Hurin, the mightiest warrior amongst all, even so when compared with the Numenoreans of the Second Age. The Noldorian King Gilgalad and the Numenorean King Elendil are in this stage for holding off Sauron in a pitched duel, during the final battle of the War of the Last Alliance, despite eventually being defeated by Sauron.
Galadriel should have a special mention as probably being the most powerful being on this level who was still active in Middle Earth.
Level 4. Greater Maias, greatest beasts and greatest elves.
In this stage we have the likes of Durin’s bane, Gothmog, the great dragon Ancalagon, Unigolant, the elves Feanor and Fingolfin, and also Sauron.
These are amongst the greatest spirits, creatures and elves, all of them a notable presence during the First Age, far stronger than anything in the world of Arda but say a handful of even more powerful beings. All three Maias (Durin’s bane, Gothmog and Sauron) on the list above are once servants of Melkor, with Sauron being his greatest servant. Sauron would go on expand his powers by creating the one ring during the Second Age.
Feanor and Fingolfin were the mightiest of elves that had ever walked Arda, with Feanor being the greatest ever in smith, creating the Silmarils and the Palantir. Fingolfin on the other hand, was Feanor’s less accomplished brother but was probably the greatest warrior amongst all elves. Both Feanor and Fingolfin at the time lived at the height of elvish power, under the presence of the light of the two trees.
Level 5. The Valar
In this final stage, we have the likes of the greatest powers in Middle Earth & Arda and seconded to none. These refer to the Valar, the powers of Arda who shaped and ruled the world, living on western continent of Aman. The Valar included the likes of; Manwe King of the Valar, Melkor The Dark Lord, Ulmo The King of the Seas, Aule The Lord of Earth, Orome Lord of the Forest and Namo Judge of the Dead.
Amongst the primordial spirits that have entered Middle Earth, the Valar were the greatest of these. Although their powers were ambiguously mysterious, they are ridiculously powerful, able to create and move mountain ranges, create the Moon and Sun, powershift their properties into objects or things on a worldly scale, shapeshift and manipulate freely the properties of the world, such as weather and water. The Valars are essentially the creators of Arda, being responsible for the direction of its shaping.
Two of the most powerful of the Valar were Manwe and Melkor. Manwe was the King of the Valar and thus by implication, king of Arda. He oversaw all of the Valar’s early attempts to order Arda. There is also Melkor, Sauron’s master and the most powerful being in Arda for much of its early existence. Melkor, the most powerful of the Valar, was responsible for sowing discord in the music that prefigured the creation of Ea, the material universe. He subsequently became the first Dark Lord, waging war against the Valar and all good for much of the first age.