…Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, which suffered no rival,

and laughed at flattery, biding its time,

secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength.

(Two Towers, p. 192)

Just like Angband in the First Age became the citadel of Morgoth — the embodiment of evil and the Dark Lord’s tyranny in Middle-earth, so did Barad-dûr rise to fill its place in the Second and Third Ages as the fortress of Sauron. In many ways the Dark Tower of Mordor, built by once Morgoth’s most trusted lieutenant, became the descendant of Angband, sharing traits with it, but also being the reflection of Sauron’s own power, character, ambitions and evil.

Barad-dûr was built in the Second Age when Sauron chose Mordor as his abode. He began the construction of the Dark Tower in c. 1000 SA and finished it in c. 1600 SA — the same year when the One Ring was forged in the fires of Orodruin. The foundations of Barad-dûr were thus strengthened with the power of the One Ring, so the tower was virtually indestructible by any force and could stand as long as the Ring lasted. After the War of the Last Alliance and the seven-year siege of Barad-dûr its foundations remained, though the tower itself was destroyed, and thus the Dark Tower rose again in the Third Age.

The appearance of Barad-dûr is left rather vague by Tolkien. Readers can catch only glimpses of the Dark Tower by means of visions or looks from afar, without many details provided. Those glimpses offer a very uncertain picture, as if just allowing a peek at the mighty tower: we look at it quickly and then withdraw our glance so that the never-sleeping watch of Sauron does not catch us at looking at his citadel longer than it is necessary.

The main impression that can be gathered from those fragmentary glimpses is that of hopelessness and terror: the Dark Tower is huge and impregnable. In this case less is more, and the lack of detailed descriptions does the trick, but one thing is certain: we are dealing with a very serious stronghold here. From Amon Hen Frodo has the following vision:

Fire glowed amid the smoke. Mount Doom was burning, and a great reek rising. Then at last his gaze was held: wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, mountain of iron, gate of steel, tower of adamant, he saw it: Barad-dûr, Fortress of Sauron. All hope left him.

(Fellowship of the Ring, p. 527)

This tower, set in the midst of very dark, unwelcoming landscape, cannot arouse anything else but hopelessness and terror. Only three lines describing Barad-dûr leave us with the impression of the fortress strong, terrible and immense. The words are painting the picture of the construction monstrously tall, hard, indestructible, terrible. The repetition of the words connected by the preposition “upon” create a picture of the tower rising high, as if piling its elements on each other endlessly. Wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement: there seems to be no end to the Dark Tower. The same device is used by Tolkien elsewhere when we see Barad-dûr and “all its great stronghold, gate on gate, and tower on tower” (Return of the King, p. 235).

Barad-dûr by J. R. R. Tolkien

While describing Barad-dûr or its strength Tolkien uses the word “immeasurable” several times. This is another language device the Professor applies to show how immense the tower was. It was impossible to measure, so we, as readers, see only bits of it. The tower is so big that we cannot even see the full picture of it, cannot even begin to imagine how big and strong it really was. This approach is carried on in Tolkien’s own portrayal of Barad-dûr, which is one of the several most finished drawings for The Lord of the Rings. In it we can only see a small part of the tower on its stoney foundation with tiny windows and door. The red light coming from the door does not promise any warm welcome for unwanted guests.

Another thing we know for certain is that Barad-dûr was veiled in shadows. They were the creation of Sauron himself to add even more concealment to his huge fortress. As the shadows are torn aside for a moment, we are offered yet another glimpse of Barad-dûr:

Far off the shadows of Sauron hung; but torn by some gust of wind out of the world, or else moved by some great disquiet within, the mantling clouds swirled, and for a moment drew aside; and then he [Frodo] saw, rising black, blacker and darker than the vast shades amid which it stood, the cruel pinnacles and iron crown of the topmost tower of Barad-dûr.

(Return of the King, pp. 260-261)

Very quickly the shadows gather again and the tower can no longer be seen. Barad-dûr wears its iron crown just like Morgoth wore his with the Silmarils. Hard, simple and enduring, iron evokes the images of crude power, force and hard grip that Sauron, and Morgoth before him, wished to have on Middle-earth.

Another vision — the final one —  of Barad-dûr is that of Sam. It offers us a final look at the mighty tower and its mighty fall that shook many lands afar:

A brief vision he had of swirling cloud, and in the midst of it towers and battlements, tall as hills, founded upon a mighty mountain-throne above immeasurable pits; great courts and dungeons, eyeless prisons sheer as cliffs, and gaping gates of steel and adamant: and then all passed. Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down upon the land.

(Return of the King, p. 267)

Several descriptions in the book make Barad-dûr appear alive. The tower is thus greatly identified with Sauron, with the stronghold and its master being one inseparable whole. Thus the tower can be “wrapped in brooding gloom” or laugh at flattery or feeble attempts to copy it. These “actions” performed by the Dark Tower are far from literal, of course, but they help create the character of this fortress, breathe life into it and turn it into an active character in the story.

In the Third Age Sauron became even more associated with Barad-dûr as he did not seem to stir from the Dark Tower, conducting war from it by means of his subjects. By that time he had already squandered his power by putting a lot of it into the Rings and following several defeats with the destruction of his physical form. After his vanquishing in the downfall of Númenor, Sauron was no longer able to assume a fair form, which is a mark of his weakened powers. Besides, the One Ring was not with him after the War of the Last Alliance and without it he was vulnerable.

However, Sauron did not go as far as Morgoth in squandering his power. Morgoth put too much of himself into the physical matter of Arda, so he became greatly weakened by the action. Sauron wished to dominate the wills of others and be the master of Arda, which could be achieved by means of the Rings of Power. He already lived in the corrupted Arda Marred, so his self-destruction did not go so far.

In any case, Barad-dûr became a mighty fortress for Sauron, the manifestation of his power, his desire to rule Arda and his own personal stronghold no-one could enter. Consumed by pride, arrogance and lust for power, Sauron erected his gargantuan tower to both — show his ambitions and, later, stay safe and sound there while the war was raging all around.

Further reading:

On Sauron’s motives

On Sauron’s appearance

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
  5. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – Morgoth’s Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.

Featured image:

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came by Thomas Moran (1859)

17 thoughts on “The tower of adamant.

  1. Thank you Olga for another keen reflection on Tolkien’s world.
    It is amazing how Tolkien invests character into the landscapes of Middle Earth. A kinship of the land with its inhabitants: The Shire and Hobbits; Rohan and the Rhohirrim. Legolas’ comment while passing through Hollin and hearing the echoes of that land’s dwellers from long ago in the stones, foreign to his woodland elf ears.

    It would be preposterous to think of Sauron inhabiting any other land than Mordor and building Barad-dur upon any other foundation than one invested with his innate power, that spur of Orodruin Ha! Almost an antithesis of Tom Bombadil’s house in actuality yet very similar in concept.

    I dislike, but it is hard to dismiss, conjecture on influences in a writer’s work. The speculation of Parrot’s Folly in Birmingham with Barad-due always seemed a bit silly to me, but plausible. Then a couple of years ago while walking along the Southbank of the Thames in London I looked up and was taken aback by the imposing brick walls and tower of the former Bankside Power Station/current Tate Modern Art Gallery. Tolkien’s painting of Barad-dûr you’ve included was the cover art of my first Return of the King and those dominating walls and tower along the Thames brought that cover to mind. Imagine the same scene as the tower emitted coal smoke wreathing around the river !

    Thanks again.
    I wonder how long into the Forth Age Mordor remained a poisoned and scarred land? Would the stone and iron of the Dark Tower lay in ruin in perpetuity, cursed?
    I like to think of a family of Gardeners from The Shire along with some help from the Ents (reunited with Entwives and some eager Entings!) regenerating that land, with maybe a stony Egdon Heath like patch stubbornly resisting….!

    1. Thank you for your feedback, Kenny!
      Lands do have characters similar to those inhabiting them. Sauron chose Mordor mainly because of Orodruin – he needed a volcano for his sorceries. Then he infested the land with his character, and it became even more terrible than it had been before him. I’m sure that someone like Elves or Hobbits would never have chosen Mordor for their abode as it would have contradicted their nature. So this connection seems to have a two-side aspect. First you choose something that suits you and then you make it even more like yourself.
      Different versions of Barad-dûr can be found all over the world, with their number growing. Now building something imposing seems to be more important than building something beautiful.
      I’m sure it took a long time to get rid of the remnants of Sauron’s presence in Mordor after his downfall. The land was under his dominion for such a long time, that making it wholesome again might have taken a lot of time.

  2. Your observation about how JRRT gave Barad-dûr active verbs resonates with the way newspaper reporters write: “today the White House announced” or “Number 10 denied the allegations”. It’s a nice, subtle way to reinforce the portrayal of Mordor as a 20th-Century industrial nightmare. I can’t imagine anyone saying, “Meduseld insisted that the wolf-riders’ cavalry skills were insufficient to threaten its ground superiority at the Fords of Isen” or “Caras Galadhon issued a terse quatrain saying its surveillance network had not been compromised.” It sounds silly in a pre-modern context.

    1. Interesting comparison! While what the Tower does is not as active as what the Dark Power in it does (and many more active references are usually to the Power), nor does it issue any warnings, Barad-dûr still comes across as terribly alive.

    2. I knew there was a word for this, but I had to look it up: metonymy. But it’s a masterful device. I never thought of it before as a way to make Barad-dûr feel more of a modern nightmare, but I suspect I’ll notice it on my next reading.

      I like the way you put it, Olga, as “one inseparable whole”. It always makes me think of Sauron as less personifiable (and therefore more terrible) while also making the fortress itself feel like an entity with its own will. The Orcs, with their typical reference to “Lugbúrz” when they mean the boss, add to that effect.

      1. That’s the one! I studied this device at university, and it’s only recently occurred to me how subtly and carefully Tolkien used it for Barad-dûr.
        I have the same impression of Sauron. He’s a physically intangible evil, but we can see him at work through his subjects. It wonder if Sauron’s Orcs ever saw him? Possibly not. It seems that all the orders came from the Mouth.

  3. How much I appreciate your reflections on Tolkien’s work. They always deepen my own understanding and as you note with such care each detail I find myself saying, “Of course!”
    As I read your thoughts on Barad-dur I could not help but remember Saruman’s desire to imitate it in Isengard and yet, as I think you allude to at one point, it is pitiful by comparison. And yet ultimately so fragile too.
    I also loved the way that you capture the fact that we never gain more than brief glimpses of the Dark Tower. It is a masterly device on Tolkien’s part.
    Again! Many congratulations!

    1. Thank you, Stephen! I’m glad my reflections are so helpful!
      Indeed, Saruman tried to imitate Barad-dûr, and the quotation I used for the epigraph is taken from the place where Isengard is compared with the Dark Tower.
      It seems very often with the dark forces that Tolkien uses fewer descriptions for a more impressive effect. Angband is also barely described, but it’s no less terrifying.

      1. I am also struck that Tolkien deliberately gives us a hobbits’ eye view of Middle-earth. We get the same glimpses that they did. We gain an impression of Barad-dur but no more. But it means that we know more about it than Saruman did! And yet he regards himself as wise and the hobbits as fools.

      2. His immense pride hindered his understanding of the Hobbits. Just like others before him, he didn’t consider them important enough. Underestimating others is a dangerous thing.

  4. I have just found your blog, and what a great start to my reading! If the rest of your pieces are as carefully thought out and well reasoned, I will have many hours of happily plumbing the depths of Eä with you.

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