…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).
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.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – Morgoth’s Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came by Thomas Moran (1859)