Watch Out: Tolkien and Surveillance


“Sauron is watching you”

In his screen adaptation of Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson chooses to portray Sauron as an eyelidless fiery eye atop Barad-dûr. Tolkien’s novel is actually more ambiguous. Sauron never appears, and the question of his appearance during the War of the Ring remains debated. Most occurrences of “Big Eye”, of “Red Eye” painted on the orc shields, seem more metaphorical – symbol of the oppressive surveillance of the Enemy who spies, relentlessly tracks down his adversaries without himself giving himself to be seen. To see, to know is a considerable power, Sauron understood it well. “His Eye constantly observes this side. » He relentlessly hunts down the Ring.

Mirror, my beautiful mirror…

Cataptromancy is a method of divination using a mirror or reflective surface. Used since Antiquity, it is supposed to make it possible to read the future of a patient or an empire. At the Brothers Grimm, she is famously employed by Snow White’s stepmother for cosmetic reasons. In Tolkien, it is in the reflection of Galadriel’s mirror that Frodo sees “a Single Eye that slowly grows, until it takes up most of the mirror. » He sees him again on Amon Hen, the “hill of the Eye”, which allows him to see far away, when he catches a glimpse of Barad-dûr: “There was an eye in the Dark Tower that did not sleep. He knew that eye had become aware of his observation. There was an ardent and ferocious will there. She jumped towards him, he felt her almost like a finger searching for him. » While crossing the Marsh of the Dead, he feels “all naked” facing a ” Eye “ lurking in the” Shadow “. When Sam dons the Ring to Cirith Ungol, “he felt in no way invisible, but on the contrary horribly and uniquely visible, and he knew that somewhere an eye was looking for him”. The Eye lays bare all that hides, pierces to the flesh, and seems to unveil the secrets of the mind itself. In any case, this is what the Witch-King promises Éowyn: “Your flesh will be devoured and your withered spirit left naked to the lidless Eye. » But he remains blind to what he cannot understand: the renunciation of the power of the Ring.

“Palantir” and teletransmission

The ” palantir is a (kind of) crystal ball. Its appearance in Middle-earth is perhaps not unrelated to the demonstration made by John Logie Baird of the Television in January 1926 at the Royal Institution, in London: the first image transmission system which was soon to be commercialized and become television. In Tolkien’s gesture, these ancient Elvish artifacts allow an individual to project their mind far away, to see things beyond their sight, and to communicate by thought with another wielder of palantir. It is moreover in homage to this famous object that an American company specializing in the analysis of big data, in particular for the United States intelligence services, was thus baptized Palantir Technologies, even if it is not Not sure Tolkien would have liked it.

These “stones of vision were […] capable of piercing through the walls of rooms, caves or underground passages”, he writes. Very practical… but dangerous. It is through a palantir – recovered during the conquest of Minas Ithil – that Sauron manages to manipulate Saruman and drive Denethor mad. However, the artifact does not allow “to see through the mind of the individual, unexpectedly or against his will; because the transmission of thought depended on the will of the users on both sides. (in Unfinished Tales and LegendsIII).

The same goes for direct thought transmission in general, “sanwe-latya”of which all beings of Middle-earth are capable by right, and that the palantiri reinforce. As Tolkien writes in the“Ósanwe-kenta” (translated by Damien Bador on Tolkiendil): “By their nature, understandings perceive each other directly. But they can perceive nothing more than the existence of another understanding […], except if that is the will of both parties. […] Every understanding has, from its creation as an individual, the right to close itself, and has the absolute power to realize it of its own will. » Sauron, more powerful though diminished, certainly employed this ability of projection, causing to weigh, at a distance, “Immense pressure accompanied by fear” on lower beings. However, he could not enter their minds without their consent.

We want to thank the author of this write-up for this outstanding content

Watch Out: Tolkien and Surveillance

Visit our social media accounts and also other related pages