Why is Sauron called the Necromancer?

Extollager

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From the evidence of what Sauron does, he does not appear to have been literally a necromancer, that is, one who seeks knowledge of the future by communicating with the spirits of the dead.

My notion is this. Tolkien was stuck with it as a word suggesting someone who exerts evil supernatural power, because "witch" would have suggested a woman; "warlock" suggests a human being who traffics with evil spirits; "wizard" was used for Gandalf and others who were good; "magician" is often used in modern literature for a good or at least not expressly wicked scholar-practitioner; "sorcerer" sounds too French; "enchanter" suggests someone who produces illusions -- and so on. I think Tolkien was, consciously or not, counting on readers not immediately thinking of the more specific sense of the term, which, in my own case, for example, was an expectation entirely justified. I'd been reading Tolkien's books for many years before this became a matter I particularly thought about.

But that might not exhaust the topic.

It did lead me, years ago, to entertain the idea that the origin of the Orcs could be resolved: they are dead things, animated by Sauron's power; hence the problem of the irredeemable Orcs is resolved. But that won't work in the light of things Tolkien said.
 

Ihe

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I'm by no means a scholar on Tolkien, so I went and found this in the LOTR wiki, which might explain it.

"In the year TA 1000, Sauron at last began to rise again, taking the stronghold of Dol Guldur, the Hill of Sorcery, in southern Mirkwood in TA 1050. There, he was disguised as a dark sorcerer known as "the Necromancer", and the Elves did not realize at first that he was actually Sauron returned."

It seems he took the name just as a disguise.
 

pyan

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"'Sauron was the chief servant of the evil Vala, whom he had suborned to his service in Valinor from among the people of the gods. He was become a wizard of dreadful power, master of necromancy, foul in wisdom'..."

The History of Middle-earth:
XI: The War of the Jewels

Admittedly, that just says that Sauron is a necromancer - but there's another quote from the HoMe:

"For the Unbodied, wandering in the world, are those who at the least have refused the door of life and remain in regret and self-pity. Some are filled with bitterness, grievance, and envy. Some were enslaved by the Dark Lord and do his work still, though he himself is gone. They will not speak truth or wisdom. To call on them is folly. To attempt to master them and to make them servants of one own's will is wickedness. Such practices are of Morgoth; and the necromancers are of the host of Sauron his servant."

The History of Middle-earth: X: Morgoth's Ring

And, of course, the Ringwraiths themselves - the animated bodies of lost kings, who are specifically mentioned as being Undead:

"So passed the sword of the Barrow-downs, work of Westernesse. But glad would he have been to know its fate who wrought it slowly long ago in the North-kingdom when the Dúnedain were young, and chief among their foes was the dread realm of Angmar and its sorcerer king. No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will."

LotR: RotK: V: VI:The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
 

farntfar

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It struck me as odd too, though the only reference I knew was when Gandalf spoke at the council of passing the gates of Dol Guldur and finding that the necromancer was indeed Sauron.

So I too thought it was just a disguise. But I haven't read the Histories.
 

Extollager

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Thank you for these helpful replies! How could I have overlooked these things?
 

picklematrix

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It think that a dark lord of Sauron's calibre might be qualified as both a necromancer and a warlock, so both of those would be accurate at different times in his career of evil.
 

Extollager

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"'Sauron was the chief servant of the evil Vala, whom he had suborned to his service in Valinor from among the people of the gods. He was become a wizard of dreadful power, master of necromancy, foul in wisdom'..."

The History of Middle-earth: XI: The War of the Jewels

Admittedly, that just says that Sauron is a necromancer - but there's another quote from the HoMe:

"For the Unbodied, wandering in the world, are those who at the least have refused the door of life and remain in regret and self-pity. Some are filled with bitterness, grievance, and envy. Some were enslaved by the Dark Lord and do his work still, though he himself is gone. They will not speak truth or wisdom. To call on them is folly. To attempt to master them and to make them servants of one own's will is wickedness. Such practices are of Morgoth; and the necromancers are of the host of Sauron his servant."

The History of Middle-earth: X: Morgoth's Ring

And, of course, the Ringwraiths themselves - the animated bodies of lost kings, who are specifically mentioned as being Undead:

"So passed the sword of the Barrow-downs, work of Westernesse. But glad would he have been to know its fate who wrought it slowly long ago in the North-kingdom when the Dúnedain were young, and chief among their foes was the dread realm of Angmar and its sorcerer king. No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will."

LotR: RotK: V: VI:The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

Say -- do you have the page references for those two HoME citations, especially the second one ("For the Unbodied...")?
 

Onyx

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Tolkien was stuck with it as a word suggesting someone who exerts evil supernatural power, because "witch" would have suggested a woman
Isn't one of the male Nazgul referred to as the "Witch King of Angmar"?


As for necromancers, I didn't think Tolkien always used the exact historical definition for labels he uses. "Werewolf" and "vampire" aren't anything like the usual cultural depictions.
 

Extollager

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Say -- do you have the page references for those two HoME citations, especially the second one ("For the Unbodied...")?
Never find, Pyan -- I have the reference to p. 224 of Morgoth's Ring for the quotation I was especially interested in. Thanks for pointing it out.

What intriguing lore there is in the HoME books -- even though we must remember that, since Tolkien didn't release some of it for publication, that material shouldn't be regarded as "canonical."
 

The Ace

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Errrrrrrr…….

OK, maybe I'm chucking a spanner in the works here, but;

"The Hobbit," was written long before LOTR, the histories, or just about anything else in this vast body of work. I strongly suspect that, "The Necromancer," was just a frightening name he plucked out of his a**e for the purposes of the story.

In linking, "The Hobbit," to LOTR, and his own building of a mythos, he must've done a h*ll of a lot of backtracking and revision, to get his completed work to fit into what was already out there.
 

Onyx

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Errrrrrrr…….

OK, maybe I'm chucking a spanner in the works here, but;

"The Hobbit," was written long before LOTR, the histories, or just about anything else in this vast body of work. I strongly suspect that, "The Necromancer," was just a frightening name he plucked out of his a**e for the purposes of the story.

In linking, "The Hobbit," to LOTR, and his own building of a mythos, he must've done a h*ll of a lot of backtracking and revision, to get his completed work to fit into what was already out there.
That's true, but is there any reason Sauron couldn't be some version of a necromancer at some point, and how does Tolkien define a necromancer to say what Sauron could or couldn't be?

Tolkien could have said that Smaug was an incarnation of Sauron if he wanted.
 

aThenian

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Errrrrrrr…….

OK, maybe I'm chucking a spanner in the works here, but;

"The Hobbit," was written long before LOTR, the histories, or just about anything else in this vast body of work. I strongly suspect that, "The Necromancer," was just a frightening name he plucked out of his a**e for the purposes of the story.

In linking, "The Hobbit," to LOTR, and his own building of a mythos, he must've done a h*ll of a lot of backtracking and revision, to get his completed work to fit into what was already out there.
Yeah - I've always thought this too.

Tolkien did go back and change some bits of the Hobbit after writing LOTR ( interesting to know if any of these related to "the necromancer") but The Hobbit remains a very different kind of story.
 

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