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Old 07-30-2016, 06:04 PM   #1
Inziladun
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Sauron the Gene-maker

I've been fascinated for some time by the appearance of apparent WMD use in Middle-earth, and I've lately wondered about something along somewhat similar scientific lines.

In Mordor, among all the major horrors encountered by Frodo and Sam, are described some relatively obscure minions of Sauron.

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Files, dun or grey, or black, marked like orcs with a red eye-shaped blotch, buzzed and stung...
ROTK The Land of Shadow

Since I can see no explanation for the eye-marks occurring naturally, I conclude Sauron somehow produced that particular species of fly. The question is, why? Vanity? Experimentation?
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Old 07-30-2016, 08:49 PM   #2
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I'd say recognition and vanity. Sauron's probably very eager to show off his power, so making his most insignificant minions very recognizable might be a show of it.
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Old 07-30-2016, 09:06 PM   #3
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Evolution. Evidently, any living creature in Mordor has a better chance of survival and reproduction if it has a red eye clearly visible somewhere on its body.
(And if you don't agree, just consider what happens to orcs who fail to display the said eye. )

~~~

Vanity, or the need to prove, more to himself, that he has complete control over his land and his minions. Loathing of any unspoiled thing or creature, especially within his power. How can he be the Great and Powerful Sauron, the First of His Name, if Eru's flies still thrive on his Orc-dung? I'm joking here, but I think he would have found it unacceptable to leave a single pebble, let alone a living creature, in its pure and clean form. It would have irked him endlessly - he'd feel he doesn't have true dominance and control over it until as little as possible of its original essence remains.
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Old 07-30-2016, 10:11 PM   #4
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Inzil, there are real moths and flies that have eye-like spots on their wings, making them seem much larger than they are. Perhaps Tolkien was walking by the bio lab in Oxford one day and fell into a conversation with an entomologist.

The Great Plague is also something that Tolkien inferred was started in or around Mordor, which "came with dark winds out of the East". Given Sauron's casual disregard for killing off his own troops, perhaps weakening his enemies' forces along his borders as well as in Arnor (where fell spirits immediately rushed in after the sweep of the pestilence), was tactically reason enough to wipe out everything.
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Old 07-31-2016, 01:14 AM   #5
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The Eye

I've always assumed Sauron created the eye-flies deliberately, through vanity and experimentation.

However, it could also be an entirely passive side-effect of magical "pollution"- there are many other examples of Sauron's general corrupting influence on the surrounding natural world.

Finally- from a purely in-universe standpoint, as I don't think this is what Tolkien was going for- yes, as Galadriel suggests, it could be the result of artificial selection by superstitious minions, along the lines of Carl Sagan's suggested explanation for "samurai" crabs.

Take your pick.
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Old 07-31-2016, 01:24 AM   #6
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However, it could also be an entirely passive side-effect of magical "pollution"- there are many other examples of Sauron's general corrupting influence on the surrounding natural world.
This is how I think I always felt about it, like it was something that happened spontaneously as a result of Sauron's presence and the general malaise of Mordor, sort of like Mount Doom erupting at dramatic moments.
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Old 07-31-2016, 06:48 AM   #7
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Good replies!

I'd considered the 'magical malice' effect, in which Sauron's long brooding on his own image and desires somehow emanated throughout his realm and caused creatures under his influence to reflect himself. I kind of like that, actually.

If Sauron did set out to deliberately mark such lowly things as flies as his own, that's really pretty scary. It accentuates his ambition to utterly control everything; to figuratively do as Gollum feared: eat the world.

Maybe someone should write a crossover having James Bond confront him.
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Old 07-31-2016, 10:33 AM   #8
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The thing with the flies is so silly that (together with the talking fox, the Giants and the black swans) I always interpreted them as hobbit folklore. I mean the Lord of the rings is supposed to be a translation of a hobbit book, the red book of the westmarch, a book that has probably been copied and edited multiple times by hobbits. We experience the whole story trough their eyes. Of course if you take this fiction to its logical conclusion you have to wonder how much of the story we can take at face value at all!

Back to Sauron: it's quite clear that Morgoth and Sauron were very interested in genetic engineering right from the start. In the third age you have the plague, clearly a biological weapon, but also the Uruks and the Olog-hai. But I guess that apart from those two races the "normal" orcs in Mordor were also "bred" and did not reproduce freely.
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Old 07-31-2016, 10:34 AM   #9
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Vanity, or the need to prove, more to himself, that he has complete control over his land and his minions. Loathing of any unspoiled thing or creature, especially within his power. How can he be the Great and Powerful Sauron, the First of His Name, if Eru's flies still thrive on his Orc-dung? I'm joking here, but I think he would have found it unacceptable to leave a single pebble, let alone a living creature, in its pure and clean form. It would have irked him endlessly - he'd feel he doesn't have true dominance and control over it until as little as possible of its original essence remains.
If so he seems to have been able to modulate or defer this compulsion; e.g., the land around the Sea of Nurnen, that was fertile enough to feed his armies, and fair enough for Aragorn to gift to the former slaves there after the War of the Ring.*

But I'm not convinced all of his corruptions were intentional.



* ("You're free now! But hey, why don't you stay and cultivate this blasted wasteland, to which I'm sure you've grown very attached.")
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Old 08-01-2016, 02:02 PM   #10
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However, it could also be an entirely passive side-effect of magical "pollution"- there are many other examples of Sauron's general corrupting influence on the surrounding natural world.
Good point. It's more in Saruman's style to breed species on purpose with his own mark on it just to show that he can. I can see how Sauron would not have created the flies on purpose, but they were still altered because of his presence.
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Old 08-01-2016, 03:02 PM   #11
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Good point. It's more in Saruman's style to breed species on purpose with his own mark on it just to show that he can. I can see how Sauron would not have created the flies on purpose, but they were still altered because of his presence.
Back to my comment regarding real-world moths with eyes on wings to scare off larger predators, here is an example:

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Old 08-02-2016, 09:27 AM   #12
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Back to my comment regarding real-world moths with eyes on wings to scare off larger predators, here is an example:
Yes, plenty of real world animals have "decoy" eyes, but I don't think that Mordor flies just happened to have them naturally. For one thing, it's too much of a coincidence. The sentence itself begs the question by comparing the flies with orcs. I know I'm the one who brought up evolution, but I was just making a joke on the colour scheme. It's just too random if the flies' appearance had nothing to do with Sauron's presence.

As a side note, the paragraph prior to this sentence describes the twisted nature still struggling for life:

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Upon its outer marges under the westward mountains Mordor was a dying land, but it was not yet dead. And here things still grew, harsh, twisted, bitter, struggling for life. In the glens of the Morgai on the other side of the valley low scrubby trees lurked and clung, coarse grey grass-tussocks fought with the stones, and withered mosses crawled on them; and everywhere great writhing, tangled brambles sprawled. Some had long stabbing thorns, some hooked barbs that rent like knives. The sullen shrivelled leaves of a past year hung on them, grating and rattling in the sad airs, but their maggot-ridden buds were only just opening. Flies, dun or grey, or black, marked like orcs with a red eye-shaped blotch, buzzed and stung; and above the briar-thickets clouds of hungry midges danced and reeled.
Everything here perhaps once used to be natural, but became too perverted to be so. The only way to survive is to be disgusting. Whether this influence was imposed knowingly or not, it seems that the flies belong in there too. Once just flies, now little mean red Saurons.
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Old 08-02-2016, 11:36 AM   #13
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Yes, plenty of real world animals have "decoy" eyes, but I don't think that Mordor flies just happened to have them naturally. For one thing, it's too much of a coincidence. The sentence itself begs the question by comparing the flies with orcs. I know I'm the one who brought up evolution, but I was just making a joke on the colour scheme. It's just too random if the flies' appearance had nothing to do with Sauron's presence.

As a side note, the paragraph prior to this sentence describes the twisted nature still struggling for life:



Everything here perhaps once used to be natural, but became too perverted to be so. The only way to survive is to be disgusting. Whether this influence was imposed knowingly or not, it seems that the flies belong in there too. Once just flies, now little mean red Saurons.
I would suggest that the Hobbit's description may have been too literal, or at least the description mirrored the negative perception of the ghastly surroundings they had to drudge through. If you look at the words "marked like orcs with a red eye-shaped blotch" then it opens it up to a wider interpretation. What were they "marked like" that gave the impression of being orkish? And did they just have a blotch of red on their backs that may or may not be "eye-shaped" on closer inspection?" That they were "dun or grey, or black" indicate a bunch of different sorts of flies, did they all have identical blotches? And why didn't the swarms of Morgothian midges not have some sort of markings?

I'm just saying that one has to consider the Hobbits at that point were absolutely miserable. So, perhaps, these obnoxious flies seemed simply orkish, but weren't necessarily Sauronian. They appeared "like" not a one-to-one description.
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Old 08-02-2016, 11:42 AM   #14
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I'm just saying that one has to consider the Hobbits at that point were absolutely miserable. So, perhaps, these obnoxious flies seemed simply orkish, but weren't necessarily Sauronian.
Perhaps. It's just odd that Mordor is the only place we see such flies. Normal flies can be nasty too, and the idea of the passage doesn't change if the red blotch part was taken out of it. Like maggots and midgets, they would just be creating the atmosphere. But instead they become "special edition" flies.

I'm not saying Tolkien implied genetic engineering, in the literal sense, with that description. But it's something to speculate about for fun, and I feel that red-dotted flies didn't just happen to live in the land where everything had a red eye painted on it.
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Old 08-02-2016, 12:10 PM   #15
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Perhaps. It's just odd that Mordor is the only place we see such flies. Normal flies can be nasty too, and the idea of the passage doesn't change if the red blotch part was taken out of it. Like maggots and midgets, they would just be creating the atmosphere. But instead they become "special edition" flies.

I'm not saying Tolkien implied genetic engineering, in the literal sense, with that description. But it's something to speculate about for fun, and I feel that red-dotted flies didn't just happen to live in the land where everything had a red eye painted on it.
Flies are different around the world, aren't they? I mean other than common house flies. I've seen certain flies on trips out of the country or even out of state that are different from the ones where I live. Were the "hungry midges" the same species as up by Bree? What you have to ask yourself is would Sauron have a fly breeding program exclusive to Mordor? Did he do it as a light-hearted diversion from breeding sun-resistant trolls and Uruk-hai?

All I am saying is the perception of the Hobbits could be that they likened the flies to Orcs because of the red blotch that looked suspiciously like it was "eye-shaped".
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Old 08-02-2016, 12:26 PM   #16
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Flies are different around the world, aren't they? I mean other than common house flies. I've seen certain flies on trips out of the country or even out of state that are different from the ones where I live. Were the "hungry midges" the same species as up by Bree? What you have to ask yourself is would Sauron have a fly breeding program exclusive to Mordor? Did he do it as a light-hearted diversion from breeding sun-resistant trolls and Uruk-hai?
Not necessarily. I'm beginning to lean more and more in favour of Nerwen's interpretation, that Sauron's surroundings might have been altered through "magical pollution" (love that term!). Sauron didn't have to necessarily breed flies of a certain colour for his influence to be present in subtler ways. And yes, I agree with you that the perception is through hobbit eyes, and the link with orcs might have been just in their head. The passage serves to show how horrid and disgusting was any life that could exist in Mordor, and the comparison is meant to underscore that feeling. That doesn't contradict that the mood of the place is in part dictated by Sauron's will.

To take your argument, no, not all thorny horrible maggot-ridden plants are Sauron's. But the only plants we see in his land are of that kind. Could other plants have grown there if the land wasn't corrupted? Probably. Probably some did, and maybe, many years after the Ring's destruction, once the land heals, some will again. That doesn't change that nothing but the meanest life could survive under his rule. With Tolkien's extensive use of pathetic fallacy and description of nature to reflect its inhabitants, this isn't a big leap at all.
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Old 08-02-2016, 01:17 PM   #17
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Not necessarily. I'm beginning to lean more and more in favour of Nerwen's interpretation, that Sauron's surroundings might have been altered through "magical pollution" (love that term!). Sauron didn't have to necessarily breed flies of a certain colour for his influence to be present in subtler ways. And yes, I agree with you that the perception is through hobbit eyes, and the link with orcs might have been just in their head. The passage serves to show how horrid and disgusting was any life that could exist in Mordor, and the comparison is meant to underscore that feeling. That doesn't contradict that the mood of the place is in part dictated by Sauron's will.

To take your argument, no, not all thorny horrible maggot-ridden plants are Sauron's. But the only plants we see in his land are of that kind. Could other plants have grown there if the land wasn't corrupted? Probably. Probably some did, and maybe, many years after the Ring's destruction, once the land heals, some will again. That doesn't change that nothing but the meanest life could survive under his rule. With Tolkien's extensive use of pathetic fallacy and description of nature to reflect its inhabitants, this isn't a big leap at all.
Good post. I would agree the hypothesis you render could easily be correct. Nature or nuture? The environment was obviously nasty and thus like real-world nasty places creatures and plants adapt to the hostile nature of the area. It seems to me many desert or harsh environments have barbed or thorny plants simply as a defense mechanism, or did Sauron plant the devil's garden?
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Old 08-02-2016, 05:19 PM   #18
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Painting flies was part of the Art Yucco movement.

I'm sorry.

But I think I've found the problem: the quote above says files not flies -- yer all readin' it wrong, despite the buzz in the air.
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Old 08-02-2016, 05:29 PM   #19
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Good post. I would agree the hypothesis you render could easily be correct. Nature or nuture? The environment was obviously nasty and thus like real-world nasty places creatures and plants adapt to the hostile nature of the area. It seems to me many desert or harsh environments have barbed or thorny plants simply as a defense mechanism, or did Sauron plant the devil's garden?
Here's the thing, though. I'm not even sure Mordor was always as barren as we see it in the time of the Ring. The Second Age was never my strong suit, but if I remember correctly, Sauron has inhabited Mordor for quite a long time before he even began to mess with Numenor (and please correct me if I'm wrong). Do we know what Mordor looked like before Sauron took hold of it? It's true what you say about the environment... My question is: is it possible that Sauron himself shaped the environment?

Somehow, given the significance of the way nature looks in the rest of the story, I've always assumed Mordor would not be as barren if it wasn't for Sauron. Perhaps it's not explicitly stated one way or the other, but Sauron has definitely corrupted Mirkwood's nature, and he was there much less time.

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But I think I've found the problem: the quote above says files not flies -- yer all readin' it wrong, despite the buzz in the air.
Buzzing, stinging paperwork? No wonder everyone hates Mordor.
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Old 08-07-2016, 09:01 AM   #20
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The Second Age was never my strong suit, but if I remember correctly, Sauron has inhabited Mordor for quite a long time before he even began to mess with Numenor (and please correct me if I'm wrong). Do we know what Mordor looked like before Sauron took hold of it?
Check the chapter The Land of Shadow where Sam and Frodo escape Frodo's captivity. For instance at the bottom of a valley was "the bed of a now dry and withered stream" and "Mordor was a dying land, but not yet dead".
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