The Eye of Mordor

David Day
The Dark Tower of Mordor (detail), 1979
Illustration

As Frodo and Sam cross the Dead Marches, lead by the converted Smeagol, Sam observes that his master is feeling a heavier weight. The Ring is a heavy, terrible burden, and the closer it is brought to its maker, the heavier it weighs upon the Ring-Bearer. But even moreso than the Ring, Frodo begins to feel the weight of the Eye:

The Eye: that horrible growing sense of a hostile will that strove with great power to pierce all shadows of cloud, and earth, and flesh, and to see you: to pin you under its deadly gaze, naked, immovable. So thin, so frail and thin, the veils were become that still warded it off. Frodo knew just where the present habitation and heart of that will now was: as certainly as a man can tell the direction of the sun with his eyes shut. He was facing it, and its potency beat upon his brow. (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers)

The Ring is pretty self-evidently a manifestation of man’s will-to-power, his desire to dominate and to rule through utter subjugation. This reading has been discussed to death amidst Tolkien literary critics. It seems, however, that the Ring’s power over wills is simply one part of the puzzle that is Sauron’s villainy. The Eye — intriguingly another disc-shaped symbol — brings the terms of Power into full circle (pun intended).

Michel Foucault observes this is in his description of the Panopticon in Discipline & Punish, noting how the “surveillance state” aims at creating a social context of perpetual observation where the individual subject can be compared freely with one another (and thus judged in their “normalcy” according to social standards). Power is manifested not simply through the subjection of wills (as the Ring accomplishes) but also in the amassing of knowledge and observation of the unknowing subjects (as the Eye accomplishes). Frodo’s concerns regarding the Eye’s ability to rend through every defense is admirable; after all, were he disclosed to the Eye, his quest to end the Eye’s power would be all for naught.

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