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In The Return of the King, Pippin holds Palantír in a scene. Then Gandalf takes him. And when Merry breaks up with Pippin, he says

The enemy thinks you have the ring.

Why does the enemy think so? I don't understand that. Any idea?

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Sauron is aware that Gollum owned the ring for many years and lost it to "Bagginses" from "The Shire". He sends the nine Ring Wraiths to look for it. They will have learned that the ring is being carried by a team of small people called Hobbits, but the Nine are defeated at the border of Rivendell.

The next thing that Sauron hears is when a small person appears to possess the Palantír last held by Saruman. He has no idea that this is the right Hobbit, but based on this information he may be guessing that the Hobbit with the Palantír is either:

  • Captured by Saruman who may now have taken the ring for himself
  • Working with Saruman
  • Is part of a group who has defeated Saruman

Either scenario may be bad for Sauron. Potentially he might need to face Saruman with the ring in his possession or face whoever defeated the power of Saruman and Isengard.

In any case, Sauron makes the assumption that this Hobbit is the one he is looking for, and that the Hobbit or someone else in the Hobbit's party have the ring. Gandalf uses this to his advantage by drawing the attention of Sauron towards the west, away from where they hope Frodo and Sam are infiltrating.

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    The last time he made a power play, a human cut off his ring. Before that he probably wouldn't expect a Hobbit to defeat Saruman. After, well I mean you never know, I guess. – corsiKa Jan 13 at 4:37
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    @corsiKa I would raise an objection on calling a King of Numenor a mere human (which you didn't). The line of Kings has elven blood and more than their fair share of blessings. Compared to the men of Middle-Earth (i.e. in longevity) or worse to the Easterlings, the Numenorians might as well be to them as elves are to goblins. – Mindwin Jan 13 at 11:57
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    @corsiKa it is good to mention that in the Role-Playing games, they were two separate playable races. "Men" for the ordinary humans, and "High Men" for the Numenorians. From the lore, the game designers had the need to make the distinction. – Mindwin Jan 13 at 11:58
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    The book quote in the other answer indicates that in Gandalf's estimation, Sauron believes neither that the Hobbit in the Palantir has defeated Saurman, nor is working with him. Gandalf believes that Sauron thinks that Saurman has captured the Hobbit, and taken the ring by force. – Nuclear Wang Jan 13 at 14:55
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    @NuclearWang ... fair enough. I'll tweak my answer slightly... but since I was trying to base this on the movie alone, I'll not include that quote. – iandotkelly Jan 13 at 15:24
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Sauron knew that a hobbit had the ring, and knew that Saruman had been searching for it as well.

The book makes it clear (if we trust that Gandalf's guesses about Sauron's state of mind are correct) that when Sauron saw Pippin using the palantír, Sauron knew nothing of Saruman's defeats and thought that the palantír was still in Saruman's possession in Orthanc. Therefore Sauron thought that Pippin was Saruman's prisoner and was being forced to look into the palantír and make contact with Sauron.

The Enemy, it is clear, thought that the Stone was in Orthanc - why should he not? And that therefore the hobbit was captive there, driven to look in the glass for his torment by Saruman.

Why would Saruman do this to a random Hobbit? It would have seemed obvious to Sauron that this was an important prisoner, and it appears he leapt straight to assuming this was the Hobbit who had carried the ring.

Gandalf also says:

If he had questioned you, then and there, almost certainly you would have told all that you know, to the ruin of us all. But he was too eager. He did not want information only: he wanted you, quickly, so that he could deal with you in the Dark Tower, slowly.

So Sauron simply assumed that a Hobbit contacting him out of the blue on the Orthanc palantír could only be the ring-bearer captured by Saruman, and did not learn the true state of affairs since he did not interrogate Pippin at that time.

The same basic facts and reasoning would apply in the film version as well (I don't recall whether Gandalf has similar exposition lines in the film or not).

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The question is movie-based. There is no suggestion in the book that Sauron thinks that Pippin has the Ring. All we know is Gandalf's view of the event, as outlined by Ben.

We can charitably say that Merry knows what Sauron thinks because Jackson needs to create "drama." It is actually one of Jackson's better attempts.

  • The question is about the film, though, and this doesn't answer the why. – Joachim Jan 13 at 16:10
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    It has been a while since I re-read LotR, but didn't Pippen report a statement about "it is not for him" and "I will send for it"? I very much remember that there was a belief on Sauron's part that the Ring was at Orthanc. – Michael Richardson Jan 13 at 16:21
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    The question did not request editorializing about the quality of the drama. – Eric Lippert Jan 13 at 19:05
  • @MichaelRichardson The exact quote is "We shall meet again soon. Tell Saruman that this dainty is not for him. I will send for it at once. Do you understand? Say just that!" The "dainty" referred to in this case is Pippin himself (as explicitly clarified by Gandalf in the quote given by Ben). It's unclear whether Sauron assumed Pippin was the ring bearer or simply a good source of information (and a pleasant evening's entertainment via torture). – jmbpiano Jan 13 at 19:29
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    Did you notice you're on movies.stackexchange.com? – freedomn-m Jan 14 at 12:56

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