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When Saruman began fortifying Isengard and cutting down all the trees in the vicinity to fuel his construction, was he totally unaware of the Ents?

When they attacked, they made pretty quick work of the whole place.

Treebeard refers to him by name, so I'd assumed they knew each other:

Saruman... a wizard should know better

Was Saruman completely unaware that wiping out so much of the forest would anger the Ents and provoke them to attack?

And if he did know about them, why was he not better prepared to defend against them?

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    IN the movies at least, Treebeard says that he knows Saruman personally but hasn't seen him for a while. – Wad Cheber Jan 27 '16 at 9:01
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    One possibility is that even if he knew the Ents were a threat, he assumed he could get the Ring and conquer the rest of Middle-Earth before they actually attacked. Ents are mind-numbingly slow, after all. – DaaaahWhoosh Jan 27 '16 at 19:12
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    Saruman has developed a bad habit of underestimating the strength of the people he has treated badly (especially if they act together). It is another example of him leaving the path of wisdom. – Blackwood Jul 5 '16 at 13:30
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+100

Yes he does

In the film Treebeard talks about how Saruman used to walk through through Fangorn. Implying a familiarity at least from Treebeards point of view, as Treebeard knows enough about Saruman (including his name) to suggest this.

From The Two Towers Film:

Treebeard: "There was a time, when Saruman would walk in my woods, but now, he has a mind of metal and wheels."

And from the book The Two Towers, Treebeard confirms a relationship more definitively with:

'But Saruman now! Saruman is a neighbour: I cannot overlook him. I must do something, I suppose. I have often wondered lately what I should do about Saruman.'

'Who is Saruman?' asked Pippin. 'Do you know anything about his history?'

'Saruman is a Wizard,' answered Treebeard.... '[He] was reckoned great among them, I believe. He gave up wandering about and minding the affairs of Men and Elves,... a very long time ago: and he settled down at... Isengard.... He was very quiet to begin with, but his fame began to grow. He was chosen to be head of the White Council, they say; but that did not turn out too well. I wonder now if even then Saruman was not turning to evil ways. But at any rate he used to give no trouble to his neighbours. I used to talk to him. There was a time when he was always walking about my woods. He was polite in those days, always asking my leave... and always eager to listen. I told him many things that he would never have found out by himself; but he never repaid me in like kind....'

The Two Towers - Treebeard

Here it states Treebeard and Saruman talked, Saruman even asked Treebeard's permission in those early days, showing he had some measure of respect for the Ent. As Saruman's power / arrogance grew this respect seems to have waned until he no longer bothers with Treebeard at all.

As to why he didn't properly defend against them, some suppositions:

  1. He was in Orthanc, a tower with its strong walls

"A great ring-wall of stone, like towering cliffs, stood out from the shelter of the mountain-side, from which it ran and then returned again. One entrance only was there made in it, a great arch delved in the southern wall. Here through the black rock a long tunnel had been hewn, closed at either end with mighty doors of iron. They were so wrought and poised upon their huge hinges, posts of steel driven into the living stone, that when unbarred they could be moved with a light thrust of the arms, noiselessly. One who passed in and came at length out of the echoing tunnel, beheld a plain, a great circle, somewhat hollowed like a vast shallow bowl: a mile it measured from rim to rim."

The Two Towers - The Road to Isengard

and the tower itself appeared to be made of even stronger material

Many of the Ents were hurling themselves against the Orthanc-rock; but that defeated them. It is very smooth and hard.

Some wizardry is in it, perhaps, older and stronger than Saruman's. Anyway they could not get a grip on it, or make a crack in it; and they were bruising and wounding themselves against it.

The Two Towers - Flotsam and Jetsam

He would have felt safe (and was in fact safe as the Ents had to besiege the tower).

  1. He underestimated the anger of the Ents. He (his Orcs) had been cutting down vast swathes of Fangorn Forest down with no reprisal, and, had Merry and Pippin not met Treebeard he may have been safe in this assumption. Pippin also alludes to this:

"He seems at one time to have got round them, but never again. And anyway he did not understand them; and he made the great mistake of leaving them out of his calculations. He had no plan for them, and there was no time to make any, once they had set to work.

The Two Towers - Flotsam and Jetsam

  1. He thought that the Ents had all become more 'Treeish' to the point that they would not be able to do anything anyway.
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    @ATB you caught me between adding the quote from the film and the quote from the book – Cearon O'Flynn Jan 27 '16 at 9:14
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    I think the the third point is very important. Saruman hadn't talked with the Ents (or Treebeard, at least) for a very long time, and I seem to recall Treebeard mentioning that the Ents are "waking up" (although I can't remember the exact quote, the impression is given that they were dormant for a long time and so Saruman may have considered them not to be a potential issue). – megaflop Jan 27 '16 at 12:01
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    @daiscog True, plus it took the Ents quite a bit of prodding (even in the book, while more prominently so in the film [I'm guessing otherwise the general audience would have wondered why the two of them were at the moot in the first place) from the Hobbits (Merry & Pippin that is) to get their leaves ruffled and their stiff trunks moving.... – BMWurm Jan 27 '16 at 12:41
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    +1 for "had Merry and Pippin not met Treebeard he may have been safe in this assumption". My opinion would be that if Saruman thought about the Ents at all, he would have considered them asleep/tree-ified/irrelevant. It needed Merry / Pippin to prod the Ents into action. – TripeHound Jan 27 '16 at 13:52
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    Two small nitpicks... 1) Treebeard never mentioned he walked with Saruman, only that Saruman would walk in the woods. 2) Saruman's Uruk-hai were not the ones doing the deforestation, those were goblins and lesser orcs sent from Mordor. The Uruk-hai were bred for the special purpose of fighting the penultimate battle at Helm's Deep (though I suspect Saruman meant for them to serve him much longer than one battle). – TylerH Jan 28 '16 at 15:45
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In the books yes. Treebeard and Saruman used to be on cordial terms.

‘Saruman is a Wizard,’ answered Treebeard. ‘More than that I cannot say. I do not know the history of Wizards. They appeared first after the Great Ships came over the Sea; but if they came with the Ships I never can tell. Saruman was reckoned great among them, I believe. He gave up wandering about and minding the affairs of Men and Elves, some time ago –you would call it a very long time ago; and he settled down at Angrenost, or Isengard as the Men of Rohan call it. He was very quiet to begin with, but his fame began to grow. He was chosen to be the head of the White Council, they say; but that did not turn out too well. I wonder now if even then Saruman was not turning to evil ways. But at any rate he used to give no trouble to his neighbours. I used to talk to him. There was a time when he was always walking about my woods. He was polite in those days, always asking my leave (at least when he met me); and always eager to listen. I told him many things that he would never have found out by himself; but he never repaid me in like kind. I cannot remember that he ever told me anything. And he got more and more like that; his face, as I remember it –I have not seen it for many a day –became like windows in a stone wall: windows with shutters inside.

Lord of the Rings | Treebeard

In the films I believe there is a scene where Gandalf says something along the lines of

He has forgotten Treebeard

Which seems to indicate Treebeard was someone he knew, it would be unusual to say "forgotten" if they meant "doesn't know"

But I could be mistaken there it's been a couple of years since I watched it.

Why didn't he prepare better?

Arrogance is my only guess. He has form (in the books at least) during the scouring of the shire Sharkey and his men under estimate the rustic hobbits and are quite easily overthrown once the spark of rebellion is lit by Merry, Pippin and Sam (Frodo doing very little other than preventing unneeded killing).

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    Care to explain the downvote? – user46509 Jan 27 '16 at 16:00
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    It is one thing to know that Treebeard exists, and quite another to know that he can mobilize a moving army of angry trees to destroy your base. – Oldcat Jan 27 '16 at 21:40
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    @Oldcat there lies the arrogance issue. He's either forgotten what he knew of Entish history or ignored them. – user46509 Jan 27 '16 at 22:03

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