This question is the opposite of another one. The other question asks "What would happen to Saruman if he got the One Ring?" and this one asks what would happen to Saruman if Sauron got the One Ring.

Saruman: The friendship of Saruman is not lightly thrown aside. (tortures Gandalf)

Gandalf: (screams in pain) Aaahhh!

Saruman: One ill turn deserves another. It is over! Embrace the power of the ring or embrace your own destruction! (tortures Gandalf again)

Gandalf: (screams in pain) Uh! There is only one Lord of the Ring. There is only one who can bend it to his will, and he does not share power!

Gwaihir the Eagle screams in distance.

Gandalf jumps from the tower of Orthanc.

Gwaihir the Eagle screams and flies off with Gandalf on its back.

Saruman: So you have chosen death.

One of the recurring messages in the books and films is that only Sauron can wield the One Ring. Everyone else who tries will be corrupted by it. Neither Balrogs nor Galadriel could have held the ring for long without being destroyed by it.

What would have been Saruman's fate if Sauron once more controlled the ring?

  • Would he have become a wraith like the Nazgul?

  • Would Sauron have tortured him for thinking he could challenge its true master?

  • Would Sauron kill him because evil overlords want no rivals?

  • Would he have become a pawn?

Please provide answers based on Tolkien's writings.

  • 2
    I'm not sure how you want an answer, given this is a completely made up situation. I can do one of two things. Provide an answer stating that Sauron could not have gotten the ring as the course of Arda is destined to follow the music and Eru was ensuring he wouldn't. Or I can clarify each of your three suggestions. However, in doing so one would have to assume Saruman survived, and that Sauron acquired the ring, which seems excessively speculative.
    – Edlothiad
    Sep 3, 2018 at 6:57
  • @Edlothiad I am hoping for an answer from one of Tolkien's letters or any other writings where he provides insights into the story. Tolkien answered so many questions in his writings, so that is why I said to provide answers from his writings. Maybe he answered this one too.
    – RichS
    Sep 3, 2018 at 7:19
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    Given how speculative it is, with two glaring assumptions, a direct answer is incredibly unlikely, and in fact (as far as I can search the legendarium) doesn't exist.
    – Edlothiad
    Sep 3, 2018 at 7:49
  • 1
    I'm not sure the Balrog would have been destroyed in the sense that Gandalf or Galadriel would have been. It would just have become "differently" evil. The link you provide simply posits that the Balrog could have had the power to overthrow (or at least subjugate) Sauron, if it decided to do so. It's not clear that a Balrog would have such a desire. The Ring might simply have made it too powerful to bring under Sauron's (or anyone else's) influence, command, or control.
    – chepner
    Sep 8, 2018 at 12:31

2 Answers 2


TL;DR Had Sauron gained the One Ring, Saruman would almost certainly have been tortured by him, although it is unlikely he would be used and would definitely not be made a wraith.

Tortured? Saruman himself certainly thinks so.

Gandalf had just escaped from Orthanc, and Sauron believed Saruman at least knew some info about the Ring. Saruman himself let on less than he actually knew to Sauron, so he was beginning to panic once he saw the Nazgûl at his doorstep. Being one of the most knowledgeable beings in Middle-earth would surely mean he had a good inkling of what Sauron would do to a traitor like himself.

Two days after Gandalf had departed Orthanc, the Lord of Morgul halted before the Gate of Isengard. Then Saruman, already filled with wrath and fear by the escape of Gandalf, perceived the peril of standing between enemies, a known traitor to both. His dread was great, for his hope of deceiving Sauron, or at least of receiving his favour in victory, was utterly lost. Now either he himself must gain the Ring or come to ruin and torment. But he was wary and cunning still, and he had ordered Isengard against just such an evil chance.

Unfinished Tales, The Hunt for the Ring

Also, consider what Gandalf says to Frodo about him being captured if Sauron won:

"You would have become a wraith under the dominion of the Dark Lord; and he would have tormented you for trying to keep his Ring, if any greater torment would have been possible than being robbed of it and seeing it on his hand."

The Fellowship of the Ring, Many Meetings

Frodo would be in the same situation as Saruman since both of them were opposing Sauron. One similiarity between their situations would be that Frodo had the Ring and Saruman had information of the Ring, and since Saruman didn't share that information with his supposed master it would make it just as bad as keeping the Ring himself.

Realistically speaking Saruman would still be considered an utter traitor in Sauron's eyes, not worthy of suffering a mere psychological torment such as seeing the Ring on Sauron's finger. Physical torment would be much more realistic: Sauron wasn't known for his leniency, even in the First Age.

Then Sauron smiled, saying: "That is a small price for so great a treachery. So shall it surely be. Say on!" Now Gorlim would have drawn back, but daunted by the eyes of Sauron he told at last all that he would know. Then Sauron laughed; and he mocked Gorlim, and revealed to him that he had seen only a phantom devised by wizardry to entrap him; for Eilinel was dead. "Nonetheless I will grant thy prayer," said Sauron; "and thou shalt go to Eilinel and be set free of my service." Then he put him cruelly to death.

The Silmarillion, The Lay of Leithian

Why put Gorlim to a cruel death when he could have left him there in utter misery of his wife's (Eilinel's) death? It was not in Sauron to give out mild punishments for treachery.

More Gandalf wisdom:

"No tidings of the battle will come to Mordor, thanks to the horsemen of Rohan; but the Dark Lord knows that two hobbits were taken in the Emyn Muil and borne away towards Isengard against the will of his own servants. He now has Isengard to fear as well as Minas Tirith. If Minas Tirith falls, it will go ill with Saruman."

The Two Towers, The White Rider

"He lives now in terror of the shadow of Mordor, and yet he still dreams of riding the storm. Unhappy fool! He will be devoured, if the power of the East stretches out its arms to Isengard. We cannot destroy Orthanc from without, but Sauron – who knows what he can do?"

The Two Towers, The Voice of Saruman

Enslaved or become a wraith? Not very likely.

Both Saruman and Sauron are Maiar. While Sauron is undoubtedly the most powerful being on Middle-earth with his Ring, it is highly not likely he would be able to corrupt another Maiar being – Saruman – in a way that Morgoth (Valar) corrupted some Maiar into the Balrogs.

It is equally more unlikely that Saruman would become a wraith of Sauron's. A Maiar is definitely not as inherently weak as a Man, therefore Saruman's outcome would be much unlike the Nazgûl's.

By 'incarnate' I mean they were embodied in physical bodies capable of pain, and weariness, and of afflicting the spirit with physical fear, and of being 'killed', though supported by the angelic spirit they might endure long, and only show slowly the wearing of care and labour.

The Letters of JRR Tolkien, Letter 156

It would stand to reason that Saruman wouldn't, or rather couldn't, be enslaved by another Maiar. Whatever trust Sauron had in Saruman was broken once he realized of the latter's treachery. I do not think Sauron would let him wander around free to do as he pleases, or edict a position of power (e.g., Mouth of Sauron gets Orthanc) to someone who is clearly untrustworthy.

  • 1
    Torment and torture seem to be two different beasts, especially given that the greatest torment of all is the loss of the ring. Being subverted into his subordinate would be considered torment, but not torture.
    – Edlothiad
    Sep 3, 2018 at 9:40
  • In this case I am referring to physical torment, which is as good as torture if you're in the hands of Sauron. I doubt that Sauron would satisfy himself, after gaining the Ring and virtually winning, with a mere psychological or mental torment on Saruman if he could help it. A good point though, and I have the perfect quote to address that.
    – Voronwé
    Sep 3, 2018 at 9:45
  • 1
    Gollum is also tortured, partially for information, partially for just daring to use the ring.
    – Amarth
    Nov 15, 2018 at 18:23

He wouldn't have become a wraith.

The 9 Kings of Men became wraiths as their lives were stretched beyond their natural limits. Saruman, however, is immortal; while his Istari body could die, his spirit was still that of a Maia, and would've endured, but not as a wraith, and certainly not under the control of the Ring, as the Ringwraiths were.

The view is taken (as clearly reappears later in the case of the Hobbits that have the Ring for a while) that each 'Kind' has a natural span, integral to its biological and spiritual nature. This cannot really be increased qualitatively or quantitatively; so that prolongation in time is like stretching a wire out ever tauter...
Footnote to Letter 131

Saruman's "natural span" was indefinite, even in the body of a Man.

He may have been tortured, and destroyed, or he may have just become a pawn.

Since Sauron doesn't win, not much is known about what would happen if he did win, the Valar would most likely not have intervened. He would likely just seek to dominate the whole of Middle-earth. Unlike Melkor, Sauron's aim was not to destroy, but to dominate:

The Enemy in successive forms is always ‘naturally’ concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines;
Letter to Mildon Waldman

As such, there wouldn't be much reason to torture or destroy Saruman, as Sauron would have power over him anyways. It would be far more beneficial to turn Saruman into a pawn, (which he had already done without the Ring) and use him against the Free Peoples of Middle-earth.

Saruman indeed speculated that he may have come to torment, however great was the Voice of Saruman.

His dread was great, for his hope of deceiving Sauron, or at the least of receiving his favour in victory, was utterly lost. Now either he himself must gain the Ring or come to ruin and torment...
Such was still the power of the voice of Saruman that even the Lord of the Nazgûl did not question what it said, whether it was false or short of the full truth; but straightway he rode from the Gate and began to hunt for Gandalf in Rohan.
Unfinished Tales: Of the Hunt of the Ring

It would appear from above that while Saruman feared torment, great was the power of his Voice, such that Saruman would likely used all of his strength to convince Sauron otherwise, and prevent himself from torment. Although, as Gandalf speculates, mere loss of the Ring, is likely the greatest torment of all:

...if any greater torment were possible than being robbed of it and seeing it on his hand.
Fellowship of the Ring - Book 2, Chapter 1: Many Meetings

The torment spoken of seems less likely to be physical torment as opposed to psychological torment. While Tolkien rather liberally uses both, from Gandalf's quote it would appear that the greatest torment would be the psychological pain from losing the Ring, if other torment were enacted it would have to be greater psychological damage, such as being subverted to a lesser being under Sauron's power, as opposed to Saruman's wants of being Lord of Middle-earth.

While Mat had used these quotes first, I have included them as I have come to a rather different conclusion then they have.

  • 5
    Also, the 9 Kings of Men became Nazgûl because they each held one of the nine lesser rings and were thus subverted by the One Ring. Saruman does not hold any of the lesser rings.
    – DevSolar
    Sep 3, 2018 at 9:00
  • 1
    I'm aware, and hence why I said he wouldn't become a ring-wraith. However, Frodo was becoming a 'ringwraith' as well before Elrond brought him back.
    – Edlothiad
    Sep 3, 2018 at 10:20
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    Saruman successfully uses his "vocal" powers on the Witch-king, not Sauron himself. I doubt it would work on Sauron regardless. Such a situation would only arise if Sauron won, obviously, or if Saruman was captured. It didn't work on Gandalf (Maiar) when he came to confront Saruman after his defeat; I don't think it's likely Sauron ('stronger' Maiar) would be convinced at all. Then Gandalf laughed. The fantasy vanished like a puff of smoke.
    – Voronwé
    Sep 3, 2018 at 10:36
  • 1
    That much is true. Sauron is a 'stronger' Maiar, although it is never stated that he has greater strength than Saruman in Voice, it's rather speculative, as the whole Q&A is in my opinion (as outline in my comment below the question), however I do not see any reason to believe Saruman's voice in such great need would be unable to sway Sauron from psychological torment (given I don't believe physical torment would be very effective against a Maiar)
    – Edlothiad
    Sep 3, 2018 at 10:41
  • 1
    @Mithrandir yes, and to get to his "Mastery of Middle-earth" he doesn't destroy, he dominates.
    – Edlothiad
    Sep 3, 2018 at 15:26

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