When Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas find the dead bodies of the orcs that they had pursued to the edge of Fangorn, they see an old man robed in white:

Suddenly Gimli looked up, and there just on the edge of the fire-light stood an old bent man, leaning on a staff, and wrapped in a great cloak; his wide-brimmed hat was pulled down over his eyes. Gimli sprang up, too amazed for the moment to cry out, thought at once the thought flashed into his mind that Saruman had caught them

It is implied in the book (though never verified AFAIK) that this was Saruman, particularly since Gandalf confirms that it was not him

"You certainly did not see me," answered Gandalf, "therefore I must guess that you saw Saruman."

So if it was indeed Saruman, why would he travel all the way to Fangorn alone? Orthanc to Fangorn is not a short journey and he also had the Palantir at his disposal so what is the purpose of his being there (assuming that it is indeed Saruman).

  • Orthanc to Fangorn is not a short journey I'm aware I'm basing this on the movie and not the books; but aren't they adjacent? Cfr. the scene where Treebeard finally decides to get involved? – Flater Jun 2 '17 at 13:01
  • @Flater Fangorn is a pretty big forest though, so it would all depend on where the orc camp was located. Somewhere vaguely on the east border of the forest is all we know. – Amarth Dec 7 '18 at 16:17
  • The Palantir are used to communicate with each other. They are not scrying devices. – Verdan Dec 8 '18 at 23:45

Gandalf told to the trio when they reunited

He was so eager to lay his hands on his prey that he could not wait at home, and he came forth to meet and to spy on his messengers. But he came too late, for once, and the battle was over and beyond his help before he reached these parts. He did not remain here long...

I think this answers your question.

  • This explaination from Gandalf doesn't make sense, because as far as I understand the direction taken by the orcs, Saruman would have necessarily met the orcs (or what is left of them) before meeting Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. At that point he would have no reason to keep going further. – Fatalize Nov 17 '16 at 10:50

He doesn't

In The Treason of Isengard, Christopher Tolkien discusses this passage briefly; he admits that he has a hard time reconciling the conflicting narratives, but proposes the possibility that the Three Walkers saw a vision of Saruman, projected from Gandalf's mind:

Against Gandalf's words my father wrote in the margin: Vision of Gandalf's thought. There is clearly an important clue here to the curious ambiguity surrounding the apparition of the night before, if one knew how to interpret it; but these words are not perfectly clear. They obviously represent a new thought: arising perhaps from Gandalf's suggestion that if it was not Saruman himself that they saw it was a 'vision' or 'wraith' that he had made, the apparition is now to emanate from Gandalf himself. But of whom was it a vision? Was it an embodied 'emanation' of Gandalf, proceeding from Gandalf himself, that they saw? 'I look into his unhappy mind and I see his doubt and fear', Gandalf has said; it seems more likely perhaps that through his deep concentration on Saruman he had 'projected' an image of Saruman which the three companions could momentarily see. I have found no other evidence to cast light on this most curious element in the tale

The History of Middle-earth VII The Treason of Isengard Chapter XXIV: "The White Rider"

Whatever it is that they saw, whether originating from Saruman or Gandalf, Tolkien's consensus is that it was not physical, and there was no need for Saruman to have physically travelled to the forest.

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