I get that Saruman lost his powers due to being replaced by Gandalf.
But, all of the Valar and Maiar were made by Eru, therefore if Eru could do that to Saruman then he should be able to do the same with Sauron. Sauron himself should have lost his powers as well, yet he probably managed to keep them by worshipping Melkor.

So, in the case of Saruman, even though he was banished from the council, why did he lose everything? He was by the side of the forces of evil, just like Sauron, so why was Sauron still an almighty force and Saruman was a petty old man? Sauron even died and his spirit kept lingering, while Saruman died and was forbidden reincarnation as far as I remember. Why was Saruman's reincarnation forbidden but Sauron could do as he pleased?

  • 13
    It's not clear what powers Saruman actually had and what if anything was lost. Assuming the premise is accurate - Saruman was incarnated for a specific purpose and sent by the Valar, Sauron self-incarnated in order to join Morgoth and do his own thing.
    – OrangeDog
    Feb 15, 2021 at 11:49
  • Yeah I think the Istari (wizards) are not full Maiar, they are like avatars. Sauron was his full self. Feb 15, 2021 at 13:05
  • 13
    It wasn't Eru that took away Saruman's powers. That was all Gandalf. Tolkien is clear that there were only a few very specific occasions when Eru intervened directly, see this question. Although I guess you could say that Eru sending Gandalf back was what gave him the authority to take away Saruman's powers. Feb 15, 2021 at 14:05
  • 1
    Not avatars exactly, because there isn't a "full form" of Olorin or Curumo sitting back in Aman. It's more of a transformation, I think. Feb 16, 2021 at 3:58
  • 2
    I am not sure this is really ever explained fully. It does seem that the Istari are fundamentally limited in ways other Maiar are not - but Gandalf, even as 'the Grey', can 'uncloak' to some degree. But perhaps the answer is that this requires conscious effort - probably Saruman could have 'daunted' Grima with his Voice and maybe just 'presence', but he was taken by surprise. Feb 16, 2021 at 4:01

1 Answer 1


The Istari (the five wizards) were special cases. We don't know many details, but JRRT did say enough to make it clear that there were differences between them and the other Maiar who visited Middle-earth.

Ordinarily, all of the Ainur (Maiar and Valar both) have bodies (or not) at will:

Now the Valar took to themselves shape and hue; and because they were drawn into the World by love of the Children of Iluvatar, for whom they hoped, they took shape after that manner which they had beheld in the Vision of Iluvatar, save only in majesty and splendour.

Moreover their shape comes of their knowledge of the visible World, rather than of the World itself; and they need it not, save only as we use raiment, and yet we may be naked and suffer no loss of our being.

Therefore the Valar may walk, if they will, unclad, and then even the Eldar cannot clearly perceive them, though they be present. But when they desire to clothe themselves the Valar take upon them forms some as of male and some as of female; for that difference of temper they had even from their beginning, and it is but bodied forth in the choice of each, not made by the choice, even as with us male and female may be shown by the raiment but is not made thereby. But the shapes wherein the Great Ones array themselves are not at all times like to the shapes of the kings and queens of the Children of Iluvatar; for at times they may clothe themselves in their own thought, made visible in forms of majesty and dread.

This was intrinsic to their nature, but it could be lost in two ways. First, by evil. Evil acts diminish the being of the evildoer, and with the Ainur, one consequence is a loss of the ability walk "unclad" or to choose the body in which they will be clad.

Sauron was indeed caught in the wreck of Númenor, so that the bodily form in which he long had walked perished; but he fled back to Middle-earth, a spirit of hatred borne upon the dark wind. He was unable ever again to assume a form that seemed fair to men, but became black and hideous, and his power thereafter was through terror alone.

Secondly, the Istari, who were Maiar, accepted special limitations on their mission to the people of Middle-earth. They were also bound to their bodies and could not change them. They accepted as part of their mission that they were to guide and inspire Elves and Men, but not to control them. These limitations were real, and their intrinsic powers were diminished. (Presumably to be restored after they successfully completed their missions, though Tolkien never said that.)

Additionally, they lost most of their memories of Valinor and of the Music of the Ainur, making them hardly more powerful than Elves and Men. Other than in what limited memories were left to them, they were like the most powerful of the Elves.

it was said among the Elves that they were messengers sent by the Lords of the West to contest the power of Sauron, if he should arise again, and to move Elves and Men and all living things of good will to valiant deeds. In the likeness of Men they appeared, old but vigorous, and they changed little with the years, and aged but slowly, though great cares lay on them; great wisdom they had, and many powers of mind and hand.

Olórin I was in my youth in the West that is forgotten

'Yes, I am white now,' said Gandalf. 'Indeed I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been. But come now, tell me of yourselves! I have passed through fire and deep water, since we parted. I have forgotten much that I thought I knew, and learned again much that I had forgotten.

Other Maiar who visited Middle-earth (e.g., Melian, the many minions of Morgoth) retained their native powers when embodied except to the extent that they spent them in evil.

Both Sauron and Saruman diminished themselves through evil. Sauron lost the ability to appear in forms other than as a hideous Black Lord. Saruman, after being stripped of his powers by Gandalf the White, was nothing but the old man that his body had always been.

When they were killed, the same thing happened: What was left of their self-maimed spirits rose like smoke, and a wind from the West dispersed it. We don't know what, if anything, remained of Saruman. Sauron was left as nothing more than a spirit of malice unable to take bodily form ever again.

And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed;


about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill. For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing.

In the end, the Valar rejected both Saruman and Sauron. We know that Sauron's maimed spirit remained -- impotent -- in Middle-earth. We don't know what happened to what was left of Saruman after his body was killed and the Valar rejected him: Tolkien never said. (My own guess is that his fate was the same as Sauron's, but that's only a guess.)

  • 13
    My memory is hazy, but didn't Sharkey retain his "power" of voice? Gandalf removed his authority over the Council and kicked him out of Orthanc, but not necessarily any intrinsic abilities (what Men would call Elven magic) that Saruman had.
    – OrangeDog
    Feb 15, 2021 at 15:07
  • 1
    I recognize the last few paragraph quotes from LoTR, but what about the others?
    – RonJohn
    Feb 15, 2021 at 21:19
  • 2
    @RonJohn The Silmarillion
    – Mark Olson
    Feb 16, 2021 at 1:19
  • 4
    "diminished themselves through evil" is ... not even wrong. It has nothing to do with evil and everything to do with them "spending themselves" in the pursuit of their goals. Domination is why they chose to do it, but the diminishment was the cost of doing it. The good and wise also have the same sort of budgetary constraints on their own creations. This is attested to quite a bit in the mythology.
    – Yorik
    Feb 16, 2021 at 17:26
  • 5
    @Yorik "Not even wrong" refers to a statement that's completely nonsensical. Losing your power through evil acts is a perfectly sensible explanation for a fantasy world. It might be right or wrong (I don't know, been a while since I read the Silmarillion), but it isn't "not even wrong". Feb 16, 2021 at 21:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.