In the chapter "Many Partings" the hobbits and Gandalf meet Saruman and Grima on the road. Saruman's intentions are pretty obvious; he even threatens the party:

Well, it will serve you right when you come home, if you find things less good in the Southfarthing than you would like. Long may your land be short of leaf!’

Gandalf clearly knows what is up:

I fancy he could do some mischief still in a small mean way

Saruman is a Maia and still has powers beyond mortals (his voice). It seems out of character that Gandalf did not intervene to stop another Maia, even without using his magical powers or at least warning the Hobbits so that they could take him prisoner and, conveniently, take him to Rivendell where they were going anyway.

There are many literary reasons of why the events leading up to the Scouring of the Shire are there in the story but I struggle to find an in-universe reason of why Gandalf did not try to stop Saruman.

Edit: while there are many reasons Gandalf would not have intervened directly, I have not seen a satisfactory reason of why he could not have at least urged the Hobbits to go directly to The Shire instead of going to Rivendell.

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    Aside from the answer below, Gandalf also knew they could handle it, and the Scouring was going on even before they ran into Saruman on the road.
    – Shamshiel
    Jul 10, 2021 at 11:44
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    @Shamshiel Personally, I think that this is the real reason, both in-story and literary. Gandalf was not there to intervene in things that mortals could handle themselves, and the mortals needed to learn that they could challenge and defeat evil on their own. Jul 10, 2021 at 12:27
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    He could have just told them to got the Shire directly instead of Rivendell. And yes, they can handle it but what about the rest of the Hobbits that could not handle it? Are they are supposed to wait patiently until the heroes finish their vacation in Rivendell? Jul 10, 2021 at 20:20
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    The wording of this question incorrectly implies that “The Scouring” in the chapter title is the damage done by Saruman. The scouring was Frodo et al. cleaning out Saruman and his influence. I’ve now twice suggested an edit to fix it, but it keeps getting rejected.
    – RLH
    Jul 11, 2021 at 15:10
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    @RLH - Lol. I was trying to make this precise edit, but blocked by your edit
    – Valorum
    Jul 11, 2021 at 19:12

2 Answers 2


Essentially, Gandalf's mission was to help the Free Peoples defeat Sauron. As far as he was concerned, it was no longer his place to interfere with things in Middle-Earth. He was going to be returning to Valinor very shortly. It was up to people to deal with their own problems now. He did his part with Saruman in expelling him from the order.

'Deep in, but not at the bottom,' said Gandalf. 'You have forgotten Saruman. He began to take an interest in the Shire before Mordor did.'

'Well, we've got you with us,' said Merry, 'so things will soon be cleared up'.

'I am with you at present' said Gandalf, 'but soon I shall not be. I am not coming to the Shire. You must settle its affairs yourselves; this is what you have been trained for. Do you not yet understand? My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to right, nor to help folk to do so. And as for you my dear friends, you will need no help. You are grown up now. Grown indeed very high; among the great you are, and I have no longer any fear at all for any of you.'

Return of the King - Homeward Bound

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    @OscarGarcia The Shire belongs to hobbiits, and shire problems are hobbit problems. They are now under the king again, so they could call on the king to send aid because one of his lands is under threat. In the end they didn’t need to. The point is that Gandalf’s work in middle earth is done, regardless of the nature of any problem. Remember it was men and hobbits and dwarves that killed Smaug. And hobbits that carried the ring into Mordor and destroyed it. Aside from taking out the Balrog and giving advice, Gandalf didn’t do much to help the ring bearers. Jul 10, 2021 at 7:00
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    @OscarGarcia - keep in mind that Saruman wasn't as powerful after leaving Orthanc ,
    – fez
    Jul 10, 2021 at 8:44
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    Good points. Also, note that the Valar had begun with large-scale meddling with Elves and Men and it Didn't End Well. They concluded -- correctly or incorrectly -- that meddling was an error on their part and changed to a policy of non-involvement, leaving Men and Elves (who were entirely Iluvatar's creation) to Iluvatar. Sending the Istari under strict limits and diminished power was their minimal intervention to counter the leftovers of Morgoth's own interventions. Note also that Gandalf proved to be right that the Hobbits could easily handle things.
    – Mark Olson
    Jul 10, 2021 at 11:08
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    There's no indication at all that Saruman used his voice - or any powers - in the Shire. Jul 10, 2021 at 11:15
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    Grima wasn't just a Rohan problem, he was an agent of a still-in-power Saruman, and also was standing in the way in the fight against Sauron. Getting rid of him was essential to the war effort. Whereas stopping Sarumon from making a mess of the Shire isn't.
    – Ryan_L
    Jul 10, 2021 at 23:45

Is there any suggestion that Gandalf can see the future? He explicitly says he ("the wise") can't. He thinks Saruman can do "some mischief", but doesn't know what or where. He clearly regards simply killing someone to prevent possible future problems as immoral, as evidenced by his conversation elsewhere:

"Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends."

PS: Another point that seems to have entirely been missed is that it wasn't Saruman's actions after that meeting that caused the problems in the Shire. They'd been developing since Frodo & company left (and perhaps before), at the hands of Lotho Sackville-Baggins (AKA "The Chief") and collaborators like Ted Sandyman. Saruman may have helped from afar, but it wasn't entirely his doing. Having him go to the Shire at the end just provides a nice, neat finale.

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    GAndalf's quote is from"The Shadow of the Past" in The Fellowship of the Ring. Jul 10, 2021 at 19:06
  • See my quotes, Saruman mentions the Shire and they did not needed to kill Saruman, just take him prisioner Jul 10, 2021 at 20:16
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    Why take him prisoner? Who's going to watch him? Let him go to the Shire. He'll be there for a while, aiming for revenge. Easy to find, and the hobbits are seasoned warriors. Light work.
    – chiggsy
    Jul 10, 2021 at 22:33
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    @Oscar Garcia: Would the Elves have wanted him, and would they have kept him secure? Remember what happened with Gollum? Even in this world, keeping people imprisoned costs a significant amount of money. There's also an ethical question with imprisoning people simply because they might do something bad in the future.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 11, 2021 at 1:33
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    @Oscar Garcia: More accurate to say that Gollum took advantage of an Orc attack to escape. Saruman, even in his much-diminished state, was much smarter & more competent than Gollum. Guards ALWAYS become complacent and careless, and diversions ALWAYS happen, sooner or later. If he was held in Rivendell, perhaps a flood or forest fire would provide one for Saruman to use.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 11, 2021 at 18:28

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