Up until Saruman imprisoned Gandalf in Orthanc, everyone (except Sauron, I guess) seems to have believed that Saruman was on the side of good - while his influence was growing in Rohan. It seems like this situation, where he was a known ally, head of the White Council, and acknowledged greatest expert on the Rings -- but secretly had his influence working in Rohan -- would give him a much better chance of getting the Ring himself than being the enemy of both Gandalf and Rohan.

So why did he ask Gandalf to turn evil, vs. pretending to still be good and (once Gandalf asked him about Bilbo/Frodo's Ring) setting up a version of the 'Council of Elrond' where he could name himself as one of those responsible for destroying the ring, thus allowing him to claim it himself?

Did he really believe Gandalf would go over to his side?

Was it just that he didn't think he could hide his Orcs?

Or was it due to Sauron's influence on him through the Palantir making him less rational?

  • 2
    We can guess, but I don't think there's anything in the books to support such speculations. So this is probably not a good question for this site.
    – PM 2Ring
    Sep 10, 2021 at 5:41
  • 9
    More like, "Arrogance. I, Saruman the Wise, am the wisest person in Middle Earth. Every team I am on is a winning team. Gandalf knows this and is smart enough to join me."
    – jo1storm
    Sep 10, 2021 at 7:28
  • 3
    Perhaps he thought Gandalf suspected as much and it wouldn't be long before the orcs were discovered and the trees all being removed. Maybe Saruman was giving one last chance to join him before killing him, but he underestimated how much Gandalf has grown in cunning and valor.
    – Villan
    Sep 10, 2021 at 12:38
  • 3
    Gandalf didn't visit Saruman to ask about the ring - he specifically says that something told him not to mention it. He went because Radagast told him Saruman wanted to talk to him and because he wanted help against the Nazgûl. And Saruman had no idea in July that Frodo was going to try for Rivendell, much less that Elrond would hold a council to see what to do with the Ring. Sep 10, 2021 at 19:35
  • 2
    There was no preconceived plan to form a Fellowship of the Ring. That fell out as a result of the unplanned, serendipitous convergence of interested parties in Rivendell at the time Frodo arrived with the Ring. Saruman simply thought he could get Gandalf to reveal the location of the Ring.
    – chepner
    Sep 11, 2021 at 16:35

1 Answer 1


Tolkien rarely gives us a direct insight into the bad guys' thinking, so it's difficult to give a definitive answer. However, we do know that there was mutual suspicion between Gandalf and Saruman. In the Shadow of the Past, Gandalf tells Frodo that 'something' held him back from discussing the ring with Saruman. Part (iii) of The Hunt for the Ring (Unfinished Tales) suggests that Gandalf's suspicion dated back to at least TA2851. At the time of their meeting in Isengard (TA3018), Saruman had guessed that Gandalf knew the location of the ring, and had withheld this information. Saruman also realised that he needed to lure Gandalf to Isengard on false pretenses (hence the trick involving Radagast). With this in mind, what convincing lies could Saruman have told? Suggesting a meeting of the White Council to decide on a course of action would be reasonable, but Rivendell would be the natural location for this - it's easier for the ring-bearer to reach, much further from Mordor than Isengard and is also the home of Middle-earth's greatest lore-master. 'Naming himself as one of those responsible for destroying the ring' doesn't make sense at this point. The plan to destroy the ring hadn't been formed; it was only reached after a long discussion in which all other courses of action were ruled out. On the other hand, plans such as allying with Sauron or seizing the ring for themselves (actually himself) would seem entirely natural to Saruman since he was under the influence of Sauron. It's likely he thought they would seem reasonable to Gandalf as well.

  • 1
    Good answer, but partial. I think you need add Saruman's arrogance into mix as well as his palantir-fueled perception that the Good Guys were doomed. His arrogance led him to think he could manipulate Gandalf and pick up a strong subordinate since his plan was to be the power behind Sauron's throne and perhaps ultimately to sit there himself.
    – Mark Olson
    Sep 15, 2021 at 17:21

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.