After Frodo et al. return, there are two fights with Saruman's thugs, a skirmish and a battle. In neither case do the thugs have any effective leadership: the book remarks on the absence of anyone with any war experience (e.g. no scouts.) Couldn't Saruman have tried? He must have known that Frodo et al. had combat experience against orcs; Merry, Pippin and Sam had slain actual monsters (tougher than orcs); Merry & Pippin had participated honourably in set-piece battles; Frodo and Sam had observed an ambush being planned by the Rangers of Ithilien. The thugs who'd settled in the Shire were hopelessly out of their depth. Saruman provided no effective leadership. I've thought of several explanations, not mutually exclusive.

  1. He didn't care: he wanted to ruin the Shire, and he'd done as effective a job as possible. It wasn't his fault that Galadriel and Sam undid his work.
  2. He had no military experience. He was "gold command", with no combat experience (we hear about Gandalf's sword, not Saruman's.) He saw his army off on the way to Helm's Deep, and then assumed that bronze command could handle everything. On this interpretation, he didn't understand the problem, and wouldn't have known what to do in any case.
  3. He was a boss, not a commander; he had no reason to believe that he could lead his thugs.
  4. He was a coward.
  5. He'd lost the palantir at Orthanc and there was no Apple store in the Shire so he didn't know what was happening (until it did.)

I'd appreciate any thoughts on this.

  • 3
    I pick (1) he wanted to ruin the Shire. The thugs and yahoos were just hangers-on; the real plan was corrupting hobbits like Ted Sandyman to embrace industrialism rather than the laid-back rural life style.
    – Ethan
    Feb 4 at 3:33
  • 1
    I agree with all of your explanations. I would add sheer arrogance. Despots are not necessarily strategic planners with a long game in mind. I have always wondered at the tendency for them to destroy their own countries, leaving themselves in palaces surrounded by ruins. True evil has a mindless quality, in my opinion, even if the perpetrators apparently are very smart. I want to ask the villains in Lord of the Rings - okay, now what? You plunged the world into perpetual darkness. And???? I liked your question - thank you. Feb 4 at 4:22
  • 2
    I think it's #1, but it's even stronger than that. The entire operation was one of destruction. He wasn't attempting to occupy the Shire or defend it militarily. A military occupation might have looked very different. There are no scouts, as you point out; the border is held by incompetent, half-trained Shiriffs; his men are spread all over, instead of being consolidated; the hobbits are given plenty of time to organize. Saruman probably expected Gandalf to be with them, and so never even intended or planned on a direct military resistance.
    – tbrookside
    Feb 4 at 4:57
  • @PatWagnerDenver Good point. At Orthanc, Theoden is genuinely upset at the deaths of his loyal soldiers, especially Hama. Saruman doesn't give a rat's arse that Sam, Merry & Pippin have butchered his men. OTOH he is filled with self pity because his nice apartment at Orthanc has been flooded (no insurance!). Feb 4 at 5:40
  • 1
    @Ethan I think you are correct. I have put together a partial "enemies list" for Saruman: Gandalf, Galadriel, anyone related to Theoden, the hobbits, Sauron, Eru Iluvatar, Aragorn, Grima, and it seems obvious that the hobbits are the only ones accessible. IHMO the occupation of the Shire is about punishing weak enemies because the strong ones are inaccessible. Pathetic. Feb 4 at 6:11

1 Answer 1


(1) is a major factor, but there's another issue. Saruman was a broken being by this point, a shadow of his former self. Where once he led the Councils of the Wise and mighty, now, he led a gang of minor thugs to oppress a humble corner of Middle-Earth, and was barely up to that job. And when faced with challenge from a group that his earlier self could have awed or destroyed with ease, he crumbled instead.

As Gandalf said:

You have become a fool, Saruman, and yet pitiable. You might still have turned away from folly and evil, and have been of service. But you choose to stay and gnaw the ends of your old plots.

  • "To the road again, Worm!...These fine fellows and lordlings are turning us adrift again." You are right: the Saruman of Parts I & II wouldn't have made do with a passive-aggressive whine. Feb 4 at 19:05

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