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I'm rereading The Lord of the Rings. Appendix A, "Annals of the Kings and Rulers", tells us that Aragorn son of Arathorn spent part of his youth in Minas Tirith under the assumed name "Thorongil" serving under Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor.

Thorongil often warned Ecthelion not to put trust in Saruman the White in Isengard, but to welcome rather Gandalf the Grey.

Appendix B, "The Tale of Years", tells us,

2957-80 Aragorn undertakes his great journeys and errantries. As Thorongil he serves in disguise both Thengel of Rohan and Ecthelion II of Gondor.
10th July 3018 Gandalf imprisoned in Orthanc.
18th September 3018 Gandalf escapes from Orthanc in the early hours.
25th October 3018 Council of Elrond.

Saruman's treachery was not clear to anyone before the dispute with Gandalf in July 3018. And Aragorn did not learn of it till he and Gandalf met again in Rivendell in October. So why was Aragorn already suspicious of Saruman roughly 40 years earlier?

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    Just as one does not simply walk into Mordor, one does not simply turn from a leader of Istari tasked with helping Mankind to fight Sauron into a Sauron-apprentice. It takes ages to make that switch. Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 18:09
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    @DVK – unless Sauron has a Palantir to ensare you . . .
    – MadTux
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 14:12
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    @MadTux Sauron's influence is probably why the switch happened at all; there's no reason to suppose Sauron could subvert him instantly (or that doing so would be a good idea; why tip off your enemies immediately?).
    – chepner
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 13:55

8 Answers 8

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Echoing the answer regarding Galadriel's inherent distrust of Saruman, Aragorn by his upbringing would also have known that Cirdan the Shipwright entrusted Gandalf -- and not Saruman -- with one of the Elven rings of power. The elven suspicion of Saruman's cunning likely bore upon his attitude.

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Not sure where this is in the annals, but it says in the Tolkien Companion by J.E.A. Tyler that:

Saruman made his first deliberate move in this direction (toward imposing his will, which was forbidden of the Istari) in the year 2759 Third Age, when he appeared at the Coronation of King Frealaf of Rohan, successor of the mighty Helm Hammerhand. The Wizard brough with him rich presents, and declared himself the friend of Rohan and Gondor, and a little later was able to persuade Steward Beren of Gondor to grant him the Keys of Orthanc, the mighty Tower which, together with its fortress of Isengard, commanded the strategic Gap of Rohan. All thought this was a welcome move.

All, that is, except a weary ranger who would see everything given up by Gondor as a challenge to its power.

And it further says that

all the time the Wizard was secretly searching the Tower of Orthanc for a long-lost treasure of the Dunedain ... the Palantir of Orthanc.

Then in 2851 the White Council met to think of ways to stop Sauron from coming back

Saruman, hoping that the Ring would expose its location if Sauron were left unharassed, deliberately overruled a strong recommendation (from Gandalf) ... that Dol Guldur be attacked.

By his actions, Gandalf may have suspected that Saruman was up to something, although I don't think Gandalf even knew of the Ring.

So, either through his own understanding of the Palantir through the lore of his people or through his association with Gandalf, Aragorn was more naturally suspicious than Gandalf and I think it makes sense that he'd know something was amiss well before anyone else had reason to suspect.

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    It seems unlikely that Círdan would have given his ring to Gandalf without explaining its history, including the existence of the One Ring.
    – chepner
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 14:02
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    @chepner More than that, it is certain that Gandalf, being a Maiar, would know of Sauron and his history, especially considering the Istari were specifically sent to Middle Earth to assist Elves, Men, and Dwarves in their struggle against Sauron. It is not said that Eru was prone to Albus Dumbledore levels of secrecy and isolation.
    – TylerH
    Commented Dec 14, 2018 at 20:14
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Perhaps Aragorn took his lead from Galadriel, who apparently mistrusted Saruman from the get-go and had 1900 years to study him. Also, Gandalf was a friend and advisor to Aragorn's family and community, not to mention Aragorn himself. Saruman by 2957 had to have already been fully turned by Sauron, breeding Uruk-hai and building his war machine, and so wouldn't have welcomed the young heir of Isildur with open arms.

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    I think this is a sensible explanation - we know that Aragorn did spend time in Lorien and Galadriel might have been as big an influence on him as Gandalf.
    – Amarth
    Commented Nov 15, 2018 at 17:49
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Aragorn's opinion seems to be at that point that Gondor's preparations for war should be guided by Gandalf instead of Saruman. While he wouldn't have known then that Saurman was a traitor, his open strategies in opposing the Enemy were now--in Aragon's opinion--inferior to those of Gandalf. He was saying that he thought that General X's ideas were better than those of General Y.

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Also, don't forget Aragorn had the gift of foresight. I'm not saying he had a vision or anything like that, he just may have had a strong feeling that Saruman was not the way to go. Plus what everyone else said.

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    Not just foresight; certainly Aragorn possessed the Numenorean ability to 'see into the hearts' of others, just as Denethor and Faramir did. And he must not have liked what he saw in Saruman, even if he hadn't overtly done anything to arouse suspicion.
    – LAK
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 16:48
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I would say rather that he didn't mistrust Saruman, but Saruman was blocking Gandalf's suggestions at every turn (at the White Council)... being friends with Gandalf, Aragorn probably had heard of this. No doubt Aragorn too had knowledge that Sauron had returned (and Saruman kept saying he hadn't and that the One Ring would never be found).

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Aside from the answer that Aragorn had special powers of precognition beyond even those of a normal Dunedain or even Numenorean (Tolkien writes that Aragorn despite the thousands of years was more like Isildur than any of his forefathers... almost an atavistic throwback to a "pureblood" Numenorean lord with all of their superpowers). Keep in mind that even Denethor is described as having insight and precognition beyond mortal men to perceive upcoming events (even Faramir had precognitive dreams and understanding) and Aragorn was way beyond them both. For example, as the true owner of the palantir he was able to contend looking into it versus Sauron himself.

But even removing Aragorn's special insight, from a tactical standpoint, in terms of judgement, Aragorn agreed with Gandalf and differed with Saruman not because he was Gandalf's friend or politics but the opposite. In reality Saruman was wrong, Denethor was wrong. Their strategies and their plots were destined to failure. Aragorn and Gandalf were on the same page and became friends BECAUSE they understood correctly what had to be done, it is not that they agreed because they were having a friend's back in an argument.

Gandalf was always preaching proactive action, before Sauron built his strength. Saruman was always contending against action. So obviously striking early was the right tactic and so obviously Aragorn would have advocated that and supported all who also advocated the correct strategy. Saruman hoped to contend with Sauron for power, to delay and delay and once the contenders had all battled themselves out to use the ring to overthrow Sauron to create a great new world as Saruman envisioned. This was the wrong tactic, it could have never worked, and so obviously Aragorn would have seen very early that Saruman, for whatever reason was not in it to win it, and with Gondor as his main priority Aragorn would have seen what a massive danger this course of action would have provided.

In this section, Tolkien writes that Aragorn and Denethor... alike almost like kin in appearance, nobility, strength and intelligence... agreed on everything they advised the Steward except Saruman. This makes sense because Denethor was a masterful man one of the best in Middle Earth of the era. He was a future Steward and had a large amount of the Numenorean pureblood DNA. And Denethor had Gondor's best interest at heart. But the only things where he failed is in 2 areas. First he could not win the hearts of men, and the people of Gondor like Aragorn naturally did (as the rightful King and their destined leader). And in this most important question of Sauron and the matter of the Ring, he lacked the very elite level of insight of the proper course of action... compared to Aragorn, the Heir to Isildur and the rightful King. Keep in mind that this was a question that almost no one could master... including all of the Wise, and the Elven council. Only the rightful King, the final White Wizard, the Ringbearers and Galadriel had the "virtue" and the nobility to understand the mission. This again shows the separation from the Rightful King, and the pretender, no matter how noble and well-intentioned he might be

Finally, from a literary standpoint, that sentence even from a stylistic standpoint sets up Aragorn and Gandalf as foils, against Denethor and Saruman. It is a chance to link the sort of virtue and plain right-thinking of the two heroes versus the two tragic and misguided figures.

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  • Welcome to the site. And thanks for that answer. I think you have some real insights. Stick around!
    – TRiG
    Commented Dec 15, 2018 at 15:50
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This is a fine question, but there is no explicit answer from Tolkien. But if you look at what the he might have known and felt, Aragorn's mistrust of Saruman is unsurprising. We do have a lot of circumstantial information:

(1) Always remember that while we know that Saruman was corrupted by Sauron, none of the characters in the story had any idea of this. (If Gandalf was at all suspicious, would he have gone to Orthanc alone with knowledge of the One Ring's location?)

(2) We're not given many glimpses of Saruman's character before the days of LotR, but Saruman had settled in the fortress Orthanc and seems to have been a remote, forbidding figure, deep in esoteric studies; Gandalf was the "Grey Pilgrim" and, while scary at times, was easy to like. Aragorn was Gandalf's friend from before he went on his travels south.

(3) It's unclear where Elrond stood in the disagreement within the White Council between Galadriel/Gandalf and Saruman. Plainly he did not take the G/G side (or else Saruman would have been overruled) but there is no evidence that he took Saruman's side, either. He must have weighed the unknowns and concluded that they did not yet know enough to overrule the secretive and knowledgeable Saruman. But had he been on Saruman's side, this would have come up in the discussion of the White Council's deliberations. As he was Aragorn's foster father, if he talked with him at all about such high matters, he must have communicated his concerns to Aragorn: Saruman is an arrogant, secretive bastard, while G/G are perhaps too impetuous. (Which would appeal more to a young man?)

(4) Corruption -- both in the real world and in Tolkien -- is always a gradual process. Good people don't one day wake up and say, "Golly. I never realized that I have a lust for domination over the world and the ruination of lives. Who knew?" Corruption is the result of many (frequently small) bad choices. Saruman did not become corrupt the first time he encountered the flaming Eye in the palantir -- he was already arrogant and inclined to tell people what to do rather than to explain and honestly persuade. Sauron probably played him like a fish and let him think that he was gaining the upper hand from their encounters. Consider Saruman's monolog to Gandalf where he talks about Saruman and Gandalf "helping" Sauron and then after Sauron's victory guiding him and perhaps even taking over. By this time he was completely under Sauron's power, but (most of the time, anyway) fooled himself into thinking otherwise.

This sort of corruption can't happen without a corresponding change in Saruman's character. His colleagues may not have guessed what was behind it, but they had to have seen that Saruman had grown more obnoxious over the years.

(5) Everyone understood that one of Saruman's great strengths was his ability to persuade and daunt with his voice. I.e., he was a super-salesman. Who trusts such a person when not under his spell? Aragorn, especially, being a strong-willed man of action, has to have been repelled by what he knew of Saruman's powers.

Bottom line:

Saruman - aloof, reluctant to confront Sauron, has a bit of skeevy feel to him, might be the world's greatest liar for all you can tell, at odds with Aragorn's mentors, maybe a bit hungry for domination

Gandalf - a friend, a wanderer without power, honest, respected by the mentors -- and a mentor himself

If you were Aragorn, who would you trust? Who would you want guiding affairs?

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