Saruman, just before he imprisons Gandalf, says the following:

The Elder Days are gone. The Middle Days are passing. The Younger Days are beginning. The time of the Elves is over, but our time is at hand: the world of Men, which we must rule.

Saruman and Gandalf are Maiar and they are speaking alone so why would he say this?

The answers to this question say that what we are reading is the story as told by Hobbits who didn't know the true nature of Istari. Howerver, this particular passage seems to come from Gandalf's precise account of his conversation with Saruman. It seems that Saruman is trying to make a very specific argument to persuade Gandalf to his plan which doesn't seem to make much sense since neither of them is a human.

I'm not necessarily looking for an in-universe explanation. So I am also interested in knowing whether at the time of writing these words Tolkien has already decided the precise nature of the Wizards.


3 Answers 3


This need not necessarily be read as the Istari self-identifying as human. A valid interpretation might be the following paraphrase:

Our time is at hand and we must rule the world of Men.

By that interpretation they can obviously still self-identify as Maiar but nonetheless rule the world of Men.

Despite that, the Istari material in Unfinished Tales confirms that their physical form in Middle-earth was human:

For with the consent of Eru they sent members of their own high order, but clad in bodies as of Men, real and not feigned, but subject to the fears and pains and weariness of earth, able to hunger and thirst and be slain; though because of their noble spirits they did not die, and aged only by the cares and labours of many long years.

So therefore it is also valid to interpret Saruman's statement as self-identifying as human, because physically the Istari were Men.

Part of Saruman's Fall was that he had lost contact with his spiritual purpose and become focussed on the physical; as Treebeard puts it in the Two Towers:

He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.

Also Merry's words:

I think he has not much grit, not much plain courage alone in a tight place without a lot of slaves and machines and things, if you know what I mean.

It's in keeping with this that Saruman begins to self-identify with his physical form rather than his spiritual being, although that conclusion is conjectural and - as my first point establishes - is not even necessary to explain his words.

  • Important to note that the UT material cited wasn't a late essay but came from Tolkien's unfinished Index; it was written before publication of RotK.
    – user8719
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 12:07
  • 3
    Saruman is making an observation to Gandalf about the natural inevitability of the Istari ruling over the world of men. After all, with the Elves gone over the sea, there will be no one remaining who could possibly challenge their rule. The Istari, who are both wise and powerful, must accept rulership as their burden to bear. Fate has placed this mantle upon them. And so forth. Saruman became quite the egotist as Arda's pull drew him in over the centuries.
    – user23715
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 22:30

I also wonder if in Tolkien's original thinking Gandalf's was perhaps not fully-aware of his Maiar nature. Gandalf post-resurrection is quite different in his intensity of purpose and level of awareness in my mind than before he fell in Moria.

  • I'm not sure that answers the question, which is about Saruman. Commented May 13, 2014 at 20:38
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    However after Gandalf's return as "the white" he says that he is in a sense Saruman as he should have been. If anything Saruman should then have been more self-aware, as Gandalf was post-return. Commented May 13, 2014 at 20:40
  • @KeithThompson I'm sure :) It doesn't answer the question. Appears to be more appropriate as a comment.
    – Stan
    Commented May 13, 2014 at 20:42
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    This could answer the question, although it would have to go into more detail and mention Saruman (e.g. Saruman has had thousands of years to forget his mission and nature, while Gandalf was just reacquainted with his mission; it's also possible that Saruman was originally built to the wrong spec and "as he should have been" means Gandalf 2.0 has been improved over the original Saruman model as well).
    – user36551
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 18:25
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    @Stan I'm feeling the same way, and I think that's not too unlikely to be kind of the purpose too. The answerer has 58 reputation, so it's quite likely that he had less than 50 reputation back when he answered. That's actually quite a common pattern: Users want to comment but don't have enough reputation, so they write their comment as an "answer" instead. Dealing with that might be worth a Global Meta question...
    – Egor Hans
    Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 8:05

1) Even though many at the Council of Elrond were among the Wise, many were not. The true identity of the Istari was a big secret. Thus Gandalf might have reported Saruman's words not exactly but rewritten a little to make it seem that Saruman casually mentioned being human, which is what most people not among the Wise believed he was.

2) If Gandalf was subject to human weaknesses when embodied on his mission, he could probably not remember all of Saruman's exact words anyway and had to more or less rewrite Saruman's speech as closely as he could remember - but not including top secrets of the Wise, of course.

Frodo learned the true nature of the Istari before the death of Saruman. But that could have been in Rivendell between the Council and the departure of the Nine Walkers, or in Gondor or Rivendell on the day home after the fall of Sauron. He didn't have to learn it at the Council of Elrond where the account from the Red Book does not mention the true nature of the Istari

  • I don't think #2 is remotely likely. As for #1 it reads more like Saruman was well aware the time of Men is approaching and it was their time as in their time to be rulers. Of course in a sense Gandalf did have a certain power over them but more so that he was inspiring them (my wording). At the same time Saruman had some power over others through his voice, lies and scaremongering. But they took human form. You're right in that part on #2: they could die for example as happens. But I doubt the memory issue; you have to remember that Saruman is also cunning & manipulative; words are powerful!
    – Pryftan
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 23:03

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