In Lord of the Rings, Saruman The White, the eldest of the Wizards and their chieftain, joins with Sauron instead of helping people fight against Sauron. What is the reason for him losing faith in Gandalf, the Elves and the men and becoming an ally of Sauron?

  • Did he try to use his Palantir to spy on Sauron and end up being corrupted? I seem to remember reading something like this, but it's possible I'm getting mixed up with Denethor.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 17:31

2 Answers 2


This is fully explained in the Istari material in Unfinished Tales, with the most direct information being that he:

...fell from his high errand, and becoming proud and impatient and enamoured of power sought to have his own will by force, and to oust Sauron; but he was ensnared by that dark spirit, mightier than he.

This is also expressed in Letter 181:

They were also, for the same reason, thus involved in the peril of the incarnate: the possibility of 'fall', of sin, if you will. The chief form this would take with them would be impatience, leading to the desire to force others to their own good ends, and so inevitably at last to mere desire to make their own wills effective by any means. To this evil Saruman succumbed. Gandalf did not.

So in other words, Saruman started out with good intentions but his pride and eagerness to get a quick result got the better of him.

Lord of the Rings itself makes clear that one of his motives was desire for possession of the Ring, and - when we consider the above quote - it seems evident that this desire was initially as a means of power for the over throw of Sauron, but following his lapse became a desire for his own personal power.

Saruman himself explains it all in Gandalf's story at the Council of Elrond:

A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. There is no hope left in Elves or dying Númenor. This then is one choice before you. before us. We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf. There is hope that way. Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it. As the Power grows, its proved friends will also grow; and the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses, to control it.

This also introduces a new dimension that's important in Tolkien's works: the abandonment of hope and giving into despair. Saruman saw no way of winning through direct confrontation and so succumbed to an alternative path that would eventually destroy him.

So that's a combination of the following main factors:

  • Pride
  • Impatience
  • Seeing no hope in the current approach
  • Seeking power to assist
  • And being corrupted as a result

Saruman, by the way, comes with a flawed pedigree. He was in origin a Maia of Aule, as was Sauron (they would have probably known each other well before Sauron was corrupted in the Elder Days), and Aule himself had (semi) rebelled against Ilúvatar's will in his making of the Dwarves. There's room for interesting speculation there, but perhaps not appropriate for inclusion in an answer.

  • What always eluded me is if the ring did not give any super-powers to anyone by Sauron then why all the folks was so eager to have it? I mean I understand being drawn to it - that was its evil power, but they are all intelligent people surely they could see that the ring is not of great use to them so them being drawn to it is irrational? Gandalf surely saw that, why not the others? Apologies, I know this is not really related to the question. Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 21:20
  • 3
    @zespri - Letter 246: "It was part of the essential deceit of the Ring to fill minds with imaginations of supreme power" - in other words, they were fooled.
    – user8719
    Commented Jun 24, 2014 at 21:35
  • +1 for the speculation. I think I actually read somewhere that the Maia of Aule were particularly corruptible, because their desire to create things (Aule was "the Smith," who delighted in forging and creating things) led easily to a prideful arrogance and a darker desire to control things. Can't remember where I saw that, but it would seem to support your statement.
    – Nerrolken
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 0:18
  • It also must not be forgotten that in the head of Tolkien, Morgoth had a purpose in the mind of Illuvatar, this is made very clear in the Silmarillon. So it could be argued that Illuvatar wanted that confrontation.
    – Joel
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 23:11
  • Tolkien made it pretty clear that Saruman would have been able to wield the Ring, since he made one of his own and would have been able to make a more powerful one to challenge another self-styled Ring lord, according to the introduction to the book. His problem was that he was very similar to Sauron in origin and Sauron understood him all too well.
    – Ber
    Commented Jun 5, 2016 at 7:11

Saruman was sent to Middle Earth in order to help the Free peoples defeat Sauron.

In order to fight against Sauron he had to study the powers of the One Ring. When he did, he saw how powerful the one ring was and wanted it for himself. He had begun to sense the resurgence of Sauron and to envy and desire his power, and especially his One Ring.

In T.A. 2851, the White Council met and Gandalf revealed that the evil presence in Dol Guldur was indeed Sauron and that he had returned, and urged an attack there. Saruman however believed that Sauron would be useful in his quest: allowing Sauron to build up his strength, the One Ring would reveal itself, and Saruman hoped to have sufficient strength to seize it first himself until that event. With this strategy in mind, Saruman overruled Gandalf. It soon became clear that Saruman desired to possess the One Ring himself.

-- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Third Age"

Simple Answer: He wanted the ring for himself, once he saw how powerful it actually was

  • That doesn't make sense. After Saruman obtained the One Ring, powers that sent him to Middle Earth would come down and kick his ass for his infidelity.
    – alwbtc
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 22:20
  • No, it does make sense, Saruman (and Sauron) knew the powers who sent him wouldn't intervene anymore in Middle Earth. It was already even the case when the Numenoreans went to Aman in the end of the second age, they asked Illuvatar to do something instead of crushing them themselves, like they could have easily done.
    – Joel
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 23:21
  • Why wouldn't they intervene in Middle Earth?
    – alwbtc
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 11:06
  • 1
    The Valar had sworn not to after their final battle with Morgoth had wiped out a good fraction of the continent.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Apr 2, 2015 at 20:46
  • 2
    @Andomar - Sauron didn't think they could conquer Aman, don't know where you took that, he wanted the Numenoreans to be crushed and thus have vengeance on them. In Aman there is a whole population of Ainur, all of them as powerful as Sauron, and in the case of the Valar, much more, and that is not talking about the elves. An army of ants against an army of elephants. The Numenoreans didn't stand a chance. Why the Valar turned to Illuvatar is because they didn't want to intervene directly in matters touching men, as they know not the purpose of Illuvatar for them. Please, read the Silmarillion!
    – Joel
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 15:44

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