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Saruman was strong enough to defeat Gandalf the Grey, but upon banishment from Orthanc and his taking over of the Shire he seemed like nothing more than a normal old man. He apparently retained his powers of persuasion (somewhat) but his great fighting strength seemed to all be gone.

Why did Saruman lose all or most of his power?

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    I'm afraid that his "fighting strength" is is Jackson's idea...
    – Mithoron
    Feb 8, 2015 at 20:10

5 Answers 5

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I don't think the books ever went into much detail, but from this...

Book III, ch.10:

‘Be­hold, I am not Gan­dalf the Grey, whom you be­trayed. I am Gan­dalf the White, who has re­turned from death. You have no colour now, and I cast you from the order and from the Coun­cil.’

He raised his hand, and spoke slowly in a clear cold voice. ‘Saru­man, your staff is bro­ken.’ There was a crack, and the staff split asun­der in Saru­man’s hand, and the head of it fell down at Gan­dalf’s feet. ‘Go!’ said Gan­dalf. With a cry Saru­man fell back and crawled away.

..and this...

Book 6, Ch.8:

A sud­den light broke on Frodo. ‘Sharkey!’ he cried. Saru­man laughed.

‘So you have heard the name, have you? All my peo­ple used to call me that in Isen­gard, I be­lieve. A sign of af­fec­tion, pos­si­bly. But ev­i­dently you did not ex­pect to see me here.’

‘I did not,’ said Frodo. ‘But I might have guessed. A lit­tle mis­chief in a mean way: Gan­dalf warned me that you were still ca­pa­ble of it.’

‘Quite ca­pa­ble,’ said Saru­man, ‘and more than a lit­tle...

...it would seem that Gandalf removed Sarman's power. At least, Saruman's greatest capital-P Powers; Saruman still has some abilities, but nothing beyond the reach of any "ordinary" (i.e. non-Maiar) being in Middle-earth. Could Saruman have redeemed himself? Maybe,...

Book III, Ch.10:

‘He will have guessed, surely?[re. Treebeard]’ said Merry, ‘Were they likely to end any other way?’

‘Not likely,’ an­swered Gan­dalf, ‘though they came to the bal­ance of a hair. But I had rea­sons for try­ing; some mer­ci­ful and some less so. First Saru­man was shown that the power of his voice was wan­ing...Then I gave him a last choice and a fair one: to re­nounce both Mor­dor and his pri­vate schemes, and make amends by help­ing us in our need. He knows our need, none bet­ter. Great ser­vice he could have ren­dered. But he has cho­sen to with­hold it, and keep the power of Or­thanc...He lives now in ter­ror of the shadow of Mor­dor, and yet he still dreams of rid­ing the storm. Un­happy fool! He will be de­voured, if the power of the East stretches out its arms to Isen­gard.

...but Saruman was given a last choice, and he still chose "the dark side".

Did Gandalf remove Saruman's power himself, or was it a Higher Power (the Valar or Ilúvatar themself)? I think it depends on how you want to look at it. An executioner acts on the order of the Monarch/Judge/whatever, with the "Power" of the throne/gang/society/legal system behind them, but it's still the executioner that pulls the lever/chops the head/pushes the syringe. If Saruman had shown any redeeming qualities, Gandalf could have chosen to give him a second chance. But Saruman refused the offer, so Gandalf chose to break him. In the end, it's always the choice of the person with their finger on the trigger. Which is a very Roman Catholic point-of-view, but as Tolkien was a Catholic I think that's how it was meant to be read.

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  • i mean his "staff" was broken but we don't really know if the staff contained the power or if the staff was just a symbol of rank/power. he may have still had all of his powers, but before he can use any of them he gets stabbed in the back, not much you can do about that.
    – Himarm
    Sep 23, 2014 at 18:09
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    Breaking the staff was symbolic; it's when Gandalf casts Saruman from the Order that reduces S. to an ordinary mortal. An intelligent, learned, and experienced mortal with a lot of tricks (like a stage-magician), but a mortal nonetheless.
    – Joe L.
    Sep 23, 2014 at 18:34
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    yes but can you take an immortal maiar and make him mortal?
    – Himarm
    Sep 23, 2014 at 19:17
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    Well, from the events in the book, apparently so. I imagine that was one of the tasks that Gandalf was brought back for.
    – Joe L.
    Sep 23, 2014 at 19:33
  • @JoeL Great answer! Though, iirc, it wasn't really Gandalf who removed Saruman's power? Wasn't there something in HoME about Gandalf acting directly as an agent of the Valar, "firing" Saruman on their behalf and with their power?
    – Shisa
    Sep 23, 2014 at 19:34
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@joe-l answer is pretty much correct, I just want to add that Saruman didn't lose his powers as a result of being banished from the tower (being in the tower or in control of the tower didn't give him any power). His staff being broken didn't deprave him of his powers either, it was only a symbolic act.

Gandalf indeed is the one who took his powers away, but how was he able to do that? Or how did he have the authority to do so? Well, after he died while fighting the Balrog, he had a "meeting" with Eru and Eru "turned" Gandalf into what Saruman should have been: The White.

TLDR: Saruman lost his powers because Gandalf removed them with the authority granted by Eru.

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    This has potential to be an interesting answer. Do you have any sources to back this up? We know Gandalf was "reincarnated" to be what Saruman was supposed to be, but from what I can understand, it is in no way implied that the power was transferred from Saruman to Gandalf - especially given Saruman is still operating for a while before he is eventually banished from Orthanc.
    – Joe
    Sep 26, 2014 at 12:27
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    You are correct, Saruman's power is not transferred to Gandalf, but I did not state that either. Gandalf is now the head of the Council and he has the authority to expel Saruman, not only through his new rank, but also because Gandalf has a very good understanding of Eru's plans (just like Manwë)
    – godmarck
    Sep 26, 2014 at 23:38
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Gandalf received his power to break Saruman's staff from the same authority that brought him back from the dead, and turned him from Grey to White.

Maiar/Valar have shown their capacity for their 'spirit' to be diminished when they defy the One (Morgoth being stuck in a physical body, Sauron's inability to take one).

Throughout his writing, Tolkien had a very keen sense of "moral rightness" (consistent with a WWI veteran). Gandalf was clearly the judge, under Illuvatar... and JRR is Illuvatar.

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    I doubt that Tolkien would be happy with the final words of this answer.
    – PM 2Ring
    May 19, 2023 at 13:09
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The banishment from Orthanc was symbolic of his ruination, but it was Gandalf himself who removed Saruman's power by revoking his Eru-given authority on The Council of Five.


The banishment from Orthanc was not directly connected to his loss of power, although you could argue that his previous power was being augmented by magical artifacts he had within the tower. Rather, the power loss was connected to his removal from the role as The White Wizard.

Each of the wizards was granted a role within Middle-earth, with Saruman being the leader and most powerful. The wizards - collectively called The Council of Five - are granted their power and purpose from Eru himself, and are on Middle-earth for the express purpose of helping mankind to prevent the rise of Sauron and his forces. By colluding with Sauron instead, Saruman has betrayed that purpose.

Gandalf himself states this right before breaking the staff:

Behold, I am not Gandalf the Grey, whom you betrayed. I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death. You have no colour now, and I cast you from the order and from the Council.
The Lord of the Rings, book III; The Two Towers, chapter 10: "The Voice of Saruman"

This is exactly what happens - brought back to life by Eru himself, Gandalf has been chosen to replace Saruman as the leader and most powerful wizard, which means that he now has the authority and power to banish Saruman from the council. The key phrase in understanding why Saruman loses most of his power is the final line:


You have no colour now, and I cast you from the order and from the Council.


He then breaks Saruman's staff, which is a symbol of his power and station. He also revokes his ownership of Orthanc, which was a gift to Saruman from Gondor - also a symbol of his station.

So, essentially, at that point Saruman is no more powerful than any other human or elvish sorcerer would be - having no innate power and limited to his knowledge of alchemy & such.

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  • But why does he have "no innate power"? Like Sauron and Gandalf, he was originally a Maia. You could say that the powers of the Maiar do ultimately stem from Eru, like everything else, but these powers were not "delegated" to them when they were sent to Middle-Earth; they seem to have been part of them since their creation before time. (Jason Baker's answer here mentions some of the points that I think are relevant)
    – wyvern
    Jun 23, 2017 at 21:33
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    @sumelic - I could be wrong, because you're getting into the nitty-gritty details of how Tolkien's universe works... but I think it's because the wizards were granted a physical form by Eru, rather than creating one themselves like Sauron did. So, in a way, their Maiar abilities WERE granted to them when they were put on Middle-Earth.
    – Omegacron
    Jun 23, 2017 at 21:59
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Lots of great answers, although very speculative, and not very canon. Although Gandalf the White was brought back with more power than Gandalf the Grey, he was not given any more power than his natural abilities, and Olorin (Gandalf) the Maiar spirit in Valinor never had the power to take away the power of any Maiar, especially not a powerful spirit such as Curumo (Saruman). The native power and memory of the wizards were diminished by the Valar when they were sent to Middle Earth. Much of Gandalf's native powers were returned to him as Gandalf the White by Eru Illuvatar, but no more than his native power.

How did Saruman lose his powers? Well, no need to speculate. Gandalf provides that answer:

"But I rode to the foot of Orthanc, and came to the stair of Saruman and there he met me and led me up to his high chamber. He wore a ring on his finger."

And later, Saruman states:

"For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!"

In brief, Saruman spent many years studying the lore of the Eregion Elven smiths and the teachings of Sauron in order to create a ring of power. The creator must put much of his innate power into the ring to create it. Such did Saruman. Unfortunately for Saruman, the ring was created using the teachings of Sauron, and like the other rings of power, its power was destroyed with the destruction of the One Ring. Most of Saruman's power was lost forever. Saruman speaks to this in his exchange with Gandalf and Galadriel during their chance encounter on the road after the destruction of Sauron and the One Ring.

In the end, it was the actions of Saruman that led to his loss of power. Gandalf simply broke his staff as a symbolic gesture of being removed from the Counsel.

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