In the book The Two Towers, when Gandalf confronts Saruman after Isengard is destroyed, Gandalf urges Saruman to surrender, more or less, and lists the reasons why he should do so: Isengard is in ruins, your army is gone, your neighbors hate you, and "You have cheated your new master, or tried to do so". The "new master" is clearly Sauron; I'm not sure how Saruman "cheated" him (or tried to cheat him).

The movies are no help in this regard — there, Saruman is fully committed to siding with Sauron from the very beginning. In the books, Saruman initially seems to suggest that he and Gandalf should take the Ring, join forces, and use the power of the Ring against Sauron, but Gandalf is unreceptive to say the least. When the Orcs — some from Isengard, some from Moria, and some from Mordor — kidnap Merry and Pippin, they argue about their orders. The Isengarders are supposed to bring the hobbits to Saruman, the Mordor faction wants to bring them to Barad-dûr, and the Moria faction just wants to kill them and go home. None of the Orcs seem to know about the Ring, which Sauron and Saruman probably hope is being carried by one of the captured hobbits, but they know that the hobbits have something their respective bosses want.

I may have been influenced by having seen the movies before I read the books, but I assumed Saruman's intention was to get the Ring and give it to Sauron in an attempt to curry his favor. But if this was the case, Gandalf's statement makes no sense. Was Saruman only pretending to be Sauron's ally? Was he planning to use the Ring himself, against Sauron and everyone else on Middle-earth? How did he think that would work out?

This seems like a bizarre and idiotic plan, especially from someone known as "the Wise". It is my understanding that Sauron is the same class of being as the Wizards — a Maia — but of a far higher order or subclass than them. I can't imagine that the Ring could be used effectively against Sauron, even by a Wizard. Surely Saruman knows this on some level, or used to know it. Furthermore, if Saruman's plan was to steal the Ring and use it against Sauron, it was profoundly stupid of him to try to steal it in front of Sauron's own Orcs, who would undoubtedly inform their master of what had happened.

Is the scenario I just described — Saruman pretending to be Sauron's buddy, but secretly planning to steal and keep the Ring — what Gandalf meant when he accused Saruman of cheating his new master, or trying to do do? What did Saruman expect would come of this betrayal? What was his end game?

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    No, in fact you've got that exactly right. Saruman believed that he could retrieve the Ring before Sauron got hold of it, and that with the Ring he could outclass Sauron. That's not necessarily a bad plan; we don't really know all about just how powerful Saruman "really" was. As far as the Orcs telling Sauron - if Saruman had the Ring, he could tell the Orcs to do whatever he wanted them to do. At least that's his idea. Commented May 14, 2015 at 20:35
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    Sauron's Orcs were killed before they could tell anyone about the Hobbits. "Meat's back on the Menu, Boys!"
    – Oldcat
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 20:44
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    @WadCheber The Ring deceived Saruman into thinking that he could use it. Commented May 14, 2015 at 20:55
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    @WadCheber The letter you refer to is a draft, but was never sent; Tolkien added a note in the margin saying: "Thus while Sauron multiplied [illegible word] evil, he left 'good' clearly distinguishable from it. Gandalf would have made good detestable and seem evil." Commented May 14, 2015 at 21:03
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    @WadCheber - Yes, indeed, America... maybe more so a good exemple ! Gandalf is generally morally superior because he lets other people be who they are without judgement and trying to impose his own moral vision
    – Joel
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 21:09

6 Answers 6


He's cheated Sauron in the sense that he's pretended to be looking for the Ring in order to give it to Sauron; in fact, as he lets Gandalf know quite early on, his plan is to keep it for himself:

'"And why not, Gandalf?" he whispered. "Why not? The Ruling Ring? If we could command that, then the Power would pass to us. That is in truth why I brought you here. For I have many eyes in my service, and I believe that you know where this precious thing now lies. Is it not so? Or why do the Nine ask for the Shire, and what is your business there?" As he said this a lust which he could not conceal shone suddenly in his eyes.

'"Saruman," I said, standing away from him, "only one hand at a time can wield the One, and you know that well, so do not trouble to say we! But I would not give it, nay, I would not give even news of it to you, now that I learn your mind. You were head of the Council, but you have unmasked yourself at last.'

(Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 2, "The Council of Elrond"; emphasis added)

Saruman plans to find the Ring and wield it for himself, taking the power that Sauron put into it. Whether this plan would work is debatable at best; but Saruman might easily have deluded himself into thinking that it would work—even thought of the Ring seems to have allowed it to exert power over the thinker.

There's no particular reason to assume that Saruman is of a lower "sub-order" of Maiar than Sauron, at least within the strict bounds of what was developed at the time of The Lord of the Rings. Certainly the Istari were restricted in their power within the bounds of Arda, but I don't know whether this was a hard enforcement or not (whether they physically could not exert their full power, or were just told not to).

As far as whether the Orcs would tell Sauron of Saruman's taking the Ring, look at how the Orc of Mordor reacted to Sam who was merely carrying the Ring:

His will was too weak and slow to restrain his hand. It dragged at the chain and clutched the Ring. But Sam did not put it on; for even as he clasped it to his breast, an orc came clattering down. Leaping out of a dark opening at the right, it ran towards him. It was no more than six paces from him when, lifting its head, it saw him; and Sam could hear its gasping breath and see the glare in its bloodshot eyes. It stopped short aghast. For what it saw was not a small frightened hobbit trying to hold a steady sword: it saw a great silent shape, cloaked in a grey shadow, looming against the wavering light behind; in one hand it held a sword, the very light of which was a bitter pain, the other was clutched at its breast, but held concealed some nameless menace of power and doom.

(Return of the King, Book VI, Chapter 1, "The Tower of Cirith Ungol")

Saruman is no doubt aware that something of this sort would occur; and given the orcs' reaction to Sam, it's certainly reasonable for Saruman to believe that he could overmaster the Orcs' wills.

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    <comments removed> Take the discussion to chat.
    – user1027
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 0:47

Of course Saruman tries to get the Ring himself — that's been his plan for a long time, and the reason he has long hid his belief that it's still potentially recoverable from the White Council, saying that it rolled down to the sea long ago.

As to whether he could use it:

  1. He appears to believe so;
  2. Galadriel tells Frodo that the reason he can't use most of the Ring's power (beyond innate properties like invisibility and prolonged life) because he hasn't spent a long time training his will to that end, implying that he potentially could. Saruman presumably has that training; and most importantly,
  3. Sauron himself acts as if he believes that a sufficiently powerful other can use the Ring against him. Perhaps not to the full extent he could himself, but still well enough to be a heavy blow against his power. That's why he launches the attack against Minas Tirith prematurely after Aragon shows himself in the palantír of Isengard, and why after the battle the allies march against Mordor with a small force, as a lure to draw Sauron's attention away from the Ringbearers sneaking in.
  • You're assuming Galadriel knew what she was talking about. The answers to the question about whether someone else could use the Ring suggest that she was wrong. You're also assuming that Sauron wasn't simply paranoid, when he does indeed seem to be paranoid. Every time he sees anyone in the Palantir he assumes they have the Ring.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 0:22
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    I would also point out that Saruman offers Gandalf 3 options: They can both ally with Sauron; They can both join forces and use the Ring against Sauron; or Gandalf can rot on top of Orthanc while Saruman does whatever he wants. This suggests that his mind was NOT made up, and stealing the Ring had crossed his mind, but he hadn't set his plans in stone yet, even a few months prior to his defeat at Helm's Deep and Isengard. Presumably, if Gandalf said "Lets be best bros with Sauron", that is what Saruman would have done.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 1:03
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    @Wad Cheber: Yes, I assume that Galadriel knew what she was talking about, at least as well as anyone could have. Of course it's theoretical, since only 4 people other than Sauron had ever held the Ring, and none of them had seriously tried to use it. I don't think Saruman is honestly suggesting that he and Gandalf join forces as equals, because he knows - as Gandalf says to him - that the Ring can only be used by one hand at a time. His real aim is to recruit Gandalf as a subordinate, sort of a Nazgul or "Mouth of Saruman".
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 5:51
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    As for Sauron being paranoid, remember that when you're a would-be Evil World Ruler, paranoia is a survival characteristic :-) Nor do I think he always assumes that anyone seen in a Palantir has the Ring. Saruman is assumed by Gandalf to have used his long before the raid that captured Merry & Pippin; likewise Denethor used his for a long time. His post-raid acts seem to be based on the assumption that the raid got the Ring along with the Hobbits.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 5:59

The answer doesn't really have anything to do with Saruman's intentions or ability: it has to do with what Sauron knew at the time.

  • Sauron most likely knew that Saruman had captured two hobbits: there were Mordor orcs abandoning the running group the whole run across Rohan, and even Grishnak left with a small band and then returned, so a messenger probably got out.

  • when Pippin used the Palantír, in the book, he actually converses or is spoken to by Sauron (and has a human-like corporeal form) and the dialog and Gandalf suggest that Sauron thought Saruman was forcing Pippin to look into the Palantír to show him off to Sauron.

  • Sauron sends a Nazgûl to fetch the Hobbit and (possibly in his mind) the ring "It's not for you Saruman! [...] I will send for it at once [...] Say just that!" (this may refer to the ring or Pippin).

  • Saruman is locked in the tower and cannot speak with the Nazgûl and from Sauron's perspective is refusing to cooperate

  • Aragorn seizes control of the Palantír's vision away from Sauron and kind of makes Sauron think he has the ring.

"So Saruman will come to the last pinch of the vice that he has put his hand in. He has no captive to send. He has no Stone to see with, and cannot answer the summons. Sauron will only believe that he is with-holding the captive and refusing to use the Stone. It will not help Saruman to tell the truth to the messenger. For Isengard may be ruined, yet he is still safe in Orthanc. So whether he will or no, he will appear a rebel."


Saruman sent the Uruk-hai to collect the Hobbits and the Ring for himself, not to deliver them to Sauron like a loyal servant should.


Saruman was definitely planning to use the Ring himself, and double-cross Sauron. He tells Gandalf as much, right before imprisoning him at the top of Orthanc. One need not take seriously Saruman's "option" of giving the Ring back to Sauron. When Frodo offers Gandalf the Ring, Gandalf says (paraphrasing, feel free to edit with exact text) "Do not tempt me! I wouldn't be able to restrain myself from using it. At first I would only use it for good, but in the long run it would corrupt me and I would become worse than Sauron."

When the Wise say that "nobody can use the Ring" what they mean is "nobody can SAFELY use the Ring." If your inherent power is of the same order of magnitude as Sauron's, then you COULD use the Ring, and with the Ring's power even defeat Sauron -- at least temporarily. But to completely destroy Sauron you'd have to destroy the Ring, which you could NOT do if you had used the Ring that much. So in the long run, you'd become corrupted by the Ring, and eventually Sauron would be able to re-form himself and come back and take control. (So the Ring is like a horcrux. Take THAT, JKR! ;-) )

But Saruman is arrogant enough to believe he is beyond all that.


Saruman was meant to be an ally or subordinate of Sauron. By taking the Hobbits to Isengard he is defying Sauron's explicit order that the hobbits be brought to Barad-dûr. When Pippin looked into the Palantír, Sauron sends one of the Nazgûl to pick him up. And as Gandalf explains eventually, Sauron finds out about Saruman's treachery.


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