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The discussion sparked by this question led to a suggestion that I open a separate question on a related subject. Sauron started out good, became bad, briefly repented, the went full-on evil. Saruman too started out as a good guy, but very gradually turned to the Dark Side, so to speak.

I know some of the factors which contributed to his slow decline - jealousy of Gandalf, gradually increasing egotism, corruption at the hands of Sauron via the Palantir, and so on. And I know - in part because of the answers to this question - what Saruman's intentions were during the events of The Lord of the Rings: basically, he wanted to pretend he was Sauron's buddy for as long as it was profitable to do so, steal the Ring, use it to defeat his enemies (including Sauron), and eventually take Sauron's place (which, whether or not this was Saruman's intention, would automatically make him the baddest baddie in Middle-earth).

But I know little (aside from what I have already mentioned above) about what his intentions were from the time he came to Arda to the time Gandalf located the One Ring, how soon they began to change, and why.

What were Saruman's original intentions, how soon did he begin to stray, and what started that process?

  • A great question. Definitely answerable :-) – Valorum May 16 '15 at 22:41
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    He did not want to become the "baddest baddie," but to strive for a peaceful order... the language of Gandalf and Galadriel makes plain that the power of the Ring is not to so much to empower the evil, as to corrupt those with genuinely the best intentions. – Lexible May 16 '15 at 23:55
  • @Lexible - a fair point. What I mean is essentially this: The thing/position he is trying to obtain would inherently and unavoidably make him the baddest baddie. Even a good guy becomes the baddest baddie if he usurps Sauron and takes his place, and Saruman hasn't been a good guy for a very long time. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica May 16 '15 at 23:59
  • @Lexible - Question edited to correct the problem you pointed out. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica May 17 '15 at 0:28
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Saruman's downfall seems to have come as a result of his study of the works of Sauron, and the subtle realisation that his abilities (and the essence of his power) were actually pretty comparable to his own. In the Silmarillion, Tolkien makes it crystal clear that he was already corrupted by the time of the first White Council, shortly after the first defeat of Sauron's forces;

Then the White Council was summoned; and Mithrandir urged them to swift deeds, but Curunír [Saruman] spoke against him, and counselled them to wait yet and to watch. ‘For I believe not,’ said he, ‘that the One will ever be found again in Middle-earth. Into Anduin it fell, and long ago, I deem, it was rolled to the Sea. There it shall lie until the end, when all this world is broken and the deeps are removed.' Therefore naught was done at that time, though Elrond's heart misgave him ... Thus the Wise were troubled, but none as yet perceived that Curunír had turned to dark thoughts and was already a traitor in heart: for he desired that he and no other should find the Great Ring, so that he might wield it himself and order all the world to his will. Too long he had studied the ways of Sauron in hope to defeat him, and now he envied him as a rival rather than hated his works. And he deemed that the Ring, which was Sauron's, would seek for its master as he became manifest once more; but if he were driven out again, then it would lie hid. Therefore he was willing to play with peril and let Sauron be for a time, hoping by his craft to forestall both his friends and the Enemy, when the Ring should appear.

The Silmarillion; OF THE RINGS OF POWER AND THE THIRD AGE

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    +1 for another awesome answer. But one question - doesn't LotR say that his first half step towards evil came when Gandalf arrived in Middle-earth, leading Saruman to grow envious of him - especially after he learned that Gandalf had been given Narya? – Wad Cheber stands with Monica May 16 '15 at 23:24
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    From the unfinished tales, yes; "And the Grey Messenger took the Ring, and kept it ever secret; yet the White Messenger (who was skilled to uncover all secrets) after a time became aware of this gift, and begrudged it, and it was the beginning of the hidden ill-will that he bore to the Grey, which afterwards became manifest.". It explains why he didn't like Gandalf, not why he became evil. – Valorum May 17 '15 at 0:03
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    "The beginnings of the hidden ill-will he bore" to a fellow Maiar suggests that this was a step in the wrong direction, alhough it definitely isn't enough to make him evil. But it certainly didn't help. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica May 17 '15 at 0:08
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    @WadCheber - It's certainly possible to bear ill-will to Gandalf and not be evil though. I see no specific evidence that the decision to give Narya to Gandalf made him desire the One Ring. At best it's evidence that he desired Narya. – Valorum May 17 '15 at 0:11
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    @WadCheber, for an example of non-evil "unfriends", consider Galadriel and Feanor. – Paul Draper May 17 '15 at 3:23
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As Valorum said, Saruman's motivation and downfall is directly linked to his studies of Ring-lore. Despite having originally studied Ring-lore with the best of intentions, his studies have corrupted him and led him to a point where he believes (correctly, it seems) that he is close to being able to create a Great Ring of his own, with which he could challenge even the bearer of the One Ring.

In his Foreword to the Second Edition of "The Lord of the Rings", Tolkien describes an "alternative history", i.e. the path that the story might have taken had his writing of the tale been influenced by World War 2. Even though Tolkien is describing a "path not taken" by the narrative it still provides relevant insight into what Saruman, the character, would have done under different circumstances:

"The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied.

Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves."

  • Sure, but does this say what his original intentions were? – Adamant Dec 17 '16 at 3:47

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