Welcome, as ever, dear readers.


Is trying to persuade Gandalf to join him in betraying their trust to the Valar:

“We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose:  Knowledge, Rule, Order…”

(The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)

Gandalf doesn’t accept any of this, of course, saying:

“ ‘Saruman…I have heard speeches of this kind before, but only in the mouths of emissaries sent from Mordor to deceive the ignorant.  I cannot think that you brought me so far only to weary my ears.’ “

Saruman has not begun this conversation well.  Gandalf has actually come to Isengard at his urging, that urging being delivered by Radagast:

“ ‘And he told me to say that if you feel the need, he will help; but you must seek his aid at once, or it will be too late.’ “

When Gandalf arrives, however, Saruman is less than welcoming, replying to Gandalf’s explanation that he has come for the offered aid:

“ ‘Have you indeed, Gandalf the Grey! he scoffed.  ‘For aid?  It has seldom been heard of that Gandalf the Grey sought for aid, one so cunning and so wise, wandering about the lands, and concerning himself in every business, whether it belongs to him or not.’ “

Because I’m assuming that we’ve all read beyond this, we know what Saruman is up to, but, if, for a moment, we can forget what we know, let’s see if we can try to understand both his tactics—that is, his immediate actions—and his strategy—his overall plan.

First, Saruman begins by emphasizing part of Gandalf’s common title which, we know from Christopher Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales means more than just the plain color.  There is a hierarchy of the Istari, the so-called “wizards” (from the Old English adjective wis, “experienced/learned/knowledgeable).  Originally 5 in number, they were sent to Middle-earth by the Valar, something like the senior angels in Tolkien’s mythology:

“The first to come was of noble mien [appearance] and bearing, with raven hair, and a fair voice, and he was clad in white; great skill he had in works of hand, and he was regarded by well-nigh all, even by the Eldar, as the head of the Order.  Others there were also:  two clad in sea-blue, and one in earthen brown;  and last came one who seemed the least, less tall than the others, and in looks more aged, grey-haired and grey-clad, and leaning on a staff.” (Unfinished Tales, 406)

Thus, Saruman has begun by attempting to push Gandalf down the ranks, to the position of the least of the Istari.  Second, he contrasts himself with Gandalf in terms of location:  Saruman and Gandalf are in the tower of Orthanc,

(a rough sketch by JRRT)

in the middle of Isengard, which Saruman had taken possession of (originally in the name of Gondor) about 250 years before (for the date, see The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, II, “The House of Eorl”), while Gandalf appears to have no permanent home.

Third, he suggests that there are matters about which Gandalf should not concern himself, implying that he, Saruman, is master of such things.

To emphasize this, he now makes a rather surprising declaration:

“ ‘For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!’ ”

Although no one would doubt his past displays of wisdom, his other two claims definitely call for investigation. 

First, there’s that ring—Gandalf had noticed it when he first arrived at Isengard:

“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.  We wore a ring on his finger.”

Gandalf doesn’t identify this, but I would suggest that we have a clue from Unfinished Tales, where we are told of an incident which occurred when Gandalf had first reached Middle-earth from the West and had met the master of the Grey Havens, Cirdan:

“But Cirdan from their first meeting at the Grey Havens divined in him the greatest spirit and the wisest; and he welcomed him with reverence, and he gave to his keeping the Third Ring, Narya the Red…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.” (Unfinished Tales, 407)

If nothing else, then, we can imagine that Saruman’s ring is an imitation of Gandalf’s, just as he makes Isengard, with its workshops and orcs, a tiny imitation of Mordor.  And we can also better understand his tone:  although he is considered the head of the Istari, Gandalf, the last of the Order, has been given a symbol of power which Saruman has not—Saruman is jealous of Gandalf.

We might also imagine that, by styling himself “Ring-maker”, he is indirectly suggesting another rivalry, one with someone who is much greater than he—but we’ll come back to this and a certain Ring.  Before we do, let’s examine that third claim, “Saruman of Many Colours”.

Saruman, as we know, has been sent by the Valar to Middle-earth as Saruman the White, but, as Gandalf now sees:

“ ‘I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.’ “

Gandalf, unimpressed by this display, says simply, “I liked white better” to which Saruman replies:

“ ‘White!…It serves as a beginning.  White cloth may be dyed.  The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.”

In these robes and with these words, Saruman reveals part of his strategy:  he has divorced himself from his original self, the one dispatched from Valinor, recreating himself in a new role, not White Messenger, but Rainbow-colored Other.  But, even in this new form, he appears unsure enough of himself that he attempts to bring the despised Gandalf over to him:

“…but our time is at hand:  the world of Men, which we must rule.  But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see…And listen, Gandalf, my old friend and helper!…I said we, for we it may be, if you will join with me.”

So far, Saruman has addressed Gandalf as a lesser figure, suggesting that he is the least of the Order, homeless, and a busybody.  Now, however, he seems to be trying to enlist him:  why?

“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 Numenor.  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.”

So, Saruman may be wise, ring-making, many-colored, but he appears to be saying that there is something more powerful yet—but not so powerful that there won’t be ways, in time, to master 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.  We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe evils done by the way, but approving the high and ultimate purpose:  Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends.  There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means.’ “

And then, as we saw at the opening of this posting, Gandalf rejects this proposal, Saruman comes to his real point:

“ ‘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 lies.”

“Precious” is a frightening word in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, being Gollum’s term for the object he murdered his cousin to obtain and which will eventually bring about his own death.

That Saruman uses it tells us almost as much about him as all the rest of his words and Gandalf’s second rejection—which Saruman claims to have foreseen—sums up the truth under all of his words:  “ ‘Saruman…only one hand at a time can wield the One, and you know that well, so do not trouble to say we!”

And, with that, we can see Saruman’s tactics:  reduce Gandalf to a servant, then ask for his help; as well as his strategy:  having enlisted that help, use it to find the Ring and master its true master, Sauron.

In the Athens of the 5th century BC,

there arose a new kind of teacher, who claimed to be able to instruct people in everything from how to understand the world to how to behave within the world.  What they taught was called sophia, coming from the adjective sophos, (so-FOSS) originally meaning “skilled”—and this could be skilled in anything, from carpentry to public speaking.  A teacher of this sort was then called a sophistes (so-fihs-TAYSE).  Among a number of early teachers, perhaps the most prominent was Protagoras (c.490-c.420bc).

In part because they charged money, but also partly because some made big claims, they came to the negative—and influential—attention of Plato (428-348bc)

and then to his pupil, to Aristotle (384-322bc),

and, in time, their reputation had become so blackened that we now use the term “sophistry” to mean something like “an argument which looks convincing—but will be found to be based upon falsity”.

And this is exactly what Saruman is using and which Gandalf sees through.

In comparison with Saruman’s lies, let’s begin with the goals of the Valar in sending the Istari to Middle-earth:

“Emissaries they were from the Lords of the West, the Valar, who still took counsel for the governance of Middle-earth, and when the shadow of Sauron began first to stir again took this means of resisting him.”

Thus, we see immediately that, by proposing to ally himself and Gandalf with Sauron, Saruman is undercutting their original purpose:  as opposition.

Next, there is the method to be used by the Istari:

“…their emissaries were forbidden to reveal themselves in forms of majesty, or to seek to rule the wills of Elves or Men by open display of power, but coming in shapes weak and humble were bidden to advise and persuade Men and Elves to good…”

and their purpose:

“…and to seek to unite in love and understanding all those whom Sauron, should he come again, would endeavour to dominate and corrupt.” (Unfinished Tales, 406)

Set this against Saruman’s claim that the Istari “high and ultimate purpose” was “Knowledge, Rule, Order” and you can see that what Saruman really means by this is his knowledge, rule, and order—and add to that his real desire, as he admits to Gandalf:  the Ring and the power it holds, even over Sauron.  And you can see, as well, why Gandalf rejects both his reasoning and his offer, replying:

“ ‘You were head of the Council, but you have unmasked yourself at last.  Well, the choices are, it seems, to submit to Sauron, or to yourself?  I will take neither.  Have you others to offer?’ “

(The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)

But what has happened to the White Messenger?  Somewhere between his arrival at Isengard in TA 2759 and his encounter with Gandalf in TA3018, he has changed, drastically.  Along with the tower of Orthanc, he has also acquired its palantir:  has one charged to protect others from Sauron’s attempts to dominate and corrupt now himself become dominated and corrupted through it—and its connection with the owner of another? 

Perhaps there is a clue in Gandalf’s description of the opening of Saruman’s proposal:

“ ‘He drew himself up then and began to declaim, as if he were making a speech long rehearsed.’ “

Some sophists taught the art of persuasion—has someone else been instructing Saruman in sophistry?

Thanks, as always, for reading,

Be wary of people who sound too plausible,

And know that, as ever, there’s