although he declares himself “Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)
is not so wise as he thinks. In his lust for the Ring, he has made a number of mistakes. In one conversation with Gandalf, he has:
1. revealed a deep jealousy of his fellow Maia, saying scornfully, “…one so cunning and so wise, wandering about the lands, and concerning himself in every business, whether it belongs to him or not.”
2. mocked a second Maia, Radagast, as “the Bird-tamer, Radagast the Simple! Radagast the Fool!”
3. laid bare his own desire not just to provide counsel for the people of Middle-earth against Sauron which was the purpose for which he had been sent there, but to control them: “…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.”
4. made clear that he is not only in contact with Sauron, but admires and fears him: “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.”
5. given away the fact that he has been spying on the Shire: “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?”
And, in admitting to his suspicion that the Ring may be somehow tied to the Shire, Saruman also admits to his own desire for the Ring: “Why not? The Ruling Ring? If we could command that, then the Power would pass to us.”
Welcome, dear readers, as ever.
In the last two postings, I’ve been playing a game which historians and fantasy/sci-fi writers call “What If?”
In this game, they take a known situation: that, for instance, the Nazis never invaded England, but, in Len Deighton’s (1929-) 1978 novel,
they now occupy the country.
Now we’ve come to “What if Saruman got the Ring?”
It’s interesting that Saruman has already so strongly identified himself with Sauron that he’s called himself “Ring-maker” and, as Gandalf has noticed, “He wore a ring on his finger.” What Saruman hasn’t realized, however, is that Sauron is well aware of Saruman’s thoughts on the subject of becoming the new Sauron, even without the Ring, as is evident in the speech of Sauron’s Orc captain, Grishnakh. He has been arguing with Saruman’s Uruk-hai leader, Ugluk, on what’s best to do with Merry and Pippin. Ugluk has tried to take command, saying, “We are the servants of Saruman the Wise, the White Hand…” Grishnakh then makes a very interesting reply:
“You have spoken more than enough, Ugluk…I wonder how they would like it in Lugburz [the Barad-dur]…They might ask where his strange ideas came from. Did they come from Saruman, perhaps? Who does he think he is, setting up on his own with his filthy white badges? They might agree with me, with Grishnakh their trusted messenger; and I Grishnakh say this: Saruman is a fool, and a dirty treacherous fool. But the Great Eye is on him.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”)
That Great Eye is more than on him—Saruman is also unaware that he’s being manipulated by Sauron through the Orthanc Palantir
as we hear in that conversation which so reveals his true self and intent to Gandalf. Is he really speaking for himself when he launches into what he believes is a logical laying-out of the path both he and Gandalf should take? As Gandalf describes him:
“He drew himself up then and began to declaim, as if he were making a speech long rehearsed. ‘The Elder Days are gone. The Middle Days are passing. The Younger Days are beginning. The time of the Elves is over, 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.’ “
Elrond has said that the Ring can only be wielded by one with great power already, but that “It belongs to Sauron and was made by him alone, and is altogether evil…The very desire of it corrupts the heart. Consider Saruman. If any of the Wise should with this Ring overthrow the Lord of Mordor, using his own arts, he would then set himself up on Sauron’s throne, and yet another Dark Lord would appear.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)
And it’s clear that this is Saruman’s plan, even as he tries to persuade Gandalf to join him, sharing joint custody of the Ring, to which Gandalf wisely replies:
“Saruman…only one hand at a time can wield the One, and you know that well, so do not trouble to say we.”
Saruman is, unknowingly, already corrupt and much less in control than he believes and I wonder if, once he had the Ring, a winged Nazgul would appear and soon either his head and/or the Ring would be on its way to its true master in Lugburz.
Immune to Saruman’s combination of wheedling and threats, Gandalf has refused either to join Saruman or confirm his suspicions about the Ring, declaring, “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 White Council, but you have unmasked yourself at last.”
And, when offered the Ring himself by Frodo,
his reaction is the very opposite of what we might expect of Saruman’s—and here we see the answer to “What if Gandalf got the Ring?”:
“ ‘No!’ cried Gandalf, springing to his feet. ‘With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly.’ His eyes flashed and his face was as if lit by a fire within. ‘Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 2, “The Shadow of the Past”)
Saruman would gladly grasp the Ring so that he—and Gandalf, perhaps, at this point, since Saruman is still unsure of Gandalf’s response—would achieve “the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish…There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means.” Or so he says. In fact, his “high and ultimate purpose” is sheer mastery: “Why not? The Ruling Ring? If we could command that, then the Power would pass to us.”
In contrast, Gandalf refuses the Ring because “…the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and a desire to do good.”
And Galadriel’s rejection is much like Gandalf’s:
“ ‘…You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!’
She lifted up her hand and from the ring that she wore there issued a great light that illumined her alone and left all else dark…Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! She was shrunken: a slender elf-woman, clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.
‘I pass the test,’ she said. ‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.’ “ (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)
Galadriel has already had her own “What if?”, telling Frodo:
“I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired to ask what you offer. For many long years I had pondered what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my hands, and behold! It was brought within my grasp.”
But she, like Gandalf, and like Elrond, knows that Sauron’s Ring is nothing more than a kind of poison, offering power, but taking control and corrupting as it does so. As she says: “The evil that was devised long ago works on in many ways, whether Sauron himself stands or falls.”
I began this little series with Faramir’s rejection of the Ring, even though he was unsure of what exactly it was:
“I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo son of Drogo.” (The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter 5, “The Window on the West”)
Bilbo, with Gandalf’s help, let the Ring go. Frodo tried to give it to both Gandalf and Galadriel, and each refused. Saruman coveted it, but probably could never have kept it, at the best surrendering it to its rightful owner, at the worst ruined and driven mad, like Gollum, and still losing it in the end, just as Gollum did. I would like, however, to add perhaps the oddest possible recipient to this list, Tom Bombadil.
Early in the story, after Tom has rescued them from Old Man Willow, he suddenly asks to see the Ring and Frodo, to his own surprise, immediately hands it to him. And, although Frodo is a little miffed by it, Tom’s reaction is to clown with it, peeking through it, putting it on and not disappearing, even doing a little disappearing trick with it, all of which confirms something Gandalf will later say, when it’s suggested that the Ring be sent to him for safe-keeping:
“Say rather that the Ring has no power over him. He is his own master…And if he were given the Ring, he would soon forget it, or most likely throw it away. Such things have no hold on his mind.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)
It’s never clear why the Ring has no power over Tom, and a “What if?” would clearly only end in disaster, but I’ve included him because of that last remark: “Such things have no hold on his mind.” On the minds of good characters and bad, with Tom as the one exception, the Ring has a hold and that strong attraction lies at the center of the story, making a game of “What if?” possible. And that’s one reason why “What if” is a good game to play. We know what actually happens, of course, but, when we suppose different outcomes, we can gain a clearer sense of why it happens. On the one hand, it shows us the protagonists as deeply thoughtful people, more concerned for those around them than their own power—with the strong exception of Saruman. On the other, it points up the terrible power of the Ring that Frodo a good person, at the last minute of dropping the Ring into the Cracks of Doom, suddenly seems much closer to the Ring’s maker than to the Hobbit who has barely survived a terrible quest to erase the very thing he now declines to destroy.
As always, thanks for reading,
Look for yellow boots if you’re lost in the forest,
And know that, as ever, there’s