As ever, dear readers, welcome.
I suspect that every reader of The Lord of the Rings comes to “The Grey Havens” chapter
with that same sense of sadness, having seen Frodo’s gradual decline, and then reads this:
“ ‘Where are you going, Master?’ cried Sam, though at last he understood what was happening.
‘To the Havens, Sam’ said Frodo.
‘And I can’t come.’
‘No, Sam. Not yet anyway, not further than the Havens…’
‘But,’ said Sam, and tears started in his eyes, ‘I thought that you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.’
‘So I thought too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.’ “ (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 9, “The Grey Havens”)
We can feel both for Frodo and for Sam and it’s easy to do so, after we had followed their adventures so far, from leaving the Shire, to their long journey with Gollum,
(by Nacho Castro)
to that terrible last crawl to Mt Doom
(a wonderful Ted Nasmith)
and that moment when the Ringbearer, almost becomes the Ringwearer until Gollum reenters the picture.
(another great Nasmith)
For me, there is another possible such moment in The Lord of the Rings, perhaps a very surprising one, I think, but one I had been prepared for by another work entirely, Bram Stoker’s (1847-1912) Dracula (1897), which I’ve just finished teaching once more.
No one in the novel has more reason to hate Dracula and want him dead than Mina Harker.
(by Robert M. Place)
Throughout the novel, she has had her best friend, Lucy Westenra, turn into a vampire, her husband-to-be, Jonathan, held prisoner, then almost turned into a vampire, and she herself initiated into vampirism, all by the evil count.
(by Tony Harris—this image, in my opinion, is so much closer to what Bram Stoker described that I wish that Harris had done an entire illustrated edition of the book)
And yet, she can say this to that same Jonathan, now part of a group determined to eradicate him:
“ ‘Jonathan,’ she said, and the word sounded like music on her lips it was so full of love and tenderness, ‘Jonathan dear, and you all my true, true friends, I want you to bear something in mind through all this dreadful time. I know that you must fight—that you must destroy even as you destroyed the false Lucy so that the true Lucy might live hereafter; but it is not a work of hate. That poor soul who has wrought all this misery is the saddest case of all. Just think what will be his joy when he, too, is destroyed in his worser part that his better part may have spiritual immortality. You must be pitiful to him, too, though it may not hold your hands from his destruction.’ ” (Dracula, Chapter XXIII)
Pity for a monster? And this isn’t the end. In the concluding chapter of the book, just as she sees Dracula turning from Undead to dead, she writes:
“But, on the instant, came the sweep and flash of Jonathan’s great knife. I shrieked as I saw it shear through the throat; whilst at the same moment Mr. Morris’s bowie knife plunged into the heart.
It was like a miracle; but before our very eyes, and almost in the drawing of a breath, the whole body crumbled into dust and passed from our sight.
I shall be glad as long as I live that even in that moment of final dissolution, there was in the face a look of peace, such as I never could have imagined might have rested there.” (Dracula, Chapter XXVII)
Mina’s friend, Lucy, has been a Victorian novelist’s standard victim: young, beautiful, helpless. In contrast, Mina has been energetic, enterprising, organized, and courageous, her spirit being behind the destruction of Dracula, practically at every turn. At the same time, she has something which makes her even more remarkable: she is able to see beyond Dracula’s current evil, to understand him as being as much a victim of vampirism as he has made Lucy and plans to make her and so can feel what might be seen as a surprising compassion.
This brings me to that other moment.
Saruman, along with the 4 other Istari (Gandalf, Radagast, and the two “Blue Wizards”) has been sent to Middle-earth to counter Sauron.
It appears that Saruman, initially, as leader of the Order (as Gandalf calls it), did his job, but, at some point, he became more and more like the very enemy he was supposed to oppose, in part, at least, because he had acquired a palantir, and
this had connected him directly with Sauron, who has clearly turned his mind to the point that he could say to Gandalf:
“ ‘A new Power is rising…We may join with that Power. It would be wise, Gandalf…We can bide our time, we can keep our thoughts in our hearts, deploring maybe the 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…’ “ (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”)
This leads eventually, as we know, to his ruin, his home, Isengard, devasted by the Ents,
his power removed by Gandalf,
(? I’m not sure whose work this is)
and himself reduced to being what appears at first to be a wandering beggar on the road, followed by his sole servant, Grima.
(and another Nasmith—whose work I highly value, not only for its own qualities, but for his wide range—he often picks scenes no one else has, not only from The Lord of the Rings, but from the Silmarillion)
He’s not really wandering, however, but on his way to the Shire to continue, in a petty way, the work of his departed master, Sauron, turning the hobbits’ homeland into an early industrial wasteland. When confronted, stopped, and, in an attempt at vengeance, draws a dagger, Frodo says something which might remind us of Mina:
“ ‘No, Sam!’ said Frodo. ‘Do not kill him even now. For he has not hurt me. And in any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood. He was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against. He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us, but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it.’ ” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 8, “The Scouring of the Shire”)
Saruman wants no cure, but before he can even leave the scene of this mercy, Grima stabs him and here, to me, is the surprising sadness:
“To the dismay of those that stood by, about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill. For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing.”
Because Saruman was one of the Maiar, what we might think of as lesser angels, we would expect that bodily destruction was temporary, as it was after Gandalf had met and defeated the Balrog,
and, presumably, Saruman, by turning westward, was appealing to the Valar, the Maiar’s superiors, or perhaps even to Eru, the supreme god, but “out of the West came a cold wind” and:
“Frodo looked down at the body with pity and horror for as he looked it seemed that long years of death were suddenly revealed in it, and it shrank, and the shrivelled face became rags of skin upon a hideous skull. Lifting up the skirt of the dirty cloak that sprawled beside it, he covered it over, and turned away.”
Might this be an echo of Dracula?
“It was like a miracle; but before our very eyes, and almost in the drawing of a breath, the whole body crumbled into dust and passed from our sight.”
(And, loving Tangled, how could I not think of Mother Gothel’s end?)
It’s that “with a sigh” which has always affected me, as it suggests that, although Saruman rejects Frodo’s mercy, he is still aware of what he has now lost by betraying the trust of those who had originally sent him to Middle-earth.
And there’s an interesting contrast here with one more moment, at least visually related to Saruman’s end, which occurs to another powerful figure.
“And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed; and then a hush fell.” (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 4, “The Field of Cormallen”)
(a final Nasmith)
No one in the book ever speaks of him as “of a noble kind”, yet Sauron was also once one of the Maiar, and there’s this passage in one of Tolkien’s letters which made me wonder, at least briefly, about his end:
“In my story I do not deal in Absolute Evil. I do not think there is such a thing, since that is Zero. I do not think that at any rate any ‘rational being’ is wholly evil…In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible. He had gone the way of all tyrants: beginning well, at least at the level that while desiring to order things according to his own wisdom he still at first considered the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth…” (Response to W.H. Auden’s review of The Return of the King, from some time in 1956, Letters, 243)
And we have this in a letter from 1954:
“Sauron was of course not ‘evil’ in origin. He was a ‘spirit’ corrupted by the Prime Dark Lord (the Prime sub-creative Rebel) Morgoth. He was given an opportunity of repentance, when Morgoth was overcome, but could not face the humiliation of recantation, and suing for pardon; and so his temporary turn to good and ‘benevolence’ ended in a greater relapse…But at the beginning of the Second Age he was still beautiful to look at…and was not indeed wholly evil, not unless all ‘reformers’ who want to hurry up with ‘reconstruction’ and ‘reorganization’ are wholly evil, even before pride and lust to exert their will eat them up…” (letter to Peter Hastings, September, 1954, Letters, 190)
But here there’s no sigh—if anything, there’s that threatening hand, impotent, but we can imagine an expression of that “pride and lust to exert [his] will” which Tolkien mentions and if we continue reading down the page in Tolkien’s response quoted above we find:
“Sauron desired to be a God-King, and was held to be this by his servants; if he had been victorious he would have demanded divine honour from all rational creatures and absolute temporal power over the whole world.”
Saruman, sent to Middle-earth to do good (and not for “Rule, Knowledge, Order”—more likely Sauron’s words, simply parroted by Saruman), was corrupted by Sauron, just as Sauron had been corrupted by Morgoth. His nobility was lost, but at least, at the end, he understood what he had lost. Sauron, broken, had nothing but regret—but regret only for power lost for good.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Beware of rushing reformers,
And know that, as ever, there’s
If you don’t have your own copy of that remarkable Victorian novel, Dracula, here’s the original US publication of 1897 for you, thanks to Gutenberg: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/345/345-h/345-h.htm )