Welcome, as always, dear readers!
We’ve discussed the nearly-invisible Sauron in an earlier posting, but now we’d like to think out loud about the all-too-visible Saruman. And, as we’ve just heard that we’ve lost our own Saruman, Christopher Lee, we would like to dedicate it to his memory.
Pippin and Merry have been filling Fangorn in about all of their adventures up to the moment when he found them in his forest.
Saruman, in particular, has caught his attention, being his neighbor and, it seems, an increasingly distant one—
“There was a time when he was always walking about my woods. He was polite in those days, always asking my leave (at least when he met me); and always eager to listen. I told him many things that he would never have found out by himself; but he never repaid me in like kind. I cannot remember that he ever told me anything. And he got more and more like that; his face, as I remember it—became like windows in a stone wall: windows with shutters inside.” 473
At that moment, everything comes together for the Ent.
“I think that I now understand what he is up to. He is plotting to become a Power.” 473
And not a friendly power, as Gandalf, during his last visit to Isengard, has learned to his dismay, having heard Saruman alternately wheedle and threaten him. Saruman’s initial words, however, were not about himself, but about someone else, to the east:
“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.” 259
So far, this must sound like the Sauron party line—and Saruman is actually described “as if he were making a speech long rehearsed”, (259), the tone of which Gandalf recognized immediately, replying:
“I have heard speeches of this kind before, but only in the mouths of emissaries sent from Morder to deceive the ignorant.” 259
If we pause for a moment and consider the era in which this was written, we might catch a glimpse of something from the history of our world in this, something from the period beginning in 1922 and extending at least through 1945, when Tolkien was beginning to write The Lord of the Rings.
JRRT always denied that his work was allegorical, although, sophisticated man that he was, he was well aware that the world around him would impinge upon his consciousness. Thus, when we see numerous sinister figures rising in power in our world, it would be difficult to imagine that they might not, even if only very distantly, exert some small influence on his work.
The lesser figures include Franco, in Spain,
Eoin O’Duffy in Ireland,
Sir Oswald Mosley in England, (mocked as “the amateur dictator “ by P.G.Wodehouse in the persona of Sir Roderick Spode—brilliantly played by John Turner in the 1990s Wodehouse “Jeeves and Wooster” television series)
and the most menacing of all, Mussolini and Hitler.
Mussolini had begun his rise to power just after World War One, achieving his position of Il Duce in 1922,
while Hitler, after a false start in 1923, in emulation of Mussolini,
finally reached the ultimate position of authority in 1933.
Although Hitler was a relative late-comer in comparison with Mussolini, it seems that Mussolini looked up to Hitler, even taking German lessons (although there is no mention of Hitler reciprocating) so that they could talk more easily (and, doubtless, securely).
Thus, it might be possible to see Saruman, in his position as lesser of two evils, looking up to and wanting to imitate Sauron, the greater of two evils, as Mussolini attempting to emulate Hitler. (And this odd partnership is sharply satirized in Charley Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, 1940.)
So, as Sauron has the Barad-dur,
so Saruman has Orthanc.
As Sauron has Orcs
so Saruman has Orcs.
Worst of all, just as Sauron has the vast wasteland of Mordor
Saruman takes the once-green and beautiful Isengard
and turns it into a mini-Mordor.
All of this is swept away by Fangorn and his fellow Ents, of course,
and it appears that Saruman will remain within the tower, but we know that he slips away, taking the former counselor of Theoden, Grima, with him.
Or, at least, that’s what Tolkien intended. Unfortunately, the makers of The Lord of the Rings films simply dropped this theme here, with the deaths both of Saruman and Grima on Orthanc. We say unfortunately because, although we have portrayed Saruman as a wanna-be Sauron (even to the point of thinking that he might gain control of the Ring), which is certainly one of his roles, his is a greater role as he was once a greater figure. He is the eldest of the Maiar in Middle Earth, those spirits whom Tolkien once described as “near equivalent in the mode of these tales of Angels, guardian Angels”, LTR 159. That he can be corrupted by Sauron (as Sauron himself had been corrupted by Morgoth), shows just how great Sauron’s power (and the lure of the Ring) really is. As well, in his fall, we see that that corruption, like Sauron’s, is complete. Offered the chance to return to the good, he spurns it and slips away—but not out of the story, and it’s here that we feel that the writers of the films missed a great opportunity.
In what might, at first, seem like an act of petty revenge, Saruman goes to the Shire, that green and so-far-safe land far west of all of evil of Middle Earth,.
and industrializes it. After all, Fangorn has said of Saruman that “He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.” 473
So, just as at Isengard, trees must go, if only to feed his industrial plans. When we think of Saruman’s ultimate vision for the Shire, we imagine that it would look like the work of Edwin Butler Bayliss (1874-1950) who painted the industrial landscapes of England’s West Midlands, the “Black Country”, an area Tolkien himself thought of as his home region.
The end comes quickly, however, when the Hobbits return and we see, in “The Scouring of the Shire”, on the one hand, the new maturity of Merry and Pippin, and, on the other, the deep humanity of Frodo.
And Saruman would have been allowed to go free again—but there is an irony here in what happens. He had sought to overturn Theoden and Rohan through having subverted Grima and, instead, he himself is killed by that very agent—
and we have wondered about that. If Saruman is of the same substance as the Valar, merely inhabiting a human body, can he, in fact, be killed, any more than Sauron? We assume that Sauron, who had poured so much of his spiritual power into the Ring, would be seriously weakened by its loss, enough so that his empire collapses on him. In Saruman’s case, the end is less dramatic, but at the same time, poignant:
“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.” 1020
Although the withered remains are then described, they seem unnecessary. That was only the borrowed flesh. The tragedy lies in that wavering look, the bending away, the sigh. In the final chapter, “The Grey Havens”, we see Gandalf departing towards that very West which was denied to Saruman and here we see, as well, what it was that the spirit of Saruman had lost: the reward of being allowed, at last, to return home, to go back towards Valinor. Instead, the Valar have rejected one of their own and, though his spirit may not have been destroyed, something seems to have left him forever.
By leaving the final chapters out of the film, then, the script writers lost the chance not only to show us Merry and Pippin, at the end of their long adventure, grown into figures to rival the Old Took, both in deeds and in stature. As well, they denied us the potential contrast with the end of such figures as Hitler—a suicide—and Mussolini—executed by his own people, and that of Saruman the White, murdered by his own follower and, at the end, nothing but sadness and grey smoke.
Thanks, as always, for reading. And thank you, Christopher Lee, for acting.