As always, dear readers, welcome.
Recently, we quoted the leader of the Uruk-hai, Ugluk:
“We are the fighting Uruk-hai! We slew the great warrior. We took the prisoners. We are the servants of Saruman the Wise, the White Hand: the Hand that gives us man’s-flesh to eat.” (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 3, “The Uruk-hai”)
That White Hand is, of course, Saruman’s
special badge (in our contemporary world, we might say that it was his “logo”), which we see for the first time on the shield of a dead orc:
“There were four goblin-soldiers of greater stature, swart, slant-eyed, with thick legs and large hands. They were armed with short broad-bladed swords, not with the curved scimitars usual with Orcs; and they had bows of yew, in length and shape like the bows of Men. Upon their shields they bore a strange device: a small white hand in the centre of a black field… (The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter 1, “The Departure of Boromir”)
We can imagine why Sauron has that red eye
for his emblem—fiery to indicate Sauron’s turbulent nature (and perhaps relation to Satan—another fallen angel/Maia), plus unblinking, to show that, like Big Brother,
he’s always watching—a fact rather broadly expressed in the Jackson films, where the eye has been turned into a searchlight—or, at best, a lighthouse beacon. (And yes, this is a Barad-dur desk lamp.)
But why does Saruman use a white hand? And which direction should it face? In the films, it seems to be applied upside down
which, to us seems like the wrong way up—besides being more difficult to apply as face paint. What is the meaning of the symbolic use of that hand?
This put us to thinking about hands in The Lord of the Rings in general. We considered the Ring on and off various hands and even those who lost a finger wearing it, but these all seemed rather passive and, thinking of what Ugluk says, we imagine Saruman’s hand as active. That being the case, the first prominent hand we could think of was that of the Barrow-wight:
“[Frodo] heard behind his head a creaking and scraping sound. Raising himself on one arm he looked, and saw now in the pale light that they were in a kind of passage which behind them turned a corner Round the corner a long arm was groping, walking on its fingers towards Sam, who was lying nearest, and towards the hilt of the sword that lay upon him.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 8, “Fog on the Barrow-downs”)
This is certainly a menacing thing and reminds us of something from the 1956 film, The Ten Commandments, where to indicate the deaths of the first-born of Egypt (from the Book of Exodus, Chapter 11, in the Hebrew Bible), the film makers showed viewers this—
a kind of spindly green hand, which can still creep us out as its function is to grasp things—in this case a sword which will be used to sacrifice the hobbits.
Our next hand—or hands–were those of Galadriel
when she takes Frodo and Sam to her Mirror and tells them about the struggle with Sauron:
“She lifted up her white arms and spread out her hands towards the East in a gesture of rejection and denial.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 7, “The Mirror of Galadriel”)
Long ago, we did a posting on that gesture, which comes right out of 19th-century rhetorical and theatrical practice. As this plate illustrates, such gestures were stylized and memorized for their effect on the speaker’s platform, as well as the stage.
We were reminded of our final hands by Galadriel’s gesture: the Argonath,
“Upon great pedestals founded in the deep waters stood two great kings of stone: still with blurred eyes and crannied brows they frowned upon the North. The left hand of each was raised palm outwards in gesture of warning; in each right hand there was an axe…” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter 9, “The Great River”)
So far, we’ve seen hands which grasp, hands which reject, and hands which warn and perhaps we can imagine that all of these might be part of the message of Saruman’s white hand. Saruman, in taking up the role of “Mini-Sauron”, has rejected the West he was sent to protect. In his desire to build his own empire, he has allied himself with Sauron and made war on Rohan, attempting to grasp more and more territory while sacrificing his honor and purpose as one of the Maiar. That he is not now what he seems to have been in the past should also be a warning of what he intends in the present and what, even maimed, he might be capable of in the future, as the Shire will learn when Saruman becomes Sharkey.
Is there more to this image? We wouldn’t be surprised: Sauron is intentionally kept off-stage, we believe to make him that much more menacing, so the real evil we see is, literally, in the hands of Saruman.
Thanks, as ever, for reading.