And now we get to the part that really explains Gandalf’s delay. When he had met Radagast on the road to Bree, he had been on his way to the Shire. It was Mid-years’s Day (between June and July), and Gandalf didn’t show up in Bree again until October 1st – three months later. So what gives?
He made it to Isengard by July 10th and was invited to stay. But he was given a choice whether he was to stay as a guest or prisoner. Saruman, though he probably knew that Gandalf would pick the latter, pitched to him the idea of joining him so that they could rule the galaxy together as father and son (or something like that).
Saruman started with the basics. “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.”
Now that Sauron had shown himself, Saruman and Gandalf’s time was absolutely at hand. They had been sent (along with Radagast and the two other guys) to “contest the power of Sauron, if he should rise again, and to move Elves and Men and tall living things of good will to valiant deeds.”
But here, Saruman was telling him the exact opposite. The Elves were no longer in the equation, Men needed to be ruled over, and Sauron wasn’t even (yet) mentioned. There was nothing about valiant deeds or good will. There was just Saruman’s grab for power.
Saruman didn’t mention Sauron because he didn’t really see him as an obstacle. He went on to explain the deviation from the original plan of defeating the Enemy: “A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all.”
That, of course, is all wrong. While Sauron was rising again, he wasn’t exactly a “new” power. In fact, it was the same old power as before, which means that the same old allies and policies might at least be helpful. Sure, there was the whole One Ring thing, but even that could be dealt with by the Elves and Men. They had nearly done it before.
That brought Saruman to Gandalf’s choice. He could a) “join with that Power”, b) join with Saruman and the One Ring, or c) step aside (onto this really high tower where you’ll be a prisoner forever).
Saruman once more became a salesman. “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.”
Clearly Saruman was well-learned in Sauron’s history and the history of Morgoth. He knew that the Enemy could not be trusted, and that even their allies met with unpleasant endings. If Saruman was so flippant about tossing off his own allies (Elves and Men), what would possibly make him think that Sauron was too honorable to do the same?
But Saruman wasn’t even considering that. He had one thing on his mind: Power. He might have been able to achieve it by defeating Sauron and then taking over, but he didn’t seem all too convinced that Sauron could be defeated. He had been looking for the One Ring for a very long time, but had yet to find it. He also knew that Sauron was searching for it. Whomever got the Ring first would naturally be the ruler of Middle-earth, but he seemed to at least consider the idea that neither would find the Ring.
“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.”
There’s nothing at all in the entire history of the Valar, Maiar, Elves or Men that would even hint at this being how Sauron would work. Loyalty to anyone but Morgoth was not really a trait he cultivated. He simply didn’t care. And taking down the system from within, as Saruman contrives, is just a bullshit way of saying “fuck it, I’m selling out.”
And that’s exactly what Saruman was thinking (or at least pitching). He knew that Gandalf wouldn’t just up and turn evil. He had to convince him that they were taking down the Man from the inside. “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 the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends.”
Not that Saruman wasn’t going too far already, but here he really over-stepped his bounds. While he couldn’t have convinced Gandalf to fakey-join Sauron to take him out in the end, he certainly couldn’t have thought that talking smack about the Elves and Men would win him any favors.
When he saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere with Gandalf, he tried a different approach – temptation. With the One Ring, they could rule over everything! They would become the Power. He was convinced, through his “many eyes” in his service, that Gandalf knew “where this precious thing lies.” He had heard about the Nazgul asking for the Shire and easily figured out that Gandalf was somehow involved.
Gandalf called him on this as well, saying that “only one hand at a time can wield the One, and you know that well, so do not trouble to say we!”
And so Gandalf “chose” the third choice “to stay here, until the end … Until you reveal to me where the One may be found.” If Gandalf never told him where to find it, Saruman assumed he could figure it out anyway. And once he did, he would “turn to lighter matters: to devise, say, a fitting reward for the hindrance and insolence of Gandalf the Grey.”
This was a threat. Saruman knew that he probably couldn’t defeat Gandalf in open battle without the Ring. Even if he could, he didn’t want to since he was pretty certain that Gandalf knew where the Ring was. It was a really slim chance, but it was possible that Gandalf might give up the information (or so thought Saruman).
In response, Gandalf threatened him right back: “That may not prove to be one of the lighter matters.” But just as Saruman couldn’t defeat Gandalf, Gandalf couldn’t defeat Saruman (especially in the heavily-guarded Isengard). “He laughed at me, for my words were empty, and he knew it.”
And so he was locked away for three months until he was rescued by Gwaihir the Eagle. But more on that next week.
A Few Notes
I’d like to dip a bit into the earlier drafts of this section, as it’s important to see where Saruman came from, but I also need to check back in with the Fellowship (now nearing the Redhorn). We’ll see how I play that.
About the Photo
Isengard was a prison for Gandalf as well as Saruman, so here’s a the West Virginia Penn once again.
- Day 149
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 736 (282 from Rivendell)
- 58 miles to the Doors of Moria
- 185 miles to Lothlórien
- 1,043 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Marching south along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. 18th night out from Rivendell. January 10-11, 3019 TA. (map)