Saramond the Grey… No, White! No! What? – The Early Years

While the Fellowship makes it way through a montage around the mountain Caradhras (as we talked about yesterday), let’s head back to Isengard and take a look at Tolkien’s early drafts of Saruman. Where did this wizard come from?

Not surprisingly, since he wasn’t mentioned in The Hobbit, Saruman was invented by Tolkien in late 1939 – two years after he starting writing Lord of the Rings. Saruman first came about, like so many of his new characters did, as a concept which would need to be filled by a specific person.

While writing revisions of the Ancient History chapter, he mentioned the White Council, which met some time after Bilbo took the Ring. Gandalf admitted to Frodo that some rings “are no more than toys (though dangerous ones to my mind), and not difficult to contrive if you go in for such things – they are not in my line.”

So if they weren’t in Gandalf’s line, and there were apparently wizards who did “go in for such things,” this left a neat little space into which Saruman could step. But Tolkien would not come back to this almost-idea until the late summer of 1940.

It was then that he rewrote the story of Gandalf’s delay. In this version, Gandalf was accompanied by a hobbit named Hamilcar, who was sort of a proto-Fatty Bolger. It was he who was captured at Crickhollow and taken by the Black Riders only to be mysteriously rescued by Gandalf later.

Into this, Tolkien injected a new wizard. On August 26 and 27th, 1940, he quickly outlined a new plot, not only tracing the movements of the nine Black Riders, but inventing Saruman – or, as he was called then, Saramond.

“The wizard Saramond the White or Grey Saramond sends out a message that there is important news: Trotter [proto-Strider] hears that Black Riders are out and moving toward the Shire (for which they are asking).”

Much like in the published version, Gandalf “wants the help of Saramund. So he goes to him where he lived on the borders of Rohan at Angrobel (or Irongarth).”

The notes continue, tracing the story of this new wizard:
“Saramund betrays him – having fallen and gone over to Sauron: (either) he tells Gandalf false news of the Black Riders, and they pursue him to the top of a mountain; there he is left standing along with a guard (wolves, orcs, etc. all about) while they ride off with mocking laugh; (or else) he is handed over to a giant Fangorn (Treebeard) who imprisons him?”

And so almost immediately, the character of Saruman was treacherous. Such a person can really move a story along, connecting good with evil and making it much easier to explain how Gandalf could be delayed for so long.

Having nearly worked out Saruman’s place, Tolkien began to rewrite the Council of Elrond chapter into which he slid this new telling. Between the fourth and fifth drafts of this chapter, Tolkien wrote out “Gandalf’s Tale,” which described in detail why and how the grey wizard was detained.

This text is very close to what was eventually published. But there are some interesting differences. Let’s take a look.

In the published version, the gate to Isengard was “strongly guarded,” but in this version, it was not, though it still closed behind Gandalf, causing “a sudden fear” to come over him.

In the early version, Gandalf immediately can tell this wasn’t the same Saruman: “Saruman was there but he had changed.”

Saruman, in this draft, gave Gandalf a choice, but it was only to join with him and Sauron. Gandalf said: “Name your choice! It is this, is it not? To submit as you have to Sauron, or what?” To this, Sauron replied that Gandalf could either join with Sauron or stay in Isengard “till the Lord has time to consider what fate for you would give him the most pleasure.”

In the published version, Saruman is openly not allied with Sauron. But in this early draft, Saruman was basically Sauron’s lieutenant.

The published version has Saruman raising an army of wolves and orcs “on his own account, in rivalry of Sauron and not in his service, yet.” But in the draft, Saruman was “mustering a great force for the service of his new master.”

In the fifth draft of the Council of Elrond, Tolkien added this new story, changing bits as he went. Much of it is the same, but Saruman’s telling of Gandalf’s fate is changed. When Gandalf asks how long he would be imprisoned in Orthanc, Saruman replies: “Till the Power is complete, and the Lord has time to turn to lighter matters: such as the pleasure of devising a fitting end of Gandalf the Grey.”

It’s similar to the published version, but notice that Saruman didn’t yet suspect that Gandalf knew the Ring’s location. He wasn’t keeping Gandalf locked up until he confessed, but was keeping him until Sauron could deal with him.

Gandalf’s reply is also similar, though with a much more interesting connotation: “‘There is a chance that I may not prove one of the light matters,’ said I. I am not given to idle boasting; but I came near it then.”

So was Gandalf more powerful in the early drafts or was Sauron less powerful? Either way, Gandalf seems pretty certain that he could take the Dark Lord. Unlike in the published version, where he admitted “my words were empty,” he was here merely almost boasting.

In an aside that didn’t make the published text, Gandalf continues: “I don’t suppose my fate would have been much different if I had welcomed his [Saruman’s] advance; but I have no doubt that Saruman will prove a faithless ally; and less doubt that the Dark Lord knows it, well.”

And with that, talk in all versions turns to Frodo’s dream of Gandalf in the tower and what they must do with the Ring. We’ll come back to that soon enough.

A Few Notes

  • Because of Tolkien’s incredibly horrible handwriting, Saruman’s name was typed out as “Samman” because his wife (or possibly a secretary), who was making the typescript, couldn’t tell the difference between Tolkien’s “ru” and his letter “m”.
  • I love how Saruman isn’t given even a little backstory. He was a good wizard and now he’s not – end of story. But I also love how that wasn’t enough for Tolkien and he had to (eventually) go back and tell it. I hope to be able to get to that before too long. There’s quite a bit of fun there.
Camera: Mamiya C3 Film: FujiChrome Provia 100D RDP(expired mid 90s) (xpro)

Camera: Mamiya C3
Film: FujiChrome Provia 100D RDP(expired mid 90s) (xpro)

About the Photo
Saruman and his tower, right? Sure! Dang, I really need more tower photos…

  • Day 153
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 756 (302 from Rivendell)
  • 38 miles to the Doors of Moria
  • 135 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,023 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Moving south along the foothills of Caradhras. 20th day out of Rivendell. January 12, 3019 TA. (map)


10 thoughts on “Saramond the Grey… No, White! No! What? – The Early Years

  1. I really like that JRR went back and made Gandalf more fallible, more potentially defeatable. Makes his ultimate victory that much more exciting.

  2. Wow! If Saruman’s name was misspelled due to Tolkien’s handwriting… that definitely makes me feel better. 😛 But then, typewriters and computers were invented for us with poor handwriting. 😛
    Actually, the Saruman in that photo looks more like Vladmir Lennin to me. X-P

      • X-P Sauruman reminds us of Lenin. This is hilarious.
        I should totally post my Lego LotR pictures… I did one that was “Two Wizards on a Merry-Go-Round.” Basically, the Orthanc Palantir room set has a sort of merry-go-round incorporated so you can spin Gandalf like in the movie… It’s more fun to have the two Wizards be standing on it and screaming “WHEEE!” at the top of their lungs. Immature, I know, but also hilarious. ;-P

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