Hello and welcome to July 10, 3018 of the Third Age. Today we’ll take a look at Gandalf’s arrival and imprisonment at Isengard by Saruman. In the story, all of this is told to us by Gandalf at the Council of Elrond. Granted, we don’t get Saruman’s side of things, but I think it’s a safe bet to trust Gandalf on this one.
White and Grey and Brown
For the past two posts, we’ve looked at Saruman’s jealousy and bitterness toward Gandalf. Our grey wizard was clearly onto this, and even made light of it here and there. He must have thought it was only a bit of rivalry.
Saruman’s offer to “help” Gandalf, as delivered by Radagast, filled Gandalf with “hope.”
But immediately after arriving at Isengard, he suspected something was up. In the first exchange, he asked for aid, and referred to Saruman as “Saruman the White.” This title, Gandalf thought, “seemed to anger him.” And in almost retaliation, Saruman over-stressed the “grey” in “Gandalf the Grey.” He even mocked him a bit for seeking aid.
“I looked at him and wondered,” Gandalf later explained to the Council. He had gone from uneasy to suspicious. Gandalf told Saruman that the Nazgûl had come forth again and even crossed the Anduin. Rather than addressing that, Saruman pitched into Radagast, even revealing that the Brown wizard played an unwitting roll in bringing Gandalf to Isengard.
Saruman’s Plan: Knowledge, Rule, Order
It’s easy to gloss over everything Saruman says and just get to the gist of it. Saruman wanted the One Ring for himself and Gandalf was standing in his way, so he was just going to imprison him.
But that also leaves out Saruman’s stated plan. After a bit of boasting about white cloth, etc., Saruman “drew himself up and began to declaim, as if he were making a speech long rehearsed.”
Saruman had been waiting for this day, probably for centuries, when he could confront Gandalf.
It was well known that the days of the Elves were drawing to a close, and that Men (that is, humans) were about to control Middle-earth. Saruman was insistent that the Wizards must have “power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see.”
Saruman agreed that Sauron was rising, but insisted that neither the Elves nor Men could stop him. He agreed that Sauron must be taken down, but it would be best to take him down 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; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends. There need not be, there would not be, any real change in our designs, only in our means.”
Saruman stated that the whole reason the Wizards came to Middle-earth in the first place was to provide knowledge, rule and order. But this wasn’t true at all.
In Unfinished Tales we learn that the Istari were “to advise and persuade Men and Elves to good, and to seek to unite in love and understanding all those whom Sauron, should he come again, would endeavour to dominate and corrupt.”
From this passage, it’s not even clear that Sauron was to be defeated. The Istari were sent to guide Men and Elves away from his influence. This was not lost on Gandalf.
After calling Saruman out on this, the formerly-White wizard got to the crux of the matter. He explained that the whole reason he brought Gandalf to Isengard was because he thought he had intimate knowledge of the Ruling Ring. “If we could command that, then the Power would pass to us.”
Gandalf’s Refusal and Sentence
Gandalf was clear on this. The One Ring could only be held by a single individual. Saruman clearly knew this as well, so it was incredibly obvious that he was trying to do away with Gandalf.
Saruman knew too much of Gandalf’s movements and of the Ring for Gandalf to deny knowledge of it. “Why to the Nine ask for the Shire, and what is your business there?” Gandalf couldn’t wriggle his way out of this, so he called out Saruman for what he was. All cards were on the table now.
Gandalf refused to serve both Sauron and Saruman, and had no clear idea what his fate would be. But Saruman had decided that Gandalf would remain a guest of Isengard “until the end.”
It’s interesting that Saruman wasn’t going to kill Gandalf – at least not personally. Of course, this could be because he wanted knowledge of the One Ring. He wanted to somehow persuade Gandalf to spill it. But if the Ring could be found without Gandalf’s help, Saruman wanted to let Gandalf’s fate up to Sauron.
Saruman would hand Gandalf over to Sauron, for when “the Ruler has time to turn to lighter matters: to devise, say, a fitting reward for the hindrance and insolence of Gandalf the Grey.”
Gandalf countered: “That may not prove to be one of the lighter matters.”
“He laughed at me,” Gandalf later told the Council, “for my words were empty and he knew it.”
Gandalf was a prisoner, and was taken to the pinnacle of Orthanc, “in the place where Saruman was accustomed to watch the stars.”
The Desolation of Saruman
When he reached the top, Gandalf looked down into the lands around Isengard.
“I looked on it and saw that, whereas it had once been green and fair, it was now filled with pits and forges. Wolves and orcs were housed in Isengard, for Saruman was mustering a great force on his own account, in rivalry of Sauron and not in his service, yet.”
This must have been terrifying. At this point, Gandalf knew that Sauron had an army and that there was a great defeat to the east. Though he didn’t know the specifics, Osgiliath had fallen. He had no idea until that moment that Saruman was also growing an army. Could the Elves and Men battle both Saruman and Sauron? And what if they combined forces?
This was a definitely possibility. Gandalf now understood that Saruman was absolutely prideful enough to believe that he could fool Sauron into a partnership. But he also understood that Sauron would ultimately defeat Saruman – though that hardly mattered. Whichever obtained the One Ring would rule and destroy Middle-earth.
Saruman the Ringmaker
There’s one more thing I’d like to touch on. When Gandalf first meets Saruman, he noticed that “He wore a ring on his finger.” Is there more to this throw-away line?
A little later, Saruman refers to himself as “Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!”
Ring-maker? Tolkien never made anything more of this. Hammond & Scull in their Reader’s Companion suggest that “it seems clear that Saruman’s study of the Elven-rings had led him to try to make rings of power himself.”
This idea was (sort of) addressed by Tolkien in the “Forward to the Second Edition.” In addressing the idea that the Lord of the Rings was an allegory for World War II, Tolkien countered that:
“If it had inspired [by WW2] then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron…. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth.”
Perhaps Tolkien toyed with this idea, even subconsciously, before abandoning, and these two shards are all of it that remain.
In the first full draft of the Gandalf and Saruman story (which was in the fourth draft of the Council of Elrond), the same line appears: “Saruman was there but he had changed. He wore a ring on his finger.”
However, the second reference – “I am Saruman the Ringmaker” – was not yet a part of the tale. He boasted that he was “Saruman the Wise, Saruman of Many Colours,” but not “Saruman the Ringmaker.” That likely came in the next draft, or even the final draft. Either is curious since it seems to have been added without any backstory at all.
In about a week, we’ll check in on the Nazgûl and their progress. But be warned, most of July and nearly all of August will be sparse. There’s not much going on in this story then.