Impatience was Saruman’s Greatest Sin

Welcome back to Saturday. I’ve been trying to hit up a few letters on the weekend, and here’s what I’ve got for today. Since we’ve been talking about Saruman, I thought I’d look to see what Tolkien had to say about him. I didn’t find a whole lot, but there’s definitely some gems for future posts.

Today, I want to look at Letter No. 181 (from Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien), written in early 1956. By this point, the last volume, Return of the King, had been out for a few months. Michael Straight, an editor at New Republic, was curious about the use of allegory in the tale. Of course, Tolkien’s views of allegory are well known now (he hated it), but then, it was a mystery.

Tolkien began by saying: “There is no ‘allegory’, moral, political or contemporary in the work at all.” As an example, he uses Gollum, explaining that he was to him “just a ‘character’ – an imagined person – who granted the situation acted so and so under opposing strains, as it appears to be probable that he would (there is always an incalculable element in any individual real or imagined: otherwise he/she would not be an individual but a ‘type.’)”

Most of the letter is fairly dry, delving into the concept of Frodo’s failure: “Fail it would and did as far as Frodo considered alone was concerned. He ‘apostatized’ – and I have had one savage letter, crying out that he should have been executed as a traitor, not honoured.”

The letter swims for a long time in the discussion of God and the Humane aspects of Men and Elves. If that is your thing, you’ll love Letter No. 181. But that leads to a discussion of his thoughts about evil as they pertain to the wizards.

“His [Gandalf’s – but also all of the wizards] function as a ‘wizard’ is an angelos or messenger from the Valar or Rulers: to assist the rational creatures of Middle-earth to resist Sauron, a power too great for them unaided. But since, in the view of the tale & mythology, Power – when it dominates or seeks to dominate other wills and minds (except by the assent of their reason) – is evil, these ‘wizards’ were incarnated in the life-forms of Middle-earth, and so suffered the pains both of mind and body.”

Let’s take a look at this. The wizards were sent to help the Elves and Men resist Sauron. Power that seeks to dominate is evil. The wizards were flesh and could suffer.

“They were also, for the same reason, thus involved in the peril of the incarnate: the possibility of ‘fall’, of sin, if you will. The chief form this would take with them would be impatience, leading to the desire to force others to their own good ends, and so inevitably at last to mere desire to make their own wills effective by any means.”

Impatience was the greatest sin that the Istari could commit. This goes a long way to explaining why it took so ridiculously long to do anything about Sauron and the Ring (as talked about here). Patience was so important because without it, they would attempt to bend others to their will.

“To this evil Saruman succumbed. Gandalf did not. But the situation became so much the worse by the fall of Saruman, that the ‘good’ were obliged to greater effort and sacrifice. Thus Gandalf faced and suffered death; and came back or was sent back, as he says, with enhanced power.”

So without Saruman’s fall, the Ring couldn’t have been destroyed. That could go for almost every aspect of the story. Without everything fitting just right, the Ring and Sauron would be unconquered.

There’s so much more to this letter. It’s especially useful to those who try to see the Bible or Christ in everything Tolkien wrote. He certainly discusses parallel philosophies and the like, but cautions that “though one may be in this reminded of the Gospels, it is not really the same thing at all.”

A Few Notes
Incidentally, this is also the letter than confirms that Smeagol was bad even before finding the Ring: “The domination of the Ring was much too strong for the mean soul of Smeagol. But he would have never had to endure it if he had not become a mean sort of thief before it crossed his path.” Though in Smeagol’s defense, Tolkien does admit that he was “not wholly-corrupt” when he found it.

Camera: Imperial Savoy  Film: FujiChrome Provia 100D RDP (expired mid 90s)

Camera: Imperial Savoy
Film: FujiChrome Provia 100D RDP (expired mid 90s)

About the Photo
I love letters and post offices, and I wish I had more photos of them. I should start trying take more so that I can use them for the Tolkien letters posts. Hmm… Hmm…


  • Day 150
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 741 (287 from Rivendell)
  • 53 miles to the Doors of Moria
  • 180 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,038 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. Gaining in elevation 18th night out from Rivendell. January 10-11, 3019 TA. (map)

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Thank God It’s Not Christmas – Rivendell, Tolkien and Yule

The Fellowship had just left Rivendell on a date which just happened to be December 25th. Since that seems pretty late in the season, let’s find out why. What was the timeline of events when they were in Rivendell?

Frodo was rescued from the Nazgul by the flood on October 20. He was moved to Rivendell that same day – it was only an eight mile trot. Three days later, on October 23, Elrond was finally able to extract the sliver of Morgul-blade from Frodo’s wound.

In the morning on October 24th, Frodo finally awoke. Gandalf told him that he had been out for four nights and three days and that he had bore the sliver for seventeen. Now awake, he reunited with his friends as well as Bilbo. That night, Boromir arrived in Rivendell and the Council of Elrond was ready to begin.

This meeting lasted all day of the 25th. But then Tolkien almost loses track of time. “So the days slipped away” as they apparently do in Rivendell. The Hunter’s Moon waxed and then it was December 18th.

On this day, Elrond finally chose the members of the Fellowship and told Frodo that he must prepare to leave.

Then, on the evening of December 25th, the Fellowship stepped off. Since this seemed like quite a bit of unaccounted-for time, I thought I might look into it to see how this came about. Sure enough, the original idea was a bit different.

In the original draft, Tolkien had the Fellowship departing Rivendell on November 24th. He gave two reasons for changing this. First, (and somewhat incomprehensibly) “too much takes place in winter.” Secondly, “this would have additional advantage of allowing Elrond’s scouts and messengers far long time.”

At first, he just pushed it back a month to December 24th, but then changed it to the 25th so that each of the dates would be the same number of days before the ends of their respective months. When he later made it so that all months (in the Shire reckoning) had thirty days, he simply never changed it back.

This date has, of course, given rise to ridiculous speculation that Frodo = Jesus because some people think they see Jesus stuff everywhere. And to this Tolkien had two answers.

The first, given in Nomenclature of the Lord of the Rings, which was a sort of glossary he wrote and gave to translators of the book, explains that the date meant nothing at all. The Elves did not celebrate any midwinter festival, and besides, if they had, “the Yule, or its equivalent, was then the last day of the year and the first of the next year.” Yule, in the Shire reckoning was after December 30th (the last day of the month), but before January 1st. It lasted two days. The first day of Yule was the last day of the year, and the last day of Yule was the first day of the next year.

In the Spring of 1967, he gave an interviewer another answer, though it mostly just fortified the first. When asked: “How do you feel about the idea that people might identify Frodo with Christ?” Tolkien said:

“Well, you know, there’ve been saviours before; it is a very common thing. There’ve been heroes and patriots who have given up for their countries. You don’t have to be a Christian to believe that somebody has to die to save something. As a matter of fact, December 25th occurred strictly by accident, and I left it in to show that this was not a Christian myth anyhow. It was a purely unimportant date, and I thought, Well, there it is, just an accident.”

So apparently Tolkien made the mistake of not changing the date to December 24th and left it in to show that it’s not a Christian story, only to have to interpreted as meaning something Christian.

A Few Notes

  • The title of the post came from a Sparks song. See?
  • I’ve found that a huge number of people who are into Jesus are also into Tolkien (or maybe that’s the other way around). I’m not so much, but here’s a quick dipping of my toes into the baptismal font.
Camera: Ansco Color Clipper Film: Fujichrome Provia 400 (RHP) (expired 8/94)

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper
Film: Fujichrome Provia 400 (RHP) (expired 8/94)

About the Photo
I didn’t think I’d get to use any church photos on this blog (since they didn’t have churches/temples in Middle-earth)! I’m really thrilled to be able to share with you a lovely Spanish church in Montana. That’s right, Montana. Why is there an old Spanish style church in Montana? I have no idea. This looks like something from New Mexico. We actually turned around to go back to it.


  • Day 96
  • Miles today: 6
  • Miles thus far: 474
  • 446 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,304 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Book II, Chapter 3. Along the Bruinen! (map)