Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


TTT: Bk 3, Ch 10

The Voice Of Saruman
"'Behold, I am not Gandalf the Grey, whom you betrayed. I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death.'"
Up until this point, the reader has yet to be introduced to one of the most important antagonists in the entire story, Saruman the White. Oh sure, we had a taste of him in a flashback courtesy of his Istari brethren, Gandalf. But Saruman has always been a force of evil off in the background. One of the biggest changes that Peter Jackson made in his film version was to greatly expand his screen time. Perhaps this was necessary cinematically because we never really see Sauron at all, other than as a disembodied eye. When Jackson cast the part, he knew he wanted Christopher Lee. Now Lee has been a huge Tolkien fan for decades and he has even had the pleasure of meeting Professor Tolkien. In fact, Christopher Lee is such a fan of The Lord of the Rings that he reads it every year. Now, if you consider that he is currently in his eighties, that's a lot of times reading these books.

When Lee got the call, he was at first disappointed that he was not offered the role of Gandalf, but he graciously accepted the part of Saruman. Clearly, his talents are best used for the "bad guy". And for the most important characteristic of Saruman in the novels, his voice, Lee's deep baritone was perfect in bringing the character to life on screen. I'm also pleased that such notable directors as Jackson, George Lucas and Tim Burton have been able to introduce this icon to a whole new generation of moviegoers. I can remember watching Christopher Lee in the old Hammer "Dracula" horror films on television as a kid. And, honestly, just as Sir Ian McKellan was the perfect Gandalf, Lee was the perfect Saruman.

The context of this chapter, regrettably, did not make the theatrical cut of Peter Jackson's Return of the King. But thankfully, it has been put back into the Extended Edition. It is not only presented in a much shorter form than it is in the book, Jackson also was able to bring some closure to Saruman's part in the story by moving his demise from "The Scouring of the Shire" to this point. In the book, the three hunters and the two hobbits join Gandalf, Theoden and Eomer on the doorstep of Orthanc. Gandalf had asked Treebeard to make sure that Saruman was confined but unharmed. He needed whatever information he could extract from him to prepare for the war against Sauron. They were wary. For Gandalf understood that "a wild beast cornered is not a safe approach."

Gandalf calls for Saruman to come forth. At first Wormtongue opens the window and acts as the wizard's receptionist. But the host demands that Saruman show himself. Suddenly they hear a voice. A voice so pleasing to the ear that to listen to it is a delight. This was the remaining power of Saruman, to influence the perceptions of his audience. He speaks as someone wrongly put-upon, as a victim of sorts.
"They looked up, astonished, for they had heard no sound of his coming; and they saw a figure standing at the rail, looking down upon them: an old man, swathed in a great cloak, the colour of which was not easy to tell, for it changed if they moved their eyes or if he stirred. His face was long, with a high forehead, he had deep darkling eyes, hard to fathom, though the look that they now bore was grave and benevolent, and a little weary. His hair and beard were white, but strands of black still showed about his lips and ears."
His first appeal was to Theoden, his old ally. Saruman spins a temptation of counsel and peace. Eomer reminds his uncle of the wrongs and treachery that the wizard has done against his people, even the death of his son. Here we have a real gut-check moment. I have no doubt that Tolkien reflected on the appeasement that Europe lavished upon Hitler when he considered Theoden's response. What Saruman offered was "peace in our time" that would require the people of Rohan to overlook the past. The King could easily have resorted to appeasement, a la Neville Chamberlain. After all, Saruman seemed no longer to be a threat, being locked up in the tower. The easy choice was to accept his offerings. But very often the easy thing to do is not the right thing. Theoden sees Saruman for what he really is, evil and not to be trusted.

Theoden says "We will have peace" to the delight of many of his men. But he continues, "When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows. I will have peace with you and Orthanc." Needless to say, Saruman is caught off guard by this insolence and his true nature is briefly revealed. He hisses insults to Theoden before he regains his composure. Next he tries to work on Gandalf. He appeals to their kinship as Istari. He even restates his original offer to join together as rulers of men. Even Theoden is concerned that this offer may be too much for Gandalf. But the new white wizard laughs at Saruman. He tells him "you should have been the king's jester and earned your bread."

This, of course, enrages Saruman. When Gandalf's offer of pardon and cooperation are rejected, he asserts his dominance over him by using his powers to break Saruman's staff. As the wizard retreats back into the confines of Orthanc, Grima fires a missile down in Gandalf's direction. It is a glass ball that misses the wizard and shatters upon the steps...

Wait a minute. That's not what happens. Actually that is what originally happened in Tolkien's first draft. For at the time he had no idea what it really was that Wormtongue hurled from the tower. After careful reflection, Tolkien realized the object's importance as a plot device. He knew it should be important and that having it shatter would not do, for as Christopher Tolkien writes in The War of the Ring: "What further significance for the story could it have had if it was immediately destroyed?". In Tolkien's letter to W.H. Auden of 7 June 1955 (letter no. 163), the good professor writes:
"I knew nothing of the Palantiri, though the moment the Orthanc-stone was cast from the window, I recognized it, and knew the meaning of the 'rhyme of lore' that had been running in my mind: seven stars and seven stones and one white tree."
Tolkien had now formulated the idea of the Palantiri and their function as "seeing stones" that would be used as a mode of communication between Saruman, Sauron and - ultimately - Denethor. Now these three stones each had their place, in Isengard, Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith. Of course, he would have to account for another four in order to total "seven stones". So in the next chapter we shall see that he came up with the idea of having one at Osgiliath and three others at various location in Arnor. All four of these stones were lost somehow or another and it was accepted the other three were not accurately accounted for. So as we all know, in the final version the glass ball stays intact but only Gandalf suspects its significance

Wormtongue pays for his mistake, as evidenced by a shriek coming from the tower. This is no doubt that this is Saruman taking out his wrath on poor Grima. But I wonder. Did Grima knowingly throw away his master's device for communication with Sauron to escape any further unpleasantness? Tolkien doesn't really address this. But my guess is that if Wormtongue spent any meaningful amount of time with Saruman that he would have known the significance of this stone. Perhaps he tossed it to free Saruman of his addiction to it. We can only speculate. Anyway, despite Pippin's' zealous retrieval of the stone, Gandalf makes sure that it is safe in his own possession.

But the lure of the Palantir will prove too much for the curious hobbit, as we will see in the next chapter.

[Chronology: March 5th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Palantir

(revised 9/22/06)


At 10:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a long way to go. I first read the trilogy when I was 18, finished it, immediately turned back to the first page , started again and then repeated the process, 3x thru w/o stopping. I have read it every year since, and I will be 55 in a couple of months.I always felt like such a geek. It's nice to know that some one else has done the same thing and more.
Terry LaForest Lynch


Post a Comment

<< Home