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"[Saruman] is great among the Wise. He is the chief of my order and the head of the Council. His knowledge is deep, but his pride has grown with it, and he takes ill any meddling. The lore of the Elven-rings, great and small, is his province. He has long studied it, seeking the lost secrets of their making (....)"
Gandalf, The Shadow of the Past

Saruman the White (Third Age c. 1000 – 3019, existed in Middle-earth for 2019 years) was the first of the order of Wizards (or Istari) who came to Middle-earth as Emissaries of the Valar in the Third Age. He was the leader of the White Council. In Sindarin his name was Curunír, which meant "Man of Skill".




In Valinor, a council was called by Manwë. This was likely in the middle of the Second Age, shortly after the creation of the Rings of Power. It was decided to send five emissaries to Middle Earth. These should be "mighty, peers of Sauron, yet forgo might, and clothe themselves in flesh" — Istari, or Wizards.

One of those who went was Curumo (later in Sindarin Curunír, or in Westron Saruman), a powerful Maia of Aulë (just as Sauron was). Maiar were angelic creatures of the same people as the Valar, only of lower order. Together, they were the Ainur, and existed before the Arda, the world, was created.

Saruman was one of those who volunteered, whereas the last one, Olórin, (later Gandalf) was commanded by Manwë to go. Saruman's jealousy of Gandalf began even here, when Varda said of Gandalf, who went as the third Istar that he was "not the third". Saruman was charged to take Radagast with him, which he did not wish to do and which led to contempt for the latter Wizard.

Arrival in Middle-earth

According to most tales, Saruman arrived alone in a ship at Mithlond (the Grey Havens) in the west of Eriador around the year 1000 of the Third Age, and only Círdan knew his identity and his origin. There are two short stories known that tell a bit different story. The first tells that Curumo (Saruman) took Aiwendil (Radagast) because Yavanna begged him, and the second states: "Curumo was obliged to take Aiwendil to please Yavanna wife of Aulë," (Unfinished Tales, Part Four, II: The Istari).

He went into the East of Middle-earth, as did the two Blue Wizards. After one and a half millennia he returned to the West, just as Sauron's power was growing again in Dol Guldur.

When the White Council was formed around the year 2463 of the Third Age, Saruman was appointed its leader. Even then, he had begun to sense the resurgence of Sauron and to envy and desire his power, and especially his One Ring. Coincidentally, in that same year the One Ring was found by the creature Gollum, drawing the Dark Lord closer to the conflict that would eventually prove Saruman's undoing.

Chief of the White Council

In T.A. 2759, Beren, Steward of Gondor, granted Saruman permission to make the Tower of Orthanc in the ring of Isengard his abode. There he became important in the defence of the free lands of the West. In Orthanc he came upon a palantír, one of the seven seeing stones, but kept it secret and hidden, particularly from the White Council. He would later betray the Council by concealing his use of it.

In T.A. 2850 Gandalf entered Dol Guldur and confirmed that the evil presence there was indeed Sauron returned. By Saruman's advice, the White Council decided against attacking Dol Guldur. At this council-meeting Gandalf (for the first time) revealed that he suspected that Saruman desired to possess the One Ring.

Saruman's real strategy behind forestalling the Council's attempt at Dol Guldur focused on permitting Sauron to continue building up his strength, so that the One Ring would reveal itself. At that point Saruman hoped to have sufficient strength to seize it first himself. He soon found that Sauron had more knowledge of the possible location of the One Ring than he expected, and in 2941 TA he finally consented to an attack against Sauron at Dol Guldur (at which point Sauron retreats to Mordor and the Battle of Five Armies takes place).

Either at this time or shortly before Saruman's studies of ring-lore paid off, and he seems to have emulated part of the skill of the Noldor of Eregion and created his own Ring. He probably used this to enhance his skills, and became an even greater enchanter with the power of his voice. It however seems unlikely that his Ring was as powerful as one of the Three Rings of the Elves, let alone the One Ring.

Sauron abandoned Dol Guldur, arose again, and took up his reign in Mordor, declaring himself openly. In Mordor, he established contact with Saruman through the palantír captured from Minas Ithil (later Minas Morgul). Through his jealousy towards Gandalf and his ever-growing pride and arrogance, and through the use of the palantír, wrestling in thought with the Enemy, Saruman became a servant of Sauron's will (although unintentionally, as his hopes were to gain the One Ring for himself).

War of the Ring

At about this time, in an attempt to control Rohan, Saruman bought the allegiance of King Théoden's chief advisor, Gríma Wormtongue, who then counselled the ailing king to do nothing about the steady resurgence of Sauron's armies. Saruman and Wormtongue's treachery would have crippled Rohan's military might, had not Gandalf interfered a year later and revealed to Théoden his right-hand man's true designs, healing the old king and revitalizing his political and military rule.

Saruman did not reveal his true intentions until Gandalf presented him with the discovery and location of the One Ring. He then revealed his contact with Sauron and belief that they must join the Dark Lord or fail. Saruman then stood forth as Saruman of Many Colours, and when Gandalf refused to join with him, he held him captive in Isengard. Gandalf later escaped, and so Saruman's treachery became known to the rest of the White Council when Gandalf reported it during the subsequent Council of Elrond.

Saruman soon also betrayed his new master Sauron by lying to the Witch-king when he arrived at Isengard. Sauron had sent the Nazgûl searching for Baggins, who had found the One Ring years before, and the Shire, his home. Saruman pretended to know nothing about the Shire, but the Nazgûl later captured one of his Shire spies. Caught now between both sides as a known traitor to both, Saruman put all efforts into obtaining the One Ring for himself.

Saruman implemented a strategy of attacking Rohan, endeavouring to kill the King's son Théodred, sending spies to waylay Frodo Baggins on his flight from the Shire, and dispatching raiding parties on likely routes a company of the Ring might take to Gondor. Ironically, one of these parties captured Peregrin Took and Meriadoc Brandybuck and transported them to Fangorn Forest in time to mobilize the Ents. Gandalf also suspected Saruman had found (and destroyed) the remains of Isildur, who had worn the Ring before it had been lost.

Saruman's Shire network failed to capture Frodo Baggins, Gandalf rallied Rohan to victory, Éomer stopped his only partially successful raiding party, and control of Isengard was lost to the Ents. Aware he was utterly defeated, Saruman briefly considered repenting for his deeds, but at the last moment could not go through with it. He must have still had some hope he could somehow escape, and even that infinitely small chance was better than his certain humiliation at the hands of those he had tried to destroy. Saruman still made a final attempt to woo Théoden and Gandalf to his cause but failed: his staff was broken and he was dismissed from the order of the Istari.

It must have been during Gandalf's captivity in Orthanc that Saruman began to build his army of Orcs, Dunlendings, and Uruk-hai, since Gandalf came to an as yet undestroyed Isengard. One can speculate that if matters had developed a little more slowly, his puppet Wormtongue would have gained full control over Rohan, and the Rohirrim would have been enslaved or destroyed.

Saruman's plans likely failed because he, like Sauron, was forced to reveal his hand early by Gandalf's subsequent escape, and therefore he had little time to perfect his plans. As Saruman considered himself "unfallen", he honestly believed he had a chance of converting Gandalf to his side, and felt honestly betrayed by Gandalf when he was refused. The failure to capture the Ring at Emyn Arnen further ruined Saruman's plans, as he was revealed as a traitor to Mordor now as well.

Left out of the final stages of the War of the Ring, he eventually managed to convince his captors, the Ents, into letting him leave Isengard, proving that the magic of his voice still remained. He then went to the Shire, which his agent Lotho Sackville-Baggins (undisturbed by events elsewhere) had brought under control. Spending his final days as a small-time thug lord in Hobbiton known as Sharkey, he was eventually betrayed and killed by his own servant Wormtongue on November 3, T.A. 3019, when even this operation fell apart after Frodo and Samwise Gamgee returned.

Saruman, as a Maia, did not truly die, but his spirit lost its shape (much like Sauron's after the Downfall of Númenor and after his defeat by the Last Alliance). As a discorporated spirit, he should have been called to Mandos, but the tale implies that he was barred from returning. We may speculate that his spirit was left naked, powerless and wandering in Middle-earth (perhaps like Sauron's after the One Ring was destroyed).


In appearance, Saruman was as an old man with black hair. At the end of the Third Age, his hair and beard had turned mostly white — he had only black hairs about his lips and ears. He was tall, his face was long, and his eyes were deep and dark. He would appear in a white cloak, a habit he later changed into a cloak that changed colours as he moved.

He was not actually a Man, or even an Elf (as Men often suspected), but a Maia clothed in flesh — an Istar ((see Origins below). As such, he was immortal and extremely powerful, yet had limits on how far these powers could be used. His two most salient powers were his knowledge and his voice.

The name given to him by Men, Saruman, is in the Language of Rohan. In Tolkien's works, the English language is used to represent the Westron, the common speech of Middle-earth, while its ancestor, Anglo-Saxon, represents the Language of Rohan. In this case, Tolkien used the Anglo-Saxon root word searu which means "skill" or "cunning". As a scholar, Tolkien would also have been well aware of the name of a similarly-named historic 'head of his order', Jaruman. The real Westron version of his name remains unknown.

His name among the Elves was Curunír and was often followed by 'Lân (or Glân, unlenited), which translates as his epithet, "The White". In Valinor, his name was Curumo, which is the original Quenya version of the name. As Sindarin did not have the male suffix -mo, it was replaced with -ndir, which in turn did not exist in Quenya.


Knowledge of the "deep arts" (or magic, such as it is in Middle-earth) was of particular interest to Saruman, especially when relating to power—such as the Rings of Power and the far seeing palantíri. He was also deeply learned in ancient lore regarding powerful kingdoms such as Númenor, Gondor, and Moria.

His voice and speech were extremely convincing, more powerful than mere rhetoric. When he focused this power on a person or a group of people, he could sway their hearts, plant fears and sow lies as he pleased. According to the stature of the listener, this spell could last as long as the speech did, or it could take root in them and last forever.

Other powers include knowledge of machinery and chemistry, probably separable from explicit magic (for instance, the "blasting fire" employed by his Uruk-hai army in the battle of Helm's Deep, was probably some kind of explosive). Machinery and engines characterized both his fortified Isengard and his altered Shire. In this, he probably sought to emulate Sauron.

His science also extended to biological areas. He is believed to have crossbred Men and Orcs, creating a new race of Orcs unafraid of daylight, the Uruk-hai. His human spies in Bree were said to have Orc blood. He also employed birds in his service, although this might also be attributed to Radagast the Brown, ordering them to report to Orthanc, Saruman's stronghold.

Being regarded as more powerful than Gandalf (at least before Gandalf's "rebirth"), it's fair to assume he would also wield explicit magic similar to Gandalf, such as artificial light, locking spells, creating fire, etc.


Saruman resembled Gandalf not only in appearance, but originally also somewhat in character, but unlike Gandalf, Saruman was proud. He saw himself as the most powerful of the Istari, expressing clear contempt for Radagast the Brown. Saruman was no fool (though he saw Ragadast as one); he realized Gandalf's power, and eventually came to see him as an equal, and later as a superior, much to his distress. He became jealous of Gandalf, eventually convincing himself that Gandalf was scheming against him, which justified his own scheming against Gandalf and the rest of the White Council.

Saruman likely was true to his mission in the beginning, and actually believed in working to stop Sauron, but his pride and later arrogance (as well as his jealousy towards the Grey Wanderer) turned him into a traitor to the cause he had once served. Saruman's betrayal was not sudden, but slowly grew over time, until at last he had convinced himself that he could not have taken any other path, and that it was too late now to repent. This false belief kept him from taking his last chance at redemption, and because he must have realized this he only became more bitter, blaming Gandalf more than anyone else for his own downfall. In fact he only had himself to blame, but he refused to believe this.



Tolkien writes of Saruman that "he went mostly among men". He always sought power, and in the Third Age the greatest power lay in the hands of the kingdoms of Men.

No records speak of his earliest journeys into the east of Middle-earth, but when he returned, he actually became for a while a servant of Gondor, receiving the keys to Orthanc from Beren (Steward of Gondor), as its warden.

Saruman later claimed Orthanc for his own, without any formal declaration (or real objection from a weakened Gondor). Still, he nominally remained an ally of Gondor and of Rohan. Throughout this time he also made long studies of scrolls and books in Minas Tirith.

When he turned to treachery, Saruman still employed men in his schemes, mainly from Dunland, but also selected agents from other lands (such as Wormtongue.) Saruman was a master of deceit, and could easily turn old grudges into fuel for new hatred.

The Dunlendings found employment in his armies, and it also seems probable that he used some of these men in his crossbreeding programme to create Half-Orcs. The Dunlendings were enticed with the old stories that they had once lived in the plains of Rohan before the Strawheads had come from the north, and that their leader Freca, a man with claims to the throne of Rohan, had been killed by Helm Hammerhand.

Gríma Wormtongue played a vital role in Saruman's plans: a counsellor of the ageing king Théoden, he secretly desired the king's niece, Éowyn, but she was repulsed by him and scorned his advances. It is not clear if Wormtongue approached Saruman or vice versa, but it is certain that with Saruman's council Gríma began to weaken the king, estranging him from his other councilors and even his own kin, until Gríma had in effect become the leader of Rohan.


Saruman was once on good terms with the Elves, and was voted in as the leader of the White Council, a group of Elves and Istari united against Sauron.

However, Saruman knew that Gandalf had been given the third Elvish ring Narya by Círdan the Shipwright. This nurtured his jealousy of Gandalf and his resentment towards the Elves.

The Elves also declined during the period of Saruman's activity in the west of Middle-earth. Their lands were few and secretive, and although they wielded in some senses marvellous power, they were not in the habit of projecting it in the manner Saruman found useful or interesting. Also, they succumbed less easily than other races to manipulation.

Even though his stronghold of Isengard lay very close to the Elven Kingdom of Lothlórien, Saruman had very little or no contact with it. Indeed, after his treachery and ruin, Saruman stated clearly that he had never trusted Galadriel and that he suspected her of scheming for Gandalf at his expense.

In summary, Saruman had little use for, or interest in, the Elves.


Saruman grudgingly brought with him Radagast as a companion from Valinor, at the request of Yavanna, yet still managed to arrive alone, and first. Shortly after, he went into the East with the two Blue Wizards (Alatar and Pallando), and later returned alone. The Ithryn Luin (as the Elves called them) went with Saruman into the East, and there may have wrought many great works to diminish the influence of the Enemy. Of their fate little is known.

Radagast, even though Saruman scorned him (when he tried to convert Gandalf to his cause), served Saruman very usefully (and wholly unintentionally). Not only in the sense explained to Gandalf, "he had just the wit to play the part I set him"—that of persuading Gandalf to come to Isengard, but also because Radagast, at the request of Saruman (and Gandalf), sent birds to Saruman at Orthanc and to Gandalf to report the different happenings in Middle-earth (in this way Saruman gained valuable insight and Gandalf was able to escape from the pinnacle of Orthanc). Radagast, honest and noble, true to his mission as set by Yavanna, played a very valuable role in the fight against Sauron through the use of the birds and beasts of Middle-earth (i.e. the aid of the Eagles).

Saruman had always been jealous of Gandalf, and suspected him of keeping secrets from him—not unfounded suspicions, since Gandalf did indeed keep his knowledge (or early on, suspicion) about Bilbo's Ring hidden. Gandalf also kept his own ring (the third of the Elvish rings) Narya secret.

Gandalf also suspected Saruman of plotting to gain the One Ring for himself, and hinted at this in a powerful scene at a meeting of the White Council. Gandalf blew nine small smoke rings and one great one that wavered a bit, seeming almost palpable, and yet blew away, symbolizing (almost prophetic of) Saruman's failure in achieving the One for himself.

In general, Saruman must have viewed Gandalf as his only peer, and as such to be feared and treated with (although not necessarily shown) respect. He always kept a watchful eye open for Gandalf's doings, and actually picked up the habit of smoking pipe-weed by sending out spies tailing Gandalf to the Shire.

When matters came to a head, Saruman sought to make Gandalf an ally in his plans. This was probably not just out of practical politics, but also of respect and a sense of companionship and shared destiny. And possibly out of hope, being daunted by the proposition of becoming Sauron's servant alone.

Nevertheless, Saruman exercised more power than Gandalf, even with the ring Narya, as became clear when he placed Gandalf under arrest at the pinnacle of Orthanc. The text does not make it clear whether Saruman lost power or whether Gandalf gained power, but when Gandalf returned as "Gandalf the White", he could summon Saruman at his will, forcibly keep him in his presence, and finally break Saruman's staff (with whatever implications that might have had for Saruman's powers).

Saruman several times came very close to setting aside his pride and to asking Gandalf for pity and help. The closest call came when the Ringwraiths (on their way to the Shire) arrived at Isengard while Gandalf still remained in captivity there. Saruman, realizing his predicament, actually went to seek Gandalf's pardon, only to find his erstwhile captive missing from the top of Orthanc.


Saruman probably drew his original strength of Orcs from tribes in the Misty Mountains, and perhaps from Moria Orcs. He made use of Warg-mounted Orcs of the same kind that Bilbo and the dwarves fled from after they had been captured at the High Pass near Rivendell.

He also bred Orcs in Isengard, eventually creating crossbreeds of Orcs and Men (probably Dunlendings). This programme apparently also involved feeding these Orcs Man-flesh.

His Uruk-hai army displayed great discipline and fierce loyalty, in addition to the other improvements such as height, strength, endurance and resistance to sunlight. There also appears to have been middle stages between Men and the Uruk-hai, Men with varying degrees of Orkish appearance. These were reported by Pippin and Merry to have been part of Saruman's regular army, but were not Uruk-hai, since the hobbits would have recognized these from their earlier capture.

Saruman's servants called him "Sharkey" both in Isengard and later in The Shire. This was probably an adaptation of the Black Speech word sharku which meant "old man". Saruman was not aware of this meaning (which is remarkable, since Gandalf knew this language). Perhaps he took it as a distortion of his own name by the Orcs. This indicates that the Orcs took their leader less seriously than they might have given him the impression of (similar to how the Mordor Orcs overheard by Sam and Frodo tended to disrespect their authorities).


Saruman made contact with the Ents in Fangorn Forest shortly after he settled in Isengard. The oldest of the Ents, Treebeard received him and gave him free access to the forest.

Saruman also consulted with Treebeard, learning much old lore that the Ents would have remembered from ancient times. Saruman did not return this favour, but only listened.

The Ents saw Saruman's treachery early, and became very concerned, primarily with Saruman's Orcs felling trees on the edge of Fangorn for use in the furnaces of Isengard—or sometimes for no reason at all.

The Ents also appear to have had a sense of order, how things should be, that Saruman encroached upon. The crossbreeding of Men and Orcs particularly alarmed them, out of proportion to other concerns enemies of Saruman might have had. Also alarming was the pure fact of his treachery — the Istari were supposed to have a special responsibility.

Saruman used the Ents and the Fangorn forest without concern for the consequences. He clearly misjudged the Ents' abilities and will to act. This might not have been as incautious as it seemed, since major contributing factors to the Ent's actions were advice and requests from Gandalf, and concern about the rising power of Sauron (and their wish to support the front-line troops of the war, Rohan and Gondor).

Saruman clearly had the ability to understand the minds of the Ents when he found it useful. He managed to talk Treebeard into setting him free from Orthanc by pushing just the right buttons — Ents dislike the concept of caging up any creature.


The race of Hobbits and their lands seemed too insignificant to interest Saruman: until he took notice of Gandalf's special concern for them.

His secret interest in Gandalf's doings made him focus gradually more and more on the Hobbits and The Shire. For a period he actually travelled there in secret, mapping out the lands. Gandalf was aware of this, but at this point only amused.

He began smoking pipe-weed (a habit of the Hobbits that Gandalf had picked up), also in secret. His demand for tobacco opened up trading between The Shire and Isengard, and the power his money could wield there and the corruption it could cause began to fascinate him. Some of his agents went in secret, and some were known to Gandalf and the Rangers (who accepted them, but were suspicious).

His anger towards the Hobbits may possibly stem from the attention Gandalf showed them (and not himself, or his projects). It certainly strengthened immensely when he discovered that the Hobbits (to his mind) had conspired with Gandalf to keep the One Ring from him.

This, and the sudden urgency caused by the Ringwraiths' hunt for the Ring-bearer from The Shire to Rivendell, made him increase his activity in the area, leading to a build-up of power that would by the closing of the War of the Ring lead to virtual conquest of The Shire.

He might also later have blamed the ruin of Isengard at the hands (or branches, really) of the Ents on Peregrin Took and Meriadoc Brandybuck, who clearly catalysed events.

This all came together after Sauron's fall, when Saruman escaped from the Ents and retired to The Shire and his thug regime in place there. It appears he immediately switched the focus of this operation to wanton destruction: pollution, murder, fire, chopping down trees for no reason. He may have felt this would also allow him to deal a last blow to Gandalf.

At his final utter defeat by a Hobbit uprising, his life was spared even when he tried to assassinate Frodo Baggins. At this moment he actually conceded respect to Frodo, but it was (literally) short-lived.


Saruman was supposedly eager to go to Middle-earth, against Manwë's counsel. After his 'death' he was apparently barred from returning to Valinor, and therefore was denied reincarnation and condemned to waft away and disappear like so much smoke. Sauron, in origin a Maia of Aulë like Saruman, amazed and frightened him. During the height of his arrogance Saruman thought to supplant Sauron as the Dark Lord, but in the end he found himself meddling with a spirit of far greater power than himself.


Saruman had control over many birds, probably through Radagast. These spied for him and brought him news. In addition, the Orcs Saruman took in his armies had amongst them Wargs, a sort of intelligent demon-wolf.

Portrayal in Adaptations

1955: BBC Radio's The Lord of the Rings:

The voice of Saruman is provided by Robert Farquharson.

1978: Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings:

Fraser Kerr provided the voice of Saruman. From early on in the production, it was decided that "Saruman" and "Sauron" sounded too much alike, and might confuse viewers. On concept art, Saruman is called "Ruman"[1], but prior to recording, this was changed to "Aruman". However, during recording, it was again changed, to "Saruman". Because of this late change, several instances of "Aruman" remain in the finished film.

1979: Mind's Eye's The Lord of the Rings:

The voice of Saruman is provided by James Arrington.

1981: BBC Radio's The Lord of the Rings:

Peter Howell played Saruman.Because the series follows a chronological timeline rather than the flashbacks of the books, Saruman's betrayal is brought out much sooner than in the book.

2001-3: The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy:

Saruman was played by Christopher Lee. The film did not depict Saruman's adoption of the title "Saruman of Many Colours". The film also did not include the Scouring of the Shire, but depicted Saruman being killed by Gríma Wormtongue in Isengard, after his encounter with Gandalf and Théoden. In the extended edition of The Return of the King, Gríma stabs Saruman in the back, causing him to fall on a spiked wheel below the tower of Orthanc.

See Also