Saruman to Éomer: “To every man his part. Valour in arms is yours, and you win high honour thereby. Slay whom your lord names as enemies, and be content. Meddle not in policies which you do not understand.” –“The Voice of Saruman,” Two Towers
Saruman the Gollum, part 3
In a previous post I compared in passing Saruman’s mimetic rivalry with Radagast (and Gandalf) to Satan’s encounter with the angel Zephon in book four of Milton’s Paradise Lost. The passage, however, is too good not to republish in full here, as Zephon’s humble yet righteous put-down of Satan has got to be one of the best in the history of western literature. Apropos my comparison of Saruman to Gollum, it might also be worth noting that, in the following scene, Satan has just been caught, in the form of a toad, whispering into the ear of the sleeping Eve. (And Saruman, we may recall, will corrupt Theoden in the form, not of a toad exactly, but of a “Wormtongue,” whispering, as Gandalf later puts it, “poison … for Théoden’s ears.”) Even after he has been forcibly transformed back into his normal form, there is a great deal of irony and, I would submit, humor in Zephon’s continued difficulty in recognizing who Satan is.
Know ye not then said SATAN, filld with scorn,
Know ye not me? ye knew me once no mate
For you, there sitting where ye durst not soare;
Not to know mee argues your selves unknown,
The lowest of your throng; or if ye know,
Why ask ye, and superfluous begin
Your message, like to end as much in vain?
To whom thus ZEPHON, answering scorn with scorn.
Think not, revolted Spirit, thy shape the same,
Or undiminisht brightness, to be known
As when thou stoodst in Heav’n upright and pure;
That Glorie then, when thou no more wast good,
Departed from thee, and thou resembl’st now
Thy sin and place of doom obscure and foule.
But come, for thou, be sure, shalt give account
To him who sent us, whose charge is to keep
This place inviolable, and these from harm.
So spake the Cherube, and his grave rebuke
Severe in youthful beautie, added grace
Invincible: abasht the Devil stood,
And felt how awful goodness is, and saw
Vertue in her shape how lovly, saw, and pin’d
His loss; but chiefly to find here observd
His lustre visibly impar’d; yet seemd
Undaunted. If I must contend, said he,
Best with the best, the Sender not the sent,
Or all at once; more glorie will be wonn,
Or less be lost. Thy fear, said ZEPHON bold,
Will save us trial what the least can doe
Single against thee wicked, and thence weak.
I won’t develop these at any length, but the above scene calls to mind a number of related passages from Tolkien. The linking elements throughout the following episodes are (1) an encounter or conflict between a hierarchically lower yet more virtuous being and a higher yet morally compromised being, (2) the rebuke of some formally great being and the latter’s resentful shame, (3) some commentary on the futility and self-dehumanization of the formally great being’s rebellion, or (4) some combination of the above. Without suggesting that Tolkien’s politics were those of Milton, so far as Paradise Lost itself is concerned, the following passages harmonize with Milton’s observations into the ultimately and tragically pathetic destiny of rebellion (however heroic, proud, and noble may be its beginnings) and, in contrast with it, the humble “awfulness” of an obedient goodness.
1. Iluvatar’s rebuke and Melkor’s humiliation after the contest of the Music in the Ainulindale:
Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’
Then the Ainur were afraid, and they did not yet comprehend the words that were said to them; and Melkor was filled with shame, of which came secret anger.
2. Fëanor’s humiliating and contemptuous dismissal of Morgoth from Formenos:
he came to Formenos, and spoke with Fëanor before his doors. Friendship he feigned with cunning argument, urging him to his former thought of flight from the trammels of the Valar… Fëanor looked upon Melkor with eyes that burned through his fair semblance and pierced the cloaks of his mind, perceiving there his fierce lust for the Silmarils. Then hate overcame Fëanor’s fear, and he cursed Melkor and bade him be gone, saying: ‘Get thee gone from my gate, thou jail-crow of Mandos!’ And he shut the doors of his house in the face of the mightiest of all the dwellers in Eä.
Then Melkor departed in shame, for he was himself in peril, and he saw not his time yet for revenge; but his heart was black with anger. (Silmarillion, “Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor”)
3. Merry and Aragorn’s discussion of Saruman’s former greatness in comparison to his later degradation:
‘They [the Ents] pushed, pulled, tore, shook, and hammered; and clang-bang, crash-crack, in five minutes they had these huge gates just lying in ruin; and some were already beginning to eat into the walls, like rabbits in a sand-pit. I don’t know what Saruman thought was happening; but anyway he did not know how to deal with it. His wizardry may have been falling off lately, of course; but anyway I think he has not much grit, not much plain courage alone in a tight place without a lot of slaves and machines and things, if you know what I mean. Very different from old Gandalf. I wonder if his fame was not all along mainly due to his cleverness in settling at Isengard.’
‘No,’ said Aragorn. ‘Once he was as great as his fame made him. His knowledge was deep, his thought was subtle, and his hands marvellously skilled; and he had a power over the minds of others. The wise he could persuade, and the smaller folk he could daunt. That power he certainly still keeps. There are not many in Middle-earth that I should say were safe, if they were left alone to talk with him, even now when he has suffered a defeat. Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel, perhaps, now that his wickedness has been laid bare, but very few others.’ (The Two Towers, “Flotsam and Jetsam”)
4. Saruman’s attempt to parley with Theoden, Theoden’s remonstration, and Saruman’s response:
‘I say, Theoden King: shall we have peace and friendship, you and I? It is ours to command.’
‘We will have peace,’ said Theoden at last thickly and with an effort…. Yes, we will have peace,’ he said, now in a clear voice, ‘we will have peace, when you and all your works have perished – and the works of your dark master to whom you would deliver us. You are a liar, Saruman, and a corrupter of men’s hearts. You hold out your hand to me, and I perceive only a finger of the claw of Mordor. Cruel and cold! Even if your war on me was just as it was not, for were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired – even so, what will you say of your torches in Westfold and the children that lie dead there? And they hewed Hama’s body before the gates of the Hornburg, after he was dead. When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace with you and Orthanc. So much for the House of Eorl. A lesser son of great sires am I, but I do not need to lick your fingers. Turn elsewhither. But I fear your voice has lost its charm.’
The Riders gazed up at Theoden like men startled out of a dream. Harsh as an old raven’s their master’s voice sounded in their ears after the music of Saruman. But Saruman for a while was beside himself with wrath. He leaned over the rail as if he would smite the King with his staff. To some suddenly it seemed that they saw a snake coiling itself to strike.
‘Gibbets and crows!’ he hissed, and they shuddered at the hideous change. ‘Dotard! What is the house of Eorl but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek, and their brats roll on the floor among the dogs? Too long have they escaped the gibbet themselves. But the noose comes, slow in the drawing, tight and hard in the end. Hang if you will!’ Now his voice changed, as he slowly mastered himself. ‘I know not why I have had the patience to speak to you. For I need you not, nor your little band of gallopers, as swift to fly as to advance, Theoden Horsemaster. Long ago I offered you a state beyond your merit and your wit. I have offered it again, so that those whom you mislead may clearly see the choice of roads. You give me brag and abuse. So be it. Go back to your huts!
5. Saruman’s attempt to parley with Gandalf, and Gandalf’s mockery and control over Saruman (note once again Saruman’s Gollum-speak–“so condescending, and so very kind”–as well as Gandalf’s description of Saruman’s Gollum-like condition–“But you choose to stay and gnaw the ends of your old plots”):
‘But you, Gandalf! For you at least I am grieved, feeling for your shame. How comes it that you can endure such company? For you are proud, Gandalf – and not without reason, having a noble mind and eyes that look both deep and far. Even now will you not listen to my counsel?’… Are we not both members of a high and ancient order, most excellent in Middle-earth? Our friendship would profit us both alike. Much we could still accomplish together, to heal the disorders of the world. Let us understand one another, and dismiss from thought these lesser folk! Let them wait on our decisions! For the common good I am willing to redress the past, and to receive you. Will you not consult with me? Will you not come up?’
….Then Gandalf laughed. The fantasy vanished like a puff of smoke. ‘Saruman, Saruman!’ said Gandalf still laughing. ‘Saruman, you missed your path in life. You should have been the king’s jester and earned your bread, and stripes too, by mimicking his counsellors. Ah me!’ he paused, getting the better of his mirth. ‘Understand one another? I fear I am beyond your comprehension. But you, Saruman, I understand now too well…. Nay, I do not think I will come up. But listen, Saruman, for the last time! Will you not come down? Isengard has proved less strong than your hope and fancy made it. So may other things in which you still have trust. Would it not be well to leave it for a while? To turn to new things, perhaps? Think well, Saruman! Will you not come down?’
A shadow passed over Saruman’s face; then it went deathly white. Before he could conceal it, they saw through the mask the anguish of a mind in doubt, loathing to stay and dreading to leave its refuge. For a second he hesitated, and no one breathed. Then he spoke, and his voice was shrill and cold. Pride and hate were conquering him.
‘Will I come down?’ he mocked. ‘Does an unarmed man come down to speak with robbers out of doors? I can hear you well enough here. I am no fool, and I do not trust you, Gandalf. They do not stand openly on my stairs, but I know where the wild wood-demons are lurking, at your command.’
‘The treacherous are ever distrustful,’ answered Gandalf wearily. ‘But you need not fear for your skin. I do not wish to kill you, or hurt you, as you would know, if you really understood me. And I have the power to protect you. I am giving you a last chance. You can leave Orthanc, free – if you choose.’
‘That sounds well,’ sneered Saruman. ‘Very much in the manner of Gandalf the Grey: so condescending, and so very kind…. But why should I wish to leave?…’
‘Reasons for leaving you can see from your windows,’ answered Gandalf. ‘…But you will first surrender to me the Key of Orthanc, and your staff. They shall be pledges of your conduct, to be returned later, if you merit them.’
Saruman’s face grew livid, twisted with rage, and a red light was kindled in his eyes. He laughed wildly. ‘Later!’ he cried, and his voice rose to a scream. ‘Later! Yes, when you also have the Keys of Barad-dur itself, I suppose; and the crowns of seven kings, and the rods of the Five Wizards, and have purchased yourself a pair of boots many sizes larger than those that you wear now. A modest plan. Hardly one in which my help is needed! I have other things to do. Do not be a fool. If you wish to treat with me, while you have a chance, go away, and come back when you are sober! And leave behind these cut-throats and small rag-tag that dangle at your tail! Good day!’ He turned and left the balcony.
‘Come back, Saruman!’ said Gandalf in a commanding voice. To the amazement of the others, Saruman turned again, and as if dragged against his will, he came slowly back to the iron rail, leaning on it, breathing hard. His face was lined and shrunken. His hand clutched his heavy black staff like a claw. ‘I did not give you leave to go,’ said Gandalf sternly. ‘I have not finished. You have become a fool, Saruman, and yet pitiable. You might still have turned away from folly and evil, and have been of service. But you choose to stay and gnaw the ends of your old plots…. Saruman!’ he cried, and his voice grew in power and authority. ‘Behold, I am not Gandalf the Grey, whom you betrayed. I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death. You have no colour now, and I cast you from the order and from the Council.’ He raised his hand, and spoke slowly in a clear cold voice. ‘Saruman, your staff is broken.’ There was a crack, and the staff split asunder in Saruman’s hand, and the head of it fell down at Gandalf’s feet. ‘Go!’ said Gandalf. With a cry Saruman fell back and crawled away. (The Two Towers, “The Voice of Saruman”)
6. The Fellowship’s encounter with Saruman while returning to Rivendell:
As they came out again into the open country at sundown they overtook an old man leaning on a staff, and he was clothed in rags of grey or dirty white, and at his heels went another beggar, slouching and whining. ‘Well Saruman!’ said Gandalf. ‘Where are you going?’
‘What is that to you?’ he answered. ‘Will you still order my goings, and are you not content with my ruin?’
‘You know the answers,’ said Gandalf, ‘no and no. But in any case the time of my labours now draws to an end. The King has taken on the burden. If you had waited at Orthanc, you would have seen him, and he would have shown you wisdom and mercy.’
‘Then all the more reason to have left sooner,’ said Saruman, ‘for I desire neither of him. Indeed if you wish for an answer to your first question, I am seeking a way out of his realm.’
‘Then once more you are going the wrong way,’ said Gandalf, ‘and I see no hope in your journey. But will you scorn our help? For we offer it to you.’
‘To me?’ said Saruman. ‘Nay, pray do not smile at me! I prefer your frowns. And as for the Lady here, I do not trust her: she always hated me, and schemed for your part. I do not doubt that she has brought you this way to have the pleasure of gloating over my poverty. Had I been warned of your pursuit, I would have denied you the pleasure.’
‘Saruman,’ said Galadriel, ‘we have other errands and other cares that seem to us more urgent than hunting for you. Say rather that you are overtaken by good fortune; for now you have a last chance.’
‘If it be truly the last, I am glad,’ said Saruman, ‘for I shall be spared the trouble of refusing it again. All my hopes are ruined, but I would not share yours. If you have any.’
For a moment his eyes kindled. ‘Go!’ he said. ‘I did not spend long study on these matters for naught. You have doomed yourselves, and you know it. And it will afford me some comfort as I wander to think that you pulled down your own house when you destroyed mine. And now, what ship will bear you back across so wide a sea?’ he mocked. ‘It will be a grey ship, and full of ghosts.’ He laughed, but his voice was cracked and hideous…. As the wretched pair passed by the company they came to the hobbits, and Saruman stopped and stared at them; but they looked at him with pity.
‘So you have come to gloat too, have you, my urchins?’ he said. ‘You don’t care what a beggar lacks, do you? For you have all you want, food and fine clothes, and the best weed for your pipes. Oh yes, I know! I know where it comes from. You would not give a pipeful to a beggar, would you?’
‘I would, if I had any,’ said Frodo.
‘You can have what I have got left,’ said Merry, ‘if you will wait a moment.’ He got down and searched in the bag at his saddle. Then he handed to Saruman a leather pouch. ‘Take what there is,’ he said. ‘You are welcome to it; it came from the flotsam of Isengard.’
‘Mine, mine, yes and dearly bought!’ cried Saruman, clutching at the pouch. ‘This is only a repayment in token; for you took more, I’ll be bound. Still, a beggar must be grateful, if a thief returns him even a morsel of his own. Well, it will serve you right when you come home, if you find things less good in the Southfarthing than you would like. Long may your land be short of leaf!’
‘Thank you!’ said Merry. ‘In that case I will have my pouch back, which is not yours and has journeyed far with me. Wrap the weed in a rag of your own.’ ‘One thief deserves another,’ said Saruman, and turned his back on Merry, and kicked Wormtongue, and went away towards the wood. (The Return of the King, “Many Partings”
7. Finally, Frodo’s encounter with Saruman-cum-Sharkey in the Shire:
‘[A]nd so I am able to welcome you home.’ There standing at the door was Saruman himself, looking well-fed and well-pleased; his eyes gleamed with malice and amusement.
A sudden light broke on Frodo. ‘Sharkey!’ he cried.
Saruman laughed. ‘So you have heard the name, have you? All my people used to call me that in Isengard, I believe. A sign of affection, possibly. But evidently you did not expect to see me here.’
‘I did not,’ said Frodo. ‘But I might have guessed. A little mischief in a mean way: Gandalf warned me that you were still capable of it.
‘Quite capable,’ said Saruman, ‘and more than a little. You made me laugh, you hobbit-lordlings, riding along with all those great people so secure and so pleased with your little selves. You thought you had done very well out of it all, and could now just amble back and have a nice quiet time in the country. Saruman’s home could be all wrecked, and he could be turned out, but no one could touch yours. Oh no! Gandalf would look after your affairs.’
Saruman laughed again. ‘Not he! When his tools have done their task he drops them. But you must go dangling after him, dawdling and talking, and riding round twice as far as you needed. “Well,” thought I, “if they’re such fools, I will get ahead of them and teach them a lesson. One ill turn deserves another.” It would have been a sharper lesson, if only you had given me a little more time and more Men. Still I have already done much that you will find it hard to mend or undo in your lives. And it will be pleasant to think of that and set it against my injuries.’
‘Well, if that is what you find pleasure in,’ said Frodo, ‘I pity you. It will be a pleasure of memory only, I fear. Go at once and never return!’
The hobbits of the villages had seen Saruman come out of one of the huts, and at once they came crowding up to the door of Bag End. When they heard Frodo’s command, they murmured angrily:
‘Don’t let him go! Kill him! He’s a villain and a murderer. Kill him!’
Saruman looked round at their hostile faces and smiled. ‘Kill him!’ he mocked. ‘Kill him, if you think there are enough of you, my brave hobbits!’ He drew himself up and stared at them darkly with his black eyes. ‘But do not think that when I lost all my goods I lost all my power! Whoever strikes me shall be accursed. And if my blood stains the Shire, it shall wither and never again be healed.’
The hobbits recoiled. But Frodo said: ‘Do not believe him! He has lost all power, save his voice that can still daunt you and deceive you, if you let it. But I will not have him slain. It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing. Go, Saruman, by the speediest way!’…..
Saruman turned to go, and Wormtongue shuffled after him. But even as Saruman passed close to Frodo a knife flashed in his hand, and he stabbed swiftly. The blade turned on the hidden mail-coat and snapped. A dozen hobbits, led by Sam, leaped forward with a cry and flung the villain to the ground. Sam drew his sword.
‘No, Sam!’ said Frodo. ‘Do not kill him even now. For he has not hurt me. And in any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood. He was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against. He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it.’
Saruman rose to his feet, and stared at Frodo. There was a strange look in his eyes of mingled wonder and respect and hatred. ‘You have grown, Halfling,’ he said. ‘Yes, you have grown very much. You are wise, and cruel. You have robbed my revenge of sweetness, and now I must go hence in bitterness, in debt to your mercy. I hate it and you!….’ (Return of the King, “The Scouring of the Shire”)