Alignment Antagonist
Race Ainur
Weapons/Equipment Wizard Staff, Palantir
Dead or Alive Dead
Status Saruman the White
Saruman the White is a fictional character and a major antagonist in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. He is leader of the Istari, wizards sent to Middle-earth in human form by the godlike Valar to challenge Sauron, the main antagonist of the novel, but eventually desires Sauron's power for himself and tries to help the Dark Lord take over Middle-earth. His schemes feature prominently in the second volume, The Two Towers, and at the end of the third volume, The Return of the King. His earlier history is given briefly in the posthumously published The Silmarillion and the Unfinished Tales.

Saruman is one of several characters in the book illustrating the corruption of power; his desire for knowledge and order leads to his fall, and he rejects the chance of redemption when it is offered. The name Saruman means "man of skill"; he serves as an example of technology and modernity being overthrown by forces more in tune with nature.


The Lord of the RingsEdit

Saruman first appears in The Fellowship of the Ring, which is the first volume of The Lord of the Rings. The Lord of the Rings describes a quest to destroy the One Ring, a powerful and evil talisman created by the Dark Lord Sauron to control Middle-earth (the fictional continent on which Tolkien's story takes place). Sauron lost the Ring in battle thousands of years before the beginning of the story, and it is now held in secret in the Shire by the hobbit Frodo Baggins, one of the story's main protagonists. Early in The Fellowship of the Ring, the wizard Gandalf describes Saruman as "the chief of my order" and head of the White Council that forced Sauron from Mirkwood at the end of Tolkien's earlier book The Hobbit. He notes Saruman's great knowledge of the magic rings created by Sauron and by the Elven-smiths. Shortly afterwards, Gandalf breaks an arrangement to meet Frodo, whom he has sent to take the Ring out of the Shire to keep it safe from Sauron's agents.

After Frodo and Gandalf are reunited at Rivendell midway through The Fellowship of the Ring, the wizard explains why he failed to join Frodo: he had been summoned to consult with Saruman, who proposed that the wizards ally themselves with the rising power of Sauron in order to eventually control him for their own ends. Saruman went on to suggest that they could take the Ring for themselves and challenge Sauron. When Gandalf refused both options, Saruman imprisoned him in the tower of Orthanc at Isengard, hoping to learn from him the location of the Ring. Gandalf observed that Saruman had industrialised the formerly green valley of Isengard and was creating his own army of Orcs and wolves to rival Sauron.

The Two TowersEdit

In The Two Towers, the second volume of the story, he is the main antagonist. Orcs from Saruman's army in search of the Ring attack Frodo and his companions. Following Saruman's orders to capture hobbits, they carry off two of Frodo's closest friends, Merry and Pippin. The two escape into Fangorn Forest, where they meet the Ents, protectors of the trees, who are outraged at the widespread felling of trees by Saruman's orcs. Meanwhile, Saruman's army has invaded the land of Rohan, with the effect of preventing the Riders of Rohan from joining the fight against Sauron. Having betrayed Sauron by attempting unsuccessfully to seize the Ring for himself, Saruman is ruined when the Riders of Rohan defeat his army and Merry and Pippin prompt the Ents to destroy Isengard. Saruman himself is not directly involved, and only appears again in chapter 10, "The Voice of Saruman", by which time he is trapped in Orthanc. He fails in his attempt to negotiate with the Rohirrim and with Gandalf, and rejects Gandalf's conditional offer to let him go free. Gandalf casts him out of the White Council and the order of the wizards, and breaks Saruman's staff.

The Return of the KingEdit

Saruman makes his final appearance at the end of the last volume, The Return of the King, after Sauron's defeat. After persuading the Ents to release him from Orthanc, he travels north on foot, apparently reduced to begging. He is accompanied by his servant Gríma Wormtongue, whom he beats and curses. When they reach the Shire, Saruman's agents—both Hobbits and Men—have already taken it over and started a destructive process of modernization. Saruman governs the Shire in secret under the name of Sharkey until the events of Chapter 8 ("The Scouring of the Shire") in which Frodo and his companions return and lead a rebellion, defeating the intruders and exposing Saruman's role. He tries to kill Frodo, who subdues him and allows him to leave. He tries to kill Frodo, who subdues him and allows him to leave. As he turns to leave, he mocks Wormtongue and reveals that he murdered Frodo's relative Lotho Sackville-Baggins; the long-suffering Wormtongue snaps and cuts Saruman's throat before being felled by Hobbit arrows.

Other booksEdit

Consistent accounts of Saruman's earlier history appear in Appendix B to The Lord of the Rings, first published in The Return of the King, and in the posthumously published The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales; all were written in the mid-1950s. Saruman, like Gandalf and Radagast the Brown, is one of five 'wizards', known as the Istari, who begin to arrive in Middle-earth circa two thousand years before the beginning of The Lord of the Rings. They are Maiar, envoys of the godlike Valar sent to challenge Sauron by inspiring the people of Middle-earth rather than by direct conflict. Tolkien regarded them as being somewhat like incarnate angels. Saruman initially traveled in the east; he was later appointed head of the White Council and eventually settles at Gondor's outpost of Isengard. Fifty years before The Lord of the Rings, after his studies reveal that the One Ring might be found in the river Anduin near Sauron's stronghold at Dol Guldur, he helps the White Council drive out Sauron in order to facilitate his search.

Creation and developmentEdit

Tolkien had been writing The Lord of the Rings for several years when Saruman came into existence as the solution to a long-unresolved plot development, and his role and characteristics continued to emerge in the course of writing. Tolkien started work on the book in late 1937, but was initially unsure of how the story would develop. Unlike some of the other characters in the book, Saruman had not appeared in Tolkien's 1937 novel, The Hobbit, or in his then-unpublished Quenta Silmarillion and related mythology, which date back to 1917. When he wrote of Gandalf’s failure to meet Frodo, Tolkien did not know what had caused it and later said: "Most disquieting of all, Saruman had never been revealed to me, and I was as concerned as Frodo at Gandalf's failure to appear." Tolkien's son, Christopher, has said that the early stages of the creation of The Lord of the Rings proceeded in a series of waves, and that having produced the first half of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien rewrote the tale from the start three times. Saruman first appeared during a fourth phase of writing in a rough narrative outline dated August 1940. Intended to account for Gandalf's absence, it describes how a wizard titled "Saramond the White" or "Saramund the Grey", who has fallen under the influence of Sauron, lures Gandalf to his stronghold and traps him. The full story of Saruman's betrayal was later added to the existing chapters.

Several of Saruman’s other appearances in the book emerged in the process of writing. Christopher Tolkien believes that the old man seen by Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli at the edge of Fangorn forest near the beginning of The Two Towers is in the original drafts intended to be Gandalf; in the finished version he is Saruman. Similarly, in the first drafts of the chapter The Scouring of the Shire, Sharkey is successively a ruffian met by the hobbits and then that man’s unseen boss. It is only in the second draft of the chapter that, as Christopher Tolkien puts it, his father “perceive[d]” that Sharkey was in fact Saruman. The name used by Saruman's henchmen for their diminished leader is said in a footnote to the final text to be derived from an Orkish term meaning "old man". Saruman's death scene, in which his body shrivels away to skin and bones revealing "long years of death" and "a pale shrouded figure" rises over the corpse, was not added until the page proofs of the completed book were being reviewed by Tolkien. John D. Rateliff and Jared Lobdell are among those to write that the scene shows similarities to the death of the 2000-year old sorceress Ayesha in H. Rider Haggard's 1887 novel She: A History of Adventure.


Tolkien described Saruman at the time of The Lord of the Rings as having a long face and a high forehead, "...he had deep darkling eyes ... His hair and beard were white, but strands of black still showed around his lips and ears." His hair is elsewhere described as having been black when he first arrived in Middle-earth. He is referred to as 'Saruman the White' and is said to have originally worn white robes, but on his first entry in The Fellowship of the Ring they instead appear to be "woven from all colours [, they] shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered" and he names himself 'Saruman of Many Colours'.

The power of Saruman's voice is noted throughout the book. Jonathan Evans calls the characterization of Saruman in the chapter The Voice of Saruman a "tour de force". Roger Sale says of the same chapter that "Tolkien valiantly tried to do something worth doing which he simply cannot bring off." Tom Shippey writes that "Saruman talks like a politician ... No other character in Middle-earth has Saruman's trick of balancing phrases against each other so that incompatibles are resolved, and none comes out with words as empty as 'deploring', 'ultimate', worst of all, 'real'. What is 'real change'?" Shippey contrasts this modern speech pattern with the archaic stoicism and directness that Tolkien employs for other characters such as the Dwarven King Dáin, which Shippey believes represent Tolkien's view of heroism in the mould of Beowulf.

After the defeat of his armies, having been caught in the betrayal of Sauron, Saruman is offered refuge by Gandalf, in return for his aid, but having chosen his path, is unable to turn from it. Evans has compared the character of Saruman to that of Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost in his use of rhetoric and in this final refusal of redemption, "conquered by pride and hatred".

His voice was "low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment [...] it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire woke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves ... for those whom it conquered the spell endured while they were far away and ever they heard that soft voice whispering and urging them."

-The Two Towers Book III Chapter X p.222

Literary themesEdit

Saruman has been identified by critics as demonstrating the fall of an originally good character, and has distinctively modern connections with technology. Tolkien writes that The Lord of the Rings was often criticised for portraying all characters as either good or bad, with no shades of grey, a point to which he responds by proposing Saruman, along with Denethor and Boromir, as examples of characters with more nuanced loyalties. Marjorie Burns writes that while Saruman is an "imitative and lesser" double of Sauron, reinforcing the Dark Lord's character type, he is also a contrasting double of Gandalf, who becomes Saruman as he "should have been", after Saruman fails in his original purpose.

Saruman "was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare raise our hands against" but decays as the book goes on. Patricia Meyer Spacks calls him "one of the main case histories [in the book] of the gradual destructive effect of willing submission to evil wills". Paul Kocher identifies Saruman's use of a palantír, a seeing-stone, as the immediate cause of his downfall, but also suggests that through his study of "the arts of the enemy", Saruman was drawn into imitation of Sauron. According to Jonathan Evans and Spacks, Saruman succumbs to the lust for power, while Shippey identifies Saruman's devotion to goals of knowledge, organization and control as his weakness. Tolkien writes that the Istari's chief temptation (and that to which Saruman fell) is impatience, leading to a desire to force others to do good, and then to a simple desire for power.

Treebeard describes Saruman as having "a mind of metal and wheels". Evil in The Lord of the Rings tends to be associated with machinery, whereas good is usually associated with nature. Both Saruman's stronghold of Isengard and his altered Shire demonstrate negative effects of industrialization and Isengard is overthrown when the forests, in the shape of the Ents, literally rise against it. Patrick Curry says Tolkien is "hostile to industrialism", linking this to the widespread urban development that took place in the West Midlands where Tolkien grew up in the first decades of the 20th century. He identifies Saruman as one of the key examples given in the book of the evil effects of industrialization, and by extension imperialism. Shippey notes that Saruman's name repeats this view of technology: in the Mercian dialect of Anglo-Saxon used by Tolkien to represent the Language of Rohan in the book, the root word searu means "clever", "skillful" or "ingenious" and has associations with both technology and treachery that are fitting for Tolkien's portrayal of Saruman, the "cunning man". He also writes of Saruman's distinctively modern association with Communism in the way the Shire is run under his control: goods are taken "for fair distribution" which, since they are mainly never seen again, Shippey terms an unusually modern piece of hypocrisy in the way evil presents itself in Middle-earth.

Saruman is in part the architect of his own downfall. Kocher, Randall Helms and Shippey write that Saruman's actions in the first half of The Two Towers, although intended to further his own interests, in fact lead to his defeat and that of Sauron: his orcs help split the Fellowship at Parth Galen, and in carrying off two of the hobbits initiate a series of incidents that lead to his ruin. In turn this frees the Rohirrim to intervene at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and then together with the men of Gondor to assault Sauron's stronghold of Mordor and distract him from Frodo's final effort to destroy the Ring. Shippey says that this demonstrates the value of persistence in the face of despair, even if a way out cannot be seen; Kocher and Helms write that it is part of a pattern of providential events and of the reversed effects of evil intentions throughout the book.

In the end, the diminished Saruman is murdered and Shippey notes that when he dies his spirit "dissolved into nothing". He identifies Saruman as the best example in the book of "wraithing", a distinctive 20th-century view of evil that he attributes to Tolkien in which individuals are "'eaten up inside' by devotion to some abstraction". Referring to Saruman's demise, Kocher says that he is one example of the consistent theme of nothingness as the fate of evil throughout The Lord of the Rings.


Saruman has appeared in film, audio and stage adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. BBC Radio produced the first adaptation in 1956, which has not survived. Tolkien was apparently disappointed by it.

In Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, which corresponds to The Fellowship of the Ring and part of The Two Towers, Saruman is voiced by Fraser Kerr. He has only one major scene—his attempt to persuade Gandalf to join him. He appears again briefly before the battle of Helm's Deep, speaking to his army. The character is dressed in red and is called 'Saruman' and 'Aruman' at different points. Smith and Matthews suggest that the use of 'Aruman' was intended to avoid confusion with 'Sauron'. The 1980 Rankin/Bass TV animated version of The Return of the King begins roughly where Bakshi's film ends but does not include Saruman's character.

BBC Radio's second adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, from 1981, presents Saruman much as in the books. Smith and Matthews report Peter Howell's performance as Saruman as "brilliantly ambiguous [...], drifting from mellifluous to almost bestially savage from moment to moment without either mood seeming to contradict the other".

In Peter Jackson's film trilogy (2001–2003), Saruman is significantly more active in the first two films than in their equivalent books, and he appears in several scenes that are not depicted in Tolkien's work. In the films, Saruman is depicted presenting himself outright as a servant of Sauron. Smith and Matthews suggest that Saruman's role is built up as a substitute for Sauron—the story's primary antagonist—who never appears directly in the book. Jackson confirms this view in the commentary to the DVD. They also suggest that having secured veteran British horror actor Christopher Lee to play Saruman, it made sense to make greater use of his star status. Despite this increased role in the first two films, the scenes involving Saruman that were shot for use in the third film, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, were not used in the cinematic release, a decision which "shocked" Lee. Jackson reasoned that it would be anticlimactic to show Saruman's fate in the second movie (after the Battle of Helm's Deep) and too retrospective for it to be in the third one. The cut scenes end with Saruman falling to his death from the top of Orthanc after being stabbed by Wormtongue and include material from the chapter The Scouring of the Shire. They are included at the start of the Extended Edition DVD release of the film.

Lee has reprised his role as Saruman in Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit, although Saruman does not appear in the book

Set AppearancesEdit


Lore SourceEdit