Saruman’s Long Years of Death are Finally Revealed in His Corpse.

Tolkien offers us two different ways of responding to Saruman’s end at the door of Bag End.

The second is the simple anger of the hobbits who have just fought their first battle and lost friends and family to Saruman’s bandits. They seek that form of justice which is retribution.

The first is Frodo’s, his pity and his horror.

“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 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.”

Frodo’s own story has been one of profound self discovery and he has learned the pity of which the 14th century mystic, Julian of Norwich speaks when she tells us of the God who “looks upon us with pity, not with blame”. He remembers the horror of Boromir’s transformation through his lust for the Ring, of the first encounter with Gollum when he realises what he would become if he gave into it and the journey through Mordor in which he tastes the endless living death that is the hopeless end of all its slaves.

Perhaps it is this last experience that he sees revealed in Saruman’s body when he gazes upon “the long years of death” that Saruman’s existence has become. It is Frodo’s eyes through which we look upon the corpse, not Sam’s and certainly not the hobbits who are veterans of just one battle. Sam faithfully walked with his friend through the valley of the shadow of death but even he did not taste it as Frodo did and learned the pity that comes from that taste. And when Frodo speaks of his hope for a cure for Saruman it is because he hopes for one himself.

That is the difference between Frodo and Saruman. That among many. Frodo longs for a cure and for rest. Saruman no longer has hope for a cure, for mercy, and has learned even to hate it. Frodo will not find a cure in Middle-earth, and Saruman knows that, but he will pass into the West, the true home from which Saruman once came but now despises and Saruman can no longer see even the possibility of the journey that Frodo will take. Frodo’s body will be healed in the West and even more than this he will find peace. He will be at peace with himself.

The poet William Wordsworth once looked out over the sea and wrote unhappily, “The world is too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our powers”. The long dead, yet still existing, Saruman, is, in his entirety, the complete expression of one who has laid waste his powers. When Treebeard described him as a man with “a mind full of metal and wheels” it was more than a metaphor. Saruman has become that about which he has long thought. He is as lifeless as his machinery.

And what of the powers that he has laid waste? Perhaps here lies the greatest warning to the digitally obsessed minds of our own times. Compare Saruman to Gandalf. Gandalf has lived out his long sojourn in Middle-earth at the pace of its peoples. In his going out to each of them he has never sought to force them to his own will and he has waited for the inner and truest life of each to be revealed. Gandalf never goes beyond the power that is his gift. Neither should we. We do not have the power that is Gandalf’s but we have our own and it is far greater than most of us know and can only be found through years of humble self-discovery and sheer hard work and perseverance.

Saruman soon lost patience with the slowness of the Divine Spirit in Middle-earth just as Sauron did and he gave his life to the getting and to the spending that seeks the enslavement of others. Next week we will think about one who discovers his power through the time and work he gives to clearing up after the mess that Saruman has left.


I am informed that the title and artist of the artwork in this week’s post is The Scouring of the Shire by Inger Edelfelt

12 thoughts on “Saruman’s Long Years of Death are Finally Revealed in His Corpse.

  1. Beautiful tribute to Frodo! Must include some of this in my book which I am still editing. Please pray I finish in time for his and Bilbo’s birthday. Le hannon!

    Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie 🙂

  2. What a lovely piece. I’ve only ever thought of the Battle of the Shire, and Saruman’s death at Bag End as an analogy for how even somewhere as pure as the Shire can be polluted, but I like your additional interpretation.

    • Thank you so much for leaving your first comment on this blog. I do hope that you will visit it again. I think that you are right that Tolkien wanted us to know that the Shire was as capable of being polluted as much as anywhere else in Middle-earth. The Scouring of the Shire was a lamentation for his own England. But I wanted to draw attention to the pilgrimage that Frodo has made and which Saruman recognises at the end, albeit with bitterness.

  3. Nice, Stephen. The idea of taking Treebeard’s comments about Saruman through a different view is an interesting concept. The idea that Saruman himself is, perhaps, something of an automaton? That he has been so ‘persuaded’ and cowed by Saron…perhaps a bit beguiled…that in many respects he is no longer his own master?

    Pure speculation, of course (and not saying that’s where you were going with it, but it’s where my mind wandered to when I started considering it). But it can be fun to speculate. And of course, even if it were true, it wouldn’t exonerate Saruman for the part he played. His actions would still have been his own to begin with, if the proposal were true.

    • Saruman is an imitator. He both admires and resents Gandalf and, even more, he admires and fears Sauron. Sauron is the ultimate technocrat whose Ring is the ultimate machine. It extends Sauron’s power massively but also diminishes him. When the Ring is destroyed there is nothing left of him but a cloud in the wind. Saruman’s imitation of Sauron takes him down the same road and to the same tragic end. But I feel the tragedy of Saruman in a way that I don’t feel it about Sauron. Sauron’s corruption is so ancient that it is all that is left of him but you can still glimpse something of the Saruman that existed before his treachery. Frodo certainly does and he holds out hope that it can be saved.
      Ultimately the choice that Morgoth, Sauron, Saruman and all who follow their lead right down to Wormtongue or Lotho Sackville-Baggins or even Ted Sandyman make is to make power over others their deepest desire.

  4. I’ve just discovered your reflections on LotR and am really enjoying reading them. Thank you.

    Like you, I find Frodo’s actions very interesting in the ‘Scouring’ chapter. You touch on something I’ve been thinking about: why was Frodo saved from death after the destruction of the ring? I suppose the most obvious answer is ‘for his own sake’, to achieve some sort of healing before he died, however difficult that might be. In terms of the larger narrative, though, it’s natural to assume (like Gandalf says of Gollum) that he had ‘some part left to play’ too. I wonder is this it? He was rather uniquely placed to ‘save’ the Shire on what we might call a ‘moral’ level at this point in the story. He knew better than anyone the frailty of even the well-intentioned and the risks inherent in any exercise of power over others. His attitude towards physical violence, even violence in a just cause, seems to be directly related to his particularly profound insight into evil and its will to dominate. Here he prevents furious hobbits killing prisoners and, although he can’t save Saruman, his intervention means that the Maia was not ultimately killed by the hobbits themselves. Had Frodo not been there, the hobbits would have had much more blood on their hands, and could well have exercised the sort of unrestrained force that so often leads to corruption in the rest of the narrative. Of course, Tolkien himself said that this element in the books wasn’t an argument for outright pacifism, but it’s an interesting place for a book that is so often characterised as a ‘swords and battles’ novel to end up.

    • Hi Sophia! Thank you so much for leaving your first comment on this blog. I do hope that you will visit again soon. I think that you have made a very insightful reflection and I largely agree with what you say. It had not struck me that only Frodo could have saved the hobbits from committing a massacre after the Battle of Bywater. Not only does he stop the killing of Saruman’s men who surrender but he also forbids the killing of other hobbits. There must have been such temptation to settle scores. It would have been a terrible beginning for the newly liberated Shire to have such a crime on its hands.
      The only thing that I add is that I believe that in the divine economy “for his own sake” is more than enough cause. It is a principle that I hold quite passionately and say to people that I work with that they are more important than the work that they do. And the other members of the Fellowship are saved the sorrow of surviving because of the sacrifice of Frodo and Sam, inspiring as that would have been. Frodo and Sam sacrificed enough in just making the journey and, in Frodo’s case, of the wounds to body, mind and spirit that he receives.

      • Hi Stephen, thank you for your kind reply. You’re *completely* right, of course. I was thinking of it in terms of how a writer might consider the ramifications of a particular event for the wider plot, but in terms of the divine economy, a person’s works, as you say, are not at all the key thing. The ‘Scouring’ is really a very rich chapter. On my first reading, I interpreted Gandalf’s comment to the hobbits, “This is what you’ve been trained for”, as referring to their capacity to stand up for themselves and rouse the Shire. But that’s only partly true, particularly for Frodo and Sam. What they bring back to the Shire (from being “trained” in the darkest places of all) seem to be particular qualities of tenderness: in Frodo’s case, mercy, and, in Sam’s, the nurturing of new growth and life.

        I’m still reading through your past posts and getting a lot out of them – thank you again!

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