The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991,2007) pp.611-617
The home that Treebeard has shown to Merry and Pippin is the fruit of exquisite patience. We might almost say the patience of Nature herself except, as we saw Treebeard speak of the hill upon which he first met the young hobbits, it had only stood there since that part of the world was shaped. There was a history before that moment too.
So, as I wrote last week, the Wellinghall that Treebeard shows to the young hobbits has been a careful crafting of earth, water, growing things and light over many years. It has as much in common with an art installation as it does a dwelling place and, although it has been ages in its making, if Treebeard had brought Merry and Pippin to it just a few days later it would be different. The spring that wells up from beneath the earth would have shaped it in a new way and as the year moved onwards into springtime so the rising of the sap within the trees that are the walls of Wellinghall would subtly transform them and would fill the air with a delicious aroma.
But Saruman is a different matter altogether.
“I think that I now understand what he is up to. He is plotting to become a Power. He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for living things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.”
One could hardly find a greater contrast between any two beings than between the minds of these two neighbours. If Treebeard has lovingly worked with Nature for long ages of time both in the making of his home and in his work as a shepherd of the trees Saruman is impatient both with Nature herself and with all living things. As Treebeard puts it, in the mind of Saruman the one needful thing is that it must “serve him for the moment”; and it is worth noting that phrase, for the moment, for as W.H Auden spoke of factory workers, all are “put to temporary use”. Robots are taking the place of those who work in factories and doubtless if Saruman had lived long enough he would have replaced his specially bred orcs, the Uruk-hai, with robots. It might be that his orcs can withstand the sun in a way that other orcs cannot, but eventually it will be possible to create a robot that will be able far to outlast even the strongest orc. And whereas Saruman could not be completely confident about the obedience of his Uruk-hai he need never have any anxiety about robots. The temporary usefulness of any creature that serves him for the moment would have come to an end. And we might even add that the quality of malice which he required in his servants, which was so useful to him, but which required constant attention as with Uglúk’s need to keep reminding his troops that the prisoners were not to be harmed, could be programmed into a robot in a completely reliable manner.
Saruman’s impatient “mind of metal and wheels” is about to be put to the test by the shepherds of trees and by their Huorns, trees that are growing in awareness and becoming more like their shepherds as Treebeard put it. And when it is tested in this manner it will be his impatience that will be his undoing. His anxiety to defeat Rohan quickly will lead him to empty his fortress of Isengard not fearing any enemy nearer by; his weaponry will not be sufficient to drive away either Ents or Huorns; and whereas the Tower of Orthanc, rising out of the very bones of the earth itself and built by Númenorians at the very height of their powers, cannot be assailed by Ents, the walls of Isengard are a fragile thing and easily overthrown.
Perhaps all lovers of “living things” should be grateful for Saruman’s impatience. If he or any like him were able to wait long enough then life itself might be abolished. The Ring of Power is, of course, the ultimate expression of a mind of metal and wheels, a mind that is a machine, at least for that age of Arda. In our own age the principle that made the Rings of Power is at work in new ways and perhaps with even greater effectiveness.
2 thoughts on ““He Has a Mind of Metal and Wheels; and He Does Not Care For Growing Things”. Treebeard Speaks of The Treason of Saruman.”
I love that capital “P” in, “He is plotting to become a Power.” We can hear the contempt with which Treebeard spits out that last word.
Contempt and a growing anger too.