Today's Date in the Shire
Fun and Games
Walk to Rivendell
Malbeth the Seer
Another familiar theme that occurs in the works of Tolkien is the fall of the Good. Throughout our own history the most famous being that of Lucifer's, as told in the Bible. Within the world of movies, yet another example is found in the fall of a Jedi knight in the Star Wars trilogy. Anakin Skywalker becomes the evil Darth Vader when seduced by the dark side of the Force. In the chronicles of Middle-Earth we see several other examples of this. There are ordinary mortal characters that, tempted by the Dark side, choose to change sides. Greed and ambition are the main reasons for their defection. Being promised wealth and powerful positions, they give in to temptations. They give up what they once believed in, and follow the path of leisure in the hunt for immorality, often influenced by some greater power. For a mortal, i.e. men, dwarves, hobbits etc., this fall is a human one. It is wrong but the feeble-minded man's mistakes and errors can be overlooked. He plays only a small part in the great scheme of the world. Man's time on earth is limited and somewhere on this short path, he is bound to fail, in one way or another.
The fall of those of divine grace is a matter of a more complex nature. As in most others, in Tolkien's mythology there are beings of a godlike nature. The Creator, Eru Ilúvatar, exists outside the universe, but has put some of his subjects in charge of the world. These demigods, Valar and Maiar, do not normally interfere with the peoples and creatures of the world. They do not dwell within the physical boundaries of the world.
In times of need though, they send one of their own, to help the peoples of Middle-Earth. They often appear in human-like forms, with limited powers, and their true identity concealed. Their mission is to guide and help, without themselves changing the order of things. Some of these, one being Saruman the Wizard, fail in their mission, and become servants of the dark side. Dealing with the great matters of the universe, they fall for the temptation of power, and instead of serving their superiors and the good cause, they use this power invested in them to make themselves autocratic masters of the world. Instead of helping people in need, they try to enslave them. They want their own will to rule over the will of others.
The failure of the divine character is of course a greater disaster than the failure of the common man. The consequences are often more severe and cataclysmic, and the crime is harder to forgive. I intend to study the fallen characters of Grima Wormtongue, a man of the Rohirrim, and Saruman the Wizard, one of the lesser Maiar sent to help the peoples of Middle-Earth in their fight against Sauron.
At the time of the War of the Ring, Grima is the counsellor of king Théoden of Rohan. Théoden is old and tired, and this has been used by Grima. Instead of giving advice that is in the best interest of Rohan, Grima poisons the mind of the king to serve his own purposes. At least, that is what he thinks he is doing. In the end, it is not only his own purposes he is serving, but the purpose of a greater mind, that of Saruman's, Grima's true master, and the brain behind the corruption of Rohan and its king. In his essay "A struggle for life", Hugh T. Keenan suggests that "the pride of Théoden and his people makes them isolate themselves and ally with Saruman" (65, but in my opinion, this is not true though. It is not Théoden who seeks the alliance, but Grima, and in the end, Saruman. Théoden has no willpower to resist Grima and his evil councils, as Grima in turn has no willpower to resist Saruman.
Working his way up the ladder, Grima holds an important position as counsellor to the King. From the beginning, this position has been achieved with the best intentions for the welfare of Rohan: "once it was a man, and did [Théoden] service in its fashion" (LR 543). He is a good man to start with, and most certainly wants to do good for his country: "Grima Wormtongue, even, did Théoden honest service before he sold himself to Saruman" (Kocher 77). After reaching the position as counsellor, he feels that this is as far as he can get with legal means. He is not satisfied though. He wants to become king himself. As King Théoden's mind and health deteriorate, Grima sees his chance when approached by Saruman. With the wizards help he can now become king of Rohan.
It is the thought of power that starts the corruption of Grima Wormtongue, not Saruman. As Grima's ambition increases, so does his greed. He sees the chance to become important, to become something greater than the common man he was to start with. When Grima welcomes the aid of Saruman, he has already crossed the border from being Good to being Bad. His plans to take the throne of Rohan must have been there long before his collaboration with Saruman in order to be receptive to Saruman's evil influence. Saruman does not make Grima, he only makes him more sophisticated, i.e. worse. With the help of Saruman, Grima sees the possibilities to realise his corruptive plans. Plans that he probably will not be able to see through on his own. It is power itself that corrupts him in the first place.
The third enemy of Grima, along with power and Saruman, is his lack of mental strength. He has not the willpower to resist the temptations he is exposed to. He is a man of simple origin, and somewhat feeble-minded, even though "he is bold and cunning" (LR 542). He should not have meddled in the affairs of the Great in the first place. Finding himself there, he is not strong enough to separate the interests of Rohan from his own. It takes a man of great power and noble lineage, such as Aragorn, the long-awaited king of Gondor, to stand against the great tide of Evil. Grima does not think big, as you have to do as a man in position of power. Grima's main interest is how to become king of a petty country, and how to win the hand of princess Èowyn through deception: "too long have you watched [Eowyn] under your eyelids and haunted her steps" (LR 542). And in the end, all things promised to him by Saruman. He does not have what it takes to be king.
When Grima is removed from power by Gandalf, he is offered forgiveness by King Théoden: "ride with me to war, and let us see in battle whether you are true" (LR 543). As is often the case with fallen characters who are offered forgiveness, he refuses it. He is too proud to accept this noble gesture. Instead he runs off to Isengard and his master. He continues to walk the path of Evil even though he could have atoned for his crimes and taken back his role in the hierarchy of Rohan, i.e. as the common citizen he once was. He has been too ensnared in the affairs of Evil, and pride prevents him from becoming Good again.
Kocher points at the irony in the fact that Evil ends up serving the purpose of the Good (46-47). This is a fact that very much concerns Grima Wormtongue. In his blind hate for his master, Grima tries to murder Saruman in the tower of Orthanc: "Wormtongue . . . proves the "best" company at the tower, not for Saruman, but for those outside, as he flings down in his hatred the palantir7 , the most valuable object in all of Saruman's realm" (Helms 102-103). Even his last act of evil serves the Good; the murder Saruman. The murder is again conducted in a state of pure hate. He hates Saruman more than anything in the world, still he cannot separate himself from the wizard. He lacks the willpower to take a stand against his evil master. It is only when the hate is too great to be ignored, that he can liberate himself from the burden by murder. He finds peace, not in regret and salvation, but in pure hate. The character of Grima Wormtongue definitely supports the thesis of this essay: he is evil but as he used to be good, he has travelled the long and complex way on the alignment scale. He was not born evil.
Saruman is of a divine race. Around the year 1000 in the Third Age, he comes to the shores of Middle-Earth. He is sent by the Valar, with the consent of Eru Ilúvatar, to assist Elves and Men in their oncoming fight against Sauron. Saruman is in fact a Maia, i.e. one of the lesser gods, and his original name in the West, is Curunir. He is later followed by four other Maiar, the five of them together called the Istari, of which Gandalf is the last, and as it will turn out, the wisest and most powerful. Gandalf is also the only one who sticks to his original task, and later, is allowed to return to the West.
These Maiar are called wizards. It does not mean that they are magicians and wields great magic powers. They are called wizards because of the association with the word wise, and only possess limited skills in magic. " [The Istari] possess . . . eminent knowledge of the history and nature of the World" (Unfinished Tales 388). They appear in the guises of ordinary men, and reveal their true identity to very few. They are strictly forbidden to show themselves in their true majestic shape. Furthermore, they are forbidden to try to control the minds of Elves and Men by showing their divine powers. The wizards are sent to help and assist within the psychical boundaries of Middle-Earth, as well as the physical ones, in the fight against another Maia, namely Sauron, simply to adjust the balance between Good and Evil.
But not even the divine are infallible. Little by little, Saruman is tempted by the great task assigned to him, and the great powers invested in him. Few are equal to him. In the West, he has just been one among many. His powers cannot match the powers of the Valar. He is indeed one of the lesser gods. In Middle-Earth, he is confronted with the fact that he is powerful. Together with Gandalf, he has the means to influence and change, without being questioned or hindered. When Sauron eventually reveals himself, they are prepared for him. They will be able to fight Sauron with the same means that he himself possesses.
Saruman becomes the self-appointed leader of the free world. It is to him that people come in times of need, or simply to seek advice. He settles down in the fortress of Isengard, and here he becomes an acknowledged and well-known authority. Elves and Men of Middle-Earth know were to find him, and know they can depend on his assistance. Slowly, Saruman becomes proud, selfish and impatient: "yet in truth Saruman's spying and great secrecy ha[s] not in the beginning any evil purpose, but [is] no more than a folly born of pride" (Unfinished 350). He becomes seduced and intoxicated by this new important and powerful role as a world leader. He fails to uphold his appointed task: "their proper function . . . perverted by Saruman, [is] to encourage and bring out the native powers of the Enemies of Sauron" (Letters 180). Again we have a case of gradual change from good to evil, not an overnight deflection as Muir and Wilson want us to believe.
There are two major reasons for the fall of Saruman. One is the fact I have already touched upon, Saruman's greed for power. At the time of the War of the Ring, Saruman has allied himself with the forces of Sauron. They are both searching for the One Ring. Sauron relies on Saruman, and sees him as one of his subjects. Any news that Saruman receives about the whereabouts of the Ring, Sauron expects to get from him immediately, and unadulterated. Saruman has no intentions to help Sauron find the Ring. He wants it for himself. Saruman has allied himself with Sauron only to take his place as the Dark Lord when the Ring finally comes into his possession.
Saruman is not the servant of Sauron, as Kocher points out. They are alike in the sense that they both believe in total supremacy. Saruman is not Sauron's ally though; he is his competitor (68). W. H. Auden also stresses this fact, in his essay "The Quest Hero": "all alliances of Evil with Evil are necessarily unstable and untrustworthy since . . . Evil loves only itself (58). Auden points out that Evil alliances are based on fear and profitable hopes. Sauron has seduced Saruman, but he has not completely enslaved him "so that Saruman tries to seize the Ring for himself."
The other major reason for Saruman's fall is of a more petty nature. Envy is one of Saruman's human deficiencies. In a letter to Michael Straight, the editor of New Republic, Tolkien wrote: " [these wizards are] also . . . thus involved in the peril of the incarnate: the possibility of "fall", of sin, if you will" (Letters 237). The Istari is of a divine nature, but in their incarnations, they are given the human features of mind and body. They are not spared the human deficiencies, such as temptation, envy, and death. So when Saruman gives into envy, one of the Seven Deadly Sins in our own world, this proves that his willpower is not as great as people consider it to be.
The object of Saruman's envy is Gandalf: "Saruman soon [becomes] jealous of Gandalf, and this rivalry turn[s] to a hatred" (Unfinished 349). Very early, Saruman realises that Gandalf is more powerful than he is: "Saruman [knows] in his heart that the Grey Wanderer ha[s] the greater strength, and the greater influence upon the dwellers in Middle-Earth". Saruman is the acknowledged leader of the Istari, but he is not the greatest of them. As the evil thoughts start to penetrate Saruman's mind, he begins to fear Gandalf. He is not able to tell how much Gandalf really knows of his scheming plans. While others treat Gandalf with respect, Saruman does not. By ridiculing him, Saruman hopes to lessen the respect for Gandalf. He begins to oppose him in public, and to derogate his councils.
Saruman's envy originates in Gandalf's popularity. Gandalf is loved by the inhabitants of Middle-Earth for his honesty and kindness. He hides his powers, and never wants people to fear or worship him. He does things for people for no special reasons, simply to help or to entertain. There is seldom an ulterior motive behind his actions. Saruman cannot fathom this thought of doing good for no particular reason. To him, the lives and actions of the petty beings and creatures of Middle-Earth are of no importance, unless they can further his cause in the great worldly matters of the world. Saruman's envy soon changes into pure hate, and from then on, he counteracts every proposal Gandalf puts forward, and every action he performs. He will only work with him if he can gain something from it, such as receiving news of the whereabouts of the One Ring, which he desires more than anything.
The one incident that leads to Saruman's envy, is that of a gift to Gandalf. On the day he lands on the shores of Middle-Earth, Gandalf is given a ring by Cirdan the Shipwright. The ring is Narya, one of the three Elven rings, hidden from Sauron. This ring is one of the important weapons in the fight against Sauron. In the right hands, it can further the cause of the Good side. Saruman cannot understand why it is not given to him. He is the first of the wizards to enter Middle-Earth. Ought it not to have been given to him? Even if he knows that Gandalf is more powerful than he is, others do not. The power of the ring should be his to wield, not the fool Gandalf's.
The simple explanation to this is that Cirdan recognises the true identity of Gandalf upon his arrival. He sees the true power invested in him, and knows that he is the right one to bear the ring: "Cirdan . . . divined in him the greatest spirit and the wisest" (Unfinished 389). A reason for not giving it to Saruman can be that Cirdan also recognises Saruman's true nature, and knows that he is not suited to wield such powers. Cirdan, an Elflord, is one of the Wise in Middle-Earth. He has lived for many thousands of years and is well experienced in the great matters of the world.
Saruman is utterly defeated in the War of the Ring. After the defeat, Gandalf removes all the powers invested in Saruman. Even this traitor is given the opportunity to repent and atone for his crimes by assisting in the continuing war against Sauron, but Saruman turns down the offer. His pride prevents him from this. He cannot adapt himself to the thought of being powerless, and of becoming a subject to Gandalf, who once was a subject of his.
One of Gandalf's big mistakes is to leave the matter at that. Saruman receives no real punishment and is only imprisoned. He manages to escape from his imprisonment and performs one last act of cruelty. He scourges the Shire, the land of the hobbits, with the help of Grima Wormtongue. In the end, Saruman is killed by Grima, and his soul is rejected in the West and cast out into the void, outside the universe.
Why do Saruman risk being abandoned forever? When the Istari's task in Middle-Earth is fulfilled, they are to return to the West: "the memory of the Blessed Realm [is ] to them a vision from far off, for which . . . they [yearn] exceedingly" (Unfinished 390). They know they are allowed to return to the paradise they once knew, and loved so much, provided they stay true to their mission, and to the Valar. They also know, that if they give in to Evil, they will be forever banned from the same. Saruman must know what is at stake here. In spite of this knowledge, he still goes on with his plans. He must have such faith in his success, that he does not even contemplate a failure. If he manages to find the Ring and take control over Middle-Earth, he will have a paradise of his own. A paradise at least as good as the West, according to himself.
Saruman believes in his cause, just as Boromir, Tom Bombadil and Grima do. He must, or else he will not risk what he already possesses. The big difference is that his responsibility is a much greater one. If we cannot trust our gods, whom can we then trust? Saruman plays with the fate of a whole world, a world that believes in him and trusts him. Even if he once was of good origin, there are no extenuating circumstances. He chooses the Evil path, and his punishment is consequently as severe as the punishment of Sauron, or that of Sauron's master, Morgoth8 , i.e. the condemnation to spend eternity in the abyss. Of course, Evil is never meant to conquer. Destruction is in its nature: "oft evil will shall evil mar" (Kocher 47).
7. A palantir is a crystal ball used for telepathic transmissions. There were originally seven palantirs, brought to Middle-Earth from the survivors of the cataclysm of Numenor. In the palantir, you could, amongst other things, see what happened in another palantir, and, if powerful enough, read the mind of the recipient.
8. Morgoth was originally one of the Valar involved in the creation of the universe. He was known as Melkor, and was seen as one of the most powerful Valar, before his fall. Sauron was but the lieutenant of Morgoth, before Morgoth was defeated and cast into the void, in the First Age.