The Ring of Barahir

Saruman’s Move

Backed into a corner – it must be a terrible feeling to endure. Knowing your own strength, and yet afraid of losing it all. Anger is the first form of response that comes naturally, defend what is left. Strike back as quickly and ruthlessly as possible to assert your position.

Nothing else matters now than saving face and reestablishing the order of power. But for all the cunning, fear is what drives him. His eyes seek solutions, his pacing indicates self-doubt and his hands show us how nervous and fearful he really is – Saruman. 

A wounded ego

Gandalf the White. Gandalf the fool! Does he seek to humble me with his newfound piety?


Gandalf has overthrown Saruman`s lordship over Rohan. Saruman has now failed on two accounts: he lost Hobbits his Uruk-hai thought carried the One Ring, and his dominion over Rohan had been broken. He has lost all that he gained. He resents Gandalf for taking his place. Saruman must be aware of the fact that Gandalf had been brought back to replace Saruman. 

As Gandalf`s power has grown, making him, in essence, more powerful than Saruman, it would only be logical for Saruman to feel humbled. However, when Saruman`s pride is destroyed and his abilities rendered useless, he tries to fight back in order to convince himself and Gandalf that they have not managed to break him.

Saruman wants them all to believe that he still stands strong. To be able to do that, he must concoct a plan with which he would cause as much grief and sorrow as he can upon those who wronged him. 

He is now afraid of what Gandalf is capable of and what his Company may inflict upon him. It is a good thing he has Gríma there to give him exact information about who rides with Gandalf. However, as a once-powerful wizard, now an overconfident villain, Saruman, at first, does not take Gríma`s information as important. Why would someone of his power and stature take anything from a leech, a nobody. 

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Inside information

Gríma: “There were three who followed the wizard. An Elf, a Dwarf and a Man.”

Saruman: “You stink of horse.”

Gríma seems offended, but knowing the importance of the information he has for Saruman, walks ever slowly away, with a look of expectation when the question of the Man will arise. For all of his lack of integrity and personality, Gríma is not a fool. He knows, that a Man among Gandalf`s Company would pique Saruman`s interest.

Saruman: “The Man…was he from Gondor?”

Gríma: “No, from the North. One of the Dúnedain Rangers, I thought he was. His cloth was poor. And yet he bore a strange ring. Two serpents with emerald eyes. One devouring, the other crowned with golden flowers.”

Gríma might not know exactly who this man is, but his eye for detail is enough for Saruman to draw a devastating conclusion. Saruman`s expression turns to surprise and disbelief as Gríma describes the ring on the Ranger`s finger. This information is not insignificant after all. 

The Ring of Barahir. So Gandalf Greyhame thinks he has found Isildur`s heir. The lost king of Gondor. He is a fool. The line was broken years ago. It matters not. The world of Men shall fall. It will begin at Edoras.


Saruman does not believe in this tale of the lost King of Gondor. He is sure beyond any doubt there is no one to take the throne of Gondor. However, a hint of doubt springs as he considers for a second that this may well be true. 

Defense mechanism

Defense mechanism
Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

Let us see this from another angle. Saruman has been the wisest of his order up until he united his forces with Sauron. His logical and reasonable sides are still there, albeit covered in evil and spite. However, he is not above it. What he says, is somewhat different from what he shows us in this scene. He is afraid, he is humbled and his powers are starting to diminish. 

Everything he claims comes from his defense mechanism. We all carry one inside ourselves. Everyone has a different protective strategy, but nevertheless, it is there. This protective mechanism springs into action when we lose face when our credibility is shattered and our pride wounded. We don`t want to be wrong, weak or insignificant. Which is why we try everything in our power to make the other person feel the exact emotions we are trying so desperately to avoid.

We grow stronger as the opposition feels weaker. Our mechanism drives us to prove ourselves right, and prove the opposition wrong. However, proving the opposite of what actually is, is a hard thing to do. It takes all of our energy and focus away from accepting ourselves as we are and the situation as it is. 

It is useless to waste time convincing ourselves and everyone around us of something we are not. The truth will always shine through in the end. Eventually, we have to face ourselves for who we are and accept the truth about ourselves. If not, well then, our lives will be spent in resentment, anger and false belief in ourselves. A life wasted. 

Saruman`s anger is, therefore, completely understandable. No one likes to lose face and have his pride hurt by someone who used to be of lower rank. And according to Saruman, everyone is a lower rank than him. He will continue with his plan of destroying Mankind and taking over Middle-Earth to rule side by side with Sauron.

A vicious advisor

This plan of his and its execution excite him. His eyes focus as his mind conjures a plan of attack. It is a one-track thinking, complete focus, and attention, almost intoxicating.

Théoden will not stay at Edoras. It´s vulnerable. He knows this. He will expect an attack on the city. They will flee to Helm`s Deep, the great fortress of Rohan. It is a dangerous road to take through the mountains. They will be slow. They will have women and children with them.

Gríma Wormtongue

Gríma provides Saruman with Théoden’s plan of retreat and defense. He has been with him for long enough to know what his next move might be. It is a game of silent chess. Théoden has received advice telling him indirectly what Saruman is planning on doing, so he retreats. Gríma explains to Saruman what Théoden is planning. Both Saruman and Théoden had advisors providing them with the necessary information, so they could plan their moves accordingly. 

However, as opposed to Saruman, Théoden did not listen to any advice given. He made his decision by relying on his own feelings of fear. Saruman, however, listens carefully to Gríma now and takes in every bit of intelligence he can. Saruman is also acting out of fear, however, his fear will cause devastation, whereas Théoden`s will be experiencing it. 

A cold-blooded plan

Moreover, Gríma paints an exciting picture of women and children making the journey to Helm`s Deep. Where any other good-willed person would sympathize and imagine it being hard, Saruman sees it as an opportunity to cast a greater blow to the people. The image of women and children, defenseless and slow entices him. The havoc he can reak has now grown and his excitement has peaked. 

The malice that flows through Saruman now is something unimaginable. The want for the destruction of an entire race is beyond understanding. But to raise his eyebrows as women and children are mentioned is horrifying. He has been looking for the perfect loophole to strike, and he has found it. The defenseless and weak are his ticket to victory.

I think it proves his own insecurity in himself as a mighty wizard he still believes he is. To go against Men in an awaited battle is one thing, but to prey on women and children knowing they could not defend themselves, is actually cowardly. They are the simplest to take down, it doesn`t take any effort on his part at all. But it is a low blow, nevertheless. Only in fear and doubt would Saruman do this.

Send out your Warg riders.


Featured photo by Ana Segota.

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3 thoughts on “Saruman’s Move

  1. This particular line, uttered in the film by Saruman as you say, is one of several points where the writers seem to be particularly out of synch with Tolkien’s linguistic and philosophical sensibilities. You will search in vain for the word “piety” in The Two Towers. I think Tolkien was always careful to draw a clear distinction between, on the one hand, religion and Christianity in particular, and on the other, the pseudo-pagan mythos he invented for the books. In-universe it makes little sense for Gandalf to have piety (newfound or otherwise), as he was always one of the Maiar, which in the light of this oddly out of place “piety” we might regard as the Middle Earth equivalent of archangels. Gandalf’s transition from Grey to White is presented as somewhat of an upgrade in the movie, which can of course be appreciated from a dramaturgic point of view, but which is somewhat at odds with his essential nature. You could say that Saruman is being sarcastic, but even then, he too is one of the Maiar and we would still have the problem of what piety would mean to him, as a -fallen- angel.

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