The eldest of the Five Wizards, and the first to arrive in Middle-earth in about the year III 1000. He appeared as an old man with a long face and high forehead, with a long white beard edged with strands of black hair about his face. His eyes were deep and solemn, and he carried a heavy staff that was black in colour. He chose a long white hand as his symbol.
The Knowledge and Powers of Saruman
Saruman was accounted one of the wisest and most knowledgeable of the Wizards (and indeed he is often referred to as the chief of the Order). Of all the races of Middle-earth, he spent most time with Men.
Subtle and ingenious, he had great knowledge of many things, though he had special expertise in the lore of the Rings of Power. He also had extraordinary skill in invention and craft, from which he took his name: Saruman means literally 'man of skill'. Beyond his deep intelligence, he was able to draw on an array of magical abilities; for example, it was said that he could change his form - or, at least, others' perceptions of his form.
Saruman's most notable power was his voice, which held an extraordinary power of persuasion. Speaking in quiet and measured tones, Saruman could appear wise and rational to all who heard him, though this power was limited: the voice worked most effectively on a single individual, and less well on a group with differing viewpoints. Though this power doubtless derived in part from Saruman's natural deep understanding of things, it also relied to some degree on his magical arts.
Saruman was in origin a Maia of Aulë's people1, and one of the lesser Ainur. He had existed before the making of the World, and taken a part in the Music of the Ainur that created it. In Valinor, he was known for his wisdom and intelligence, gaining him the name Curumo, 'skilled one', mirroring the names he would later acquire in Middle-earth.
When the Valar held a council to choose emissaries to travel to Middle-earth, Curumo was one of the first to stand forward, chosen by his master Aulë for the task. When the full tally of five had been selected, they travelled across the Great Sea, arriving at the Grey Havens in about the year III 1000. Curumo was said to have been the first to arrive, and in Middle-earth he gained the Elvish name Curunír, rendered 'Saruman' in the tongue of the Northmen; both of these names also mean 'skilled one', and the fact that they reflect his original name in Valinor suggest that he may have had a part in choosing them.
After his arrival in Middle-earth, Saruman wandered widely, and often travelled into the unknown East. He made a special study of the of the former Dark LordSauron, presumably after about the year III 2060, when the Wise began to suspect that Sauron may have returned. Soon afterwards, Gandalf caused Sauron to retreat into the East, and this may be connected to Saruman's choosing to journey there, perhaps seeking more information about the dark power. When Sauron returned to Dol Guldur after four centuries, the Wise brought together a council to oppose him - the White Council - and due to Saruman's special knowledge of the Dark Lord, he was selected to be that council's leader.
By this time he must have conceived the notion of gaining the Ring for himself, because he kept his investigations secret from the White Council. Indeed, in III 2851 he actively subverted the Council by overruling Gandalf's proposal that they attack Dol Guldur, while at the same time beginning to search the nearby Gladden Fields where he suspected the Ring might be found. He maintained this stance until III 2941, when he discovered that Sauron's servants were also searching the area around the Gladden Fields. Seeking to ensure that the Sauron did not regain the Ring, Saruman supported (and presumably took part in) an attack on Dol Guldur that drove the Dark Lord out of Mirkwood.
Twelve years later, the White Council met for the final time, and Saruman falsely claimed at that meeting that he knew the Ring had been lost at Sea. Afterwards he withdrew to Isengard, and on the death of StewardTurgon he took it as his own, beginning to fortify it. Despite this suspicious behaviour, Turgon's successor Ecthelion II continued to see Saruman as an ally, though others were less trusting: Aragorn in his alias as Thorongil cautioned Ecthelion against Saruman.
The Treachery of Saruman
Though he came to Middle-earth as an emissary of the Valar, as Saruman studied the lore of Sauron and the Rings he began to desire power for himself. At first he imagined that he only sought this control to bring order to the World, but even desire for the One Ring could be corrupting, and that desire drew Saruman in. After he settled in Orthanc, his use of the palantír he found there sealed his fate: Sauron ensnared him through the Seeing-stone, and so while he continued to seek power for himself, from that time forward he was also doing the work of Mordor.
From about the year III 2990 (some forty years after claiming Isengard as his own), Saruman began to gather a force of Orcs from the Misty Mountains, including at least some of the powerful Uruk-hai. He also apparently used his arts to breed these Orcs, resulting in strange creatures known as Half-orcs or Goblin-men. This work was at first done in extreme secrecy and kept hidden within the walls of Isengard, but later Saruman started to send out his Orcs into the surrounding forests to cut wood (where they roused the enmity of the Ents). Eventually he abandoned secrecy, equipping his soldiers with arms bearing his own symbols: an 'S' rune on their helmets and a small White Hand in the centre of their black shields.
Meanwhile Saruman began to transform himself from Saruman the White, erstwhile leader of the White Council. He took on a new identity, Saruman of Many Colours, and followed his study of the Rings of Power to its logical extent as he created a Ring of his own. (We're told nothing of this Ring or its powers, but Saruman's pride in it - he went so far as to call himself Saruman Ring-maker - suggests that was at least equivalent to a minor Ring of Power.)
Meanwhile another force of Orcs was dispatched to make their way eastwards to find the Ring-bearer and capture the One Ring for Saruman. These were the Orcs that slew Boromir at Parth Galen, who then made off with Meriadoc and Peregrin and started back towards Isengard. They were pursued by Éomer, and utterly defeated by him on the borders of Fangorn. Saruman himself visited the battlefield, but arrived too late to aid his servants or recover the Ring, returning to Isengard empty-handed and full of doubt.
Saruman watched his armies depart from the Gate of Isengard, but as they passed out of sight a new, unexpected army appeared: the Ents of Fangorn Forest descended on Isengard without warning. Saruman fled back to Orthanc, where he was able to engage his machinery and force back the Ents, burning at least one of them with flaming oil. Their initial attack thus repulsed, the Ents passed away northward, though Saruman suspected - correctly - that his Tower was still being watched, and he remained there rather than risk escape.
Saruman remained in his Tower for a day, until suddenly a huge rush of water came down out of the north and flooded the Circle of Isengard: the Ents had destroyed the dam holding back the upper waters of Isen. Now Saruman was truly trapped, but he did not remain alone for long; two days after the drowning of Isengard, his servant and spy Gríma arrived to bring his master news of Théoden's recovery. Not suspecting the fall of Isengard, he rode to its Gate and found himself imprisoned in Orthanc alongside Saruman.
After several days, on 5 March, Théoden himself arrived at Isengard in the company of Gandalf, Aragorn and others. Saruman attempted to use his voice to divide his visitors, but he failed, and refused Gandalf's offer to join the effort against Sauron. Gandalf then cast him out of the Order of Wizards and broke his staff, and thus apparently took away his power.2Gandalf and his companions then departed, leaving the Ents to watch Saruman in his tower, but not before Gríma unwittingly cast Saruman's palantír down from the tower as a missile, thus depriving his master of any means of communicating with Sauron.
After this, Saruman and Gríma were left alone in the Tower of Orthanc, guarded by the Ents. They seem to have remained thus for several months,3 during which time Saruman would at times speak with Treebeard, the leader of his guards. Perhaps using his powerfully persuasive voice, which he still retained, he eventually convinced Treebeard to release him. Relinquishing the Key of Orthanc, he set out on the northward road with Gríma, plotting revenge against those who had brought about his downfall.
Six days after setting out, Saruman and Gríma were overtaken by Gandalf and his companions, also travelling northward. Gandalf offered Saruman his help, but Saruman scornfully refused it, and angrily led Gríma away from the Travellers. Unknown to them, his goal was the home of the Hobbits, the northern land known as the Shire.
Saruman had taken an interest in the Shire for some time. Observing Gandalf's interest in the doings of its inhabitants, Saruman secretly followed his lead. His interest seems to have been piqued at the meeting of the White Council in III 2851, in which Gandalf had (quite unintentionally) suggested a connection between the Shire and the Rings of Power. Saruman may therefore have been watching the Shire for a century or more by the time of the War of the Ring. In that time he secretly took up the Hobbits' art of pipe-smoking, and began importing pipe-weed from the Southfarthing of the Shire.
After Saruman's expulsion from Isengard, he travelled north to the Shire with Gríma, where he took over from Lotho Sackville-Baggins, the 'Chief' who had been managing the affairs of the Shire as Saruman's agent. There Saruman established himself in Bag End as 'Sharkey' the new Chief. For several weeks Saruman ordered things as he wished in the Shire, until the time of the return of Frodo and his companions, who had taken a longer route back to the Shire. The returning Travellers raised the Shire-hobbits in revolt and Saruman's rule came to an end.
In frustration at this turn of events, Saruman attempted to stab Frodo, but the Hobbit's coat of mithril protected him from the knife. Despite this attempt on his life, Frodo permitted Saruman to depart from the Shire unpunished. As he set out, however, Gríma turned on his master and cut his throat. Thus ended the Wizard Saruman, emissary of the Valar to Middle-earth and leader of the White Council. At his death a form of grey mist arose, looking towards the West from which he had come long ago, but a wind blew out of the West and the last remnant of Saruman was blown into nothingness.
It is perhaps notable that, like Saruman, Sauron was also once a Maia of Aulë, and in the beginning of time these two Maiar must have been at least somewhat familiar with one another, and presumably shared similar knowledge and powers. This was perhaps a factor in Saruman's eventual corruption, though Tolkien nowhere goes into detail about any earlier relationship with Sauron.
The implications of Gandalf's breaking of Saruman's staff are not completely clear. At the time of the event itself, Gandalf's actions are reported without comment, except that they caused Saruman great distress. When the Hobbits find him in the Shire, Saruman warns 'But do not think that when I lost all my goods I lost all my power' (The Return of the King VI 8, The Scouring of the Shire). Frodo immediately contradicts this, 'He has lost all power, save his voice' (ibid) and given how easily Saruman is defeated at that point Frodo seems to be correct.
The timescale of Saruman's incarceration is not entirely clear, but he seems to have been a prisoner in Orthanc for some five or six months. He fled into his Tower on 3 MarchIII 3019, but had departed by 22 August of the same year (when the Hobbits came there on their journey back into the North). Following the same route northward, they overtook Saruman and Gríma just six days later, which implies that Saruman had been released not long beforehand.