In the tenth chapter of The Two Towers, Gandalf and company attempt to confront Saruman in the Orthanc tower. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Lord of the Rings.
CHAPTER TEN: THE VOICE OF SARUMAN
Seriously, I am just so in love with this book.
I knew we would eventually have to meet Saruman, but I was unsure where Tolkien would take the wizard’s characterization. When we finally do get a chance to experience him without it being filtered through Gandalf, it’s every bit of satisfying as I hoped.
The truth is that I’ve never really read a book like this in my whole life. I know that I’ve generally avoided high fantasy, and I imagine that once I do start reading books from that genre after this, I’ll find a lot that’s in common with Tolkien’s epic novel. For now, though, I don’t know that I really have anything to compare it to that’s not a series that came after it. I use the word “scope” a lot to discuss this book, and I find myself returning to it again: the fact that the scope of this novel is so immense and Tolkien still has time to subtly build characters on top of it is just so impressive to me. I’m even more fascinated by his choice to avoid narrating from the main character for ten chapters in a row. Like, this is a sixth of the entire novel where the main character is still off doing something that we’re completely unaware of. It’s so fantastic because in the process, he’s made all of the other members of the Company interesting, too.
But let’s finally talk about the disgraced and fallen wizard, Saruman. I liked that before we even got here, it was clear that Tolkien was giving us a portrait of a man who wanted power, but could never quite execute it the way he desired. I’m still drawn to the idea in the last chapter that Saruman’s tower is just a poor imitation of what he wishes he were, and that he’ll always live in the shadow of Sauron. What we see here in chapter ten is an extension of that, and I’m far more intrigued by a flawed villain than one who is just evil for the sake of it. (Ahem â€“ Orcs.)
I do like that it also takes Gandalf a sentence or two to be convinced of practically anything, including taking his friends with him to confront Saruman. But this detail sort of set me on edge:
‘And Saruman has powers you do not guess. Beware of his voice!’
WELL, OKAY. How do they speak with him if his voice can be a possible weapon?
You just DEAL WITH IT. God, I wish I was much more talented at making GIFs because I really need a Gandalf DEAL WITH IT image for this chapter. When Saruman does arrive and when he does speak, I suddenly understand not only what Gandalf was referring to, but why he himself is such a powerful wizard. Saruman’s trick involves tone. I imagine it’s a form of magic that he once mastered, but he uses the tone of his voice to convey a feeling, so much so that he could pretty much say whatever he wanted and those under his spell would believe he said something.
Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves. When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell.
Wow, that’s just downright unsettling. What’s mind-blowing to me, though, is how Tolkien chooses to use this very power as Saruman’s ultimate downfall. What we experience is how quickly the wizard cycles through different attitudes. He starts off acting injured, as if these visitors are just being rude for showing up to bother. Like, how dare they come to his house and yell at him! Gosh, have some tact!
He then immediately acts like he is a wronged friend of ThÃ©oden. To me, it felt like desperation. In this last-ditch effort to further deceive and trick those before him, he tried to pick out different methods to convince each person there. At first, though, especially when he gives an impassioned speech about peace to ThÃ©oden, I worried that any one of these characters might fall under Saruman’s spell. Ã‰omer was quick to disprove this, insulting Saruman rapidly in the midst of his monologue, but ThÃ©oden was so quiet. OH GOD, YOU MUST RESIST. DON’T BELIEVE HIM. HE’S A LIAR.
‘We will have peace,’ said ThÃ©oden at last thickly and with an effort.
DAMN IT. NO! NO, DON’T AGREE WITH HIM.
‘Yes, we will have peace,’ he said, now in a clear voice, ‘we will have peace, when you and all your works have perished â€“ and the works of your dark master to whom you would deliver us. You are a liar, Saruman, and a corrupter of men’s hearts. You hold out your hand to me, and I perceive only a finger of the claw of Mordor.’
AHHHHHHHH FUCK YES! IN YOUR FACE, SARUMAN.
‘When you hang from a gibbet at your window for the sport of your own crows, I will have peace with you and Orthanc.’
NEVER HAS THE THREAT OF VIOLENCE BEEN SO BEAUTIFUL. It’s here that Saruman begins his descent into failure by making a critical error: he gets upset. I think that his voice magic thingy might have worked if he had committed to keeping the same voice and tone, but by momentarily revealing his anger, he breaks. I’ll bring this up later when Gandalf comments on it, but it’s important to note how Saruman brings about his failure. It’s clear, too, that when he finally turns to speak to Gandalf, it’s his last effort. What blows me away is how blatantly he lies. Even if he tries to use the power of his voice to move others, the actual words that are coming out of his mouth are wholly untrue. HE LIVES IN A TOWER CONSTRUCTED OF LIES. Yet even for a moment, all those aside from Gandalf begin to worry that the wizard is taken in. It’s why I love the fact that what dispels this fantasy is laughter. Gandalf laughs at Saruman because his lies are so absurd they’re humorous. It simply does not work on him, for he knows the truth of what happened to him the last time he came to the Orthanc, and nothing this man can say will change.
In a very Gandalf-like fashion, the powerful wizard offers Saruman a choice: to leave his tower, surrender the key to Orthanc, his staff, and then he is free to go wherever he pleases. Gandalf even offers him protection if he stays to help them. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t accept, but that’s not meant to shock me. What Gandalf does next is surprising to me: he reminds everyone that he is Gandalf the White, now the most powerful wizard in all of Middle-earth. I got chills when he ordered Saruman back to the iron rail and he obeyed.
‘I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death. You have no colour now, and I cast you from the order and from the Council.’
He raised his hand, and spoke slowly in a clear cold voice. ‘Saruman, your staff is broken.’ There was a crack, and the staff split asunder in Saruman’s hand, and the head of it fell down at Gandalf’s feet.
AASKLDF A; ADFK ASHDA DN, A XZIOUZVC Z;Â
!!!!!!!!! THIS IS SO AMAZING!!!!! Oh, holy shit, Gandalf. Incredible. And it only gets better! The ramifications of this â€“ of Saruman being kicked out of the Council â€“ have another twist that seems worse to me. Saruman is now stuck in his own tower with WORMTONGUE. Who, by the way, threw out some sort of dark crystal globe at Gandalf and apparently it’s important? I have no idea what it is, but let’s just appreciate this punishment. I don’t doubt that Saruman is irritated with Wormtongue, but now he’s stuck there. HAHAHA THIS IS SO BRILLIANT.
But the truth is that Saruman is riddled with conflicts, and it’s this sort of thing that was his undoing. Gandalf elaborates on this as they all leave Orthanc, but the man wants to command while also being unable to do so. He wanted to be a “tyrant” to his foes while simultaneously being their counselor. He is terrified of Mordor, yet desires to be Mordor. He is a walking contradiction, and it’s going to destroy him if Sauron doesn’t do it first.
Yet I think my favorite thing in all of chapter ten is at the very end. As our heroes all bid goodbye to the Ents and to Treebird, promising strange friendships and visits to the Fangorn, the great elder Ent wonders aloud what will happen to Saruman, and Gandalf tells him that the failed wizard must never be allowed to escape.
‘Leave it to the Ents!’ said Treebeard. ‘We shall search the valley from head to foot and peer under every pebble. Trees are coming back to live here, old trees, wild trees. The Watchwood we will call it. Not a squirrel will go here, but I shall know of it. Leave it to the Ents! Until seven times the years in which he tormented us have passed, we shall not tire of watching him.’
I JUST LOVE THIS BOOK FOREVER. BLESS THE ENTS.