Sauron may be the arch antagonist in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings but he is matched closely by the dastardly, manipulative, scheming wizard Saruman. Originally a force for good like his fellow sorcerer Gandalf, Saruman is seduced by a lust for power and allies himself with the Dark Lord in an attempt to seize control of Middle-earth using the power of the One Ring.
Some believe that Saruman’s turn was caused by excessive use of the Palantir, while others claim he was simply attempting to bring down Sauron in his own twisted way. Whatever the case, the character is one of the most complex and intriguing figures in the entire franchise.
With Sauron largely a formless and ethereal villain, Saruman takes on the story’s more “human” face of wrong-doing, although as the actor who played him on the big screen, Christopher Lee, would often stress, Saruman wasn’t an evil man in the traditional sense.
Although he may be one of the most renowned baddies in both the literature and film realms, there’s plenty about Saruman that many won’t be aware of, particularly those whose knowledge of Tolkien is solely based on Peter Jackson’s epic movie series.
Taking into account Saruman’s initial conception and development, his various multimedia iterations and discrepancies between the various interpretations, as well as behind the scenes anecdotes, here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Saruman.
15 He’s Immortal
In The Lord of the Rings, precious little is revealed about the true nature of the story’s wizard characters, despite their obvious power and influence. As such, many fans may not know that the likes of Saruman and Gandalf are actually celestial beings called the Maiar.
In Tolkien mythology, Maiar are ethereal types who serve the more powerful Valar, likened by some to the relationship between angels and archangels. Accordingly, Saruman’s true name as a Maia is Curumo and he was actually considered the leader of the group.
The purpose of the Maiar is not only to aid the Valar but to protect Middle-earth from the forces of Sauron. The Maiar are invincible and, as such, Saruman never truly dies in any version of LotR, he simply loses his physical form and becomes a powerless spirit-type being.
14 He Invades The Shire
In the trilogy of movies by Peter Jackson, Saruman fades from the narrative after his defeats at Helm's Deep and Isengard never to appear again, however things transpire very differently in the original books.
Indeed, after Frodo casts the One Ring into Mt. Doom’s fiery crack and the threat of Sauron has diminished, the trouble continues when the four Hobbits return to The Shire. After finally arriving back home, Frodo, Samwise, Pippin, and Merry discover that a figure going by the name of Sharkey had essentially taken control of their homeland and made attempts to industrialize it.
Sharkey is soon revealed to be none other than Saruman, who had talked the Ents into releasing him from Orthanc and was attempting to desperately exert the last of his power. Happily, Frodo and his pals defeated Sharkey in the Battle of Bywater and exiled him from The Shire.
13 His Death In The Movies Is Not From The Books
Although you wouldn’t have seen Christopher Lee’s Saruman death scene in theaters, it was later included in the extended DVD edition of The Return of the King. In the scene, Saruman is still trapped in the Tower of Orthanc and is negotiating his release with Gandalf down below. Before he can be interrogated however, he is stabbed by his henchman/whipping boy Wormtongue and falls from the tower onto a spike below.
His literary demise is considerably different. After being defeated in The Shire, Frodo takes mercy on the wizard by sparing his life and expelling him, but Saruman doesn’t get far and – as in the movies – is betrayed and murdered by former assistant Wormtongue.
Interestingly, Peter Jackson’s decision to cut Saruman’s death from the theatrical cut of RotK caused a falling out between the director and Christopher Lee, but thankfully, the duo managed to reconcile in time for Jackson to make The Hobbit trilogy.
12 Christopher Lee Took A TV Role To Prove He Could Play A Wizard
Out of all the cast members in The Lord of the Rings, Christopher Lee was by far the most hardcore Tolkien fan. The actor reportedly read the books as an annual ritual and was the only one to have actually met the famed author, reportedly getting a little starstruck when he did.
As such, it’s hardly surprising that, when Lee heard that a big budget LotR movie trilogy was in the works, he was very keen to get involved. In order to prove his credentials as a wizard to Peter Jackson, (as if he needed to) the actor went so far as to take the part of Olwyn in The New Adventures of Robin Hood as a sort of pre-audition for a wizard in a Tolkien-esque universe of swords and sorcery.
The plan worked obviously, but not quite in the way that Christopher Lee had hoped...
11 Christopher Lee Originally Auditioned For Gandalf
As a result of Christopher Lee’s desire for a role in Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, the actor and director eventually met up, with Jackson particularly excited about speaking to the legendary horror icon.
The discussion was going swimmingly, all up until the point where it became clear that Jackson and Lee were talking about completely different wizards. Whilst the actor had his heart set on the part of Gandalf, the director was already in talks with Ian McKellen for that particular role and was eyeing up Lee for Saruman instead.
Eventually, the actor came around to the idea, accepting the fact that playing Gandalf would require more physical scenes than his aging body would allow and that a younger (relatively speaking) actor was required for the part.
10 Different Powers In The Book And Movie Versions
One of the many areas in which the movie and book versions of Saruman differ is with his powers and abilities, and perhaps the most prominent example of this comes during The Fellowship of the Ring.
With our heroic protagonists trekking across the treacherous Caradhras peak, the movie shows Saruman manipulate the very forces of nature in an attempt to destroy the Fellowship.
In the book, however, Saruman’s involvement here is far from confirmed. A snowstorm does indeed occur and whilst there are hints that some evil force might be conspiring against the group, it is just as plausible-- if not more so-- that the storm was merely a natural occurrence and part of the reason why Caradhras was so feared.
Although the change may not have pleased Tolkien purists, it did at least make Saruman seem like a considerably more dangerous opponent.
9 The Animated Movie Nearly Changed His Name
Peter Jackson wasn’t the first to attempt an on-screen adaptation of The Lord of the Rings and in 1978, Ralph Bakshi sought to bring the tale to life via the medium of animation. However, during the development of the movie, some wise soul decided that the names “Sauron” and “Saruman” were too similar and that the latter should be altered to “Aruman” instead.
Eventually, wiser heads prevailed and the decision was reversed but the finished product still contains several instances of the character being referred to as “Aruman.”
The huge success of the live-action LotR movies proves that a mainstream audience can handle two villainous characters with vaguely similar names without getting confused, though the decision to stick with Tolkien’s original monikers was undoubtedly the correct one-- even if they didn’t completely erase the mistake.
8 The Character Metaphorically Represents Industrialization
There are plenty of themes, messages, and motifs in The Lord of the Rings, but perhaps the most pertinent to Saruman is the battle between industrialization, which is often represented as evil, and nature which is conversely shown to be inherently good.
Saruman’s industrialization can be most obviously seen in his occupation of Isengard and the machinations that he brings to the land in order to create his armies. Of course, it’s no coincidence that this stronghold is ultimately defeated by giant trees.
When Saruman attacks The Shire, he also brings a certain element of industry to the usually green and idyllic countryside, which is eventually restored by Frodo and his pals.
Some fans have argued that this theme was influenced by the rapid growth in housing and industry occurring in Tolkien’s native England during the author’s lifetime.
7 Saruman Actor Christopher Lee Sung In A Heavy Metal Band
Although not strictly a point about the character of Saruman, the fact that Christopher Lee is a heavy metal vocalist is something that should be brought up whenever the opportunity presents itself. The actor had long been famed for the smooth yet foreboding tone of his line delivery, and so his singing talent is perhaps not a surprise.
Lee’s affinity for the world of fantasy led him towards the heavy metal genre later in his life and the actor appeared as a guest on albums by power metal bands such as Manowar and Rhapsody of Fire.
Of course, merely appearing as a guest was not enough for Lee and, in 2010, the actor recorded and released his first metal record: Charlemagne: By The Sword And The Cross. It’s quite brilliant. to say the least.
6 He Plans To Betray Sauron In The Books
One big difference between the book and movie versions of The Lord of the Rings is Saruman’s relationship with fellow villain Sauron.
In the movies, Saruman is presented as a genuine servant of the Dark Lord who has realized that there is no way to win the coming war and that the best option is to side with the overwhelming powerful Sauron.
In the books, however, Saruman only sides with Sauron as a means to an end, namely to steal to One Ring for himself. Consequently, there are several instances where the wizard actively works against his new master.
This alteration was perhaps necessary in order to streamline the narrative somewhat and ensure that the movies had a true secondary antagonist. Having said that, there’s no doubt that the book’s iteration of him is the most intriguing.
5 Tolkien Added Him To The Story Relatively Late
J. R. R Tolkien is famed for his stringent attention to detail, meticulous conceptualization, and ability to concoct rich fictional histories. As such, it may be somewhat surprising to discover that the character of Saruman was added to The Lord of the Rings comparatively late in the process.
While writing of how Gandalf fails to show up for his scheduled rendezvous with Frodo at the Prancing Pony, Tolkien had yet to conceive a reason for the wizard’s non-appearance. Thus, the character of Saruman was born as an agent of Sauron who was once an ally of Gandalf.
The rest of the character’s history and personality evolved from there as Tolkien continued to write and Saruman would eventually become one of the story’s most interesting figures.
4 His Battle With Gandalf Was A Long Time Coming
Casual fans may be under the impression that Gandalf and Saruman were the best of pals up until the confrontation in Orthanc, where Saruman revealed his true allegiance. However, this very much is not the case, and in Tolkien’s wider works, their rivalry is built up over many years before that event.
As soon as the duo enter Middle-earth, the tension begins. The keeper of the Grey Havens, an Elf named Círdan, gives the ring Narya to Gandalf, rather than the Maiar leader Saruman because he believes the Grey wizard to be the greatest of them.
Later on, when the White Council was formed to oppose Sauron, some had wanted Gandalf to lead the group, including the fabled Elf Galadriel. Although Saruman took the position eventually, this foreshadowed the events and battles that would eventually transpire between the two.
3 His Movie Death Scene Was Inspired By Real Events
Saruman’s death scene in the The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy may have been cut from the theatrical release but plenty of thought and planning went into the filming of the sequence regardless. Perhaps the most interesting anecdote from the shoot came from when the crew were filming the moment in which Wormtongue stabs Saruman in the back.
The story goes that Peter Jackson was giving Christopher Lee direction about the stabbing scene, and according to the actor himself, Lee replied “have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody is stabbed in the back. Because I do.”
Jackson claims that Lee went on to refer briefly to some secret World War II operation, and the director simply responded by leaving the issue well alone and letting Lee get on with the scene. Chilling.
2 He Doesn’t Originally Appear In The Hobbit
In hindsight, Peter Jackson probably didn’t need to turn the modestly-sized Tolkien book The Hobbit into three separate movies but, alas, there was Dwarven gold to be made. Jackson attempted to fill that elongated runtime by adapting notes and writings from Tolkien’s archives and appendices that hadn’t previously appeared in the book itself and intertwining them with the original narrative.
The inclusion of Saruman is an example of one such story. Christopher Lee’s character is a key supporting figure in the trilogy, appearing in An Unexpected Journey and The Battle of Five Armies in order to facilitate the tale of Sauron’s initial resurrection.
This is, of course, not included at all in the original story of The Hobbit and was perhaps deemed necessary in order to provide a further connection to the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
1 He Secretly Possessed The Star Of Elendil
When the War of the Ring is over and the threat of Sauron vanquished, a newly crowned Aragorn and his allies are tasked with restoring order to the land, and part of this involved cleaning up the mess that Saruman had made of Isengard during his tenure there.
While sorting through Orthanc, the King discovered a container that could not be opened by regular means and was forced to enlist the help of Gimli, whose Dwarf knowledge was able to crack open the item and reveal what was within.
Inside was one of the greatest treasures of the land: the original Star of Elendil. The jewel was thought lost after passing to Isildur, but had actually been discovered and kept by Saruman. By returning finally to its rightful owner, the reappearance of the Star seemed to underline Aragorn’s new reign as King.
Can you think of any other interesting facts or trivia about The Lord of the Rings' Saruman? Let us hear it in the comment section!
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