That mysterious picture of what appears to be a wizard impaled on a wheel has generated a lot of speculation in the Tolkien world. I thought it’d be a good use of Net resources to compile some of the thoughts and guesses we’ve received so people can mull them over.

Firstly, Sir Ian McKellen said that it wasn’t him on the spike, though he was on the set at the time; Neither was it Christoper Lee, who’s currently filming in Australia. Right, that’s all clear enough, but it doesn’t rule out that it could be either of their stunt doubles, or even a dummy, as Ken McGuire’s suggested. Even though the camera’s very close to the impaled figure, perhaps they can manipulate the image so it looks like a real (dead) face.

After all, Lee and McKellen are close to seventy, and PJ is going to find a better use for their talents than hanging them upside-down on a spike. Anyone can do that. (me! me! me! – did I just hear volunteers?)
If it isn’t one of the wizards at all, somebody suggested Grima….so, say he gets ideas above his station, puts on the white robe, and Saruman pushes him out of Orthanc? I just made that up 5 seconds ago without a shred of evidence to back it up, but it’s worth mentioning that if the Scouring of the Shire story is reduced, there’s no requirement for Grima to die the same way as in the books.

‘Gollum’ suggested Denethor’s death, with the same reasoning: it’s not crucial to the plot HOW he dies. I dunno, though, would a director miss the chance to film a big fiery immolation scene? All those cool light and smoke effects? Though ‘Gollum’ reckons that could be added in afterwards…..but CGI is expensive and kerosene’s cheap….Plus there’s no mention of machinery in Minas Tirith; there certainly is around Orthanc, so that cogged wheel seems to belong there naturally.

Still, quite a few people opt for Saruman, having fallen out of Orthanc (in this version, Grima pushes him…..leaving Grima free to go on and mess things up in the Shire….and Saruman ends up impaled there.
Where’s the blood? There’d be blood and last night’s dinner all over that spike if it was really supposed to look like the wizard was impaled on it. Maybe that stuff can be added afterwards with CGI, but Xoanon couldn’t see the point of that. I believe Watties Foods have been purveyors of tomato sauce to film directors for a long time in NZ, and nobody’s seen any reason to replace their product with digital effects up til now. CGI is still labour- and time-intensive enough that directors avoid using it if there’s an easier way.

So, if there’s no blood, is it a vision? A dream? Something that Frodo sees in the Mirror of Galadriel? That’s a nice guess from Ed Meier, because we’re told that he sees ‘many scenes flashing quickly before his vision’ or words to that effect, but Tolkien doesn’t tell us exactly what.

C Bracebgirdle offers the theory that it’s a vision that the Ents have while chanting ‘Down with Saruman,’ or a image that appears as they intone, “Wizards ought to know better: they do know better. There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of Men bad enough for such treachery. Down with Saruman!”

Equally, is it a vision sent via the Palantir to make Denethor or Saruman or Aragorn despair? That’s stretching the Palantir a bit beyond the powers that Tolkien allows it, but still, it’s possible.

Saint suggested perhaps they’re filming some torture that Gandalf undergoes while imprisoned by Saruman. We know that Saruman uses violence against him in the scenes that have been filmed already, and it would make Gandalf’s ordeal more believable, or drive home the fact that at that time, Saruman was more powerful than Gandalf, and was able to render him helpless. My objection to that is that having a spike like that through him wouldn’t just torture him, it’d kill him stone-dead.

So, these are the ideas that are floating around at the moment. When all’s said and done, it remains a mystery.