Since the announcement of The War of the Rohirrim, I’ve been pondering how it might all come together. And, in particular, I’ve been pondering the potential role, actions and presence of Saruman.
We know that after coming to Middle-earth (recorded as around TA 1000) Saruman does not settle down. He goes east (as do the Blue Wizards) into the lands beyond Mordor — presumably Harad, Khand and Rhûn. Unlike the Blue Wizards, he returns.
When is not precisely specified. However, in TA 2463 Galadriel summons the first meeting of the White Council (probably held in Rivendell). Given that the outcome of that meeting is that Saruman is appointed head of the council, he must surely have been present.
Might he have returned to the lands in the east following that? He may have. But another option occurs to me: a long sojourn in Minas Tirith — perhaps interrupted by occasional ventures into other lands.
`In former days the members of my order had been well received [in Gondor], but Saruman most of all. Often he had been for long the guest of the Lords of the City. Less welcome did the Lord Denethor show me then than of old, and grudgingly he permitted me to search among his hoarded scrolls and books.The Council of Elrond, The Lord of the Rings
‘”If indeed you look only, as you say, for records of ancient days, and the beginnings of the City, read on!” he said. “For to me what was is less dark than what is to come, and that is my care. But unless you have more skill even than Saruman, who has studied here long, you will find naught that is not well known to me, who am master of the lore of this City.”‘
In fact, as the shiny new head of the White Council, Saruman may well have spent — on and off — several hundred years in Minas Tirith forging good relations with Gondor’s stewards because of its importance as a bulwark against the re-emerging threat of Mordor.
There is some support to be gleaned for this view from Unfinished Tales.
Now the White Messenger in later days became known Elves as Curunír, the Man of Craft, in the tongue of Northern Men Saruman; but that was after he returned from his many journeys and came into the realm of Gondor and there abode.The Istari, Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth
And key events occur in, or around, Gondor during that period. Attacks on Gondor began again in TA 2475. Osgiliath is finally ruined, and its stone-bridge broken. Then, in TA 2510 orcs and Easterlings overrun Calenardhon. Gondor is only saved by the assistance of Eorl the Young. That famous victory at the Field of Celebrant paves the way for the pact of then-Steward Cirion and Eorl that allows the Rohirrim to subsequently settle in Calenardhon.
These are all solid reasons for Saruman to spend time working behind the scenes in Minas Tirith during this period.
Set against all this, the headnote to Appendix B simply states that “Curunír journeyed often into the East, but dwelt at last in Isengard.” But, like, I said, he need not have been in Minas Tirith during all of that period.
At this point, Orthanc is long-unoccupied with the keys at Minas Tirith in the possession of the ruling Steward. Tolkien’s essay on The Palantíri describes how by the time of the rule of the Stewards only rustic “hereditary chieftains” remain in Isengard (Orthanc itself is empty and locked) and that even these are eventually supplanted, subverted, or slain, by Dunlendings.
It is this that gives the Dunlendings in TA 2758 — lead by Wulf — leverage for their campaign against Helm Hammerhand.
But, returning to Saruman, what might have he been doing during this period when both Gondor and Rohan are fighting for their very existence?
We know Saruman has the power to make a difference as Gondor struggled to repel the Corsairs raiding its own coasts. It also seems very possible he was residing in Minas Tirith at the time. But we also know he is constrained by the Valar’s exhortation to “avoid open display of power” and “seek to unite in love and understanding all those whom Sauron, should he come again, would endeavour to dominate and corrupt”.
Surely he wouldn’t just spend such a critical period merely sifting through Minas Tirith’s archives.
So let’s do some theory-crafting here.
What if Saruman had played some key role in repelling the Corsairs from the south Gondor coasts, allowing Gondor to finally come to Rohan’s aid? Surely that would earn him the gratitude of Gondor’s Steward and cement his reputation as a friend of the Dúnedain and the Rohirrim.
It need not have even been a dramatic display of power. After all, during the War of the Ring, Gandalf saves Theoden at Helm’s Deep through his efforts at gathering and coordinating those who opposed Saruman (and Sauron). He gathers the scattered forces of Erkenbrand. He gains the assistance of Treebeard and the loan of the Huorns.
Would Saruman have the humility to accomplish something in a similar vein? To be a facilitator rather than to seek to rule wills through open display of power? I’m not so sure about that — Unfinished Tales suggests that even at this point Saruman was disenchanted by the suggestion that Gandalf should head the White Council, and more generally jealous of the respect Gandalf was accorded. We don’t know for sure, but by this time he may even have been aware that Cirdan had given Gandalf the Narya, the ring of fire.
That might push Saruman to dramatic efforts to assist the Steward of the time, Beren, in repelling the Corsairs. Dramatic efforts that would gain greater recognition.
But what sort of efforts?
For The War of the Rohirrim anime, one answer might draw on the “canon” of the Peter Jackson films. In those, Saruman appears to harness the weather to command the snowstorm on the pass of Caradhras that dramatically halts the progress of the Fellowship.
What if, during The War of the Rohirrim he was to do the opposite — exerting his powers to halt the Long Winter that so devastated the Rohirrim? Or at least to lessen its effects?
The Tale of Years records:
In that year (2758) the Long Winter began with cold and great snows out of the North and the East which lasted for almost five months. Helm of Rohan and both his sons perished in that war; and there was misery and death in Eriador and in Rohan. But in Gondor south of the mountains things were less evil, and before spring came Beregond son of Beren had overcome the invaders.The Tale of Years, The Lords of the Rings
The section detailing the history of the House of Eorl further adds that winter broke soon after the death of Helm. No date is given, but given that Rohan lay under snow from November to March of 2758-9, one could reasonably deduce that the snowmelt began in early-mid April.
Perhaps, in this WarnerBros-verse, Saruman could lend his efforts to keep winter’s effects from devastating Gondor, and/or contribute to breaking its deathly grip on Rohan. This would allow Beregond (son of the Steward, Beren) the opportunity to oust the Corsairs from Gondor’s southern coasts. Beregond can then finally come to the aid of the Rohirrim just as Helm’s sister’s son and heir, Fréaláf, completes his breakout from the fastness of Dunharrow and manages to surprise and slay Wulf in Meduseld.
Rohan and Gondor are saved. Apart from the proposed influence of Saruman, all this is per Tolkien’s given history.
In the aftermath, a grateful Beren asks Saruman what reward he would have. Saruman simply requests the guardianship of Orthanc and the Ring of Isengard in order to, as outlined in Unfinished Tales, “repair it and reorder it as part of the defences of the West.”
What of Saruman’s motives here?
The Tale of Years records that “at the crowning of Fréaláf that Saruman appeared, bringing gifts, and speaking great praise of the valour of the Rohirrim. All thought him a welcome guest.”
He earns not just great prestige, but a seat of power that provides clear control over the Gap of Rohan. Was he intent on consolidating a powerbase even at that point? Or sensibly plugging a hole in the defences of the free peoples of Middle-earth?
Unfinished Tales records that Saruman “had no doubt from his investigations gained a special knowledge of the Stones… and had become convinced that the Orthanc-stone was still intact in its tower.” It further adds that if the then-Steward, Beren, considered the Stone at all when he handed over Orthanc’s keys “he probably thought that it could be in no safer hands than those of the head of the Council.”
In itself that is not damning as to Saruman’s intent. What is dubious is that Saruman never reports the existence of the Orthanc to his colleagues. But it’s not until TA 2850 that he sends servants to search in secret for the Ring at the Gladden Fields. The Tale of Years suggests that it was around that time that Saruman had begun to desire the the Ring for himself. Finally, in TA 2953 he completely stops cooperating with other members of the Council and begins spying on Gandalf.
Regardless, there’s an opportunity for director Kenji Kamiyama to include Saruman in The War of the Rohirrim as more than someone who merely shows up to occupy Orthanc at the end of the film. It will be interesting to see if (and how) he uses that opportunity.
About the author: Staffer Demosthenes has been involved with TheOneRing.net since 2001, serving first as an Associate News Editor, then as Chief News Editor during the making of the Hobbit films. Now he focuses on features and analysis. The opinions in this article are his own and do not necessarily represent those of TheOneRing.net and other staff.