Chapter X: The Voice of Saruman
Now that most of the gang is back together, it’s time to go see Saruman. Though he might have turned to evil, he was wise once (and still might be) and he may know what Sauron’s plans are. Talking to Saruman isn’t like having a conversation with your best mate, though. He’s a charismatic wizard who knows how to convince people of whatever he wants. He managed to soothe Gandalf’s fears regarding the Ring and his own intentions toward it, after all, and talked the Dunlanders into attacking Rohan at Helm’s Deep. Saruman knows how to talk people into doing things, even against their better judgment: “Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound and enchantment. Those who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words that they heard; and if they did they wondered, for little power remained in them Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that is said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves.” That is, people caught up in the web of Saruman’s words wish to seem wise by association, and so agree with whatever he says. There is power in words, and Tolkien knew this. The words ‘grammar’ and ‘glamour’ are derived from the same root, and both, in their older usage, indicated spells and magic. Saruman’s ‘magic’ comes from his voice and his ability to talk people into doing what he wants.
It works at first. Gandalf, Theoden, Aragorn, and the others approach the steps of Orthanc, and Gandalf calls on Saruman to come out and talk to them, which Saruman does. He opens by acting like the injured party. Sure, he instigated some violence, but he has nothing now. He’s just a poor old man, his domain lies in ruins, and there are Ents watching his every move. What can he do now? Can’t they let bygones be bygones and make peace like they used to? Rohan and Isengard used to be allies, surely they can be again? They’re not buying it, but Gimli’s the one who speaks up, “‘The words of this wizard stand on their heads… In the language of Orthanc help means ruin, and saving means slaying, that is plain. But we do not come here to beg.'”
This angers Saruman, but he has enough presence of mind not to snap too much. He talks directly to Theoden, claiming that for years the king has come to him for advice. Can’t they go back to that again?
At first, it seems like Theoden is falling under Saruman’s spell again. He’s not answering, and no one can tell if he’s angry or doubting himself. Eomer reminds him of the blood on Saruman’s hands, but Saruman tries to play it off, saying that he can’t be called a murderer just because men have died in battle.
Finally, Theoden speaks. Initially, it sounds like he’s going to go along with Saruman, but his tone quickly changes. “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.” Theoden is done listening to Saruman and would rather see him hanged for his crimes than listen to him anymore.
Not getting his own way enrages Saruman, but he masters himself in the end and tries to con Gandalf into coming inside for a chat. Gandalf’s having none of it, and though Saruman makes a last-ditch effort with the last of his power, he can’t break through. Gandalf calls on him to come down and share what he knows of Sauron’s plans. Saruman is having nothing to do with this, and their argument ends with Gandalf revealing himself to Saruman as ‘Gandalf the White’. He casts Saruman out of the Council of the White and breaks his staff and his power. He is a wizard no more and has lost his power. From here on out, he’s a spiteful old man locked up in a tall tower with Wormtongue.
And speaking of Wormtongue… Out of spite or whatever, good old Grima throws a glass ball out of the window. It doesn’t hit anyone, and Pippin runs to pick it up. It’s a mysterious but beautiful ball that intrigues Pippin to no end. Gandalf quickly takes it away from him, and they leave Orthanc. Gandalf admits to Merry that he hadn’t expected Saruman to tell them anything, but it was worth a shot. He’s going to leave Saruman where he is for now, and let the Ents watch over him. In the meantime, the ball Wormtongue tossed out the window might be more helpful than anything Saruman has said, though he won’t say what, exactly, the ball is.
It’s time to leave Isengard. Saruman can neither hurt nor help them for now, and Treebeard has agreed to watch over him.
Chapter XI: The Palantir
Now that the company is done with Saruman, their initial plan was to return to Edoras. Theoden has changed his mind, though. They will ride on to Dunharrow, where he told Eowyn to retreat with the women, children, and old people. Haste is crucial now, and the less Sauron sees of Rohan’s intentions, the better. This means getting people to defendable positions as soon as possible.
But that doesn’t mean riding through the night this time. They need to rest sometime, so they stop for the night, set up a watch, and everyone tries to get some sleep. Everyone except Pippin, that is. Something’s on his mind, and it’s made him antsy enough that he’s keeping Merry awake, too. So what’s Pippin obsessing about? Gandalf, it seems at first, but Merry quickly susses out the real answer. It’s that ball he picked up at Orthanc, the glass one that Wormtongue threw out the window. There was something intriguing about it, and Pippin wants another look at it. Merry tells him to mind his own business and go to sleep, and then takes his own advice and falls asleep, but Pippin can’t let it go. He wants to see it again.
That’s the thing about items of power in Middle-earth. The desire to see/use/possess them grows in the mind like a weed, overwhelming your sense and reason until that item is the only thing you can think about. It happened once upon a time with Feanor and the Silmarils, it happened with Gollum- and now Frodo- and the Ring, and it’s happening now to Pippin with the glass ball. “The thought of the dark globe seemed to grow stronger as all grew quiet. Pippin felt again its weight in his hands, and saw again the mysterious red depths into which he had looked for a moment.” He can’t stand it anymore, so he gets up, sneaks over to where Gandalf is sleeping and slips away with the ball. He knows it’s a bad idea. He wants to put it back. But he just can’t bring himself to do it.
He sneaks away and looks into the ball. Then he literally can’t look away. A fiery light grows within the ball. Then it goes out, and Pippin struggles against something. He cries out and then falls over.
His cry awakens the camp. Gandalf finds Pippin in short order, takes the ball away, and then sets about reviving him. With an effort, Gandalf gets Pippin to tell him what he saw: a dark sky, tall battlements, and tiny stars before some horrible thing with wings appeared. Then some horrid presence came to question and torment him. All Pippin managed to say was that he was a hobbit before the presence laughed and gave him a message for Saruman. It didn’t know that Saruman had been defeated and that the ball- a Palantir- was no longer at Isengard.
Just what is a Palantir? It’s something like a crystal ball, crafted way, way back in the First Age so kings could communicate with each other. Most of them have been lost over the years, but a few remain and it turns out that Saruman had one. It was what he was using to communicate with Sauron, and it’s what helped the dark lord suborn Saruman over time. It takes strength of will to command a Palantir and make it show what the user wants, and Sauron’s will was greater than Saruman’s. Unfortunately for Saruman, he had enough pride that he thought he was in charge of the whole situation, when in fact, Sauron was.
Poor Pippin had no idea what he was getting himself into, and it was only because the presence wasn’t up to date with the latest news and thought the hobbit was Saruman’s captive that it didn’t question him anymore. If the presence had pressed Pippin, they would have lost everything. Sauron would have been alerted to their plans and would have devoted all his strength to finding Frodo. But the presence was too hasty and it made assumptions, and so the Quest was saved.
But now Gandalf has to move quickly. They have a slight advantage, but it won’t be long before Sauron finds out what happened at Isengard. The Fool of a Took lucked out this time. Gandalf tells him to get some rest. He has to go make new plans.
Gandalf gives the Palantir to Aragorn since it’s his by right, but it goes with a warning not to use it and to keep it secret. He also wants to keep it away from Pippin, as the desire to look at the stone might come over him again. But at least they know how Isengard was communicating with Barad-dur, and perhaps this little event will slow Sauron down a little while he deals with Saruman. “‘Strange powers have our enemies, and strange weaknesses!’ said Theoden. ‘But it has long been said: of evil will shall evil mar.'” That is, evil gets so wrapped up in its own pride and conviction that it can get in its own way and potentially cause its own downfall. Perhaps. Sauron will have a moment of doubt, but only a moment. Gandalf must capitalize on that moment and make the most of it. He is going to go to Minas Tirith, and he’s taking Pippin with him.
At that moment, a shadow passes over the moon and sends a wave of fear washing over the encampment. It’s a Nazgul, though not the one Pippin saw in the stone. Still, it’s a bad omen, and Gandalf wastes no time. He calls Shadowfax to him, puts Pippin onto the horse’s back, and rides away into the night.
Next week: We meet back up with Frodo and Sam and finally get a look at Gollum in ‘The Taming of Smeagol’ and ‘The Passage of the Marshes’.