LotR: What If Saruman Doesn't Join Sauron? *spoilers*

Obviously based on hindsight, Saruman made a bad decision as he picked the losing side and ended up very dead.

But it seems to me that if had Saruman not joined Sauron, then the forces of Mordor get whopped. Badly.

Saruman does pretty much all the heavy lifting for their alliance. It is his Uruk-kai that catch the Fellowship, kill Boromir and drive them apart. It is his forces that attack Rohan. It is his spells that is making Rohan weak to begin with. Saruman delays Gandalf, causing him to miss the meeting in Bree. He keeps them from crossing the mountains and forces them in Moria. I’m probably even missing some stuff, those are just the big ones I can recall right now.

If Saruman stays with the good guys:

1 - Gandalf meets Frodo at Bree. Strider beats the Nazgul at Weathertop, can you imagine if Gandalf is there too? In fact, with somebody to watch over the hobbits while Strider scouts, the fire maybe even never gets made. Also also, Frodo maybe never even puts the ring on in Bree and the Nazgul don’t track him there. They would have spent the rest of the first act wandering the woods going “I wonder where is this Bagginsssssss?”

2 - No weak Rohan and no attack on Rohan means that Mordor gets stomped if they even dare to attack in the first place.

3 - No death of Gandalf. They cross the mountains just fine.

4 - No breaking up of the Fellowship. This is one place where maybe Saruman accidentally helps the good guys. It is possible if the Fellowship stays together they all get driven mad by the ring. But with Gandalf still there, that even seems unlikely.

Additionally, not only would all of that bad stuff not have happened they would have had Saruman as an ally and advisor, the whole reason Gandalf went to see him in the first place. Maybe he would have recommended flying in on the eagles! (I’m kidding)

So basically, it seems to me that Saruman is the central pivot of the whole plot. No Saruman betrayal and Mordor loses even more than they do in the story.

LotR is a Christian parable, at a certain level.
Saruman is the Judas figure, and must be a betrayer.

A Gandalf/Sarumon wizard tag team would’ve made for a cool battle scene as they cut a swath of orc death to Mt. Doom.

I realize that. I know the story has to unfold the way the story has to unfold with the themes and messages it intends.

I’m just re-watching the films, and Mordor, for all of its supposed badness is actually in a very bad position without Saruman. Or at least it seems so to me.

Dunno: remember that the siege of Minas Tirith was, for Sauron, only a skirmish. He didn’t unleash his full force.

The Fellowship would still have to creep through the heart of Mordor and to the summit of Orodruin. There are a lot of ways that could go bad.

I agree that the situation, overall, would have been much improved…but I don’t see any likelihood of Mordor getting whopped on the open battlefield, and no guarantee at all of the secret mission succeeding.

(Maybe Saruman could contest Sauron via the Palantir, as Aragorn did, and thus distract the Eye from watching the fences of Mordor… Saruman would have been a good friend for the Fellowship to have had.)

Is it? It’s more of a story heavily influenced by his Christian faith. And his WW1 experiences.

So is the Book of the New Sun from Gene Wolfe. Heavily, heavily influenced by his Catholic faith, but not a parable.

He may not join Sauron, but i don’t think he can join the opposition either, unless you are going to fundamentally change his person?

He is willing to deny the will and instructions of Eru
He is willing to do things his own way, he is already corrupted/corruptible.

Gandalf does not do anything miraculous and only lobs about parlor tricks because Eru
gave him that limitation.
He can not directly confront Sauron, he may not match power for power.
He basically has to encourage man to take up this fight for themselves.
He can only guide and advise and provide encouragement.

Saruman is not willing to exist that way, he craves power, he has forgotten who he is and why he is here.
He has become full of conceit and contempt and greed and has forgotten what he is and who has sent him and why.
Saruman never actually joins Sauron remember, that is a ruse.
Saruman has become obsessed with power, specifically rings of power, he wants the One Ring, he wants a better ring than Gandalf was sent with, he hates Gandalf.
Not pretending to side with Sauron will change that fact.

But go back farther, Eru knew this would happen, it is why he sent Gandalf.
Gandalf would be the only of the 5 Istari to stay the path.

Five “chiefs” of the Istari came to the north of Middle-earth: One, clad in white, was the first to come and was regarded as the head of the order. Of the others were two clad in sea-blue, one in earthen brown and last came one clad in grey, who seemed the least. But Círdan already recognized in the latter the greatest spirit and the wisest and he have him Narya, the Red, one of the Three Rings. After a while Curunír, the White Messenger, became aware that Olórin, the Grey Messenger, had this gift and this was the beginning of the grudge he had against the Grey.
Even Radagast has failed in that aspect, but for other reasons, but still he has in fact failed.

Except Mordor did get stomped on the open battlefield. Mordor sent a force to Minas Tirith and they got destroyed by a Gondor and a weakened Rohan having had their king under a spell and their army damaged by fighting Isengard. If the Men of the West were more united, which is entirely possible without the betrayal of Saruman keeping Theoden under a spell, it seems very likely that things would gone much worse for Mordor.

As for the secret mission, this is a bit of a coin toss. It is hard to dispute that the mission did work out and it is possible that actually have the Fellowship together may have made it worse. Gandalf and Aragorn, as Isildor’s heir, (and maybe Saurman too) on the move…into Mordor. That’s bound to get Sauron’s attention and not in the good way. On the flip side, it seems like the Fellowship would have succeeded as well, and maybe with an easier time. Especially with Gandalf still with them, as they could have greatly used his wisdom and advice.

Well, that is kind of the whole premise of the OP. What if Saruman was not Saruman the Betrayer, but Saruman the White, wise and powerful, and friend to the West?

A lot depends on how far back you want to assume this change of heart goes.

Based on the ROTK appendices, Saruman began searching the ring at least 150 years before the the events in the LOTR, and much of his counsel in the White Council was shaded with the hopes of finding the ring himself. So perhaps he would have supported Gandalf’s call for an attack on Dol Goldur. This would have been about 90 years before the actual attack took place (at the time of the events of the Hobbit).

Perhaps this is early enough that Sauron is still weak and had not rebuilt enough strength in Mordor and so he might have been dispersed to the East for another few hundred years of a “watchful peace.” Is this good? Perhaps.

But Bilbo is about to find the ring and bring it back to the surface. Or maybe not? Maybe Gandalf is not so concerned about Smaug since the Necromancer is no longer haunting Mirkwood, or perhaps he’s chasing rumors of the shadow further to the east. Or maybe the events of the Hobbit still take place, but afterwards Gandalf doesn’t keep as close an eye on Bilbo and Frodo since he is no longer worried about rings and shadows and Dark Lords, and so the ring causes some new kind of mischief. Or perhaps it gets forgotten about in some hobbit hole for a few hundred years until Sauron arises again.

And maybe this future time will find Sauron arising when the strength of the elves has further diminished, and the kingdoms of men are more weakened and divided. And so the land of Middle Earth will be more vulnerable to his conquest.

But I’m going to ignore all that, and assume the history of Middle Earth is essentially unchanged until the start of the LOTR. In that case I think BeepKillBeep is right. The journey for Frodo from the Shire to Rivendell should be much easier since, without being imprisoned in Orthanc, Gandalf can reach the Shire early and the hobbits can leave in July with Gandalf as a companion instead of in September on their own. And maybe if Saruman in Orthanc is opposed to them the Black Riders might not be able to cross the Fords of Isen, or at least they might be slowed down.

I’m not sure what happens to the Council of Elrond if Frodo arrives in Rivendell in August instead of October. Is everyone else there? Is Saruman there? Does Saruman become a member of the Company of the Ring?

In any case the journey of the Fellowship should be much easier. Without Saruman’s mischief Dunland is much safer and the company can take Boromir’s advice and travel through the Gap of Rohan, perhaps resting in the safety of Orthanc instead of Lorien, and then continue through Rohan to Gondor, and then plan their infiltration of Mordor from there.

So what has changed?

No Moria. So the Balrog is not killed and there is no Gandalf the White. Is this good? Maybe not, the Balrog might cause trouble elsewhere, maybe an attack on Lorien. No Gandalf the White could certainly be a problem later on.

No visit to Lorien and no looking into Galdriel’s mirror. Also no gifts from Galadriel. The mirror is maybe an indifferent change, but the elven cloaks, lembas, rope, and particularly the light given to Frodo all proved to be of great worth once in Mordor.

No splitting of the Fellowship. No death of Boromir. Likely no reason for Aragorn to travel the paths of the dead. Does Aragorn use the palantir of Orthanc, revealing himself to Sauron and upsetting his plans? What happens when Boromir, Gandalf, Aragorn, the broken sword and the bane of Isildur all come knocking at the gates of Minas Tirith? How does Denethor react? Will the ring bearer be allowed to leave Gondor? If so, does Gandalf travel with them? Is that a good idea? Part of the success that Frodo and Sam had was being able to sneak about almost unseen. Would a powerful wizard like Gandalf be able to sneak into Mordor without raising any alarms? Who knows?

No Ents? The Battle of Pelennor Fields? No army of the dead? No Aragorn with ships from the South? No Gandalf at Minas Tirith during the battle? I’m sure I’m missing all other potential changes.

So no betrayal by Saruman has many obvious good effects. But there are so many unseen follow on effects and unintended consequences that it’s impossible to tell what the net effect would be. The whole story of the LOTR is built on happenstance, good fortune, and happenstance that even tiny changes could change the whole timeline.

Edit And No Tom Bombadbil!!! What would happen to the story then?

  1. The loss of Mordor at the Battle of Pelennor Fields is a definite loss, but it’s not significantly damaging to the efforts of Mordor. Look what happens two weeks later at the battle before the Black Gates. The power of Mordor is almost unimaginable.

  2. If Saruman doesn’t go all evil, then there would never be his version of Uruks in existence. So he doesn’t add anything appreciable to the strength of the forces of good.

  3. The whole Gandalf goes to Saruman for help episode never happens because Saruman has not reason to summon Gandalf via Radagast. Radagast never tells Gandalf that the Nine have crossed Anduin. Saruman is not having anyone watch The Shire, so Gandalf’s feelings of foreboding might never have been acted upon. Which means maybe the Ring leaves Hobbiton before the end of September, or maybe it doesn’t and Gandalf has to match the Nine right there in The Shire. In any event, it’s not certain then that the Ring gets to Rivendell with the Nine hot on its tail. In the absence of this danger, does the Council send the Ring South?

  4. All other aspect aside, the Ring still has to get inside Mordor. It’s never been clear to me that even Gandalf would have been much help accomplishing this. Probably, the only way it could happen is the way it does: it gets lost from view and Sauron has other things on his mind.

No Tom means no blade of Westernesse for Merry. Does the confrontation with the Witch-King still play out? When and where? Does he still fall if Merry is not positioned and equipped to strike him? How much did his fall impair Sauron’s forces?

On the other hand, we should probably include Saruman’s tinkering bent in the enumeration of benefits he could provide. We don’t know what all he might have made if he hadn’t been busy creating an orcan army, but we do know that he forged a minor ring for himself. Taken to the extreme, what if the Nine of the Fellowship each had a ring to set against the Nine of the Nazgul? His crafting might have taken the place of Galadriel’s gifts–or, if a second Council were called when the Fellowship arrived at Orthanc, she or her representative might have brought the gifts, so the mission would benefit from both.

Ultimately, I think that the stealth mission would have remained the only viable option, though the hobbits might have taken a different route and had more support. However, their allies would probably have been able to muster a much bigger diversion. A stronger force at the Morannon, Aragorn and Saruman tag-teaming Sauron via palantir, and so forth. If the hobbits ended up bypassing Gollum, though, it might all have been for nothing–or not. With less pressure and more support en route, maybe Frodo would never have put the Ring on and been less under its power. Maybe Sam would have Saruman-forged ring imbued with Saruman’s power of persuasion, enabling him to talk Frodo down. Who knows?

Those are some other good responses. I think this is a neat question, but is basically unanswerable. Saruman is one of, I don’t know, the five most powerful beings in all of Middle Earth. His changing sides would have a huge, and basically unknowable, effect on the course on the entire history of Middle Earth. You could just as well ask, what if Gandalf became corrupted by the ring once he learned of it’s true nature? How would that have changed the story?

At that point you’re no longer in Tolkien’s Middle Earth but instead writing your own alternate history.

AFAICR, this is just a movie thing, in the book, it is Caradhras itself that is presented as opposing the Fellowship.

Was this Eru, or the Valar? I thought it was Manwë who sent the Istari. Or are you referring to him post-resurrection?

[quote=“MrDibble, post:14, topic:788732”]

AFAICR, this is just a movie thing, in the book, it is Caradhras itself that is presented as opposing the Fellowship.


Yes, but they went that way because Saruman’s betrayal made the Gap of Rohan route too risky. A friendly Saruman means the Fellowship doesn’t try to climb Caradhras or pass through Moria.

Manwë called the council of the Valar that gave the Istari their marching orders, so he or the council collectively imposed that limitation on them. (I believe it was because the last time the Valar intervened directly, it ended up in a bloody mess.)

For the sake of precision, however, I will note that Manwë personally only chose Olórin/Gandalf. The other Istari were selected by other Valar (except Pallando, who only went because Alatar wanted a wingman).

You know, it’s been a loooong while since I’ve reread the books, but it was never clear to me that Saruman had *joined *Sauron as much as convinced himself Sauron was unbeatable. Saruman likely was preparing a post-human world for himself. Plus, of course, hoping to get The Precious in the bargain.

I mean, as an Istari whose sole reason for existing in the first place is to oppose Morgoth & Sauron, it’s quite obvious that had Sauron definitively won, Saruman would be among the first on the chopping block. If, instead, Saruman is at the head of a strong, industrialized Uruk-hai nation spanning from Rohan to Ered Luin, well, maybe that’s too tough of a nut to crack or at least buys some time… ISTM his main concern and conceit (along with that of most of those fucking elves) isn’t that Sauron himself is oh so powerful - I mean, Morgoth was dozens of times more powerful and he got the sack all right, as well Sauron got his ass banished a couple times - but that all that’s left to oppose him and his armies these days are Men, who are supposedly weak and corruptible and short-lived and yadda yadda Catholic guilt. Hence Saruman took Sauron’s own tools, the Orcs, and made them even betterer, thereby hopefully securing a different future for himself.

Wow, what a reply. I had not considered all these secondary effects but it feeds into my premise that Saruman’s betrayal is a major driver of the plot.

As you say, so much of the success of the mission relied on good luck, that it is impossible to say whether the mission works out. It is quite possible that only two hobbits guided by Gollum could make it to Mt. Doom. (I thought and almost typed Midoriyama). And without all the items and support received the ring could have ended up in the hands of Sauron.

As I was watching “The Return of the King” last night. I found it interesting that there is almost a hero’s quest and then an inverse hero’s quest going on. Frodo is a simple man, leaves the Shire, learns of a bigger world, takes a quest, gains magical items, grows as a person, but then in “The Return of the King” everything is stripped away from him. He loses Sting, he loses his mail shirt, etc. Even his personal growth is ultimately stripped away.

I think you’re right, I get the books and movies mixed up sometimes. I’ve not read the books in a very long time.

I had a similar thought last night and was going to start a thread about it.

This is true.

With respect to the might of Mordor, my impression, and I could be wrong there are people here much more familiar with the books, is that the attacking forces at Minas Tirith represented about half of his force. And the force at the Black Gates the remaining half. I think this is because there were supposed to a few tens of thousands at Minas Tirith and 60,000 at the Black Gates. So it seems about equal. The problem for the forces of the West is they had no ability to resist 60,000 at the Black Gates, they were too weakened from all the previous fighting. I’m supposing that if they are no so weakened perhaps they can resist the remaining 60,000.

Now, if I’m wrong about the half and half, well then I’m just completely wrong on that point. If Mordor has much more troops still remaining than what showed up in Gondor and the Black Gate, then I’m just wrong.