At what point did Saruman become evil in The Lord of the Rings?

Saruman’s transformation into an antagonist in The Lord of the Rings was a gradual process rooted in his ancient history and personal aspirations. As one of Middle-earth’s oldest beings, Saruman, originally known as Curunír, belonged to the Maiar, divine spirits created by Eru Ilúvatar. His apprenticeship under Aulë, the Valar associated with crafting, played a crucial role in shaping his character. This period set the stage for Saruman’s susceptibility to the corrupting influence of power and pride.

The narrative complexity of Saruman’s character emerges from his longstanding envy, particularly directed at Gandalf. Events such as Círdan gifting Gandalf a Ring of Power and Galadriel suggesting Gandalf lead the White Council fueled Saruman’s resentment. Even before his alignment with Sauron, Saruman harbored a deep fascination with the Rings of Power and an intense desire for recognition and leadership. His reluctance to accept that Gandalf wasn’t the first choice for the White Council’s leader showcased early signs of his growing pride.

Saruman’s preoccupation with the Rings of Power intensified when he began researching the One Ring to find a means of defeating Sauron. However, the more he delved into the dark arts, the more he succumbed to the allure of the One Ring. In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘Curunír had turned to dark thoughts and was already a traitor in heart: for he desired that he and no other should find the Great Ring, so that he might wield it himself and order all the world to his will.’

This gradual shift in Saruman’s allegiance and mindset manifested in his manipulation of the White Council. The One Ring’s influence played a pivotal role, inspiring evil in Saruman without its physical presence. His pride, deeply ingrained in his character, prevented him from recognizing the dangers of his actions. The desire for absolute power became a driving force, leading him to deceive allies and concoct elaborate schemes. Saruman’s betrayal extended beyond Gandalf and the Free Peoples of Middle-earth; he sought to betray Sauron eventually and claim the One Ring for himself.

Saruman’s story is one of tragic irony, where the foundations of something great were overshadowed by the flaws within his character. Even as the Wizard’s knowledge deepened, his pride grew, and his actions became increasingly self-serving. His eventual downfall and death at the hands of Grima Wormtongue marked the culmination of a journey marked by betrayal, manipulation, and an insatiable thirst for power. In death, Saruman faced the consequences of turning against the Valar, as his immortal spirit couldn’t return to Valinor, the land he sought to conquer, leaving him utterly powerless.

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