Saruman, also known as Saruman the White and Carumo, is a Wizard who plays a primary role in the fantasy plots of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. Saruman was the first of the order of Istari, who came as Emissaries of the Valar to Middle Earth in the Third Age. When the White Council was formed to oppose Sauron, he became the leader of the Wizards.
Saruman is a character with a wide variety of powers, especially as he was the leader of the Wizards. He was extensively well versed in magic, ringlore and mechanics, but his greatest power was the ability of speech, with which he could bend even the strongest minds to his will simply by speaking to them.
However, his immense knowledge of dark magic is actually what led to his lust for power and desire for the One Ring. His self serving evil intentions to amass powers for himself is what led to him allying Isengard with Mordor, in which he was defeated. Saruman is a character who appears morally “grey”, as he is neither an agent of good or evil.
But in spite of holding a high position in the quest for good, why did Saruman turn evil?
Reasons For Saruman Turning Evil
The simplest reason for Saruman’s turn to the evil side is due to his natural personality as a craftsman, and not being a diplomat. He would rather use his skills and gifts for amassing power and respect rather than using it to solve conflicts and bring about peace. The Valar were initially doubtful about sending Saruman to Middle Earth due to his crafty nature, which is exactly what led his stepbrother Sauron astray. It is to act as a buffer that they sent Radagast along with him, so as to teach him qualities of patience and kindness to the weaker beings around him.
However the Valar’s gamble proved wrong when Radagast, becoming engrossed with the creatures of Middle Earth, trusted Saruman too much and left him on his own without keeping a watch as what was intended. Saruman too used this trust for his own good, by learning from Radagast on how he could use the wargs and crows for his own good reasons. Although he used Treebeard’s trust in a similar way, Treebeard caught on and realised his cunning intentions.
His initial inkling for leaning towards the side of evil would be his insecurity and jealousy towards Gandalf. When the decision was taken to send out three emissaries to Middle Earth, Saruman and Alatar volunteered to go, while Gandalf was chosen by Manwe, even when Gandalf initially tried to refuse. To add salt to the wound, Varda said that Gandalf would go but not as the third messenger. This would be something that Saruman would remember, and his ill feelings towards Gandalf could be said to have sprouted from the beginning of their mission itself.
Saruman was ambitious and desired power for himself, akin to what was held by Sauron. Although he may not have been a traitor at heart, by the time he got to Middle Earth, his focus and schemes were entirely on the grasp for power. But when he realised that he could not take on the much stronger Sauron, whose power was unbridled by the Valar and amplified by the One Ring, he decided to become his servant.
He could also not be looked upon as a trustworthy person, as he never held loyalty towards anyone, except maybe to Aule, and was a traitor at heart. His wish for power and envy against Gandalf led him to abandon his Maiar duties to the Valar. Even when he was a servant of Sauron and bent to his will (although not fully), he schemed and deceived his master, although he was exposed later on. His desire for power also made him paranoid, especially towards Gandalf, who he thought was scheming against him. This thought is what led to his justification of scheming against the White Council.
Saruman also loved to amass knowledge, but it led him to delve too deep into the secrets, especially of Ring-lore. The more he gained knowledge, the larger was his desire to amass power so as to order and coordinate actions and establish supremacy over Middle Earth. Even when he claimed that his intention was simply to direct men and elves towards a better way, his only intention was to gain power.
But even when we label him as a character who turned from good to evil, it is worth noting that Saruman never thought of himself to be evil. He genuinely believed that Gandalf would follow him through the path that he had set. He truly believed that his auctions would serve the purpose of the greater good, even justifying to Gandalf that his defection was to bring Sauron from evil to good.
In short, we can say that pride, ambition, insecurity and despair is what led Saruman to choose the path he strode.