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Parallels Between Gandalf and Saruman: Good and Evil

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The relationship between Gandalf and Saruman in J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy The Lord of the Rings is not only a depiction of good versus evil, but a depiction of the corruption of magic and power. Gandalf and Saruman are two incredibly powerful wizards, both of which are looked up to by many throughout the novel, in both admiration and in fear. Gandalf and Saruman began their journeys as wizards on the White Council together, using their powers for the greater good. However, once greed, jealousy, and a fierce desire for power set in, Saruman started to use his magic for evil, and began plotting to take over Middle-Earth by joining forces in an attempt to unleash the Dark Lord, Sauron. It can be debated who the stronger, or more powerful wizard is between Gandalf or Saruman, thus why Tolkien demonstrates the pair of wizards as a juxtaposition to represent both the good, and the evil side of magic and power. Despite their obvious physical similarities, Saruman can be seen as a representation of Gandalf’s ‘evil twin’ who willingly turned into a villain once he submitted to the temptation of greater power, supremacy, and domination.

In The Lord of the Rings, there are only two sides — good and evil. Those who are depicted as good side with Gandalf, fighting for morality, ethics, and overall peace among all the hobbits, elves, dwarves, and free people. Those who are depicted as evil coincide with Saruman, and share a severe desire for power in order to control or take over Middle-Earth. On two completely opposite sides of the spectrum, Tolkien uses Gandalf and Saruman to illustrate extreme good and extreme evil. Gandalf and Saruman are a juxtaposition, as they both possess a great deal of power and prestige as wizards, yet use their powers so drastically different, as they have two completely opposite motives.

Both Gandalf the Grey — protagonist and noble member of the Istari — and Saruman of Many Colours — antagonist and tainted leader of the Istari — were sent by the Valar to stop Sauron’s upheaval. Saruman’s attraction to Sauron’s ability to dominate and control all of Middle-Earth resulted in him joining forces with Sauron in an attempt to rule Middle-Earth himself. In the same way that Saruman allies with Sauron to gain power, he allies with Gandalf prior to turning evil. Saruman sought out Gandalf as an ally; however, once Gandalf surpassed Saruman as a wizard, out of bitterness and resentment, he joins forces with Sauron to gain even greater power. It was noted by Gandalf that, “Saruman has studied the arts of the enemy himself” (Tolkien, 63). Although Saruman obtains a great deal of power, he recognizes that he is not powerful enough to conquer Middle-Earth on his own. Saruman studies his enemies, in order to become stronger than those who are a challenge or threat to him. As a result, Saruman’s choice to join force with Gandalf and Sauron was a strategic move to further assist himself in increasing his powers so that he would soon be able to take over Middle-Earth.

The temptation of power, corruption, and evil is an incredibly powerful notion throughout this trilogy. The power that comes to the possessor of the One Ring, for instance, is something that many may desire, but are unwilling to submit to as a result of the evil ramifications that come with such power. In the same sense that Gollum is unable to resist the temptation and powers that come with the One Ring, Saruman is unable to resist the temptation of using his powers to help unleash Sauron and rule Middle-Earth. One of the many reason’s why Gandalf is so admired and sought after as a wizard is because he uses his powers for the greater good of humanity. Gandalf shares the same powers and capabilities as Saruman, yet he does not use his powers as a means of command. Saruman has the same, if not more potential to be a great and noble wizard like Gandalf, however he chooses to use his powers for evil, which ultimately secures his defeat. If Gandalf and Saruman had joined forces and fought against the Dark Lord together, they would be an unstoppable entity and potentially rule the Middle-Earth together as White Wizards. Saruman’s decision to betray Gandalf and join forces with Sauron ultimately led to his demise.

In order to create literary symmetry, it is necessary for Tolkien to illustrate Gandalf and Saruman as equal binaries that are also enemies fighting against one another. Gandalf is such an incredibly powerful and noble wizard that in order for the story to progress, there needs to be a threat. Sauron is not a threat on his own if he does not have the One Ring, but the threat of Saruman joining forces with Sauron in an attempt to put the power once again back into his hands to conquer Middle-Earth is what makes The Lord of the Rings both a captivating and compelling trilogy. Gandalf and Saruman are both powerful enough on their own, that if they had remained allies, Sauron would be unable to rise back into power, the One Ring would destroyed, and Middle-Earth would remain in harmony. Saruman is an essential character in this trilogy, even more so than Gandalf because he creates conflict by challenging Gandalf and puts Middle-Earth into a state of turmoil, thus creating a profusion of climactic elements.

Tolkien chooses to represent Saruman and Gandalf as pairs, because they are both highly skilled and knowledgable wizards that possess similar powers and capabilities, yet have taken two different paths with their magic. In a trilogy full of temptations and evil — such as the One Ring — Tolkien allows us to see the repercussions of power in the hands of evil, as it leads to a desire of even greater power and corruption. Saruman and Gandalf are both incredibly powerful, however, Gandalf is able to control himself and use his powers for the greater good, while Saruman uses his powers in order to deploy his control over others. Saruman’s decision to turn evil, and of ‘many colours’ serves to further highlight Gandalf’s noble status and allows him to be recognized as an upstanding, virtuous wizard to a greater extent. Tolkien’s representation Gandalf and Saruman as not only enemies, but as a pairing is integral to the story, as it stresses that they are supreme equals to one another. Despite Gandalf symbolizing a Godly figure, and Saruman symbolizing a Satanic figure, the two serve to inexplicably compliment one another as a pairing.

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