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“The world is changing. Who now has the strength to stand against the armies of Isengard and Mordor? To stand against the might of Sauron and Saruman and the union of the two towers? Together, my Lord Sauron, we shall rule this Middle-earth. The old world will burn in the fires of industry. The forests will fall. A new order will rise. We will drive the machinery of war with the sword and the spear and the iron fist of the Orc. We have only to remove those who oppose us.”—Saruman, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Christopher Lee was famous for playing several well-known villains in his day, but one of his most acclaimed roles was as the wizard Saruman in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. Saruman the White is initially an ally of the forces of good in Middle-earth, but he is corrupted by his own ambition to the side of the Dark Lord Sauron, and ends up serving as one of the main antagonists of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But what did the films leave out from the books? What did they change about Saruman in the movies? What kind of effort did Lee and others involved bring to the iconic character? Read these facts and find out more about the original White Wizard who turned to darkness.


42. On a Level Playing Field

According to the lore of JRR Tolkien, Saruman belongs to the order of beings known as the Maiar. These are demi-gods who rank just below the Valar (the gods of this world), but above almost everyone else. Along with Saruman, other named Maiar in the books are Gandalf, Sauron, and the Balrogs.

41. You’re My Boss

If you’ve read The Silmarillion, which serves as the epic prequel to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, you might have noticed that the being known as Saruman was originally called Curumo (which meant “the skilled one”), and he served the Valar known as Aulë. Aulë was the master smith who taught metalwork to the peoples of Middle-earth and also created the Dwarves. 

40. Any Way, Any Role

Christopher Lee had been a diehard fan of the books, re-reading them once a year for decades. When a big-budget film adaptation finally went into production, he lobbied hard for the role of Gandalf. However, by that point he was considered too old to take part in the action scenes required of Gandalf. Eager to be involved in the project regardless, Lee accepted the role of Saruman instead.

39. Your Task, Should You Choose to Accept It…

Saruman first appeared in Middle-earth as a wizard about a thousand years into the Third Age. He was one of five “Istari,” sent to Middle-earth by Manwë, the leader of the Valar, to combat the power of Sauron.

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38. Subtitle Drop!

In Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, each of the film’s subtitle (ie. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers) is spoken in the film’s dialogue by one of the characters. In the case of the second film, that honor goes to Saruman when he gloatingly asks who can possibly “stand against the might of Sauron and Saruman and the union of the two towers?”

37. Won’t Take Too Long

Reprising his role as Saruman, Christopher Lee filmed his cameo in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in just four days.

36. Two Villains is Too Many

Aside from reprising his role as Saruman, Christopher Lee was also interested in voicing the dragon Smaug in the Hobbit films. However, Benedict Cumberbatch was cast instead. Look, we all wanted that part, but it can only go to one guy!

35. In Need of a New Neighbor

In the year 2759 of the Third Age, the ruling steward of Gondor was Beren. At the time, Gondor had had a vicious conflict with three fleets of corsairs from Umbar, and Rohan had been overrun by the wild men from Dunland, only barely defeating them. Both these realms were so crippled by war that Beren welcomed Saruman to live in the ancient tower of Orthanc at Isengard, one of the three great Fortresses of Gondor.

34. Play Nicely, Everyone!

In the year 2463 of the Third Age, the Middle-earth version of the Justice League was formed. It was known as the White Council and it was formed with Saruman in charge of it. However, Saruman’s place as top dog was contested by Galadriel, who possessed one of the three Elvish Rings of Power. She wanted Gandalf to lead the council, but Saruman and Gandalf both refused, Gandalf saying no out of humility and Saruman refusing to step down because of his pride.

33. What are the Odds?

Coincidentally, Saruman and the others formed the White Council the very same year that the hobbit known as Deagol found the One Ring in the river, where it had lain hidden for thousands of years. He was then promptly murdered by Smeagol, who took the Ring and slowly warped into the creature known as Gollum under its corruption. This re-discovery of the One Ring would accelerate events leading up to Sauron’s return, the War of the Ring, and Saruman’s corruption and downfall.

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32. You Had One Job!

Saruman was initially the leader of the five wizards sent to stop Sauron. However, he was eventually cast out of the order by Gandalf after he’d betrayed his mission and joined forces with the Dark Lord.

31. I’m a People Person

Saruman was a very powerful wizard, but his strongest asset was his power of speech. Saruman was known for his ability to ensnare almost anyone with the power of his voice. This power didn’t leave him even after the Ents overthrew the power of Isengard, and he was able to create further mischief even without the majority of his abilities.

30. So We’re Cool?

Speaking of, well, his power of speech, at some point in the third book, Saruman was able to use it to convince Treebeard to let him leave Isengard, though Treebeard did make sure that Saruman locked the door and gave him the key when he left!

29. Lost in Translation

Saruman’s original name of Curomo was eventually translated by the Elves into the name “Curunir,” which also means “man of skill.”

28. Nobody Said Orcs are Polite…

While Saruman went through several names during his time in Middle-earth, one of the more interesting ones is “Sharkey.” This was what he was called by the orcs in Isengard, which was a derivative from the Orcish word “sharku,” meaning “old man.” I think I’m going to start calling him Sharkey from now on!

27. I was First Twice!

Interestingly, Christopher Lee was the first person cast in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was also the only member of the cast to have ever met JRR Tolkien in person!

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26. Collect Call

One of the perks of living in Isengard was that the tower of Orthanc possessed one of the Palantiri. These seeing-stones were all interconnected with each other, like a magical Skype system. Because of this, Saruman’s corruption became complete when he began using his stone to communicate with Sauron.

25. Human-Centric

Unlike Gandalf, who spent a great deal of time with nearly all of the different races in Middle-earth, Saruman focused primarily on the realms of men. He had brief interactions with the Elves and Ents in his pursuit of knowledge, but he clearly had little time or respect for them based on how he arranged for many trees of Fangorn Forest to be cut down, while Galadriel herself never had much contact with him despite the relatively small distance between them. It’s never recorded in the books that Saruman had any interactions with the Dwarves, while his interactions with the hobbits only came about in his spying on Gandalf.

24. Stop Messing with Our Buzz, Saruman

During his appearances in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, Saruman insults two of his fellow wizards for their foolishness by blaming it on their love for substances. In The Fellowship of the Ring, he berates Gandalf for his “love of the Halflings’ leaf” resulting in him not realizing that Bilbo had the One Ring. In An Unexpected Journey, he calls Radagast the Brown a fool because of his interest in mushrooms. Sounds like a bit of a narc if you ask me.

23. In Another Timeline…

Before Christopher Lee signed the dotted line to play Saruman, Peter Jackson was reportedly considering some other actors to play the treacherous wizard, including Tim Curry, Jeremy Irons, and Malcolm McDowell. Sadly, the world will never get to see Saruman dancing around while singing “Don’t Dream It, Be It.”

22. Enemy to All Hippies

Saruman’s descent from good to evil is characterized in the books and the movies as a turn from the natural world to industrialization and machines. Saruman is described negatively as having a “mind of metal and wheels.” He is either oblivious to the environmental damage that he does, or he outright seeks to do as much damage as he can, particularly when he sets himself up in the Shire, something that is not touched upon in the movies.

21. Capture the Star

According to Tolkien, Saruman kept quite a few interesting treasures in Orthanc while he studied the history of the One Ring and Middle-earth. One of the most prized possessions which fell into his hands was the original Star of Elendil. This jewel was an heirloom of the Kings of Gondor and Arnor, passed down through the generations. Aragorn would later find it in Orthanc and claimed it for himself as the returned king.

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20. Saruman to the End

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies was the last of Christopher Lee’s films to be completed and released before his death on the 7th of June 2015. He was 93 years old when he passed away.

19. Lost in Adaptation

Saruman’s interest in technology and industry leads him to develop a material which is referred to only as a “blasting fire” in the books. This material is used by the army of Isengard to blast away parts of the defenses around Helm’s Deep. Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the battle depicted the “blasting fire” to be explosive material which was used as a primitive form of dynamite. Ralph Bakshi’s animated film adaptation portrayed the fire as bursts of magic sent by Saruman himself.

18. Actually, I was Just Interested in Opening a Jewelry Store

In the books, one title which Saruman gives himself is the moniker “Ringmaker.” This is because, in an attempt to ape Sauron and the Elven-smiths of old, he designed a ring of power for himself, which he wears in the books. However, we’re never told what specifically it can do to enhance Saruman’s power, and it is only briefly referenced. As a result, no film versions of the books have even bothered to bring it up.

17. Make Way for Saruman!

Although the White Council is hinted at in The Hobbit, Saruman doesn’t actually appear in the book. However, when it came time to expand the relatively short book into three films, what better way to do so than to add Saruman (along with anyone else they could find)?

16. What’s My Name?!

When Ralph Bakshi made his own adaptation of The Lord of the Rings in 1978, he and his team decided that the names “Saruman” and “Sauron” were too similar and would confuse audiences. Therefore, the decision was made to drop the “S” from Saruman’s name so that he became known as “Aruman.” Even more confusingly, they changed their minds during production, leaving pronunciations of “Saruman” and “Aruman” at different points throughout the film.

15. What’s So Special About Him?!

Saruman’s envy of Gandalf began pretty much when they first arrived in Middle-earth. When the five Istari arrived, their first stop was the Grey Havens. Cirdan the Shipwright, who was in charge of the port city, met the wizards and welcomed them. But despite the fact that Saruman was the leader, Cirdan recognized that Gandalf was the wisest one, and he gave Gandalf Narya, one of the three Elven Rings of Power. Saruman was understandably annoyed when he found out what Gandalf had gotten!

14. Last-Minute Addition

Interestingly, Saruman was introduced fairly late in the process of writing the Lord of the Rings books. JRR Tolkien had to come up with a reason for why Gandalf didn’t make it to the Inn of the Prancing Pony to reunite with Frodo. Saruman was thus created as a former friend turned enemy who could keep a wizard like Gandalf imprisoned!

13. I Fought the Door. It Won.

At one point during production of The Lord of the Rings, Christopher Lee had a mishap with his hotel door and accidentally broke his hand. If you watch The Fellowship of the Ring, you can see evidence of the injury on Saruman’s hand as he taunts Gandalf about going over the mountain of Caradhras.

12. Well I Never!

Originally, the death of Saruman was meant to be in the theatrical cut, but it was taken out at the last minute. Lee was reportedly so furious at being left out of the third film that it led to a falling-out with Peter Jackson. Thankfully, they buried the hatchet when it came time to film the Hobbit trilogy.

11. Now We Can Laugh About it

Of course, even after bygones were bygones, Lee couldn’t help but remind Jackson of his hurt feelings when the first Hobbit film had its big premiere. Allegedly, Lee jokingly asked Jackson if he was still in the finished film. We can only imagine that Jackson gave a long sigh before saying “Yes.”

10. Going Green (Screen)

When it came time to film his scenes as Saruman in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Lee was unable to make the journey to New Zealand because of his age. As a result, he went to Pinewood Studios in London to film his scenes, only to be digitally inserted into the rest of the footage.

9. Quite the Kaleidoscope

Despite being known as Saruman the White, he actually gave up that moniker and fashion choice by the time he is introduced in The Fellowship of the Ring. Upon reuniting with Gandalf, he declares that he is now Saruman of Many Colors, and Gandalf notes that his robes, while seeming to still be white, are made up of multiple colors at once, shifting and sparkling to provide one heck of a trippy sight. While Jackson’s version of the trilogy omits Saruman’s title change, Ralph Bakshi’s film version of Saruman does refer to himself as “Saruman of Many Colors,” though his robes are only red, which seems like false advertising if we’re being honest.

8. Mountain Pass

In the book The Fellowship of the Ring, the fellowship attempts to cross the mountain of Caradhras on their journey. However, a snowstorm hinders them every step of the way, and they eventually give up. It is left ambiguous whether the mountain is simply impassable or if there was an evil spirit responsible for the awful conditions. In Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation, however, Saruman is depicted as actively using his magic to turn the weather against them.

7. Not Exactly Christian Bale Level, but Still an Outburst

As impressive as the interior of Orthanc looked in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, part of the design proved difficult for Christopher Lee to work with. The steps to his throne, combined with his long robes, made walking up the steps a distraction to Lee’s ability to act in the scene. During one take, Lee lost his cool and disparaged the “goddamned steps” and claimed he couldn’t get up them smoothly. This moment was included in a blooper reel for The Fellowship of the Ring.

6. The Mystery of Hobbits

The irony of Saruman’s insults towards Gandalf for enjoying the pipe-weed produced by the Shire in the film The Fellowship of the Ring is that in the books, Saruman had begun acquiring a supply of said pipe-weed in an imitation of Gandalf. This was part of a scheme by Saruman to figure out what Gandalf found so interesting about the Shire and its people, leading him to first visit the Shire personally, and then establish a spy system when he wished to avoid attracting attention to himself.

5. The Scouring

If you have seen the Lord of the Rings films but not read the book, you may have a very different impression of the villain Saruman. In the novel, a scene known as the “Scouring of the Shire” takes place toward the end, in which the Shire is found in a ruined and enslaved state thanks to the dark Saruman, now going by the name Sharkey. This culminates in the Battle of the Bywater where the hobbits take back their home from the evil sorcerer. This is significant because Tolkien wanted to show that the War of the Ring affected the Shire after all, and in a cruel twist of fate, the final action of the war was committed on the doorstep of Bag-End, where Frodo’s journey had begun!

4. Dead? Not Quite

Because he was a Maia, Saruman didn’t completely die in the sense that the humans of Middle-earth die. By rights, his spirit should have gone back to the Halls of Mandos in the Undying Lands, but because of his evil treachery, he was not given this honor. According to Tolkien, Saruman’s spirit was doomed to wander in the void, forbidden to return to Middle-earth.

3. Why Wasn’t This in the Theatrical?

The extended edition of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King features a confrontation between Saruman, King Theoden, and Gandalf in the ruins of Isengard. Grima Wormtongue turns on his master and murders him in cold blood before being shot to death by Legolas. Saruman’s corpse then falls to earth from the tower, and the Palantir falls from his robes into the water.

2. Nobody’s Friend

One thing which the books talk about, but the movies leave out, is the fact that Saruman wasn’t truly on Sauron’s side! Sure, he betrays the forces of good, but he is very much planning to betray Sauron by stealing the One Ring for himself. Several times in the book, Saruman or the forces of Isengard undermine the efforts of those loyal to Sauron in the effort to further Saruman’s own ambition. The irony is that by the time of The Two Towers, Saruman has essentially been revealed as a double traitor and is desperately trying to find the One Ring for himself, as he believes that will allow him to overthrow Sauron and continue on his path to dominate the people of Middle-earth. Therefore, there is no union of the two towers in the books like there is in the movies.

1. I Have Seen Death, and Smiled in Recognition

While filming Saruman’s death scene for Return of the King, Peter Jackson tried to give direction to Christopher Lee on how to behave when he gets stabbed in the back by Grima Wormtongue. Lee proceeded to remind Jackson that as a former member of the British Secret Service during the Second World War, he knew perfectly well what a man sounded and looked like when he was stabbed in the back.

Sources1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18

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