Sauron, Saruman and Owen Barfield

I have sometimes wondered why Tolkien chose to represent two poles of evil in Lord of the Rings that of Sauron and Saruman, an unusual structure both in fantastic fiction and in the epic myths from which the story grew. Amongst other ideas it has been suggested that the relationship of Sauron to Saruman reflects the relationship of the various dictators of the Second World War but I find no major evidence of this in the text. A more convincing explanation is that it is part of a theme of how even the supposedly wise and virtuous can be seduced by evil- with the proud Saruman  seduced by Sauron in a way the more humble hobbits are not.

‘A strong place and wonderful was Isengard, and long it had been beautiful. But Saruman had slowly shaped it to his shifting purposes, and made it better, as he thought, being deceived-for all those arts and subtle devices, for which he forsook his former wisdom, and which fondly he imagined were his own, came but from Mordor; so that what he made was naught, only a little copy, a child’s model or a slave’s flattery, of that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, which suffered no rival, and laughed at flattery, biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength’.

A more esoteric explanation of the twin poles of Sauron and Saruman is perhaps the influence on Tolkien of fellow Inkling Owen Barfield (1898- 1997) Barfield was a long-term friend of C.S. Lewis and a founder member of the Inklings. He was a philosopher influenced by the tenets of Anthrosophy. One of the tenets of Anthrosophy as expressed by the founder Rudolph Steiner was the idea of the soul of man being pulled between the two extremes of materialism and spiritual pride personified as ‘Ahriman’ and ‘Lucifer’.

‘To form a right conception of the historical evolution of mankind during approximately 6000 years, one must grasp that at the one pole stands a Luciferic incarnation, in the center, the incarnation of Christ, and at the other pole the Ahrimanic incarnation. Lucifer is the power that stirs up in man all fanatical, all falsely mystical forces, all that physiologically tends to bring the blood into disorder and so lift man above and outside himself. Ahriman is the power that makes man dry, prosaic, philistine – that ossifies him and brings him to the superstition of materialism. And the true nature and being of man is essentially the effort to hold the balance between the powers of Lucifer and Ahriman; the Christ Impulse helps present humanity to establish this equilibrium. Thus these two poles – the Luciferic and the Ahrimanic – are continuously present in man. Viewed historically, we find that the Luciferic preponderated in certain currents of cultural development of the pre-Christian age and continued into the first centuries of our era. On the other hand the Ahrimanic influence has been at work since the middle of the fifteenth century and will increase in strength until an actual incarnation of Ahriman takes place among Western humanity’.

The Ahrimanic Deception Lecture by Rudolf Steiner in Zurich on October 27, 1919.

Viewed in this light Sauron and Saruman can be seen as opposite poles of false spirituality and gross materialism. Sauron as ‘Lucifer’ has spirit servants (the Ringwraiths) insubstantial and formless given a kind of false immortality (in fact slavery to the ring). Wearing black robes to ‘give shape to their nothingness’.

Saruman as ‘Ahriman’ has as his servant the materialistic Wormtongue who craves worldly power and influence. Unlike the spells of Sauron which grant false immortality the enchantments of Saruman imprison King Théoden in a false old age.  Isengard is a place of ceaseless industry mass-producing the materials of war.

‘Iron Wheels revolved there endlessly, and hammers thudded. At night plumes of vapour steamed from the vents, lit from beneath with red light, or blue, or venomous green’

‘The Two Towers’

Treebeard says of Saruman that he has “a mind of metal and wheels.” In contrast Barad-dur is not a factory but seems rather to serve as a physical form for Sauron’s nebulous spirit.

“But Sauron was not of mortal flesh, and though he was robbed now of that shape in which had wrought so great an evil, so that he could never again appear fair to the eyes of Men, yet his spirit arose out of the deep and passed as a shadow and a black wind over the sea, and came back to Middle-earth and to Mordor that was his home. There he took up again his great Ring in Barad-dur, and dwelt there, dark and silent, until he wrought himself a new guise, an image of malice and hatred made visible; and the Eye of Sauron the Terrible few could endure.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

Saruman has as his emblem the White Hand signifying action and industry Sauron’s symbol is that of the lidless eye ever watchful but empty within.

‘The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat’s, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing’.

In a sense Sauron can be seen as spirit without form and Saruman as form without spirit not unlike the Lucifer and Ahriman of the anthrosophical teachings propounded by Owen Barfield.


Anon, Anthroposophy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: [Accessed January 15, 2012a].

Anon, How_Barfield_Thought.pdf. Available at: [Accessed January 15, 2012b].

Anon, Lucifer and Ahriman, The Influences of – Rudolf Steiner Anthroposophy lectures. Available at: [Accessed May 13, 2012c].

Anon, Owen Barfield – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Available at: [Accessed January 15, 2012d].

Anon, Rudolf_Steiner_-_Lucifer_Ahriman_Asuras.pdf. Available at: [Accessed May 13, 2012e].

Carpenter, H., 2006. The Inklings : C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and their friends, London: HarperCollins.

Tolkien, J., 1991. The lord of the rings, London: HarperCollins.