-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
You know, on at least one level, you have to feel sorry for Saruman --- well, I do, anyway, particularly over that little excerpt above, which we’ll get into in a minute. But let’s do a little background for a moment on how we arrived at that moment in the narrative.
In Tolkien’s Middle Earth --- the setting for his epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings --- Saruman’s kind of a Big Thing. He’s been head of The White Council, a group of similar Big Characters possessing major magical powers, who have, between them, achieved some fairly spectacular feats in their time. Problem is, like most of us tend to do at some point in our lives, Saruman’s gone and made a cataclysmically bad decision, one that will prove to have life-altering consequences for him: he’s turned traitor to the White Council and the forces of good by allying himself to Sauron, the biggest, baddest villain you could ever hope not to meet. If that isn’t awful enough, by the time we get to the quote above, Saruman’s army has been destroyed and his impregnable fortress of Isengard has turned out not to be impregnable after all; in fact, it’s a sodden, crumbling mess, invested and destroyed by his erstwhile allies, now his adversaries, and he’s reaching the unpalatable conclusion that all his treachery and schemes have come to naught. It’s fair to state he’s having the mother of all really bad days.
But then… surprise! He’s offered mercy and clemency by his one-time number 2 wizard, Gandalf. The fact that he foolishly turns it down out of a misplaced sense of overweening pride is fascinating… but not really the subject I want to moot around today.
Huh? you say. What ARE we talking about, then? Well, folks, it’s simple: the concept of change and how difficult it is for most of us. Look at that quote, and in particular the lovely, lovely descriptive phrase Tolkien crafted: the anguish of a mind in doubt, loathing to stay and dreading to leave its refuge. Magnificent. Isn’t that how many of us --- literary characters and “real” people alike --- approach change? Not wanting to stay where we are, in the circumstances we’re experiencing… but simultaneously supremely reluctant to step out in faith and do something or go somewhere new?
I’d say we can group people (and literary characters) into three broad categories when we discuss the concept of change: those who hate/fear it with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns and will do just about anything to resist it; those who throw caution to the wind and embrace it with heedless, enthusiastic abandon; and a quiet middle group who really aren’t enthusiastic, but resignedly recognize the futility of attempting to halt the process of change and so will proceed, attempting to make the best of things (and mitigate any possible damage caused in the process). You need to be wary about the first and last groups, I think, because, as we’re all too wearily aware from history --- and current events --- hate and fear can drive people to do pretty ugly things. So can unbridled optimism that fails to look at possible negative repercussions.
As I approach my impending retirement after a successful and mostly very enjoyable teaching career spanning 34 years… I’m trying very hard to place myself in that middle group. At times, it’s all too easy to identify with Saruman’s take on his dilemma, but I’m working on looking at it as a new chapter, full of opportunities. I don’t want to stay in Orthanc, gazing out over a dreary, flooded mess. I want to accept Gandalf’s invitation when he says: “Nay, I do not think I will come up. But listen, Saruman, for the last time! Will you not come down? Isengard has proved less strong than your hope and fancy made it. So may other things in which you still have trust. Would it not be well to leave it for a while? To turn to new things, perhaps? Think well, Saruman! Will you not come down?”
Now, how could anyone in their right mind turn down an invitation like that?
(And among other things, I hope it will give me more time and energy to write!)