Artboard Created with Sketch. Close Search Dialog
! Error Created with Sketch.

The Two Towers

J. R. R. Tolkien

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 3

“I did not give you leave to go,” said Gandalf sternly. “I have not finished. You have become a fool, Saruman, and yet pitiable. You might still have turned away from folly and evil, and have been of service.
But you choose to stay and gnaw the ends of your own plots.”

Gandalf’s fierce rebuke of Saruman in Book III, Chapter 10, shows us the relationship between the good wizard and his former superior, now his enemy. Gandalf speaks “sternly” to Saruman, as a parent might speak to a disobedient child, telling the corrupt wizard that he does not have permission to leave until the lecture is over. Adults of similar rank do not speak to each other in this condescending manner, even when they are angry. Rather, Gandalf’s is the tone taken by one who clearly feels superior to the person he is addressing. Indeed, Gandalf does feel superior to Saruman, and he is not ashamed to say as much. Gandalf’s superiority is not based on power or prestige; after all, Saruman was the leader of Gandalf’s order, and Gandalf addresses even those below him with extreme respect. Instead, Gandalf’s sense of superiority stems from the incorrect moral choices Saruman has made, which have cost him considerable respect. Gandalf’s association of “folly” with evil reflects this lack of esteem, as if only fools play at being wicked.

Tolkien implies here that evil is something chosen, rather than a cosmic force that sweeps innocent people up and corrupts them. Gandalf stresses that, until recently, it was still possible for Saruman to repent his ways: “You might still have turned away from folly and evil. . . .” Saruman might have, but he did not: he made a choice, and it was the wrong one. After that, Gandalf again emphasizes, “[Y]ou choose to stay.” Such a conception of morality as free choice is important in Tolkien’s universe. As grand and dramatic as the tale of The Lord of the Rings is, its definition of good and evil is very traditional. Every being, from the humblest Dwarf to the mightiest Wizard, chooses a course of action in life and then accepts the consequences.