It is interesting to me that no other word slips from Saruman’s mouth more frequently than “wisdom” or “wise.”  He compliments Gandalf sarcastically for being “so cunning and so wise”; he invokes “that good which only the Wise can see”; and he commends his “wise course” to Gandalf.  Gandalf’s friends, by way of contrast, have to settle for the appellation “fools.”

The only other substantive noun that Saruman invokes as frequently as “wisdom” is the word “power.”  The two doubtless go together for Saruman.  His wisdom involves mastering the power of the Ring, and he reveals himself at last, conjointly, as both “Saruman the Wise” and “Saruman Ring-maker.”  (What Ring, we wonder, has he made?  How has he earned the title that belongs to the Elven-smiths?  Has he stolen their knowledge, as Sauron did?  Alas, he does not clarify.)

I wonder if there is a deliberate contrast between Saruman and the rest of the Wise on the matter of these two words.  There is an excess of self-consciousness in Saruman, a susceptibility to confuse wisdom with power, and specifically with his own power.  Saruman’s wisdom and power, unlike Gandalf’s, know nothing of humility.  And that is interesting because Gandalf really does have wisdom and power, like Elrond and Galadriel and the other wizards in his order.  The Wise, we are constantly reminded, have been the guides and counselors in a great deal of what has transpired in the Tale of the Ring.  But what we also discover throughout that Tale is that so much of it depends upon what the Wise do not know and cannot control.

Elrond’s words to Frodo at the end of the Council seem to call back to Saruman’s words and reprove them:

This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the great.  Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it?  Or, if they are wise, why should they expect to know it, until the hour has struck?