In The Lord of the Rings when Gandalf returns after killing the Balrog he says that "I am Saruman." . Why did he say that? Are the names' meanings defined like below?

Saruman means White Wizard

Gandalf means Grey Wizard

If this is true than why does he say in the next sentence that "I am Gandalf the White"?

  • related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/38733/…
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 11:50
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    "I'm Batman" was already copyrighted. Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 16:22
  • 2
    Saruman does not mean "white wizard" and Gandalf does not mean "grey wizard". That is what those characters are (their roles, I guess you could say), not what their names mean. Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 16:34
  • Yes and KutuluMike clear it very well in answer Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 16:36

2 Answers 2


You need to listen to the entire line of dialogue or you won't understand the meaning. What Gandalf says is:

Indeed I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been.

He clearly is not claiming to be the same person, or even to have taken Saruman's name. He's claiming that he is the wizard that Saruman was supposed to be when they were sent to Middle Earth.

The five wizards were sent to Middle Earth for a reason, and given "orders". Saruman was chosen to be the leader of that group, and to make sure that the others did not stray. He was also expected to be the one to help the people of Middle Earth fight Sauron. Obviously, he didn't do any of those things.

So, after Gandalf died fighting the Balrog, he was sent back to Middle Earth to take Saruman's place, and to do Saruman's job for him. In essence, Saruman had been "fired". There is a strong implication that Saruman was stronger, or had additional power, that Gandalf the Grey did not have. But now, as Gandalf the White, he was Saruman's equal, or even the greater of the two.

In other words, Saruman had a role to play, and he failed to live up to that role. Now, Gandalf has returned to Middle Earth to be that person instead. He was trying to explain to his companions what Saruman -- who used to be a close friend to Gandalf -- was "supposed to be", before he was corrupt, and assure them that he (Gandalf) was going to make up for Saruman's failings.

  • Thanks you for details . I have to refresh my memory by watching it again.. Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 12:35
  • Love this explination! How about the fact that gandalf forgot his name? Where dI'd he go where time stretchs so and the dead can be reanimated?
    – Mike
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 16:18
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    Don't forget, Gandalf isn't his name, it's just what people call him. We are likely supposed to imagine he's been back to Valinor where he came from and been given a new assignment. He just arrived back in Middle Earth and is still getting his bearings.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 18:16
  • While it is not entirely clear, I think the wizards were sent in a "handicapped" form (they are lesser gods or angels) and subject to the hardships of the world. But I got the impression that "Gandalf the White" was sent back as himself (Olorin) without these limitations, which is why he must "relearn" things he once knew and why he remembers much he once had forgotten.
    – Yorik
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 20:43
  • Was Saruman sent as the leader? For the White Council anyway, didn't Galadriel nominate Gandalf to be the head of the council and only when he declined was Saruman made leader? Commented Oct 6, 2023 at 18:03

Interestingly, both "Gandalf" and "Saruman" are taken from real-world languages, the former primarily from Norse and the latter from Old English.

Ironically, the "-alf" part of "Gandalf" is from "alfr" (same as English "elf"), which in turn is actually derived from the PIE root for "white" (same as Latin "albus", from which you have e.g. terms like "albedo" and "albinism"); and the "Gand-" part is from "gandr", which doesn't have a very exact meaning, referring generally to anything magical or supernatural. So funnily enough, "Gandalf" can already be taken to mean "white wizard"!

The name "Saruman" on the other hand is from "searu", having definitions like "contrivance" or "device" from its roots as "something bound together", and by extension to "machine" and subsequently also more figuratively to "deceit" and "stratagem" (all tying into his persona), and "man" which straightforwardly simply means "man"; so "Saruman" can essentially be taken to mean a "man of deceit", "man of machinery", "man of strategy", or similar (some will translate it more courteously to "man of cunning", or even "man of skill").

However, as someone else has mentioned, Gandalf saying he is Saruman is not meant to be taken literally based on the meaning of the name at all, just to the fact that he's come back to take on Saruman's role as the head of the wizards and to fulfill his task as such, since Saruman has failed miserably at it and has succumbed to Sauron's will.

  • Within Middle Earth, the meaning of the names are as follows: Gandalf was "wand elf"; Saruman was "man of skill or cunning". Commented Oct 6, 2023 at 18:06
  • @MichaelRichardson: Please read my answer thoroughly, as I mention why those particular translations are given. The term "gandr" can refer to many different mystical objects, including a wand, but by no means exclusively (e.g. as in the Midgard Serpent called Jörmungandr, meaning roughly "enormous magical monster", where "gandr" in that context means "magical monster"). And I mentioned how "man of skill" or "man of cunning" are derived very explicitly. No idea why my answer is getting downvoted though.
    – Outis Nemo
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 3:34

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