. Alas, not me: 'Radagast The Bird-Tamer!' and the Characterization of Saruman (FR 2.ii.238-39)

28 July 2016

'Radagast The Bird-Tamer!' and the Characterization of Saruman (FR 2.ii.238-39)

Radagast's Cunning © Lucas Graciano 
At the Council of Elrond Gandalf describes Radagast as 'a master of shapes and changes of hue; and he has much lore of herbs and beasts, and birds are especially his friends' (FR 2.ii.257), and then says that he had asked him to tell 'all the beasts and birds that are [his] friends' to bring word of the Nine to Gandalf and Saruman at Isengard (2.ii.257).  Gandalf then tells of Saruman's reaction to the mention of Radagast:
'Radagast the Brown!' laughed Saruman, and he no longer concealed his scorn. 'Radagast the Bird-tamer! Radagast the Simple! Radagast the Fool! Yet he had just the wit to play the part that I set him. For you have come, and that was all the purpose of my message. And here you will stay, Gandalf the Grey, and rest from journeys. For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!'
'I liked white better,' I said.
Note the chiastic word order of the repeated Radagasts and Sarumans. Saruman begins with Radagast's color and ends with his own; ends with Radagast's simplicity and foolishness and begins with his own wisdom; and in the middle, further accentuated by capital letters and hyphenated compound words, are the characteristics on which he heaps the greatest scorn and in which he takes the greatest pride: Bird-tamer and Ring-maker. Chiasmus is of course an ancient rhetorical device, long a part of the arts of persuasion for which Saruman was justly renowned (TT 3.ix.567). Yet Gandalf wryly punctures all his rhetoric with a few pointed words.

The subtlest and best touch of all, however, is 'Bird-tamer' itself, which reveals far more about Saruman than Radagast. For Saruman can only see Radagast's relationship with the birds as one of power and mastery. In Saruman's eyes he has tamed rather than befriended them.  Seeing no possibility but power, he parallels and contrasts Radagast's Bird-taming with his own Ring-making. Thus his own rhetoric betrays him, revealing that mastery, not friendship, now characterize him and his relations with others. 



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