stair(s) of Saruman


New Member
I have been catching up to the class. I have just been listening to the episodes of Saruman's betrayal, as told by Gandalf during the Council of Eldrond.

When he first arrives there, Gandalf states:
‘But I rode to the foot of Orthanc, and came to the stair of Saruman and there he met me and led me up to his high chamber.'

I find it interesting that he calls it the stair of Saruman, even though it had been emphasized before that Orthanc was not built by Saruman. Gandalf could also have used the stair of Orthanc or just 'a great stair'. Is there any symbolic meaning or importance to this?

I would assume that Gandalf talks about the stair to the entrance to the tower or does he talk about all the stairs inside the tower here too?


Well-Known Member
Hi Lucas,

"On the eastern side, in the angle of two piers, there was a great door, high above the ground; and over it was a shuttered window, opening upon a balcony hedged with iron bars. Up to the threshold of the door there mounted a flight of twenty-seven broad stairs, hewn by some unknown art of the same black stone."

I think it is certain that Gandalf is talking about these 27 stairs. However, as you say, he might also be referring to the stairs inside the tower as well.

Why Gandalf calls it 'the stair of Saruman', I don't know. Perhaps because the entire episode is about Saruman, and Gandalf is preoccupied with Saruman and his treachery?


New Member
On the one hand I agree with you, Flammifer. The part in the story is all about Saruman. And you can read it in the same way as the closing of the gate behind Gandalf and his sense of dread. He is now in Saruman's domain and power.

I would still find it strange that you would attach a possessive structure to a stair. To me the emphasis right now is on the stair and not Saruman's high chamber. A stair normally signifies the possibility of escape, while a high chamber does not or less so.

Would it have mattered greatly if Tolkien had just written: 'But I rode to the foot of Orthanc, and there Saruman met me and led me up to his high chamber.'

As I am writing this, I am thinking maybe the stairs add height and a sense of unreachability to Saruman's lair and his trap for Gandalf.
Maybe I am reading too much into this...

Rob Harding

Active Member
I interpret it as a symbolic ‘threshold of Saruman’ type statement. Literally, on the step of engaging with Saruman and his treachery.