Out of sheer boredom, I rewatched The Fellowship of the Ring yesterday. It’s still an amazing movie, but I noticed something that, while I’ve always known, I’ve never looked at properly.
I know what you’re thinking. “Duh.” And you’re right. But it’s the way that Saruman goes mad that caught my eye. Saruman is a Maiar, one of the more powerful beings in Middle-Earth. He has immense power already, but the promise of more power from The One Ring leads this once-champion against Sauron down the path of servitude.
The idea of gaining Sauron’s power drives him to attempt to wipe men off the face of Middle-Earth. He goes to extreme lengths, including creating the Uruk-hai, to destroy all of Middle-Earth in the hopes of gaining The One Ring’s power and eventually changing the balance of his situation to the point where he could become the ruler of Middle-Earth.
Now, Saruman was introduced as the good-natured leader of the White Council. Although he’s strict, Gandalf mentions that he is the wisest of all the council members. So could it be said that Saruman lost his mind over the Sauron situation? Dare I say: did he go mad with power?
Well, maybe not, but he definitely lost control of his “power”.
Losing control of your abilities is an interesting disability to discuss. Specifically, is it a disability? I argue yes. The definition of a disability is:
a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.
It may sound like I’m saying that any and every disabled person in the world is one inch away from just snapping. I don’t mean that. There are obviously mitigating circumstances that create someone who does bad things.
It’s what I call a conditional disability; or, in other words, when an otherwise undiagnosed person develops a disability that they were not born with, like PTSD. Others are born with a disability and a situation arises where symptoms intensify, like some cases of cerebral palsy.
In those cases, a change in surroundings or physical abilities can either hinder or boost the person’s mood, thoughts, or abilities. While loss of, say, motor control, may not push someone to begin robbing banks, it may push someone to stop caring about the good things in life, just as much as it may make them rise up and live life to the fullest.
And really, isn’t that what superpowers represent to us? An ability to change the world, for good or bad, with the snap of a finger? My autism is my super power, because I can either use it for advocacy or use it for guilt trips. I choose advocacy. It’s not a negative. The definition, even though I used it as a reference, needs to be reworded so it’s more open-ended.
Think of how easy it would be for Superman, a humanoid alien who, under the yellow sun of Earth, could easily destroy the world if he decided to. He chooses to use his powers for good, but if he went mad and just lost control for any reason? When those situations happen in DC one-shots, usually a city burns to the ground.
So in my opinion, losing control of a superpower is just the same as any conditional disability. In Saruman’s situation, his inability to control the addition of the One Ring turned an otherwise in-control wizard into an unstable wizard. The powers he had were no longer tools for good, but rather tools for distraction, all because his inward ability to control his actions were compromised.
If given power or if afflicted by a disability, external scenarios can turn even the best hero into a villain. The best villains are the ones who were good first, like Anakin Skywalker or Peter Parker as Venom. It’s the story of fighting off the urge to do evil, in any medium, that we love so much.