- Sep 27, 2005
In theological parlance, this is called apostasy. And the Bible is filled with examples of apostasy, the most famous, of course, being Judas Iscariot. He was the consummate “insider” who abandoned Jesus and effectively left his old life behind.
We can also find examples of apostasy—symbolically and figuratively—in the world of literature and film. Most obvious is the story of Anakin Skywalker, once a Jedi but later wooed to the dark side of the force, becoming Darth Vader. But there are many others (think Cypher in The Matrix).
But, perhaps one of the most remarkable (and often overlooked) examples of apostasy is Saruman in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In many ways, Saruman has always been an odd part of the plot line. With a bad guy like Sauron to occupy the reader’s attention, why does the story even need a character like Saruman? Besides, as my kids always complain, his name actually sounds a lot like Sauron’s which makes everything very confusing.
My hunch, though, is that the name similarity is intentional. Tolkien’s world is more nuanced than just the good guys and the bad guys. Instead, there are actually good guys that become bad guys—which makes things very complicated. It’s a perfect picture of de-conversion.