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"Gandalf was shorter in stature than the other two; but his long white hair, his sweeping beard, and his broad shoulders, made him look like some wise king of ancient legend. In his aged face under great snowy brows his eyes were set like coals that could suddenly burst into fire."
The Fellowship of the Ring, "Many Meetings"

Gandalf the Grey, later Gandalf the White, was a Wizard of the Third Age and the greatest force of good of his time. His tireless work against the Dark Lord Sauron saved Middle-earth from his malice and was the basis for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.




This is one of the most well known illustrations of Gandalf, by John Howe

Gandalf is the best-known of the Maiar of the people of Valinor. He was known as Olórin who dwelt in the gardens of Irmo and was the pupil of Nienna. When the Valar decided to send the order of the Wizards (or Istari to Middle-earth, Olórin was proposed by Manwë, in order to counsel and assist all those in Middle-earth who opposed Sauron. He is said to be one of the wisest of that order, rivalling Saruman, with whom he had a strained, competitive relationship. The other Maiar to travel from Valinor on this mission were: Radagast, Pallando and Alatar. It is possible that Glorfindel of Gondolin travelled with Gandalf from Valinor (see also Are they the same?).

Role in The Hobbit

In The Hobbit, Gandalf visits the Shire, where he spent a great deal of time, as a vain, fussy old conjurer who entertained children with fireworks during festivals and parties. He partially reveals his true nature and power to Bilbo Baggins. He arranges a proposition for Bilbo to join a band of thirteen Dwarves to regain the Dwarvish treasure of the Lonely Mountain that was stolen many years before by the dragon, Smaug. It is on this quest that Gandalf finds his sword, Glamdring

Unknown to the Dwarves or Bilbo, Gandalf had joined the quest in order to investigate what he suspected to be Sauron's resurgence in Mirkwood; he frequently vanishes to "attend to other pressing business"— the nature of which he refuses to discuss. Some years before, he had encountered Thráin II, father of the quest's leader, Thorin Oakenshield, dying in Dol Guldur, and the Dwarf king entrusted him with a map to Erebor.

As Dol Guldur became one of Sauron's strongholds, Gandalf feared that Sauron's agents were at large again. He met Thorin years later and agreed to go on the quest as a way to investigate further. He insisted, however, on bringing Bilbo along as a "burglar", someone who could sneak into places Dwarves couldn't access and gather information.

When Bilbo finds the One Ring, Gandalf is immediately suspicious of the Hobbit's story of evading the Goblins through "being invisible." He privately confronts Bilbo and forces the truth out of him, and is deeply troubled by his story of the ring's powers, as they seem eerily familiar.

He disappears when the company reaches Mirkwood, and does not reappear again until the Battle of Five Armies breaks out, when he brings an army of Eagles to help the Dwarves. After the battle, Gandalf accompanies Bilbo back to the Shire.

Pre-War of the Ring

Gandalf spends the years between TA 2941 and 3001 travelling Middle-earth in search of information on Sauron's resurgence and Bilbo's mysterious ring. He spends as much time as he can in the Shire, however, strengthening his friendship with Bilbo and befriending Bilbo's heir, Frodo. He is also begins to be suspicious of Saruman commiting treason against the the Order.

In 3001 he attended Bilbo's "Eleventy-first" (111th) birthday party, bringing many strange fireworks, indicating his knowledge of chemistry as well as magic. When Bilbo stands to give an announcement to the Shirefolk, Bilbo puts on the ring and disappears at the end of his speech, as a prank on his neighbors. Troubled by this, Gandalf confronts his old friend and tries to persuade him to leave his ring to Frodo. Bilbo becomes hostile and accuses him of trying to steal the ring—which he calls "my precious," much as Gollum, the creature Bilbo had taken the ring from, had. Horrified, Gandalf stands to his full height and almost orders Bilbo to leave it behind. Bilbo returns to his senses, and admits that the ring had been troubling him lately. He then leaves, the only Ring-bearer in history to have left it voluntarily.

Over the next seventeen years, Gandalf travels extensively, searching for answers. Having long sought for Gollum near Mordor, he meets with Aragorn in Mirkwood, who had captured the creature. Gandalf interrogates the wretched creature and learns that Sauron had forced him to tell what he knew about the ring under torture, adding to his suspicions that Bilbo carried The One Ring.

Role in The Lord of the Rings

Upon returning to the Shire, in Chapter 2 of The Fellowship of the Ring, he confirms his suspicions by throwing the Ring into Frodo's hearth fire and reading the writing. He tells Frodo the full history of the Ring, urging him to leave with it and make for Rivendell, the home of the elves, knowing he is in grave danger if he stays at home.

Gandalf, while riding near the Shire, is requested by Radagast the Brown to seek out Saruman because the Nazgûl had come forth and crossed the River Anduin. Gandalf leaves a note for Frodo with Butterbur, an inn-keeper in Bree, and heads towards Isengard. Once there, he is betrayed and held captive by Saruman, who had already come under the influence of Sauron due to his use of the palantír. Eventually rescued by Gwahir the eagle, he only reaches the Shire after Frodo has set out and does not meet up with him until Frodo reaches Rivendell on October 20.

Taking leadership of the Fellowship (nine representatives of the free peoples of Middle-earth "set against the Nine Riders"), he and Aragorn lead the hobbits and their companions on an unsuccessful effort to cross Mount Caradhras in winter. Then they take the "dark and secret way" through the Mines of Moria, which Gandalf had visited once before, looking for King Thraín II. They fought with Goblins and a Cave Troll in the Battle of the Chamber of Mazarbul. They defeated the force and fled for the East-gate, when they met met an ancient demon, a Balrog, one of the Maiar corrupted by Melkor in the First Age.

Since Gandalf and the Balrog were both Maiar, they were beings of the same order. As they faced each other, Gandalf broke the Bridge in front of him, but as the Balrog fell it wrapped its whip around Gandalf's ankle, which dragged him down to hanging onto the edge. As the Company looked in horror, Gandalf cried, "Fly, you fools!" and let go. Neither he nor the Balrog was killed by the fall, and Gandalf pursued the creature for eight days until they climbed to the peak of Zirakzigil. Here they fought for two days and nights in what was called the Battle of the Peak. In the end, the Balrog was cast down and it broke the mountain-side as it fell. Gandalf himself died following this ordeal.

Gandalf is "brought back" (either resurrected or reincarnated), returning as a more imposing white-clad figure, Gandalf the White. In Fangorn forest he encounters the Three Walkers (Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas) who were tracking Fellowship members (and Frodo's cousins) Merry and Pippin. Arriving in Rohan, Gandalf finds that its king, Théoden, has been weakened by Saruman's agent, Gríma Wormtongue. He breaks Wormtongue's hold over Theoden, and convinces the King to join them in fighting Sauron. They then go on to prosecute the war against Isengard and Barad-dûr (The Two Towers).

After the overthrow of Saruman at Isenguard, Gandalf breaks Saruman's staff and banishes him from the Order of Wizards. He then takes Pippin with him to Gondor to aide in the defense of the city. Gandalf buys the city precious time by facing off against the Witch-king of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgûl, giving the Rohirrim enough time to reach the city during the Battle of Pelennor Fields.

Gandalf leads the final battle against Sauron's forces at the Black Gate, waging an all-out battle to distract the Dark Lord's attention away from Frodo and Sam, who were at the very same moment scaling Mount Doom to destroy the Ring. Without his efforts, Sauron may well have learned where the two Hobbits were and killed them before they could complete their task.

Three years later, Gandalf, now having spent over 2,000 years in Middle-Earth, departs with Frodo, Galadriel, Bilbo, and Elrond across the sea to the Undying Lands.


File:Piotr Wysocki - Gandalf's Brooch.jpg
Gandalf's Brooch by Piotr Wysocki.

Gandalf initially appears as an old man with a grey beard, a grey cloak and a large, pointed blue hat. Although some of the Wise know his true nature, others mistake him for a simple conjuror. After he is resurrected the change of his signature colour from grey to white is significant, for he has been sent back to replace the corrupt Saruman as the chief of the Wizards. In the book he says that he has himself become what Saruman should have been.

Círdan the Shipwright seemed to have foreseen this, for he entrusted the care of Narya, the ring of Fire, one of the Three Rings of the Elves to Gandalf rather than Saruman.

Powers & Abilities

In The Hobbit, Gandalf demonstrated extensive knowledge of the land and an assortment of magical abilities. He could blow glowing smoke rings that moved around a room at his direction, and Bilbo remembered him for his fantastic fireworks displays. More usefully, he created blinding flashes and other pyrotechnics to distract the goblins of the Misty Mountains, aiding the dwarves in their escape from Goblin-town. On the eastern slopes, he turned pine cones into flaming projectiles that threw hot sparks and started fires that would not easily go out. He was also able come and go from the presence of Thorin and Company without anyone noticing.

In The Lord of the Rings, he again displayed his proficiency with pyrotechnics at Bilbo's Farewell Party. He was also able to start fires under blizzard conditions, create light of varying intensity for the journey through Moria, magically secure doors, and break the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. When angered or aroused for battle, he seemed to grow in height and assume a terrifying aspect. He also fought the Balrog of Moria and killed his opponent, although he did not survive the battle himself.

Sent back to Middle-earth as Gandalf the White, he possessed greater charisma and a limited degree of clairvoyance, although he was unable to peer into the land of Mordor to see the progress of Frodo and Sam. His power and authority had increased so that he could break Saruman's staff with a spoken command, showing his authority to throw the treacherous wizard out of the order.

Special Equipment

Like all wizards, Gandalf carried a staff which sometimes served as a focus for his powers (like creating light). Exactly how much it aided him in the use of magic is unknown, but Grima Wormtongue tried to forbid Gandalf from bringing it into Edoras.

When he arrived in Middle Earth, Gandalf received the Elven ring Narya from Cirdan the Shipwright.

In 2941, Gandalf acquired the sword Glamdring from the treasure horde of a band of trolls.

Names and Titles

  • Olórin, his name in Valinor and in very ancient times. "Olórin was my name in my youth in the West that is forgotten." It is Quenya and its meaning is associated with dreams (perhaps "dreamer" or "of dreams"), from the root ÓLOS-
  • Mithrandir, his Sindarin name, used in Gondor and meaning "Grey Pilgrim"
  • Incánus, his name in the South, of unclear language and meaning. Tolkien several times changed his mind about it, varying between the Latin word Incanus meaning Grey, a possible Westron invention meaning Greymantle, or even an Elvish word Ind-cano meaning "Mind Ruler"
  • Tharkûn, his name to the Dwarves, probably meaning "Staff Man"
  • The White Rider, his name while riding the great horse Shadowfax
  • Gandalf Greyhame, given to him by Gríma Wormtongue
  • Stormcrow, a reference to his arrival being associated with times of trouble


Within the legendarium, "Gandalf" translates an unknown name of the meaning "Elf-of-the-wand (or cane/staff)", or more literary "Wand-elf", in old northern Mannish. Most denizens of Middle-earth incorrectly assumed Gandalf was a Man (human), although he was really a Maia spirit (approximately equivalent to an angel). However, a less common misconception that occurred during the beginning of his career in Middle-earth was that for someone to be immortal and use as much magic as he did, he must have been an Elf. Although it soon became apparent to all that he couldn't be an Elf, as he was old and Elves don't generally age, the nickname stuck with him. He later gave it as his name to others he met who didn't know its original meaning.


File:Der Berggeist (Origin of Gandalf) by J. Madelener.gif
This painting on a postcard is rumored to be how J.R.R. Tolkien got his inspiration for the character known as "Gandalf"

Gandalfr appears in the list of dwarves in the Völuspá of the Elder Edda, the name means "Cane-elf". Tolkien took the name along with the other dwarves' names when he wrote The Hobbit in the 1930s. He came to regret the creation of this "rabble of eddaic-named dwarves [...] invented in an idle hour" (HoME 7:452), since it forced him to come up with an explanation of why Old Norse names should be used in Third Age Middle-earth. He solved the dilemma in 1942 by the explanation that Old Norse was a translation of the language of Dale. The figure of Gandalf has other influences from Germanic mythology, particularly Odin in his incarnation as "the Wanderer", an old man with one eye, a long white beard, a wide brimmed hat, and a staff: Tolkien states that he thinks of Gandalf as an "Odinic wanderer" in a letter of 1946 (Letters no. 107).

Tolkien had a postcard labelled Der Berggeist ("the mountain spirit"), and on the paper cover in which he kept it, he wrote "the origin of Gandalf" at some point. The postcard reproduces a painting of a bearded figure, sitting on a rock under a pine tree in a mountainous setting. He wears a wide-brimmed round hat and a long cloak and white fawn is nuzzling his upturned hands. Humphrey Carpenter in his 1977 biography said that Tolkien had bought the postcard during his 1911 holiday in Switzerland. However, Manfred Zimmerman (1983) discovered that the painting was by German artist Josef Madlener and dates to the late 1920s. Carpenter concluded that Tolkien was probably mistaken about the origin of the postcard himself. Tolkien must have acquired the card at some time in the early 1930s, at a time when The Hobbit had already begun to take shape.

The original painting was auctioned at Sotheby's in London on July 12, 2005 for 84,000 GBP. The previous owner had been given the painting by Madlener in the 1940s and recalled that he had stated the mountains in the background of the painting were the Dolomites.

The first description of Gandalf, then, is preserved in the first pages of The Hobbit, dating to the early 1930s. Gandalf's fame is alluded to even before his physical description ("Tales and adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, in the most extraordinary fashion"), directed by the author to the reader, while the protagonist's ("unsuspecting Bilbo") impression is that of: old man with a staff. He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which a white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots.

Portrayals in Adaptations

John Huston provided the voice of Gandalf in two animated television features by Rankin/Bass.

In Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings Gandalf was voiced by William Squire. It is not known whether Squire played him in the live-action filming used for rotoscoping.

In the BBC radio dramatisations, Heron Carvic played him in The Hobbit and Sir Michael Hordern played him in The Lord of the Rings.

Sir Ian McKellen was Gandalf in The Lord of The Rings movie trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. McKellan was also nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Gandalf in Peter Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring.

Sean Connery was initially approached to play Gandalf in Peter Jackson's movie trilogy; allegedly he was rejected when he professed ignorance of the books!

See Also


  • Manfred Zimmerman, The Origin of Gandalf and Josef Madlener, Mythlore 34 (1983).

External Links


Members of Thorin and Company
Thorin · Balin · Dwalin · Fíli · Kíli · Dori · Nori · Ori · Óin · Glóin · Bifur · Bofur · Bombur · Gandalf · Bilbo Baggins
Members of the Fellowship of the Ring
Frodo · Sam · Merry · Pippin · Gandalf · Aragorn · Legolas · Gimli · Boromir