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The Order of Wizards
"The Istari" by Angel Falto
Other namesHeren Istarion, Istari (Q), Ithryn (S), Five Wizards[1]
Date foundedc. T.A. 1000
PurposeThe help the Free peoples to resist Sauron
Notable membersSaruman, Gandalf, Radagast, Alatar, Pallando
LocationOrthanc (Saruman)
Rhosgobel (Radagast)
Rhûn and Harad (Blue Wizards)
DisbandedT.A. 3021
Notable forBringing about the final defeat of Sauron (mostly by Gandalf)
GalleryImages of The Order of Wizards

Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

The Order of Wizards (Q. Heren Istarion) was the title assigned to five Maiar in the Third Age of Middle-earth. The wizards were commonly known as the Istari (Quenya) and the Ithryn (Sindarin).[2]


Gandalf by John Howe

Among Men it was initially assumed that the wizards were also men who by long and secret study had acquired great knowledge of lore and arts. However, as the Third Age passed it was marked that the wizards did not die and so Men began to believe that they were of Elven-kind. However, None except Elrond, Círdan, and Galadriel knew that, in actuality, the wizards, were Maiar, vassals of the Valar. These were sent by the Valar to help and assist the peoples of Middle-earth against Sauron as he gathered his forces during the Third Age.[2]

The five known Istari were:

In the northwest of Middle-earth Curumo became known as Saruman to Men and Curunír to Elves; Olórin was known as Gandalf to Men and Mithrandir to Elves; while Aiwendil became known as Radagast.

The Heren Istarion had been created in Valinor. A council of the Valar was called by Manwë which resolved to send three emissaries. Initially only Curumo (Saruman), chosen by Aulë, and Alatar, chosen by Oromë, stepped forward. Manwë then asked for Olórin (Gandalf) and commanded him to go. Curumo took Aiwendil (Radagast) with him because Yavanna begged him to do so and Alatar took along his friend Pallando.[4]

Círdan witnessed the arrival of the Order in Middle-earth around the year c. T.A. 1000 (though the Blue Wizards may have arrived much earlier). Their "mission" was to advise and persuade Men and Elves to resist Sauron. Each wizard was assigned a colour for his clothes. The wizard in white was Saruman, regarded by all as leader of the order, with white being indicative of the chief. The two in sea-blue robes that travelled to the East and South were Alatar and Pallando. Together, the two of them were known as the Blue Wizards. The one in brown was Radagast and the one in grey was Gandalf, seemingly the oldest and the least of the Order.[2] It is not known if the colour had any special meaning concerning their rank, abilities or nature.

They were clothed in the bodies of old men, restricting their powers so that they would only assist the peoples of Middle-earth and not seek domination like Sauron had, who was also a Maia. They were charged by the Valar to assist the people of Middle-earth through persuasion and encouragement, not force or fear. By inhabiting the bodies of Men they also became susceptible to all of the weaknesses of a physical body: they felt hunger, pain, greed, sorrow, joy, and all other emotions and pains of Men.[2]

They were immortal, and they aged only very slowly.[2] However, their bodies could be killed:[2] Gandalf was mortally wounded in his duel with the Balrog of Moria, and only through the intervention of Ilúvatar himself was he restored to his body.

Very few of Middle-earth's inhabitants knew who the Wizards really were; the Istari did not share this information. Most believed they were Elves or wise Men (Gandalf represents this interpretation, meaning Wand-elf, because the Men who gave him the nickname believed he was an Elf). They attracted few questions due to their gentle nature and dislike of direct interference with other people's affairs. In spite of their specific and unambiguous goal, the Wizards were nevertheless capable of mortal feelings, thus Gandalf felt great affection for the Hobbits. On the other hand, they could feel negative mortal emotions like greed, jealousy, and lust for power. Saruman himself fell victim to these emotions, and it is hinted in an essay in Unfinished Tales that the Blue Wizards (see below) may have also fallen prey to these temptations during their journeys in the East.

Saruman was originally gifted with the greatest power of the five Istari and was named the head of the White Council, a group of the Wise in opposition to Sauron. In T.A. 2759, he was invited by the rulers of Gondor and Rohan to settle in Isengard and the impenetrable tower of Orthanc. Saruman was learned in the lore of the Rings of Power, gradually becoming corrupted by the desire for the Rings and by Sauron's direct influence on him through the palantír of Orthanc. Eventually he became ensnared in Sauron's power, and assisted him in the War of the Ring until he was defeated by the Ents and Gandalf, who broke his staff and cast him out of the White Council. Saruman's death came at the hands of his servant Wormtongue in The Shire, after the destruction of the One Ring. His spirit was then dispersed by a wind from the West, becoming similar to Sauron in his destruction.

When Saruman fell to the temptation of the Ring, and after the defeat of the Balrog of Moria, Gandalf was reborn and given the title of Gandalf the White. Gandalf, who had originally been nominated for leadership of the White Council by the Elf-Lady Galadriel, assumed leadership both of the White Council and the Order of the Istari. He then cast Saruman from the order and led the West to victory over Sauron, advising the Ringbearer Frodo and the new king of Gondor Aragorn Elessar. After the defeat of Sauron and Saruman, Gandalf traveled west across the Sea with the Ringbearers, revealing that he himself was the bearer of Narya, one of the Elven Rings of Power.

Radagast stayed true to his mission for a while, even serving as a messenger to Gandalf from Saruman, convincing Gandalf to meet with Saruman. He also instructed the birds in his service to assist Saruman and Gandalf. Radagast dwelt at Rhosgobel near the borders of Mirkwood. Eventually, Radagast is said to have become enamoured of the beasts and birds and to have ultimately failed to complete his mission. Later writings are less critical of Radagast, arguing that he did not fail at his mission as much as simply choose a tactic - working with the animal world - that ultimately proved less directly effective than working with Men and Elves.

The Blue Wizards went into the East and South and do not come into the tales of north-western Middle-earth. It is sometimes thought that the Blue Wizards also failed in their mission and fell to the temptations that had corrupted Saruman; it is said that their fall gave rise to magical cults in the East and South.[5] However, other writings again suggest otherwise, even that the Blue Wizards possibly succeeded in their mission, and that the victories of the West would have been impossible without their influence in the East and South.[1]

The Order of Wizards came to an end with the passing of Sauron. Saruman died in Middle-earth after Gríma Wormtongue had cut his throat. It is probable that the spirit of Saruman was not allowed to return to the West, because the grey mist that rose from his body and that lingered as a pale shrouded figure dissolved into nothing when a cold wind came from the West.[6] Gandalf, who remained true to the mission of the Order, departed from Middle-earth in 3021.[7] The fate of the other three wizards who landed in the North is unknown.[2]


The name Wizards, which means "wise" (in the sense of "Wise Men"[8]) rather than "sorcerer" or "magician"[9][10] is a translation of the Quenya name Istari.[11]

Other names

The Quenya name Istari (singular Istar) means "ones who know"[12] or "those who know".[13][10] Helge Fauskanger suggests that it is a combination of the verb ista- ("to know") and the agentive ending -r(o).[14]

The Sindarin name Ithryn (singular Ithron) means "wizards".[15]

Other versions of the legendarium

In Gnomish, one of Tolkien's early conceptions of an Elven language, the word for "wizard" is curug (and "witch" is curus). An alternative word is thothweg, also translated as "wizard".[16]

In The Hobbit, while no mention is made of an Order of Wizards, Gandalf tells Beorn that Radagast is his "cousin".[17] In the Unfinished Tales it is said that the wizards appeared in Middle-earth about 1000,[2] but in The Peoples of Middle-earth a rough note by J.R.R. Tolkien said that the Blue Wizards (Alatar and Pallando, or Morinehtar and Rómestámo) came much earlier in the Second Age.[18] Christopher Tolkien stated that much of the writings about the Istari are rapid jottings and often illegible.[2]

Other fiction

In Tolkien's Roverandom, an old wizard, Artaxerxes, uses a spell to bewitch Rover, a dog, into a toy for biting him.

Portrayal in adaptations

2001-03: The Lord of the Rings (film series):

In Peter Jackson's film version of The Lord of the Rings, two of the five Wizards (Saruman and Gandalf) were portrayed and featured heavily in the film trilogy (as the characters do in the books.)

2012-14: The Hobbit (film series):

Although Radagast has a small role in The Lord of the Rings, his role was omitted in Peter Jackson's film trilogy. However, Radagast had a substantial supporting role in The Hobbit films, and Saruman had a brief appearance. The Blue Wizards are also referenced in passing by Gandalf, although they make no appearance.


  1. Gandalf does, however, refer to Saruman as “the wisest of our Order“ during the Council of Elrond. This could be an inconsistency, but could also be humility on Gandalf’s part.


  1. 1.0 1.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "XIII. Last Writings", The Five Wizards, second note on the reverse of a page probably from 1972
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Istari", the essay on the Istari
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Valaquenta: Of the Maiar"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Istari", sketch of a narrative about a council of the Valar
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Istari", "Notes", note 3 referring to a letter by J.R.R. Tolkien from 1958
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Scouring of the Shire", p. 1020
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Grey Havens", p. 1030
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "VIII. The Tale of Years of the Third Age", manuscript T4, entry c. 1000
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Note 24 to Letter 131, (undated, written late 1951)
  10. 10.0 10.1 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 156, (dated 4 November 1954)
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Istari"
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), entry Q Istari, p. 119
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "XI. The Shibboleth of Fëanor", "Notes", p. 360, note 30
  14. Helge Fauskanger, "Quenya Affixes", Ardalambion (accessed 19 November 2022)
  15. Paul Strack, "S. Ithron n.", Eldamo - An Elvish Lexicon (accessed 19 November 2022)
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien, "I-Lam na-Ngoldathon: The Grammar and Lexicon of the Gnomish Tongue", in Parma Eldalamberon XI (edited by Christopher Gilson, Arden R. Smith, and Patrick H. Wynne), pp. 27, 73
  17. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Queer Lodgings"
  18. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "XIII. Last Writings", The Five Wizards, pp. 384-5
Valar Lords Manwë · Ulmo · Aulë · Oromë · Mandos · Irmo · Tulkas · Melkor
Valier Varda · Yavanna · Nienna · Estë · Vairë · Vána · Nessa
Maiar Arien · Blue Wizards · Eönwë · Gandalf · Ilmarë · Melian · Ossë · Radagast · Salmar · Saruman · Tilion · Uinen
Úmaiar Sauron · Balrogs (Gothmog · Durin's Bane) · Boldogs
Concepts and locations Almaren · Aratar (indicated in italics) · Creation of the Ainur · Fana · Máhanaxar · Ainulindalë · Order of Wizards (indicated in bold) · Second Music of the Ainur · Timeless Halls · Valarin · Valinor · Valimar