|Other names||Olórin, Mithrandir, Greyhame, Gandalf the Grey, Gandalf the White, The Grey Pilgrim, Stormcrow|
- "A wizard is never late, nor is he early; he arrives precisely when he means to."
Gandalf was an Istar. Istari were Maiar that were hand-picked by the Valar to help aid the peoples of Middle-earth in the fight against evil. The Istari (Men called them wizards) took the form of Men but possessed much greater physical and mental power.
For over 2000 years, Gandalf the Grey worked against the rising evil powers in Middle-earth.
In TA 2941, Gandalf led a quest to the Lonely Mountain to help Thorin Oakenshield to reclaim the treasure that was hoarded there by Smaug the Dragon. Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit, accompanied him along with the band of dwarves. This was Bilbo's first adventure, described in detail in the book The Hobbit. During the quest, Gandalf acquired the sword Glamdring and Bilbo found the One Ring and the sword Sting.
In TA 3018, Gandalf came to Frodo Baggins and initiated the Quest of the Ring when he told Frodo all that he had discovered about the Ring. Gandalf stayed with Frodo for many months, helping him to plan his journey. In Rivendell, he became a member of the Fellowship of the Ring and led his companions through many different perils and adventures.
However, in the Mines of Moria, upon the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, Gandalf faced a Balrog (Durin's Bane). He claimed to be "A servant of the Secret Fire...wielder of the Flame of Anor." No one knows what he meant by the Flame of Anor. Upon proclaiming that the balrog would not pass to the other side of Khazad-dûm, the wizard then slammed his staff against the bridge. His staff split apart and so did the area of the bridge under the Balrog. Just as it was about to fall into the abyss, the Balrog wrapped its fiery whip around Gandalf's legs and pulled him to the brink of the chasm. Before he was pulled down with the Balrog, Gandalf exclaimed to the Fellowship "Fly, you fools!" and then was pulled down. The Fellowship then thought him to have been slain, although this was not the case. When Gandalf and the Balrog splashed down into the lake below, the Balrog's flames sputtered out. This, though, did not keep the beast from re-engaging Gandalf in hand-to-hand combat. Gandalf fought the creature up to the top of Zirakzigil, where he felled the mighty monster. There, weary from the many days of fighting, Gandalf's spirit passed into darkness. Eventually it returned to his body in order to complete the quest he had begun. There, lying upon the mountain he was spotted by the great Eagle Gwaihir, whom he had rendered great service to many years earlier, who then took him to Lothlorien where Galadriel clothed him in white and gave him the cloak of Lothlorien.
Gandalf was sent back as Gandalf the White, a stronger, wiser Gandalf. During the War of the Ring, Gandalf continued his campaign to rid Middle-earth of evil. On his horse Shadowfax, he rode to Edoras with Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, where he drove out the influence of Saruman (instilled by Grima Wormtongue) in Theoden (king of Rohan) and planted courage into him as well. Gandalf also vanquished Saruman's armies at Helm's Deep with the help of the Rohirrim. During the siege of Minas Tirith, he held back the Witch-king at the gates of the city itself. Gandalf also helped to create a diversion at the Black Gates of Mordor while Frodo, the ring-bearer, destroyed the Ring in the fires of Orodruin (although Gollum was the one who accidentally slipped and fell in with the Ring in his possession).
After the War of the Ring, Gandalf oversaw the reunification of Gondor and Arnor. He also helped Aragorn find the seedling of the White Tree on the snowy slopes of Mindolluin, the mountain that rose above the city of Minas Tirith. Gandalf also witnessed the marriage of Aragorn and Arwen Evenstar. Then, in TA 3021, he embarked on the last sailing of the Keepers of the Rings to Valinor, as it turned out that he was the keeper of the Ring of Fire. He then passed away into the West and was never seen again by any mortal man, hobbit, or dwarf.
The Old Norse name "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 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" (The Return of the Shadow:452), since it forced him to come up with an explanation of why Old Norse names should be used in Third Age of 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). Gandalf is also similar to Väinämöinen, a Bard in Finnish mythology.
Tolkien had a postcard labelled Der Berggeist ("the mountain spirit"), and on the paper cover in which he kept it, he wrote "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 a 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 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's) impression is that of: "an 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".
Gandalf is the best-known of the Maiar. He was known as Olórin, who dwelt in the gardens of Irmo and was the pupil of Nienna, who taught him wisdom and pity, and soon he was known as the Wisest of all the Maiar. When the Valar decided to send the order of the Wizards (also known as the Istari) to Middle-earth, Olórin was proposed by Manwë, in order to counsel and assist all those in Middle-earth who opposed the Dark Lord Sauron. Upon entrance in Middle-Earth, Gandalf (Olorin), took a form invisible to the creatures of the land, and spent a good thousand or two years walking among the elves and learning from them. He later revealed himself, and has come to be known as the wisest of that order, but yet uncomparable to Saruman until he was reborn and raised to the title of "the White".
Pre-War of the Ring
In The Hobbit, Gandalf appears to the hobbits of the Shire (where he spent a great deal of time) as little more than 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 when he arranges and partially accompanies a band of thirteen Dwarves on a quest to regain the Dwarvish treasure of the Lonely Mountain, which was stolen many years before by the Dragon Smaug. It is on this quest that Gandalf finds his sword, Glamdring, and that Bilbo finds the One Ring (though at the time it is mistaken for a lesser ring).
In 2850 Third Age, he encountered Thráin II, father of Thorin Oakenshield, dying in Dol Guldur. The Dwarf king entrusted Gandalf with a map to Erebor. As Dol Guldur had once been one of Sauron's strongholds, Gandalf feared that Sauron's agents were at large again.
Gandalf 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.
Gandalf joined the quest in order to investigate what he suspected to be the resurgence of Sauron (or the "Necromancer", as he is referred to in The Hobbit) in Mirkwood. During the Dwarves' quest, Gandalf vanished twice — once to scout their path, the second time to "attend to other pressing business", the nature of which he refused to discuss. He was actually attending a meeting of the White Council. When Bilbo found the One Ring, Gandalf was immediately suspicious of the hobbit's story of how he acquired it. He privately confronted Bilbo and forced the truth out of him, and is deeply troubled by his story of the Ring's powers as they seem eerily familiar. Perhaps even more troubling to him is that Bilbo, a proper, honorable hobbit, would uncharacteristically lie about his story.
Gandalf abandoned Thorin's company when they reached Mirkwood to participate in the White Council's assault on Dol Guldur. The attack appeared to drive out The Necromancer (Sauron), though he immediately retreated to his long-prepared stronghold of Barad-Dur. Gandalf rejoined Thorin's company at the very moment the Battle of Five Armies breaks out, bearing news of the arrival of a goblin and warg army. Gandalf fought in the battle, and helped destroy the goblin threat. Following the battle, Gandalf accompanied Bilbo back to the Shire.
Gandalf spends the years between TA 2941-3001 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. It is also at about this time that he first begins to be suspicious of Saruman.
In TA 3001, he attended Bilbo's "Eleventy-First" (111th) birthday party. He brought many fireworks and a giant flying firework 'dragon', indicating his knowledge of chemistry as well as magic. At the end of the party, Bilbo put on the ring and disappeared at the end of his speech as a prank on his neighbors. Troubled by this, Gandalf confronted his old friend and tried to persuade him to leave the ring to Frodo. Bilbo became hostile and accused Gandalf 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 stood to his full height and almost ordered Bilbo to leave it behind. Bilbo returned to his senses and admitted that the Ring had been troubling him lately. He then left, the first bearer of the One Ring to have relinquished it voluntarily, and would only be followed by Sam during the quest to destroy the ring.
Over the next seventeen years, Gandalf traveled extensively, searching for answers. Having long sought for Gollum near Mordor, he met with Aragorn, who had captured the creature in Mirkwood. Gandalf interrogated the wretched creature and learned that Sauron had forced Gollum to tell what he knew about the ring under torture. Gandalf left Mirkwood soon after, and left Gollum with the Wood Elves of Northern Mirkwood.
War of the Ring
(WARNING: Some of the below lore may come from the movies and not the books)
"War is upon us" - Gandalf during a conversation with Aragorn
Upon returning to the Shire (in Chapter 2 of The Fellowship of the Ring), Gandalf confirmed his suspicions by throwing the Ring into Frodo's hearth fire and reading the writing that results from it. He told Frodo the full history of the Ring, and urged 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.
Riding near the Shire, Gandalf encountered Radagast the Brown, who asks him to seek out Saruman because the Nazgûl have 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 Gwaihir the Eagle, Gandalf only reaches the Shire after Frodo has set out and does not meet up with him until Frodo reaches Rivendell on October 20. At the Secret Council with Elrond, master of The Last Homely House in Rivendell, Gandalf learned from Legolas, son of Thranduil, King of the Elves of the Northern Mirkwood, that Gollum has escaped from the elves during an orc attack, that his trail had been lost among those of many orcs, and was at large in Middle-Earth.
Gandalf took the leadership of the Fellowship (nine representatives of the free peoples of Middle-earth "set against the Nine Riders"), he and Aragorn led the hobbits and their companions on an unsuccessful effort to cross Mount Caradhras in winter. They then took the "dark and secret way" through the Mines of Moria, where they met an ancient demon, a Balrog known commonly as Durin's Bane. This was one of the Maiar corrupted by Morgoth in the First Age.
Gandalf told the Fellowship to flee, because only he, being of equal status to the fiery demon, was able to face it. As wizard and Balrog faced each other, Gandalf thrust his staff into the bridge in front of him, breaking it under the Balrog's feet. As the Balrog fell, however, it wrapped its whip around Gandalf's ankle, dragging him into the abyss. As the rest of the Fellowship looked in horror, Gandalf cried, "Fly, you fools!" and was gone. 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 the end, the Balrog was cast down and it broke the mountain-side as it fell. Gandalf himself died following this ordeal and his body lay on the peak while his spirit travelled outside of Time.
- "I've been sent back, until my task is done."
- —Gandalf the White
Gandalf was "sent back", resurrected by Eru, returning as a more imposing figure, Gandalf the White. After being found by Gwaihir, he was healed of his injuries and reclothed in white robes by Galadriel in Lorien. In Fangorn forest he encountered the Three Hunters (Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas) who were tracking Fellowship members (and Frodo's cousins) Merry and Pippin. He persuades Aragorn to go to Rohan instead. Arriving in Rohan, Gandalf finds that its king, Théoden, has been weakened by Saruman's agent, Grima Wormtongue. He breaks Wormtongue's hold over Theoden, and convinces the king to join them in fighting Sauron. They then went on to prosecute the war against Orthanc and Barad-dûr.
Siege of Gondor
- "Send these foul beasts into the ABYSS!"
- —Gandalf during the Siege
After the overthrow of Saruman, Gandalf broke his rival's staff and banished him from the Order of Wizards. Then, against his counsel, Pippin glanced into the Palantir of Orthanc that he recovered from Saruman. Pippin made contact with Sauron (the movies offer some non-canon scenes). He then took Pippin with him to Gondor to aid in the defense of the city. Along the way, Gandalf gives Pippin a brief history of Palantir, mentioning Feanor, and how it was fortunate that Pippin made contact with Sauron instead of himself. Gandalf claims that he's not yet ready for a meeting with Sauron. Arriving at Minas Tirith, he meets with Denethor II and tries to give him counsel.
After Faramir's charge, the Morgul host assaulted the city. Gandalf provided invaluable aid to the White City and bought precious time allowing the Rohirrim to save Gondor during The Battle of the Pelennor Fields. When the battering ram Grond, breached the gates of the city, Gandalf alone stood in defiance of the Witch-King (unlike the movies, the Witch-King NEVER broke Gandalf's staff). With the arrival of Rohan, and the pleas of Pippin concerning Denethor's intention to kill Faramir and himself, Gandalf rushed to Faramir's aid. Gandalf took Faramir from the pier and tried counseling Denethor to not commit suicide. However, driven mad by his grief and Sauron's messages via the Palantir of Minas Tirith, Denethor set the pier aflame while looking into said Palantir. In grief, Gandalf closed the doors of the chamber. Denethor later gave out a cry and said no more.
Gandalf, soon afterwards, delegated the control of the city to the Prince of Dol Amroth.
Gandalf, alongside Aragorn, led 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. Though the forces of good were heavily outnumbered, they were able to hold back the enemy until the hobbits reached the peak of Mount Doom, and the ring was destroyed by Gollum when he fell into the fiery volcano. Without Gandalf's efforts, Sauron might have learned where the two hobbits were and killed them before they could have completed their task.
Three years later, Gandalf (now having spent over 2,000 years in Middle-earth) departed with Frodo, Galadriel, Bilbo, and Elrond across the sea to the Undying Lands, and was not seen again in Middle-Earth.
- "I am Saruman, or rather Saruman as he should have been"
Gandalf initially appears as an old man with a white 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.
- "A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to."
- "So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
- "Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many."
- "There are many powers in the world, for good or for evil. Some are greater than I am. Against some I have not yet been measured. But my time is coming."
- "The battle of Helm's Deep is over; the battle for Middle Earth is about to begin."
- "I am Gandalf the White. And I come back to you now - at the turn of the tide."
- "End? No, it doesn't end here. Death is just a new path, a path everyone has to take."
- "There never was much hope, Just a fools."
- 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.
- The White Rider (when mounted on the great horse Shadowfax)
- Stormcrow (a reference to his arrival being associated with times of trouble), often used by his detractors to mean he is a troublesome meddler in the affairs of others.
- Incánus (in the south), of unclear language and meaning. Tolkien several times changed his mind about it, varying between the Latin word Incanus (meaning Grey and a possible Westron invention meaning "Greymantle"), an Elvish word Ind-cano (meaning Mind Ruler), or even a form of Southron meaning "Spy of the North".
- Lathspell, by Grima Wormtongue who said "Lathspell I name you, Ill-news; and ill news is an ill guest they say." (in "The Two Towers", "The King of the Golden Hall", p. 117.)
- Tharkûn (to the Dwarves), probably meaning Staff-man.
- Gandalf Greyhame
- Gandalf the Grey, and later Gandalf the White after he was reborn as the successor to Saruman.
Within the Tolkien legendarium, "Gandalf" translates an unknown name of the meaning "Wand-Elf" (alternatively cane/staff) 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. Even because of this, the nickname stuck with him. He later gave it as his name to others he met who didn't know its original meaning.
Appearence in the books and films
In the books
In the movies
Portrayal in adaptations
In the 1978 animated film of The Lord of the Rings by Ralph Bakshi, Gandalf was voiced by William Squire. (It's not known whether Squire played him in the live-action recordings used for rotoscoping.)
Sir Ian McKellen was Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. Sean Connery was originally considered for the role of Gandalf, but turned it down because he didn't want to spend so long in New Zealand, where the film was shot. McKellen's interpretation of the role was widely praised. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, making him the only individual cast member to be nominated for his performance. In interviews McKellen has said that if The Hobbit is ever filmed, he would be delighted to return as Gandalf. McKellen noted that personally he prefered portraying Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White, as Gandalf the Grey required a more nuanced performance.
- Manfred Zimmerman, The Origin of Gandalf and Josef Madlener, Mythlore 34 (1983).
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