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A Little Old Man Called Gandalf

"All that the unsuspecting Bilbo saw that morning was an old man with a staff. He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which his long white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots." (J.R.R.Tolkien - The Hobbit)


Tolkien's inspiration for Gandalf can be traced to a postcard  he bought while on holiday in Switzerland. The postcard is called Der Berggeist (German: "the mountain spirit"). The postcard reproduce a painting of an old man with a white beard sitting under a tree in the mountains. On the back of the postcard Tolkien wrote "The origin of Gandalf".

In the earliest draft of The Hobbit the original name of Gandalf was Bladorthin meaning 'grey'. Tolkien will later give this name to a king however a connection will remain as Gandalf will  be assigned the color "grey". The inspiration for the name  Gandalf came from the Old Norse name Gandalfr. The meaning of the name Gandalfr/Gandalf is "magic elf / begin" and this is why Tolkien probably decided the name was more appropriate.

Although often portrayed as a very tall man, Gandalf is not tall. In the very first edition of The Hobbit he is a "little old man" , taller then a dwarf but not as tall as a human, even in The Lord of the Rings there are references about him been shorter then Elrond or other wizards. Gandalf's signature color is grey. 


Gandalf was originally one of the lesser Ainur who entered Middle-earth in the beginning of time. The lesser Ainur were known as the Maiar, lesser spirits than the Valar who ruled the Earth, the Maiar descended to Arda to help the Valar shape the World. Being of divine origin the Maiar were known to take on many forms or "veils" as they appeared in Middle-earth. These veils called 'fanar' in Quenya could be destroyed, but their spirits could not.

Gandalf's name at the begriming of time was Olórin meaning ' Dream'. A pupil under the Valar, he was recommended by Manwë to be one of the Five Istari (or Wizards), that were sent to Middle-earth to help combat the rule of Sauron. Olórin was at first reluctant, as he feared Sauron, but would eventually follow the will of the Valar. He joined four other Maiar to make up the Istari. They were Saruman the White, Gandalf the Grey, Radaghast the Brown and the two Blue Wizards.


The Five Istari sailed from Valinor to Middle-earth and were greeted by Círdan most probably in Mithlond. Though all of the Istari took upon themselves veil forms of old men to represent their humility, Gandalf in particular was short and bent, walking with a staff for aid. Círdan who was a discerning Elf saw in Gandalf the most potential for strength and wisdom.

In secret Círdan gave Gandalf Narya, the third of the Elven rings known as The Great Ring of Fire. This ring gave Gandalf a particular affinity for power of the flame which extended to his fireworks, Gandalf is famous for pyrotechnic shows  at parties in the Shire.

This is actually an amazing symbolism for Gandalf, because fire is metaphorically attributed to Sauron's power as well, but while his fire is a destructive, consuming force,  Gandalf's fire was of creation and was a representative of light. For these reasons Gandalf he was more resistant to the dark flame of the Balrog.


Before the events of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf traveled extensively though Middle-earth to asses the growing darkness. He suspected the Necromancer was Sauron before others did, and worried greatly about the destruction Smaug could cause if the fire dragon was to join darker powers. Gandalf will Send Thorin on his quest, and keep trying to unite the people's of Middle Earth in preparation for the destruction of Sauron all together.

Gandalf was a wizard with the express purpose of helping the peoples of Middle-earth overthrow the evil of Sauron. He carried with him the wisdom of the Valar, the trust and love of nearly every person he ever came in contact with, and cared deeply for Middle-earth and its people (especially the Hobbits and the Shire). 

A few years after the destruction of the Ring, and after a spending sometime with Tom Bombadil,  Gandalf will leave Middle-earth for the Undying Lands with two of the bearers of the One Ring, Frodo and Bilbo, never to return.


Article by Amorey - Laurelin Archives Webteam

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