Brief Description   
The Hobbit   
The Lord of the Rings   
Unfinished Tales - "The Istari"   
Outside Middle-earth   
Comments and Discussion   

Brief Description    

"Gandalf the Grey", later "Gandalf the White"

One of the Istari, second in power to Saruman until after his return in ''The Two Towers" as "Gandalf the White" when he becomes the most powerful of the order. Also one of the Fellowship of the Ring and a member of the WhiteCouncil. Wielder of Narya, one of the ThreeRings (c.f. Rings of Power).

Gandalf accompanies Bilbo and the Dwarves on their Quest of Erebor and is the first to find out the true nature of Bilbo's ring. He initiates Frodo's mission and the Council of Elrond and at first the leader of the FotR. During the fight with the Balrog of Moria he falls into the abyss and is lost. He re-appears in FangornForest as "Gandalf the White" and organizes the host of the free people of Middle-earth first against Saruman and his forces and then against Sauron. After Sauron is defeated his mission in Middle-earth is accomplished and he returns to Valinor in a WhiteShip? (together with Bilbo, Frodo and the other keepers of the ThreeRings)

Called Mithrandir by the Elves, his name as a Maia is Olórin.

'You cannot pass,' he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. 'I am a servant of the SecretFire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udűn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.'
Gandalf in "The Bridge of Khazad-dűm"


The Hobbit    

On Gandalf's first appearance in The Hobbit (1937) he is described as

"... a little old man with a tall pointed blue hat",

a description rather typical for wizards in fairy-tales. Later this was amended to

"... an old man with a staff. He had a tall pointed blue hat"

and finally to

" old man with a staff".

Even in the first drafts for The Lord of the Rings he is still described as a "Little old man". Tolkien had "borrowed" the name "Gandalf" - like most of the names for the Dwarves in The Hobbit - from the PoeticEdda?: gand-alfr which he interpreted as "Elf with a wand" or - in The Hobbit - as a "mere" Wizard. And in some ways Gandalf - as a character - there still resembles the "Man-in-the-Moon" from Roverandom. Humphrey Carpenter mentions in his TolkienBiography, that in the manuscript of The Hobbit, Gandalf was the name of the chief dwarf, whereas Bladorthin was the name of the wizard.

The Lord of the Rings    

Gandalf's history as an Istari (and hence a spiritual being - a Maia) had been a rather late development, the name Olórin first appears in the draft for the chapter "The Window on the West" in LotR.

{Gandalf's recital of his names, as reported by Faramir (who calls him in the draft 'the Grey Wanderer': 'the Grey Pilgrim' in the manuscript), was intricately changed in its initial composition, but apparently developed thus:

{ Added: Mithrandir among the Elves. Sharkűn to the Dwarves.} { The name of my youth in the West is forgotten >} { Olórion >} Olórin I was in my youth that is forgotten; { struck out: Shorab or Shorob in the East,} { Forlong >} Fornold in the South, Gandalf in the North. To the East I go not. { Struck out: Not everywhere}

The passage was then written out again in the draft, in the same form as it has in TT, but with the names Sharkűn and Fornold, this latter being subsequently changed to Incanus. In the manuscript Sharkűn (for later Tharkűn) remains. - Here the name Olórin first appears, changed from Olórion.

HoMeIX - Faramir

Unfinished Tales - "The Istari"    

Of "Olórin" the Maia we learn only a little more in the Unfinished Tales:

Who was "Gandalf?" It is said that in later days (when again a shadow of evil arose in the Kingdom) it was believed by many of the "Faithful" of that time that "Gandalf" was the last appearance of Manwë himself, before his final withdrawal to the watchtower of Taniquetil. (That Gandalf said that his name "in the West" had been Olórin was, according to this belief, the adoption of an incognito, a mere by-name.) I do not (of course) know the truth of the matter, and if I did it would be a mistake to be more explicit than Gandalf was. But I think it was not so. Manwë will not descend from the Mountain until DagorDagorath, and the coming of the End, when Melkor returns. To the overthrow of Morgoth he sent his herald Eönwë. To the defeat of Sauron would he not then send some lesser (but mighty) spirit of the angelic people, one coëval and equal, doubtless, with Sauron in their beginnings, but not more? Olórin was his name. But of Olórin we shall never know more than he revealed in Gandalf.
UT - The Istari

to which some ethymological explanation was added later: that Olórin is a High-elven name, and must therefore have been given to him in Valinor by the Eldar, or be a "translation" meant to be significant to them. In either case, what was the significance of the name, given or assumed? Olor is a word often translated "dream", but that does not refer to (most) human "dreams," certainly not the dreams of sleep. To the Eldar it included the vivid contents of their memory, as of their imagination: it referred in fact to clear vision, in the mind, of things not physically present at the body's situation. But not only to an idea, but to a full clothing of this in particular form and detail.

An isolated etymological note explains the meaning similarly:

olo-s: vision, "phantasy:" Common Elvish name for "construction of the mind" not actually (pre)existing in Ëa apart from the construction, but by the Eldar capable of being by Art (Karmë) made visible and sensible. Olos is usually applied to fair construction having solely an artistic object (i.e. not having the object of deception, or of acquiring power).


The origin of Gandalf's name is explained a little later:

Gandalf is a substitution in the English narrative on the same lines as the treatment of Hobbit and Dwarf names. It is an actual Norse name (found applied to a Dwarf in Völuspá) used by me since it appears to contain gandr, a staff, especially one used in "magic", and might be supposed to mean "Elvish wight with a (magic) staff". Gandalf was not an Elf, but would be by Men associated with them, since his alliance and friendship wit Elves was well-known. Since the name is attributed to "the North" in general, Gandalf must be supposed to represent a Westron name but one made up of elements not derived from Elvish tongues.

Outside Middle-earth    

Humphrey Carpenter mentions in his TolkienBiography a postcard, which seems to have inspired Tolkien for his character Gandalf:

Before setting off on the return journey to England, Tolkien bought some picture postcards. Among them was a reproduction of a painting by a German artist, J. Madlener. It is called Der Berggeist, the mountain spirit, and it shows an old man sitting on a rock under a pine tree. He has a white beard and wears a wide-brimmed round hat and a long cloak. He is talking to a white fawn that is nuzzling his upturned hands, and he has a humorous but compassionate expression; there is a glimpse of rocky mountains in the distance. Tolkien preserved this postcard carefully, and long afterwards he wrote on the paper cover in which he kept it: 'Origin of Gandalf'.

Douglas A. Anderson in The Annotated Hobbit points out that Tolkien cannot have bought the postcard in 1911, since Der Berggeist was not painted before 1925 or 1926.

The HoughtonMifflin? website has published a page with the painting [1] and Anderson's comments.

Comments and Discussion    

Message: I contest that this page should be a redirection from Olórin. "Olórin" appears roughly twice in the canon and near-canon text. The LotR reference is just as a name, hence the redirection.

The Silmarillion reference, however, is to a typical Maiar, complete with his pantheonic attributes, and a hint that in later ages he arose from dreaming and inspired others. Olórin should have his own page, just as each incarnation of Durin has his own page.


Please feel free to split the information into two separate pages, if you prefer this - Walter

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