Brief Description   
Further Information   
The Lord of the Rings   
The Silmarillion   
Unfinished Tales   
The Peoples of Middle-earth   

Brief Description    

Sing.: istar

Quenya: istyar ... 'scholar', 'learned man', istar translated as: Wizard

Sind.: ithron (pl. ithryn)

Maiar, sent to Middle-earth by the Valar to support the free people in their struggle against Sauron. They were given (had assumed) the bodies of old men and had many physical and spiritual skills. They had great wisdom and power and often used a staff to focus their power.

Also called Wizards, Ithryn, see also HerenIstarion

Further Information    

The Lord of the Rings    

In The Lord of the Rings they are called "Wizards" (the term Istari is not mentioned in the body of the text) and often referred to in the plural, but no number of them is mentioned, except in "The Voice of Saruman" by Saruman himself:

Saruman's face grew livid, twisted with rage, and a red light was kindled in his eyes. He laughed wildly. 'Later!' he cried, and his voice rose to a scream. 'Later! Yes, when you also have the Keys of Barad-dûr itself, I suppose; and the crowns of seven kings. and the rods of the Five Wizards, and have purchased yourself a pair of boots many sizes larger than those that you wear now. A modest plan.
The Two Towers - "The Voice of Saruman"

Only in the headnote for "The Third Age" in Appendix B: "The Tale of Years" (which was in this form mostly written in 1949-50, the passage about the Istari was first put in the entry of "c.1000", but lateron moved to the headnote, with a few amendations among which the mentioning of their number being five was) we learn a little more about the Istari:

When maybe a thousand years had passed, and the first shadow had fallen on Greenwood the Great, the Istari or Wizards appeared in Middle-earth. It was afterwards said that they came out of the far West and were messengers sent to contest the power of Sauron, and to unite all those who had the will to resist him; but they were forbidden to match his power with power, or to seek to dominate Elves or Men by force and fear.

They came therefore in the shape of Men, though they were never young and aged only slowly, and they had many powers of mind and hand. They revealed their true names to few,' but used such names as were given to them. The two highest of this order (of whom it is said there were five) were called by the Eldar Curunír, 'the Man of Skill', and Mithrandir, 'the Grey Pilgrim', but by Men in the North Saruman and Gandalf. Curunír journeyed often into the East, but dwelt at last in Isengard. Mithrandir was closest in friendship with the Eldar, and wandered mostly in the West and never made for himself any lasting abode.

LotR - Appendix B

The Silmarillion    

The passage concerning the Istari in The Silmarillion - "Of the Rings of Power" contains basically the same information that is already presented in Appendix B of LotR. The three Istari, Gandalf, Saruman and Radagast are mentioned again, but also others - who went into the east - are briefly mentioned:

Chief among them were those whom the Elves called Mithrandir and Curunír, but Men in the North named Gandalf and Saruman. Of these Curunír was the eldest and came first, and after him came Mithrandir and Radagast, and others of the Istari who went into the east of Middle-earth, and do not come into these tales. Radagast was the friend of all beasts and birds; but Curunír went most among Men, and he was subtle in speech and skilled in all the devices of smith-craft. Mithrandir was closest in counsel with Elrond and the Elves. He wandered far in the North and West and made never in any land any lasting abode; but Curunír journeyed into the East, and when he returned he dwelt at Orthanc in the Ring of Isengard, which the Númenóreans made in the days of their power.
The Silmarillion - "Of the Rings of Power..."

Unfinished Tales    

The chapter "The Istari" in the Unfinished Tales contains most of what can be learned about the Istari. The central piece of this chapter is an essay of the same name, probably written by Tolkien in 1954. With this essay - which was at some point intended to be included in the index at the end of the third volume of The Lord of the Rings - Tolkien wrote the most extensive account of the Istari.

A brief summary of this essay:

Wizard is a translation of Quenya istar (Sindarin ithron) and that the name denotes the members of an "order" - hence the name HerenIstarion. The Istari possess and show eminent knowledge of the history and nature the World. They where first thought to be Men, but lateron when it turned out that they did not seem to age or die, they were considered Elves. Only Círdan knew from the first that they were emissaries from the Lords of the West, and therefor must be of the order of the Valar and Maiar.

They appeared first in Middle-earth about ThA 1000, remained mostly unnoticed, only when the shadow of Sauron began to arise again, they became more active and widely known. But as they were forbidden to reveal themselves or to rule the wills of Men and Elves, they could only guide and councel and seek to unite the good, and thus try to prevent Sauron from corrupting and dominating the peoples of Middle-earth.

Five "chiefs" of the Istari came to the north of Middle-earth: One, clad in white, was the first to come and was regarded as the head of the order. Of the others were two clad in sea-blue, one in earthen brown and last came one clad in grey, who seemed the least. But Círdan already recognized in the latter the greatest spirit and the wisest and he have him Narya, the Red, one of the ThreeRings. After a while Curunír, the White Messenger, became aware that Olórin, the Grey Messenger, had this gift and this was the beginning of the grudge he had against the Grey.

Of the Blue, only little is said (c.f. FAQ/What are the names of the BlueWizards), save that their final fate remains unknown. Istari, since the are clad in bodies of Middle-earth, are not "infallible", they can even do evil and forget the good in the search for power to effect it.

Then - in a marginal note - Tolkien explains that they had a dim memory of the BlessedRealm for which they had a yearning as long as they remained true to their mission.

The Brown, Radagast, became enamoured of the birds and the beasts and, over this, he forsook Elves and Men.

Saruman, the White, became proud, impatient and enamoured of power, and was finally ensnared by the dark spirit of Sauron.


The Peoples of Middle-earth    

In HoMeXII, "Last Writings", a brief chapter "The Five Wizards" contains some more information, though it is in part contradictional with earlier information.

Work in progress!! -- ChW

See also: BlueWizards, FAQ/What are the names of the BlueWizards

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