Skip to main content

Gandalf and Saruman: The Tale of Tolkien's Two White Wizards

Wesman Todd Shaw is a huge fan of Lord of the Rings and loves writing about it.

The Five Wizards Of Tolkien's Middle Earth

The Five Wizards Of Tolkien's Middle Earth

Introduction Tt Tolkien's Two Major Wizards

The legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien includes not only The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but also The Silmarillion. Altogether this is the legendarium, and within it are invented languages, histories, and stunning characters. But the real beauty of Tolkien's Middle Earth is the thick allegory everywhere within it. The characters of Tolkien's world have a lot to teach us.

All of Tolkien's main characters forever face a choice and a dilemma. They have the choice to either cave in to their own desires or to overcome their weaknesses in order to do the right thing. Perhaps these dilemmas and choices are seen most clearly in the two wizards within the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Gandalf and Saruman.

Now, before we go further, I should state that there were not just two wizards in the Tolkien legendarium, there were, in fact, five wizards—but only the two most powerful of them play a major role in The Lord of the Rings. In The Hobbit, only one is a character in the middle of the fray.

So just what are these wizards? Well, there is a very definite answer to that, and the answer is...they are wizards. They are not beings that are of the same kind as the other races or species of persons inhabiting Middle Earth. The wizards are not Hobbits, they are not men, they are not dwarves, and they are not elves.

Who Are These Wizards?

The Tolkien-based films by Peter Jackson are terrific films, but they do not, even with the extended director's versions, tell the whole tale. Tolkien's legendarium world is just too big for film, it can only truly be seen in the mind of a reader. Peter Jackson's films, however, do not make it exactly clear just what the wizards were isn't to be faulted over much. Tolkien himself never made it very clear in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings trilogy what the wizards were either.

One must read the ENTIRE legendarium to know, and that means, of course, reading The Silmarillion.

While there is literally nothing at all I can detect that is overtly Christian in the legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien, Mr. Tolkien himself was most certainly a Christian, and a very close friend of another well-known author of thickly allegorical fantasy fiction, C.S. Lewis. So in the end, there are many a metaphor in the works of Tolkien that can be related directly to something Biblical. One has to actually be looking to see those metaphors, and that was probably intentional, as universal themes are a bit more appealing to even the Christians when escaping into such a fascinating work of world-building as the Tolkien novels provides.

Simply put—the five wizards are somewhat like the Biblical angels, some are more powerful or less powerful than others, but these, the Istari, are clothed in flesh, and in the appearance of men.

Where Did These Wizards Come From?

One thing important for the reader to understand about the world of Tolkien's legendarium is that Middle Earth is a large continent in that world, but not the entire world. Middle Earth is merely where most of the action takes place. Only the dwarves, the hobbits, and men are from Middle Earth, the other characters are actually from somewhere else entirely—a place referred to as the undying lands.

"Undying Lands? What is that?"

Well, the undying lands are where the lesser "gods" live. In Tolkien's legendarium, there is most certainly a creator God, and that creator created various and sundry lesser gods, and all manner of other eternal spirits that may or may not be trapped in or inhabiting a body of flesh. Tolkien's elves are also originally from the "undying lands," and throughout The Lord Of The Rings, a major underlying theme is the elves are leaving Middle Earth to return there, they are turning over the reigns of Middle Earth to mankind.

There is absolutely no reason at all for the lover of Tolkien's work to also know the Bible, however, one could make a case that "the elves" are rather like the progeny of the angels of the Bible having been cross-bred with mankind. In the Bible, of course, it was demonic angels that bred with mankind - so there are always twists in such comparisons.

Let us return our focus now to the subject at hand, the two white wizards of the Tolkien legendarium.


Gandalf The Grey

In The Hobbit, Gandalf seems near omniscient at times, as he orchestrates events he is certain will turn out right. He is here, and he is there. He appears, and then he is gone, and nobody much ever realizes just when he slipped away.

There is, in The Hobbit, mention of a mysterious and evil being known only as "the necromancer," and this, of course, turns out in the end to be Sauron, who manifests himself in The Lord Of The Rings as a great eye of fire. The five wizards were entirely sent to Middle Earth for a single solitary purpose, and that was to help the beings of Middle Earth contend with this Sauron, who can for all intents and practical purposes be thought of as something like the Biblical Satan.

Of the five wizards, only Gandalf really sticks to his mission. While it is likely that all five were very much afraid of the much more powerful Sauron, only Gandalf, who was initially thought to be the second most powerful of the wizards, faces his fears, and overcomes them.

Concerning Gandalf, the official description from the legendarium is as follows:

Warm and eager was his spirit (and it was enhanced by the ring Narya), for he was the Enemy of Sauron, opposing the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles, and succours in wanhope and distress; but his joy, and his swift wrath, were veiled in garments grey as ash, so that only those that knew him well glimpsed the flame that was within. Merry he could be, and kindly to the young and simple, yet quick at times to sharp speech and the rebuking of folly; but he was not proud, and sought neither power nor praise… Mostly he journeyed unwearingly on foot, leaning on a staff, and so he was called among Men of the North Gandalf ‘the Elf of the Wand’. For they deemed him (though in error) to be of Elven-kind, since he would at times work wonders among them, loving especially the beauty of fire; and yet such marvels he wrought mostly for mirth and delight, and desired not that any should hold him in awe or take his counsels out of fear. … Yet it is said that in the ending of the task for which he came he suffered greatly, and was slain, and being sent back from death for a brief while was clothed then in white, and became a radiant flame (yet veiled still save in great need)

Gandalf The White

Of Tolkien's wizards, Gandalf was not thought to be either the wisest or the most powerful, but perhaps he was always BOTH the wisest, and most powerful. Gandalf was humble, and so he was elevated over the pride-filled, jealous, and power-hungry Saruman. While Gandalf was well known to all races or species of "people's" on Middle Earth, he was also very in touch with the natural world, the flora and fauna were things he respected greatly, and this, perhaps, was why he was so forever interested in the creatures that seemed the very least of significance, hobbits.

Hobbits, having had no real significance in the events of Middle Earth at all before Gandalf saw something in them; were known for simple pleasures, eating, drinking, singing and dancing, and growing things. They had no kind of government, needed none, and were rather keen on staying out of everything, and enjoying their lives. The perfect sort of values that lead one to doing the most noble of deeds, but the proud and the self deemed wise never see such things. The truly wise, of course, do.

Without getting too thick into the details and the differences between the novels by Tolkien and the adaptation for film by Peter Jackson, suffice it to say that Gandalf sacrificed himself for his friends, and for the entire world - not for any surety of their success, but merely to provide a chance that they might succeed. In doing so. He faced a demonic thing that was easily his equal, and he overcame it, transcending himself to become Gandalf The White.


Saruman the White, Saruman the Fool

Saruman is a classic fallen angel. Pride, of course, was his failure. Literally, his entire presence in Tolkien's novels mirror's that of the character Sauron, who Saruman and the other wizards were sent to Middle Earth to combat, not admire. Saruman's very name meant man of skill, and he excelled at technological things, chemistry and metalwork.

Saruman is so intelligent and powerful that he is widely regarded by all as the White Wizard, one of the wisest and most powerful entities of all within Middle Earth, but whether or not he was ever that is something left up to the reader to decide. Gandalf had saw him as a superior mind, and wiser than himself, and as Gandalf humbled himself, he wound up being elevated above Saruman.

While all of Tolkien's wizards are of the same order of spiritual beings, Saruman, the pride filled industrialist, thinks the rest of them are stupid. Radagast The Brown, who Gandalf says is his cousin, Saruman hated from the start. Radagast, of course, was the wizard that dedicated himself to flora and fauna, which are obviously the polar opposites of the mind the creature Treebeard described as "of wheels and metal," Saruman.

So far as the rings of power are concerned, Saruman was intensely jealous of Gandalf, as he knows that Gandalf was given one of the three rings of power designed by and for the elves. Sauron, of course, created a ring of power that surpassed all others, and was THE Lord Of The Rings.

Rather than seek to do what he was sent to do, and use his vast knowledge and wisdom towards the purpose he'd once had, Saruman fell prey to jealousy, pride, and fear. He was too proud of his own skill to find any value in nature, or seemingly weak creatures like hobbits, and he was too jealous of Gandalf's ring of power to think straight. Saruman was also too afraid of Sauron to imagine defeating him, and so he rather fell into admiring him, as Sauron was, of course, more powerful and talented than any of the wizards.


The wonderful films of Peter Jackson, endorsed by the Tolkien family, are not entirely accurate, as changes were made for the film versions of The Lord Of The Rings.

Besides changing some minor parts of the plot, Jackson also omits some things that we Tolkien lovers must surely find troublesome, but I'm willing to forget those things too because of the extreme quality of what Jackson has produced.

The film clips I've shared here have been edited even further, but I did not do that, and so far as whoever did do it is concerned, I'm practically positive they had to edit the originals in order to not violate some silly corporation's codes.

Finally, corporations—it is impossible to measure just how vast are the gaps between the minds of some silly egomaniac with zero grip on reality like Ayn Rand, and a master such as Tolkien.

Were Ayn Rand the author of The Lord Of The Rings, then surely Sauron and Saruman would be the John Galt-ish heroes of a decaying industrialized Middle Earth where nobody cares about the Earth itself, or silly moochers and parasites such as hobbits, who do nothing but eat, drink, dance, and enjoy all that the God of creation has given them.

Thanks for reading.

© 2012 Wesman Todd Shaw


Jessie Watson from Wenatchee Washington on May 31, 2018:

You're not alone. I understand. More than is probably appropriate to share in this space. I appreciate the feedback lately.

Wesman Shaw on May 31, 2018:

Hey thanks, Jessie. I'm sometimes pained when I look at these older things I did. I'm really at war with the person I was just a few years ago. I hope that in a few years from now, I can be at peace with the person I am today.

Jesus...I need a tranquilizer.

Jessie Watson from Wenatchee Washington on May 31, 2018:

I'm sold.

Jeremiah on February 23, 2018:

Hi Todd -

Thought you might like some feedback on a few points in your write-up:

"...but the real beauty of Tolkien's Middle Earth is the thick allegory everywhere within it." -- Tolkien did not use allegory in LotR. You're thinking of applicability.

"Tolkien's elves are also originally from the "undying lands"" -- No, they weren't. They were from the lands of Cuiviénen. They were taken from there to the Undying Lands, and thence back again to Middle-earth.

"the elves" are rather like the progeny of the angels of the Bible having been cross bred with mankind" -- No indeed. The elves were made directly by Eru Ilúvatar (God). They were not crossbred into existence be either the Ainur nor any demonic beings.

"a bumbling old fellow" -- This is merely my opinion. But I've never seen Gandalf do anything which could be described as bumbling. He is, perhaps, "unassuming" in nature at times...and people are often oblivious to his true power and nature. But he's not bumbling.

"Sauron, who manifests himself in The Lord Of The Rings as a great eye of fire" -- Just to be clear that he is not a flaming eyeball. This is how he is depicted in the films, and indeed he is described as being represented by a great flaming eye in the books. But he also has a corporeal body. We know this because Gollum was tortured by Sauron and he [Gollum] confirms that Sauron is missing a finger (it having been cut off at the end of the battle of the Last Alliance).

Just food for thought.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on February 01, 2013:

Hey Kasman, be sure to let me know when you publish, if you remember to, come back and drop a link here. I rarely ever have time to look at my HP notifications any more, but I always look for new comments.

Kas from Bartlett, Tennessee on January 29, 2013:

Awesome man. It was absolutely stunning. I'll be doing a hub on it at some point if you wanna stop by. I'll have a ton of pictures. Have a great day bud.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on January 29, 2013:

Hey thanks very very much, Kasman!!!

As I understand it...despite being close friends...Tolkien and Lewis had tons of disagreements about things..all sorts of things.

But great writers are bound to have strong opinions about this or that, I'd imagine.

New Zealand sure does look like a gorgeous place!

Kas from Bartlett, Tennessee on January 26, 2013:

Definitely one of my all-time favorite series'. Hats off to you Wesman. You've written an amazingly detailed backstory on two of the most interesting characters in literature or cinema. I love how you included J.R.R. Tolkien's relationship to Lewis as he was instrumental in bringing old C.S. to Christ. I had the pride and joy of living in New Zealand this past year for several months and I was able to visit some of the filming locations of the original trilogy, so this story got a bit more personal for me. Voting up and amazingly interesting.

Kris Oller from Modesto, Ca on December 25, 2012:

Thanks!! :)

Also, I did that review that you requested: Hope it's satisfactory. ;)

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on December 25, 2012:

No thanks for that very much, Kris! I'll return the favour as well!

Kris Oller from Modesto, Ca on December 24, 2012:

Well done. A very fun read. I hope you don't mind, I linked people to this hub on mine about the Blue Wizards. But I can always take it down again, if you'd rather. :)

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 16, 2012:

Thanks very very much, KailReed, I DEFINITELY plan to do just that!!!!!!!!!

I hope to eventually publish something here about all the major Tolkien characters, but it might take me a while to get it done to where I'm happy enough with it :)

Kail Reed from Wisconsin on September 16, 2012:

I simply love everything that Tolkien has wrote, I've read most of the silmarillion, read the trilogy, the hobbit, and currently I am reading the Children of Hurin right now. You should do a hub on Morgoth!

DoItForHer on September 15, 2012:

R.A. Salvatore. Drizzt comes from a race of evil, chaotic dark elves, the Drow, that live deep underground. Nearly everything above and below ground hates and greatly fears the Drow- with good reason! But Drizzt turns out to be one of the good guys and breaks away from his family and heritage and forges a new life above ground. He has to deal with prejudice, social differences and the life of a pariah. And he is good with his swords with the help of his pet panther.

The author has good prose. I bought the Dark Elf Trilogy for my daughter for Dr. Seuss' B-day; it has Homeland in it. While Homeland is a prequel, I recommend it before the Crystal Shard even though the Shard was chronologically first.'Ur...

And my picture is a setup for the next one. Just you wait, lol.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 15, 2012:

Not at all! Who is the author?

DoItForHer on September 15, 2012:

My favorite is the dark elf series based in the Forgotten Realms lands. Perhaps you are familiar with Drizzt Do'Urden and Guenhwyvar? Been reading that series since '88.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 14, 2012:

grandmapearl - Thank you very very much!!!!!!!! Oh if you like those films then you sure will appreciate "The Silmarillion."

It is a tougher read than LOTR...but without it, you don't ever truly know just who all those characters are, or what their real significance is.

"The Silmarillion" is ESSENTIAL to really get Tolkien.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 14, 2012:

Rasta1 - Thanks very much!!!!!!

Oh I hope to get around to writing a page about all the major characters - I just think I ought to do make the effort, and I certainly will, time permitting.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 14, 2012:


Are you serious? I don't know those people...maybe you've been hiding some things from me? Come clean, Paula! Confession is good for the soul!!!!!!!!!!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 14, 2012:


I didn't recognize you at first - You look like a super cool dude with that picture, and you are, of course!

I can't imagine life without Tolkien's books....I'd need something to replace that large portion of my imagination with....and I've no idea what could do it.

Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on September 11, 2012:

Like you I am most anxiously awaiting the Hobbit movie. Thanks to you I now know about the Silmarillion. Next!

I must admit that at least twice a year I have a "Lord of the Rings" movie marathon at my house, complete with popcorn and tacos!

Loved this article, voted up and pushed lots of buttons, also shared.

Marvin Parke from Jamaica on September 09, 2012:

I am a big fan of the Lord of the Rings too. My favorite characters are smeagol and gullom. Nice overview of the sorcerer.

Suzie from Carson City on September 09, 2012:

Name one? Just author? How about THREE:

1. Paul Martin

2. Joshua Sundquist

3. Sarah Reinerstein

There ya go...Mr. Smarty Pants......................lmao

DoItForHer on September 09, 2012:

Very interesting. While I couldn't get into the books or the movies, I've been able to appreciate the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books. Your Hub was well written, enjoyable, and informative.

My hobbit name is: Podo Bulge of Great Smials.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 09, 2012:

I published one in particular here that has stunned me in regards to its success.

It gets at least fifty page views from Google every single I've tried to do others similar to it, but about different niches of acoustic guitar....and I can't seem to get close to the one that is so successful....regardless of what I try.

I do have some theory as to why the newer ones (which I put more work into than the very very successful one) haven't got so much attention...but I also think I might be being a bit too I do not recall how long it was before my one super hub really took off.

All in all....I'm only making about three to five dollars a day here...sometimes less than that, so the whole thing is disappointing, but I don't intend to give it up either.

I guess I'm getting just enough out of all this to keep messing with it :/

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on September 09, 2012:

Sounds fair to me. These 'book' things still hold a lot of attraction for many, so get your nose into Tolkien and let's see something different to the usual guitars - no disrespect to the twangers of this world - that will pull in the readers.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 09, 2012:


Oh yes, I know about Saruman's fall, were I to go and try to make a page like this would be too large for anyone to want to read.

I'm feeling damn near compelled to go on a Tolkien hubpage writing spree.

Enough expensive guitars for now!!!!!! I think my followers, friends, and readers here are probably about sick and tired of seeing new articles about guitars....but of course I'm definitely attempting to make money here at Hubpages....and I do make some money, but not as much as I'd like or have hoped I have to try new things and see how it goes.

I'm experimenting always online.

I LOVE talking about Tolkien....I know a lot, but there is forever more to know, it seems.

There is a challenge with writing about Tolkien....there are tons of pages out there about his work and his characters....very competitive niche!

I have no idea what happened to the first copy of The Silmarillion that I owned....but I got another, a hardback for my birthday this year....and it is my precious! So I'm going to re read that one again.

I've read the trilogy, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion all three times in my life so far...and I've started my fourth go round.

I simply can't hardly stand the wait for the Peter Jackson films for The Hobbit.

I've been spending FAR too much time this past couple of years forever debating some very intelligent persons (old friends) on Facebook about this and about that....and I'm about decided to stop the most of that, as I've been neglecting reading here, and ....the way reading used to be done...those things called "books."

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on September 09, 2012:

Nice piece of writing Wes. But here's where the knife comes in: Saruman wasn't a White Wizard, he was a Dark Wizard. He may have BEEN a White Wizard once, but when we see him in the 'Lord of the Rings' he's definitely dark.

'Middle Earth' is from Norse mythology. J R R Tolkien was an English writer, poet, philologist and university professor. He began writing 'Lord of the Rings' works as an Army officer in the trenches in WWI and finished them in the 1920s, originally for his children, and was persuaded to publish. He had studied the Norse mythology as well as that of the other peoples in the north - Finns, Slavs - and the combination of the three sources, along with the language stemmed from his interests in language and mythology. Midgard - Middle Earth - lies around Asgard, the home of the gods (check out 'Ye Gods and other Big Fish...' in the VIKING series. Saruman would have come from the Suomi (Finnish) sources and Gandalf sounds definitely Frankish (Germanic).

Just thought you'd like to know.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 08, 2012:

Music And Art - thanks very much, and what is better than music or art save women, wine and song?

I think I like you already!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 08, 2012:


NAME ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If you ever do anything else in this life, you should do yourself the favor of reading Tolkien! :)

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 08, 2012:

Hi there, LA Elsen!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh I'm just getting started. I can talk Tolkien for days on end, and intend to do so here on author in the universe deserves my praise and thoughts, whether Google or HP cares for them, or not :)

Music-and-Art-45 from USA, Illinois on September 08, 2012:

I love these books and Gandalf and Saruman are definitely two of Tolkien's stronger characters. Nice to meet someone who's passionate about the Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's other writings.

Suzie from Carson City on September 08, 2012:

OH...well, see! There ya go.....I only read one-legged authors! Whew! I knew there had to be a reason.

LA Elsen from Chicago, IL on September 08, 2012:

I am really impressed with the amout of information and your knowledge of The Silmarillion. Voted up useful and interesting. Nice job.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 08, 2012:



I'm probably going to make a hub about all the major things in Tolkien that I'm into...and maybe along the way I'll think of a dozen more, he was only the greatest author that had two legs, of course. :)

Suzie from Carson City on September 08, 2012:

Wesman.....HUH??? Can you do a hub on "Alice in Wonderland, for ME? Send me to the gallows, whatever you must do......I will go quietly (yeah, sure I will)

BUT, my dear sweet bot-toy.......To go THIS deep, to read, understand, analyze, compare, imagine, ponder, wonder, and play amongst the elves and wizards of Middle earth and peek into the vastness of Tolkiens Brain....would either wear me RIGHT THE HELL OUT or send me spiraling into a big black, scary hole of a place just BELOW Middle earth where nothing good could possibly happen!

Look, Boy-Genius......go easy on this old lady, would ya please? Like I said, Alice would be nice......or, maybe Bambi.....I like that one too.

Love you Wesman!! The EFFER

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on September 08, 2012:

Well thank you very very much rcrumple!!!!!!!!!!

Yes!!! Do read, though I have to warn that The Silmarillion is a bit deeper and more thick, though not in width of pages, than any other work of Tolkien.

It does, however, proved something like an Old Testament to the LOTR and Hobbit New Testament.

Rich from Kentucky on September 08, 2012:

I've had a 1973 edition of The Silmarillion for years, but have not been able to make myself read it. I loved the Hobbit, but the trilogy wore me out. Your excitement is stimulating, and may make me reconsider! Very in depth article! Up & Useful & Interesting