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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Questions on the power of Gandalf

Bracegirdle
Tol Eressea


May 31 2014, 6:13pm

Post #1 of 15 (313 views)
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Questions on the power of Gandalf Can't Post

There is a thread over on “Arena” pitting Gandalf the White against Sauron, which brings some thoughts to mind possibly worthy of discussion here in the “Reading Room”.

Gandalf was sent to contest the will of Sauron by uniting the Free Peoples of Middle-earth as counselor and advisor, and was forbidden to match Sauron’s power with equal power. So, my questions are– how “physically” powerful were Third Age Gandalf and Sauron? How would Gandalf the White fare in a one-on-one physical contest against Sauron were he (Gandalf) allowed by the Valar to use his power to the maximum?

Interestingly we know little of the actual physical potential of Gandalf the White. His physical fighting ability at Helm’s Deep is either not used at all or at best vague - “The White Rider was upon them, and the terror of his coming filled the enemy with madness.” (III, 7) (This was, as far as I know, the singular quote of his actions during The Battle of Helm’s Deep. And whether he “took a stroke” is unclear.)
I think his only known “physical” use of power was in the rescue of Faramir. He sent a “flash of white and silver” to Faramir’s aid. Also “a shaft of white light stabbed upwards” at the Nazgul steeds during the same encounter.
A few days later he faces off with the Witch-king but strikes no blow during the entire Battle of the Pelennor Fields!
Again from the slag hills before the Morannon it seems he strikes no blow. (See VI, 4.)
So, it seems, Gandalf the White’s only indisputable use of “physical” power (that I recall) was the rescue of Faramir and his men on the Pelennor, and his true might remains an enigma.

Perhaps we could glean some idea of Gandalf the White’s capability by looking back to Gandalf the Grey.
First as the Grey he fought the nine Nazgul to a stalemate atop Amon Sul. (Could we go so far as to say he won this encounter as the Nazgul were split into two factions?)
Next he goes against the balrog – another draw. (Yes, I have discounted The Hobbit, for the sake of this discussion, as he was wounded at The Battle of Five Armies – a stray arrow perhaps?)
Thus his physical power as Gandalf the Grey seems quite formidable, and we can only wonder how much more formidable was Gandalf the White?

Sauron was a devious manipulator/controller with some mystical powers, and he was apparently of a somewhat higher order of Maiar than the Istarit, but we never learn anything about his Third Age personal physical abilities (that I know of (?)).
Had Sauron found The Ring first it would have been grave for Middle-earth without Divine intervention, and Gandalf the White would probably be bested. But without The Ring who knows what would be the outcome of the mentioned competition?

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Hamfast Gamgee
Gondor

Jun 1 2014, 10:27am

Post #2 of 15 (178 views)
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Gandalf the Grey [In reply to] Can't Post

At least according to the Narrator of the Hobbit, would have been slain by the Wrags of the Misty Mountains if he had crashed down upon them in flames as in the Hobbit. Also, whilst he was powerful in some areas, he couldn't stop things like, Sauron's rise to power in the 3rd age and he couldn't seem to take on whole armies by himself. As the White he was unable to prevent Sauron's armies besieging Minas Tirith, for example.


Bracegirdle
Tol Eressea


Jun 1 2014, 7:49pm

Post #3 of 15 (159 views)
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Valid points Hamfast . . . [In reply to] Can't Post

Yes, as you say, it appears the Fifteen travelers would probably been killed by the Orcs and Wargs if not rescued from the trees by the Eagles. Also as I mentioned Gandalf was wounded at the Battle of Five Armies. (It’s strange to consider that a Gandalf that fought the Nine Nazgul and a balrog to a draw in LotR would have any problem with a few wargs and orcs in The Hobbit.) So it’s clear that the Gandalf of The Hobbit was substantially inferior to the Gandalf of The Lord of the Rings. Why?

A couple of possibles come to mind.
First it was 60 years between The Unexpected Party and the Long-Expected Party. Could Gandalf’s power have increased to such an extent in those 60 years? Hmm, doubtful.
But we must consider that about 17 years passed from the publication of The Hobbit to the publication of LotR (although Tolkien started LotR soon after The Hobbit, as The Hobbit was already circulating he couldn’t very well change it to coincide more closely to LotR). But he did do an outstanding job of linking the two novels (using The Ring as the main catalyst), but it was certainly too late to change (increase the power) of Gandalf in the The Hobbit.
Written as a children’s fantasy novel we can only enjoy The Hobbit as is (blemishes and all): a wondrous exciting tale.
(Point of interest: Gandalf was never called Gandalf the Grey in The Hobbit, just Gandalf, the Wizard or Wandering Wizard etc.)

As for “taking on whole armies by himself” or preventing “Sauron’s armies besieging Minas Tirith”, that wasn’t what he was sent to do; although we could speculate that he may have had the power: as he said to The Three Hunters (Aragorn, Gimli, & Legolas) “…none of you has any weapon that could hurt me.” (This statement (braggadocios?) tells us that not sword nor axe nor bow could harm Gandalf the White.)

But, Gandalf wasn’t sent to Middle-earth as a warrior! He was sent as an advisor and guide. There are many instances where he could have used his physical power but chose instead to use his wit and cunning as an organizer. Yes it is possible that he was “unable to prevent Sauron's armies besieging Minas Tirith”, but again, I believe, he chose to remain in the background (Houses of Healing) during the Battle of the Pelennor, adhering to the wishes of Manwe and The Valar and allowing the Free Peoples to attain their own destiny. (Oh, how many lives could he have saved?) But to “take over” as suggested removes the glory (or defeat) from the Free Peoples. A gift given is soon forgotten; a gift earned is long remembered.

Cheers

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Radagast-Aiwendil
Gondor


Jun 4 2014, 5:00pm

Post #4 of 15 (115 views)
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Gandalf in The Hobbit and Gandalf in LotR.. [In reply to] Can't Post

Are essentially two different characters under the same name (obviously the same person, but different in continuity terms).

The Gandalf of The Hobbit is little more than a wandering conjurer, at the time of Tolkien's initial writing probably only envisaged as a mortal human (since The Hobbit was not originally part of the Middle-earth legendarium until Tolkien was tempted along that path). Certainly, there are no traditional magicians as such within The Lord of the Rings or the ME works set prior to the Third Age. Whilst Gandalf is shown to be capable enough to rescue the Dwarves and Bilbo from Trolls and Goblins, it is mostly due to his wits and quick thinking than to any great power (tricking the three Trolls, reacting quick enough to stop himself being captured by the Goblins, and creating a distraction through the Great Goblin's death which allows him to rescue the others). However, when trapped along with the Dwarves and Bilbo, The Hobbit's Gandalf is not necessarily much better off as we see, relying on Chance (i.e. the Eagles) to save the bacon. Paul Kocher in his critical analysis 'Master of Middle-earth', states that the wizard who "never minded explaining his cleverness more than once" had a long way to go before becoming the Messenger of the Valar that Tolkien gives us in The Lord of the Rings. Indeed, Tolkien's description of "a great council of the white wizards" makes it sound as if there is no shortage of so-called "wizards" in the world of The Hobbit, though of course we know different.

Whereas Gandalf in The Hobbit has little characterisation beyond being very clever and a trifle grouchy, the Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings is a much more uncertain Wizard (capital "W" now since he is of The Order of Wizards), who nevertheless seems to be in possession of more power (though it is used very sparingly). I personally don't think he would have gained power per se as you suggested he might between the period of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (though his knowledge of Middle-earth and its people would certainly have increased), but nevertheless it does seem a bit odd that the Wizard who took down a Balrog would have a problem with Wargs and Trolls. That said, one of the best things about Tolkien's writing is the ambiguity; after all, let us not that Saruman met his end at the hands of one far less capable than himself, reduced in power though he was.

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."-Gandalf

(This post was edited by Radagast-Aiwendil on Jun 4 2014, 5:04pm)


squire
Valinor


Jun 4 2014, 6:07pm

Post #5 of 15 (100 views)
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Well put [In reply to] Can't Post

I remember first reading Kocher's take on the differences between the two Gandalfs, with a sense of wonder that a critic could be so helpful in clearing up a young kid's inarticulate confusion:
As the Necromancer of The Hobbit is not yet Sauron, Gandalf is not yet Gandalf. The wizard of the child's story who "never minded explaining his cleverness more than once," who is "dreadfully afraid" of the wargs, who tricks Beorn into accepting thirteen unwanted dwarves into his house, and the like, needs nothing short of a total literary resurrection to become the messenger sent by the Valar to rally the West against Sauron. (Kocher, Master of Middle-earth (1972), p. 32; bold by squire)




squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd & 4th TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion and NOW the 1st BotR Discussion too! and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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Radagast-Aiwendil
Gondor


Jun 4 2014, 6:30pm

Post #6 of 15 (91 views)
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Thanks, squire! [In reply to] Can't Post

I could remember part of the quote but not all of it exactly word for word-the book's probably gathering dust somewhere in a dark forgotten corner-so it's much appreciated Wink

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."-Gandalf

(This post was edited by Radagast-Aiwendil on Jun 4 2014, 6:32pm)


Bracegirdle
Tol Eressea


Jun 4 2014, 7:18pm

Post #7 of 15 (94 views)
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I say, R-A – We seem to be in agreement . . . [In reply to] Can't Post

but for the usual misinterpretations prevalent on this type internet dialogue:

In Reply To
[G & G] Are essentially two different characters under the same name (obviously the same person, but different in continuity terms).

Yes, as I said “Written as a children’s fantasy novel we can only enjoy The Hobbit as is (blemishes and all): a wondrous exciting tale”.

In Reply To
The Hobbit's Gandalf is not necessarily much better off as we see, relying on Chance (i.e. the Eagles) to save the bacon.

Also I said, “ it appears the Fifteen travelers would probably been killed by the Orcs and Wargs if not rescued from the trees by the Eagles.”.

In Reply To
I personally don't think he would have gained power per se as you suggested he might between the period of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

I suggested as “doubtful” thag you.

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Radagast-Aiwendil
Gondor


Jun 4 2014, 7:44pm

Post #8 of 15 (84 views)
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Apologies for any confusion caused [In reply to] Can't Post

The points you mentioned I was indeed just backing up Smile

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."-Gandalf


Bracegirdle
Tol Eressea


Jun 4 2014, 8:45pm

Post #9 of 15 (85 views)
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We're good.. confusion deceased . . . [In reply to] Can't Post

I believe we are all in agreement that Tolkien did an incredible job of connecting The Hobbit with LOTR, whether we be an intellectual writer such as Kocher or a sophomoric Bracegirdle, and The Hobbit needs be taken as the wondrous moving childrens tale that it is, flaws and all.Smile

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Eruonen
Tol Eressea


Jun 5 2014, 2:51pm

Post #10 of 15 (78 views)
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He chose to remain the faithful servant, unlike Saruman, [In reply to] Can't Post

and kept to his mission and its limitations. This is why he leaves it to Galadriel to throw down the walls of Dol Guldur (one of the free peoples). The only clue we have is that the Istari may have been of a lower order than Sauron (Melkor's most powerful lieutenant). However, the ringless Sauron is much weaker and my guess is that the contest would have been much closer - indeed, there is one passage where Gandalf actually defeats Sauron in a battle of wills....(Frodo on the Seat of Seeing) "Gandalf informs the others that the Ring was nearly revealed to Sauron but “I sat in a high place, and I strove with the Dark Tower; and the Shadow passed”.[5] ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The White Rider"


(This post was edited by Eruonen on Jun 5 2014, 2:52pm)


Bracegirdle
Tol Eressea


Jun 5 2014, 6:53pm

Post #11 of 15 (65 views)
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Good points Eruonen.. [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
The only clue we have is that the Istari may have been of a lower order than Sauron

Yes, (without looking up the quote) I believe it is stated in The Silmarillion that Sauron was of a higher order of Maiar than Olorin (Gandalf).


In Reply To
there is one passage where Gandalf actually defeats Sauron in a battle of wills....(Frodo on the Seat of Seeing) "Gandalf informs the others that the Ring was nearly revealed to Sauron but “I sat in a high place, and I strove with the Dark Tower; and the Shadow passed”

Good catch here! But this would be, as you say “a battle of wills”, indicating some type of telepathic contest, and not included in our hypothetical “physical” competition.

Also let’s remember that the will of Aragorn was able to wrest the Orthanc Stone from Sauron (or to himself). Although he was certainly a supreme organizer and manipulator, this all calls into question the Third Age “personal” power of Sauron, be it “physical” or “metaphysical”.
Cheers

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Contact Messrs, Grubb, Grubb, and Burrowes.
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Eruonen
Tol Eressea


Jun 5 2014, 7:48pm

Post #12 of 15 (61 views)
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I think the invented contest in Dol Gulder between Gandalf and Sauron [In reply to] Can't Post

was a pretty good imagining of Gandalf the Grey vs Sauron. Had it been Gandalf the White it may have been a more equal contest due to Sauron's diminished power....but, this is all guess work of course.


Elizabeth
Valinor


Jun 5 2014, 11:00pm

Post #13 of 15 (51 views)
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He "left it to Galadriel to throw down the walls of Dol Guldur"... [In reply to] Can't Post

because he was hundreds of leagues away at the time. App. B says this occurred on March 28, and Gandalf was in the vicinity of Cormallen attending to Frodo and Sam, who woke up on April 8.








Eruonen
Tol Eressea


Jun 5 2014, 11:16pm

Post #14 of 15 (49 views)
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I was referring to the action not the timing. [In reply to] Can't Post

In other words, limiting his use of powers as outlined rather than crossing over the line. Galadriel was under no limitation.


Hamfast Gamgee
Gondor

Jun 6 2014, 9:52am

Post #15 of 15 (73 views)
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Well, I'm not sure that I am [In reply to] Can't Post

Or to simply play devils advocate here, I think that one can say that the events of the Hobbit do take place in the same universe as Lotr. I don't find it that out of place. Sure, it is in the wild North of ME so things are often a bit different than those events described later in Lotr. It is possible that a pack of wild, later 3rd age Wrags could have killed Gandalf the Grey, the Wizards were of man form and could be slain after all. Some of the really silly things said might just be put down to a cantankerous Narrator telling the child to some kids. I can't think of any events in the Hobbit which really go against the grain of what happens later, I think it all fits together rather nicely Smile

 
 

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