View Full Version : Were Gandalf et al. really Maiar?
09-14-2002, 09:43 AM
In this thread (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?s=&threadid=134624), the claim is made several times that Gandalf, Saruman, and the rest of the order of wizards were in fact Maiar.
I've just finished reading the appendices to The Silmarillion (as a book on tape -- I have a long commute and almost no free time to read actual books). It says that the wizards were indeed sent across the sea from Valinor, by the Valar, to aid the inhabitants of Middle Earth in their struggles against Sauron (and other forms of corruption left behind in Melkor/Morgoth's wake). However, it does not actually say that the wizards are Maiar. Is it spelled out anywhere in the various Tolkien-ania that Gandalf really is a Maia, or could he and the other wizards actually be some other, non-Maia kind of Valar-servants?
I am Sparticus
09-14-2002, 10:20 AM
Yes they were. In LOTR Gandalf says that in the West (Valinor) he was called Olorin. The Silmarillion explicitly states that Olorin was a Maia affiliated with Nienna (sp?).
Saruman is identified as Curunir (sp?) another Maia.
09-14-2002, 10:25 AM
Gandalf states in LOTR,"Olorin I was in the West that is forgotten", and Olorin is given a name check in the Valaquenta as a Maia spirit (of the people of Lorien?) whose nature was to subtly inspire elves to great deeds and thoughts. The nature of the Wizards is discussed in the Istari section of Unfinished Tales, which I don't have to hand.
I'm pretty sure that there is no definitive statement that they are one and the same in anything that was published prior to JRRT's death, or indeed in the Silmarillion.
09-14-2002, 10:36 AM
Um, just checked Sparticus and we're both sort of right!
Olorin live in Lorien, which is both a Valinorean realm and the commonly used name of the Vala (Irmo) whose domain it is. Olorin learned pity and patience from Nienna, who was Lorien's sister.
I'm pretty sure that Curunir was the elves in middle earths name for Saruman, in the same way that they called Gandalf Mithrandir.
09-14-2002, 04:49 PM
From the essay "The Istari" in Unfinished Tales:We must assume that they [the Istari] were all Maiar, that is persons of the 'angelic' order, though not necessarily of the same rank. The Maiar were 'spirits', but capable of self-incarnation, and could take 'humane' (especially Elvish) forms. Saruman is said (e.g. by Gandalf himself) to have been the chief of the Istari - that is, higher in Valinórean stature than the others. Gandalf was evidently the next in order. Radagast is presented as a person of much less power and wisdom. Of the other two nothing is said in published work save the reference to the Five Wizards in the altercation between Gandalf and Saruman. Now these Maiar were sent by the Valar at a crucial moment in the history of Middle-Earth to enhance the resistance of the Elves of the West, waning in power, and of the uncorrupted Men of the West, greatly outnumbered by those of the East and South. It may be seen that they were free each to do what they could in this mission; that they were not commanded or supposed to act together as a small central body of power and wisdom; and that each had different powers and inclinations and were chosen by the Valar with this in mind.
Qadgop the Mercotan
09-14-2002, 07:28 PM
In History of Middle Earth (HOMES), I forget which volume, JRRT wrote a few paragraphs about the Valar calling together certain Maiar and told them of their plan to send the maiar to middle-earth to combat Sauron. In this essay, Saruman went eagerly, but Olorin (Gandalf) went quite reluctantly, as he loved the elves of Valinor.
09-14-2002, 08:08 PM
Qadgop, is that the same version or a variant of the Unfinished Tales account?
In UT, summarised by Christopher Tolkein from his father's notes, Olórin says that he is reluctant to go because he is too weak and he fears Sauron. Manwë replies that would be all the more reason for him to go.
Manwë then says something about Olórin being third, presumably behind Curumo (Saruman) and Aiwendil (Radagast). "But at that Varda looked up and said: 'Not as the third'; and Curumo remembered it." (which suggests that Saruman's envy of Gandalf dated back to the very beginning of their mission).
Qadgop the Mercotan
09-14-2002, 08:25 PM
You may be right, Northern Piper. It may be from UT. I always get a bit confused when I read them all in a short time (like a year). I keep remembering Beren the Elf doing battle with Tevildo, Prince of Cats. Then I Misremember how the Vala siblings Makar and Meassa spoke in support of Melkor's actions.
I am Sparticus
09-14-2002, 11:45 PM
Well, Clawtius, I never thought you were wrong. Of course both answers were correct. Tolkien had multiple names for just about everything.
Lots of spoilers:
I do not recall Olorin being reluctant to go, but perhaps I have not read that part yet. Saruman is an ancient being, and his insecurity is almost endless, particularly in the absence of the mighty Valar, with whom he can be comfortable being inferior because it is not close. But being one of only a half dozen Maiar in Middle Earth, perhaps part of his motivation was proving himself.
I don't recall Gandalf ever saying he feared Sauron personally, or other than what evil Sauron might do to the world. He fears what he would become if he had the ring, but Sauron ain't gonna tempt him or anyone else with that. Personally, Gandalf is bizarrely fearless, considering just how weak a Maia he is. This is no Osse or Melian. He stays and fights the Balrog because he knows that he can keep it from crossing the bridge before he dies. And he is not afraid of death, but perhaps his own corruption.
Gandalf the White, however, is sent back with far greater powers. He can see Sauron and strive with him over a great distance. He can see events from afar. Particularly in TT (I just reread LOTR), he is supremely confident in his abilities, a sharp contrast to his pre-death experience. This wans a bit in ROTK, probably for dramatic plot reasons. While Saruman was able to beat Gandalf in a wizards duel in FOTR, Gandalf dispatchs Saruman with just his voice in TT. His voice alone forces Saruman to the railing, his voice alone breaks Saruman's staff. Now perhaps the Istari are limited from using the Maiar powers by their human form, but this suggests an enormous increase in power. It tired Gandalf to speak with the word of command at the chamber of Marzabul and to strive with the balrog to hold the command, which was rendered moot by the very rock breaking. His greatest feat of magic was the all out lightening attack (alluded to only) when facing down all the Nazgul at once on Weathertop. And he was forced to flee IIRC.
The balrog only stopped temporarily at Gandalf's command at the bridge. It was of no use with Saruman in the first battle. Gandalf didn't even try it on the Necromancer (Sauron) at Dol Goldur when Sauron was still weak. One gets the sense that he was sent back with instructions to let the mortals use their own gifts (with encouragement only) to defeat Sauron or be defeated, but that he could command Saruman to be defeated to do housecleaning. The only similar battles in Middle Earth are between Finrod Felagund and Sauron and Luthien and Sauron, both of whom Sauron defeated. And ordinarily the powerful Elvish princes could defeat a balrog (a form of Maia) in single combat. These were both battles of song IIRC. Luthien, in fact, defeats Morgoth with a song battle, rendering him completely helpless.
While Gandalf was not the kind of "high voltage" powerful, he was powerful in his perseverance and his knowledge of himself and other beings. He uses this knowledge to great advantage.
Qadgop the Mercotan
09-15-2002, 09:20 AM
Um, Spart, Luthien defeated Sauron quite definitively. That's how she rescued Beren. And Luthien most certainly did not defeat Morgoth, she merely charmed him into sleep. Big difference, IMHO.
And the only Eldar I recall who defeated Balrogs were Ecthelion (who died) and Glorfindel (who died and may have gotten reborn later on). Both were born in Valinor, and powerful with the light of the two trees in their eyes. Hardly an argument for your statement "ordinarily elvish princes could defeat a Balrog in single combat".
As for Gandalf, read Unfinished Tales and to a lesser extent all 12 volumes of the History of Middle-Earth series for more insight into the nature of the Maiar in general and Gandalf in specific. Gandalf feared he would succumb to the lure of power. And he was not weak, he just obeyed the rules laid down by the Valar. His powers were veiled, and he was not supposed to use them, except in the most dire need. And he knew that even unveiled he could not defeat Sauron. Ananta úva tárë fárëa, úfárëa!
09-15-2002, 05:11 PM
Speaking of Radagast the Brown...where the heck was he during the War of the Ring?
And how the heck do you make umlauts, QtM?
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