Gandalf's Ring

There is something odd in the middle earth stories that has always bothered me. Gandalf has one of the three elf rings which, according to the Unfinished Tales, he was given it when he arrived in middle earth - a very long time before the events recounted in LOTR.

I have never been quite able to square this with the flow of the story. The ring gives Gandalf extra power and apparently Sauruman knows that he has the ring and is jelous. Saruman is able to imprison Gandalf and yet fails to take the ring from him. If I remember rightly, later Gandalf has the power to shatter Saruman’s staff and cast him from the order of wizards.

I know it is a heresy to suggest that the story could be improved, but would it not be more logical for Gandalf to be given his ring only after escaping from Orthanc - perhaps a secretly given gift from Galadriel?

I haven’t read the Silmarillion, so Saruman may have been there when Cirdan gave up the ring to Gandalf, but weren’t the Three invisible? Frodo manages to see Galadriel’s ring in Lothlorien, but the other two aren’t mentioned at all until after the One is destroyed.

Yes, it’s not at all clear that Saruman knows Gandalf has the ring of fire. It is interesting that, even in The Hobbit, most of Gandalf’s magic has to do with fire.

Gandalf has the power to shatter Saruman’s staff and cast him from the order, only after the battle with the Balrog, when Gandalf was himself cast down and returned as Gandalf the White (“Saruman as he should have been”). Saruman is no longer white, but many-coloured. This has nothing to do with Gandalf’s ring.

He’s blue and orange and yellow and red and purple and green and turqoise and …

Sorry, y’all.

It has been a while since I read Unfinished Tales, but I think it was quite clear that Saruman knew about Gandalf’s ring, spied on Gandalf and secretly copied some of his habits such as smoking the pipeweed.

Interesting point about Gandalf’s magic being fire based, plus fireworks etc. I hadn’t twigged that before.

When Gandalf defeats the Balrog he not mearly survives but is reborn (I think this again is something that is made clearer in Unfinished Tales). It is never explicitly said, but I suppose that this means that Gandalf becomes (or always was) a Christ-like figure in Middle Earth. Maybe this power to defeat evil and be reborn is inate in Gandalf from the begining or maybe it is only made possible by a combination of Gandalf’s personality and his possession of an elf-ring? Are there any Tolkein experts out there to resolve this question.

I’d always assumed he acquired it from Cirdan at the Grey Havens after he was reborn.

no, he was given it when he first arrived in Middle-earth by ship. I have no idea why Saruman didn’t snatch it when he imprisoned Gandalf, unless it had some sort of “deadman switch” on it.

And Gandalf and Saruman didn’t arrive at the same time. Gandalf arrived alone. Saruman had to share his ship with Radagast, which reportedly made him cranky. See Unfinished Tales

It wasn’t Gandalf’s power. His innate nature allowed his rebirth, but it was the power of (presumably) the Vala that actually caused him to be reborn.

Gandalf was a Maia, as was Saruman and the other Istari, Sauron, and the Balrog. Maia are immortal - or at least their spirit is (which is why Sauron was still hanging about). But whether you get another body is up to the Vala. When Gandalf’s body died, the Vala gave him a new one, plus experience points :p. When Saruman’s body died, his spirit rose up, but a brisk wind from the West (i.e. the Undying Lands) dissipated it, denying it the chance to once again take physical form.

The only unique one is Sauron, who would have had the power to resume a physical form without benefit of divine intervention, if he had gotten the One Ring back.


Actually some JRRT writings point towards the Valar referring the whole issue back to Eru. Sounds like the Big One was directly involved in the re-birth of Gandalf

I was under the impression that he did have a body in LOTR. No?

Having a body was an option that nearly any Ainur could exercise. Sauron could not appear fair-seeming anymore after Numenor’s wreck, but he could still embody, if he was powerful enough. Gandalf could have manifested a body back in Valinor, but was told by higher-ups that his job wasn’t done, and to hie back to middle-earth and get in that new body that had been specifically issued to him.

Or so I understand it.

And yes, Sauron was embodied in LOTR. Jackson changed it for the movie.

I disagree. I think Peter Jackson nailed it perfectly.

The form that Sauron took following being wrecked in the Akkalabeth, is the same form that he took, and indeed was the only physical form he could now inhabit, again after his reconstitution in the Third Age. This form is described: it was essentially humanoid (this can be safely inferred), it had a black skin and was hot (probably both a physical and moral property) it had a single lidless eye which was rimmed with fire.

However, the disembodied “Lidless Eye” was an impression that those beings under Sauron’s scrutiny (at a distance) gained. It is not a separate incarnation. Those who were unlucky to have a personal interview with Sauron, as Gollum had, would have seen the whole of his form not merely the eye.

Therefore, I think Jackson’s interpretation and presentation of the giant Lidless Eye stradled in between the spires of Barad-Dur was spot on and brilliant! :wink:

Fingy, right, but doesn’t Jackson actually have some of the characters say that Sauron doesn’t have a physical form? It’s possible I’m misremembering, but that’s the impression I had, and that I think most people got from the movie.

No, you’re right, c_carol. In the movie, FOTR, Saruman says to Gandalf that Sauron hasn’t taken bodily form. This contradicts the book. Jackson may have had his reasons for changing it, but it is a fact that this runs contra to what JRRT wrote. I suppose we could posit that Saruman is lying, but I think that’s stretching things.

c_carol - Sauruman says to Gandalf in FotR (the movie): “Sauron has regained much of his former strength, he cannot yet take physical form, but his spirit has lost none of it’s potency.” So you’re right.

Damnit. Refresh before posting. Sorry about that.

Gandalf’s death & rebirth with greater powers is only christlike in the sense that they draw from the same mythic source - that of the hero archtype. If you read through the great heroic tales through-out all history, you will notice that the hero normally at some point prelimanary to the accomplishment of his main objective either dies, makes an explicit trip to the underworld, or makes a prelimanary quest through something that resembles the underworld. This enables him to either acquire either greater powers, or an object of power. If I recall from Campbell correctly, the reasoning behind this ultimately is that death is our link to the greater/more powerful spirit world. So it is only by dying and being reborn that a hero can bring that power back to use in this world.

See Jung or Joseph Campbell for more on this line of thought if it interests you.

…of course, why should we trust that Saruman is telling the truth?

I have spent a few decades believing that Saruman was unaware of who exactly the bearers of any of the 3 Elven rings were, and he hadn’t a clue about Gandalf having one. It seems that nobody had ever trusted Saruman completely, which may have made him a bit bitter.

Gollum does recount what Sauron looked like in the books.

JRRT specifically stated that Gandalf was not supposed to be a Christ figure. Horatius, a figure of ancient Latin heroic legends is what the Balrog fight was supposed to evoke. Horatius falls off the bridge and swims in his heavy armor to the shore after the bridge is destroyed behind him, and his buds barely pull him to safety. Baptism and rebirth by fire for Gandalf.

Thanks for all the extra information. I am no Tolkein buff and I suppose that I should go and look it up, but I am still pretty sure that according to Unfinished Tales, Saruman does know that Gandalf has an elf-ring and, to return to my original point, I still feel that the story would be a little more logical if Gandalf got his ring after his escape from Saruman but before his encounter with the Balrog.