LOTR: How powerful was Gandalf...and why didn't he flex?

I get that Gandalf was trying to hold back and let the peoples of Middle Earth sort out their own stuff. An enlightened position.

As such we rarely see Gandalf strut his stuff and see him go full-on beast mode. The one time we see him do it is when he fights the Balrog…another Maiar.

IIRC that Balrog was Durin’s Bain which single handedly whomped all of the Dwarves in Khazad-Dum.

And we know that Gandalf, barely, killed that same Balrog.

Yet the Gandalf we see in the books, apart from that one battle, seems…meh.

I guess what I am asking is should we think Gandalf could have whomped everyone in Khazad-Dum if he felt like it?

brief summary, not quite true but fits the facts:

Gandalf was limited. He was not a maiar who decided to incarnate and live among us like Melian did. He was made mostly human, with much of his power and much of his knowledge and wisdom left behind. The Valar did this purposefully in order make sure that the Children of Iluvatar (elves and men) would have to solve their own problems, and not rely on the Divine folk to pull their chestnuts out of the fire. Gandalf and the other Istari such as Saruman, Rhadagast, Alatar, Pallando, (aka Morinehtar and Rómestámo) were sent to inspire, advise, encourage.

The only time Gandalf could really cut loose was when divine forces were directly arrayed against elves and men, as he did when he went toe to toe with the Balrog. Only then could he access his greater powers, and even then, it destroyed his physical body.

Gandalf was sent back a second time after that, and it appears in that case there was intervention from Iluvatar his own self, with upgraded abilities and permission to confront the enemy more directly, but even then his role was to get the Children off their butts to do the job.

In other words, it wasn’t that he couldn’t use his full powers, it was that he didn’t have permission to. As the White, he had a little more permission. But still not full.

There are two quotes, both from Unfinished Tales I believe, that always help me thin about how the Istari operated.

If Gandalf had used his full powers, the tale would have been too short. Indeed, the Trilogy might have been only a Duology.

These quotes (thank you for them) remind me that Tolkien’s work was built from a foundation of Christian theology. I believe those who read Tolkien without an understanding of the Catholicism which deliberately permeates it don’t have access to his full intentions.

Doesn’t mean that it isn’t enjoyable anyway though.

Even as The Grey, he showed vastly superhuman powers when needed: magical fireworks, deadly lightning bolts, an illuminating and incendiary staff, magical door locking, etc… He was able to defeat multiple Nazguls. In all the depicted combats, his only known injury was vs. the balrog.

I can see some of that, but not being Catholic, I’m ignorant. I’m interested, and would enjoy reading of an example.

We missed a second cutting loose when Pippin interrupted Galdalf’s confrontation with the head Nazgul. OK, it’d first been interrupted by the Rohirrim, but Gandalf had been planning on continuing that battle. It’d have been interesting what would have happened if not for Pippin’s interruption. Well, for Chinese levels of interesting, that is.

Another tidbit: When Gandalf says to the Balrog, “I am a servant of the Secret Fire”, he’s basically saying “I’m on a mission from God”. Except he really, truly, literally means it. The “Secret Fire” is the term used in Tolkien’s writings for the Holy Spirit.

IMO, having underdogs Eowyn and Merry defeat the Witch King is more interesting than having Gandalf smoke him with a lightning bolt.

I agree with the above (good research, people!) and would just like to add that Cirdan the Elf Shipwright gave Gandalf Narya (one of the Three Elf Rings of Power), which undoubtedly helped Gandalf inspire folk.

More specifically, the Ring of Fire, with which he might rekindle hearts which had grown cold. Like Theoden.

Gandalf would be a lot more powerful, but you try finding some peace and quiet to memorize Astral Projection or Storm of Vengeance when you’re traveling with a group of Hobbits or Dwarves. Between the complaining about food, the constant bickering, and trying to keep a Took from getting everyone killed, he’s lucky he could get an occasional Fireball in.

And keeping track of the Hall Pass.

Wait, are you saying… manhattan was Gandalf!?

That explains so much!

A Maia. The -r is the plural ending.

Was it a burning ring of fire?

Did it go down, down, down - while the flames got higher?

Did it burn, burn, burn?

This ring of fire?

Huh, this whole time I always thought he was talking about secretly having the fire ring.

I’m curious what parts you feel are “not quite true”?

I’ve wondered if the mantle of “the White” inherently carries with it more permission/power or if Gandalf 2.0 was given that power specifically. We never really see Saruman whip out any major power for example.

Not exactly. Tolkien was quite religious but he also was pretty explicit that his stories were not intentional allegories. He pretty sharply criticized CS Lewis for his overt retellings in his works. Tolkien has basically said that it’s impossible to avoid one’s religious beliefs permeating their work but that telling religious stories should be left to the professionals (clergy and/or prophets depending on your interpretation of that statement.)

I think Tolkien would probably say that his characters certainly have religion and that their religion was colored by his own beliefs, but the reader should treat it as a nothing more than fiction. It’s not saying anything about real religious mythology and should not be interpreted that way.