When it comes to fantasy, nobody wrote Wizards like Tolkien. For millions, the very word ‘Wizard’ conjures up Gandalf the Grey, bent over his staff as he arrives at Bag End. Or Saruman the White, casting sinister spells atop Orthanc Tower in Isengard.
Gandalf and Saruman feature prominently in The Lord of the Rings books, but they’re not the only Wizards in Tolkien’s universe. Rather, they are two of five Wizards who were sent to Middle Earth to help the free people in the fight against Sauron.
The five Wizards in Middle Earth are Saruman, Gandalf, Radagast, Alatar, and Pallando. Collectively known as the Istari or Order of the Wizards, the two Blue Wizards came to Middle Earth around 1600 of the Second Age, while the remaining three came around the year 1000 in the Third Age.
The Wizard order, or Heren Istarion, were Maiar spirits who took on the form of Wizards. They all appeared as staff-bearing, elderly men with concealed physical strength. Despite the Maiar being “mighty, peers of Sauron” they were forbidden to match him in power.
Here are the five wizards in The Lord of the Rings.
Saruman the White
Saruman is the leader of the Istari and is considered the most powerful wizard. Originally called Curumo, Saruman was among the first Maiar to volunteer for Valar’s Middle Earth mission. He traveled east with Alatar and Pallando on arrival, where he spent more than a millennium doing good (but undocumented) wizardly deeds.
Saruman returned to the west of Middle Earth around the time Sauron, disguised as the Necromancer, was rising in power. He led the White Council against Sauron, despite Galadriel’s preference for Gandalf in the role. Saruman’s jealousy of Gandalf was already strong – spying on him and even following him to the Shire. In doing so, Saruman ironically developed a secret love of the Hobbits’ pipe-weed, something he openly mocked Gandalf for.
The White Wizard became fascinated, and increasingly envious, of Sauron and the One Ring. He was initially reluctant to attack the Necromancer, as he hoped the latter’s growing power would force the One Ring out of hiding.
Saruman began searching for the One Ring in the Gladden Fields, where Isildur had lost it centuries earlier. On learning Sauron was also looking there, he finally agreed with the White Council to drive the Necromancer out of Dol Guldur.
Saruman took up residence in Isengard, where he discovered a palantír. He began using it to communicate with Sauron, now openly ruling as the Dark Lord of Mordor. Saruman was unable to resist the Dark Lord’s influence, and pledged allegiance to him. However, he continued to search for the One Ring for himself.
Despite his jealousy of Gandalf, Saruman still suggested they unite in following Sauron. He imprisoned Gandalf in Orthanc when the latter refused. With his treachery laid bare, Saruman doubled down on his attempts to find the One Ring for himself. He was unsuccessful, his Uruk-hai were defeated at Helms Deep and Isengard itself was destroyed by the Ents.
Gandalf expelled Saruman from the Istari and broke his staff. The disgraced wizard fled to the Shire, which he occupied until the Battle of Bywater. Saruman was killed by his former servant, Grima Wormtongue. His spirit remained in exile in Middle Earth, as punishment for his betrayal of Valar.
Gandalf the Grey
Gandalf is Middle Earth’s (and arguably literature’s) most famous Wizard. Humble, compassionate and wise, while incredibly powerful, Gandalf was highly regarded by Men, Hobbits and Elves alike.
Gandalf was known by many names, including Mithrandir (Grey Pilgrim) by the Elves and Tharkûn (Staff man) by the Dwarves. Less formally he was also called Stormcrow, Old Greybeard and the White Rider. He had a great love of Hobbits and would regularly travel to the Shire for respite.
As a Maia, then called Olórin, Gandalf joined the Istari at the request of Manwë. He did not want to go to Middle Earth, citing weakness and a fear of Sauron. Manwë insisted he go in order to face that very fear. Despite his self-perceived weakness, Valar thought so highly of Gandalf that he was ranked second highest in the Istari.
Gandalf was gifted Narya, one of the three Elven rings of power, at the Grey Havens (sewing early seeds of jealousy from Saruman). Unlike Saruman, Gandalf stayed in Middle Earth and lived as a simple wanderer. He helped discover the true identity of the Necromancer at Dol Guldur. Gandalf joined the dwarves on their quest to the Lonely Mountain and later led the Fellowship of the Ring.
In the Mines of Moria, Gandalf sacrificed himself in battle with the balrog. As the only Wizard faithful in the quest against Sauron, he was returned to Middle Earth as Gandalf the White. He replaced Saruman as leader of the Istari and was permitted to wield more of his Maiar powers.
Gandalf played critical roles in Rohan and Gondor, leading to the ultimate destruction of Sauron and the One Ring. He successfully completed the Istari’smillennia-long mission to defeat Sauron, and returned to Valinor via the Grey Havens.
Radagast the Brown
Radagast scarcely appears in Tolkien’s stories, spending his time in Middle Earth engrossed by plants and animals. In The Lord of the Rings, he is most famous for sending the eagles to rescue Gandalf from Orthanc tower, as told by the latter in a flashback to Frodo. Radagast is mentioned but does not appear in The Hobbit (although he does have an expanded role in the film adaptation).
Radagast was a kind of tag-along member of the Wizard order, accompanying Saruman at the request of Queen Yavanna. Originally named Aiwendil (Elvish for ‘friend of the birds’), Radagast become preoccupied with Middle Earth’s flora and fauna. He settled in Mirkwood Forrest during the Third Age, befriending the Great Eagles and becoming neighbors with Beorn.
Radagast unknowingly aided Saruman’s search for the One Ring, not suspecting the head of his order to have ulterior motives. He also led Gandalf directly into Saruman’s trap, but the latter never suspected him of knowingly do so. While Saruman considered Radagast to be simple-minded and foolish, Gandalf understood the brown wizard was good and honest at heart.
After the events with Saruman and Gandalf, nothing else is written on what happened to Radagast. Unlike Gandalf, he did not go to Valinor and it is likely he spent the rest of his time pottering around Mirkwood with his animal friends.
Alatar and Pallando: The Blue Wizards
The final two members of the Istari are the ambiguous Blue Wizards – Alatar and Pallando. The pair traveled East on arrival in Middle Earth and were not heard from again. It is assumed the two Wizards failed in their quest to stop Sauron (although not as spectacularly as Saruman did).
Alatar was among the first Maiar to join the order, with Pallando accompanying him as a friend. They traveled east with Saruman to aid the remaining free men and subdue the Haradrim and Easterlings. Saruman returned alone, not knowing what had happened to the Blue Wizards. Tolkien suggested the two may have gone on to form magical cults that lasted into the Fourth Age.
Alatar and Pallando appeared in Middle Earth as old men, but younger in appearance than Gandalf. Alatar had a white beard, and Pallando a grey beard. Neither was as long as Gandalf’s and Saruman’s. They wore sea-blue robes and were thus given the name of the Blue Wizards.