It’s often debated in the Lord of the Rings community about what characters are strongest. Perhaps the most powerful good character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is Gandalf, and the most powerful of the bad guys was Sauron.
Some of you may think it’s a no-brainer as to who was more powerful out of the two, but there are various aspects to explore for a sound conclusion.
Gandalf and Sauron were of the same race called the Maiar, who were magical beings. We’re sure the names Saruman and Radagast are familiar to the fans of the film series, and like them Gandalf was also a wizard, an Istar.
The Istari wizards were sent to Middle-Earth during the Third Age to aid in the threat of Sauron. Sauron, a servant of Morgoth, escaped when Morgoth fell and worked on increasing his strength in secret during most of the Second Age.
Thus, it’s worth noting that Gandalf and Sauron were not equal in power despite both of them being of the same race, Maia (angelic spirits). Ultimately, Sauron would overcome Gandalf in regard to brute strength.
Was Sauron or Gandalf More Powerful?
Sauron was more powerful than Gandalf because he was the mightiest of the Maia (angelic beings). However, Gandalf the White was probably stronger than Sauron due to having better access to his true powers.
Sauron had been manifesting his strength for thousands of years, whereas Gandalf’s power was limited. Though after his reincarnation as Gandalf the White, he could tap into more of his magical abilities.
The two Maia had a face-off in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug when the whispers of the “Necromancer” in the Mirkwood started to spread. Gandalf went to investigate and came upon Sauron’s army of Orcs and wargs swarming in the dark fortress, Dol-Guldur.
It is an incredible scene that showcases the might of Sauron’s darkness against the light of Gandalf the Gray. We can assume that neither was at full power, nevertheless, Sauron defeated Gandalf, and disintegrated his staff.
Originally known as Olórin in Valinor, Gandalf was the wisest of the Maia and learned the ways of light and fire, and pity and patience from the Valar.
Originally known as Olórin in Valinor, Gandalf was the wisest of the Maia who learned much from the Valar. He was associated with light and fire, and also learned pity and patience from Nienna.
His powers were not of brawn, but to heal the spirits by imparting wisdom.
Sent by the Valar, Gandalf arrived in Middle-Earth in the Third Age 1,000 on a boat. He was greeted by Círdan, an Elven shipwright, who sensed wisdom and greatness in Gandalf.
Círdan possessed Narya, one of the three Elven Rings of Power. He gave Narya to Gandalf to aid in his quest and perhaps Círdan was slightly fearful of the Ring’s influence.
Narya enhanced Gandalf’s magical abilities in Middle-Earth while rallying the Free People to fight Sauron. However, even with Narya, Gandalf could not subdue Sauron when he faced him in Dol-Guldur during the Third Age.
See Gandalf and Sauron’s engagement below in The Hobbit:
Could Gandalf the White Have Beaten Sauron Without the One Ring?
When Gandalf the Gray fought the balrog, Durin’s Bane, he perished in that fight. Eru Ilûvatar (God in Tolkien’s universe) himself intervened and reincarnated him as Gandalf the White.
The Valar sent the Istari to Middle-Earth with restrictions that limited their ability to unleash their full potential. Perhaps because they feared the influence of Sauron corrupting them into evil ways, like it did with Saruman.
We don’t know just how strong Gandalf the White could have been but it seems that he had fewer restrictions. He physically joined the fray during the Battle of the Black Gate.
In Jackson’s the Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, he broke Saruman’s staff, casting him out of the Istari order. Gandalf the White revealed the power of light within him to drive away the Nazgûl, to save Faramir shortly before the Siege of Gondor.
When Isildur cut Sauron’s finger and the One Ring with it, Sauron’s physical body was destroyed. He became a diminished form though still possessed great strength over the will of others.
It took Sauron nigh over two millennia, without his corporeal form, to gather strength and finally return to his physical body. It’s worth noting that after all that Sauron could only form the physical shape of an all-seeing, fiery Eye.
In the Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, Gandalf the White mentions that he battled the Eye of Sauron to avoid him finding out Frodo’s location. The conflict had rendered Gandalf weak, though he overcame the influence of Sauron.
We can assume from this that Gandalf the White and Sauron without his One Ring are almost equal in power. Though, perhaps, Gandalf is slightly stronger.
Also read: Morgoth vs Sauron: Who Was More Powerful?
How Powerful Was Sauron with the One Ring?
We can all agree that Sauron was an immensely powerful being who was obsessed with crafting objects that could hold great power. When Sauron learned to create the One Ring, he poured much of his own strength and influence into it.
According to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letter 131, “While he wore it, his power on earth was actually enhanced…” Sauron with the One Ring was more powerful than before, meaning his mind domination abilities were greatly increased.
Sauron was exceptionally talented at bending people to his will and having complete control over the minds of others. Thus, while bearing the One Ring he was the most powerful being in Middle-Earth.
What Powers Does Gandalf Have?
Tolkien’s lore gave us a legendary wizard, Gandalf who is renowned for his wisdom throughout Middle-Earth and Valinor. Perhaps we should include Planet Earth as well considering the number of fans our fictional hero has.
Gandalf was well-versed in different languages, history and customs of Middle-Earth and its peoples. He various travels among elves, hobbits, men and dwarves allowed him to impart his wisdom and guide the people to fight Sauron and evil influence.
Of the five Istari sent to Middle-Earth, Gandalf is the only one who remains loyal to his quest. His vast intelligence gave the masterful ability to guess what Sauron’s plans were which allowed Gandalf to preeminently devise a plan for his defeat.
He uses his encyclopedic knowledge to steer the free people towards doing things to protect their land from Sauron’s darkness.
Gandalf’s powers range from a specifically keen eyesight to striking magical lightning bolts on his enemies. He could see through the dimension of wraiths and also observed the effects of the Morgul-blade when Frodo’s skin had become transparent.
When it comes to physical strength, Gandalf is as gallant as any other. His withered appearance did not sway his fighting abilities because he is seen to effortlessly slay Orcs with Glamdring.
Gandalf the Gray single-handedly vanquished the balrog, Durin’s Bane, in the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. He is “a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor” which is apparent in the myriad of spells he casts.
The magical prowess that Gandalf possesses is limited on Middle-Earth, but we see him manipulate elements like smoke, water and fire. He can also magically heal though he stated Elrond being a better healer.
Gandalf the White possesses the same powers as Gandalf though greatly amplified after his resurrection. He heals Théoden by removing Saruman’s evil influence from his mind.
In the quest to kill Smaug, Gandalf unleashes a magical lightning bolt, rendering a group of Goblins stone dead. His staff drives the Nazgûl away by casting the power within him, also known as the “white fire”.
Olórin, Gandalf’s original name in Valinor, has all the same powers except they are magnified to their original strength. Plus he has the ability to shape-shift though he was restricted from using it in Middle-Earth.
What Powers Does Sauron Have?
Sauron takes the trophy for the most feared being throughout the Second and Third Ages in Middle-Earth. He is the most powerful of the Maiar (angelic spirits).
In Valinor, Sauron was associated with Aulë, from whom he learned a great deal of craftsmanship of different materials. He uses this knowledge to forge the One Ring and build his Barad-dûr fortress.
As Morgoth’s most loyal servant, Sauron was also linked to the manipulation of fire and used this ability to tap into Middle-Earth’s fires. The Dark Lord of the Second and Third Ages was exceptionally skilled at mind domination and shape-shifting.
The Silmarillion tells us of Sauron using the guise of an evil sorcerer, a massive wolf, a serpent and a vampire during a battle in the First Age. His normal form was still terrible to behold: a dark sorcerer.
After the fall of Morgoth, Sauron uses his cunning to appear as a fair and beautiful Elf, calling himself “Annatar” to influence them for his means. He worms his way into Eregion, the land of Elven Smiths, using the art of deception, convincing the smiths to forge objects for his plans of dominating Middle-Earth.
Similarly, he feigned defeat against the Númenóreans and manipulated them into their own utter destruction with false promises of immortality.
Of Sauron’s physical nature, we know that his touch causes lethal burns on the victim. He rarely appears in person, preferring to assert his influence from a distance.
Sauron is not particularly known for engaging in physical combat though he killed Gil-Galad and Elendil in the War of the Last Alliance. The battle left him weary and eventually diminished him to a spirit once Isildur cut the One Ring off his hand.
After that we see Sauron as a fiery spirit in the shape of an all-seeing Eye that could pierce into all forms of disguises, leaving nothing hidden.
Thanks to Frodo Baggins, we’re free of all the evil unleashed by Sauron, who is now reduced to mere spirit unable to take any form again.