Lord of the Rings’ Wizards, Explained

Lord of the Rings’ Wizards, Explained

In a world full of fantastical mysteries, there are few things more mysterious in Middle-earth than the Istari: the powerful sorcerers who helped, in ways big and small, shape the very fate of the world. But for all we know of Gandalf and Saruman, the wider world of Lord of the Rings’ wizards is worth learning about now that Rings of Power is here.

Fans of all things wizard-y in Tolkien’s texts have been aflutter with the show’s introduction of a major player in Harfoot Nori Brandyfoot’s storyline in the first three episodes: the Stranger, played by Daniel Weyman, who literally crashed onto the scene as an almost-mute humanoid that fell from the stars themselves. There’s a lot of signs that the Stranger could be one of the Istari already, but just who were these powerful beings, and what could their presence mean for The Rings of Power? Allow us to explain.

What Are the Istari?

Image: Warner Bros.

Known more colloquially as Wizards, the Istari were five members of the celestial beings known as the Maiar. Primordial spirits in the creation of Arda itself — the world Middle-earth is on — the Maiar were agents of the even more almighty spirits, the Valar, the direct angelic agents of god himself, Eru Ilúvatar. Created to aid the Valar in the shaping of Arda, the Maiar were essentially immortal spirits, enduring beings with mastery over the fundamental powers of creation in their masters’ names, they could wander the world in both ethereal and physical forms, shaping themselves as they see fit.

There were many Maiar, but only five became the Istari. In the Third Age of Middle-earth, when the Valar became aware of Sauron’s return to power, the leader of the Valar, Manwë, called a council to decide what to do. Their course of action was to send three Maiar as voluntary messengers, who would assure the species of Middle-earth that the Valar — who had largely retreated from the world they created after the costly war against Sauron’s original master, Morgoth, at the climax of the First Age — had not forgotten their creations.

Who Were the Istari?

Image: Warner Bros.

The problem, however, was that not enough Maiar actually showed up to volunteer, fearful of Sauron’s ever-growing power. The first two messengers were Curumo and Morinehtar, Maiar who would eventually take on the names Saruman the White and Alatar in their human forms. The third, Olórin, would become Gandalf the Grey, and after he spoke of his fears of Sauron’s powers, it was decided that two more Maia would join them: Aiwendil, who would become Radagast the Brown, and Rómestámo, who would become Pallando, and together with Alatar, become known as the Blue Wizards.

The Valar set limitations on what the Istari could do in their mission to protect Middle-earth: they could neither match Sauron’s power directly (he himself, after all, was a fallen Maia), nor could they use their powers to, as Sauron attempted to, dominate the peoples of Middle-earth to do their bidding. They were also given a warning from straying from their mission: if they did not work to guide Middle-earth away from Sauron’s plans to rule it, they would slowly diminish in power and lose their memories of their home of Valinor, trapping them as mortal beings.

What Can a Wizard Actually Do?

Image: Warner Bros.

The thing about the Wizards — and pretty much any magical ability in Lord of the Rings in general — is that their powers are really, really vast, and really, really undefined. Even in physical form, as members of the Maiar all five Wizards had, to some degree, power over the elemental creation energies of the world itself, able to shape, create, and change it. Restricted as they were in using their full power by the Valar, the Wizards only resorted to some of their greatest magical abilities as a last resort, in an attempt to shield their true identities from the denizens of Middle-earth.

But even then, each Wizard was capable of incredible magical prowess. Channeled either through their staves or without, Wizards could do things like summon beacons of light, shoot mighty flames, telekinetically manipulate their foes, and use their magic to heal and bolster their allies. And although they had physical forms, their transformation into the Istari did not rob them of the essential immortality the Maiar had: as we saw with Gandalf when he perished defeating the Balrog, a felled Wizard would return to spiritual form and recuperate in Eru Ilúvatar’s seat, the Timeless Halls, before being reborn in physical form to continue their mission.

Is the Stranger Really One of the Wizards?

Image: Amazon

So could the Stranger really be a Wizard? Well, if he is, it marks a major change from what we know of Tolkien’s own lore — after all, The Rings of Power is set during the Second Age, and as previously mentioned, in the books the Wizards appeared on Middle-earth in the Third. Once Sauron was defeated and the Fourth Age began, what we know of the Wizards is brief: Gandalf returned with the Elves to the undying lands of Valinor, Saruman was dead, and Radagast, Pallando, and Alatar’s fates were largely left unknown.

But considering how the Maiar are immortal spirits, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to make the Stranger one of them — perhaps an early form that falls at some point in between the Second and Third Ages that is eventually reborn again. After all, there have been inklings that they could be a supernatural being of some sort: falling from the sky in a meteor (and living to tell the tale) aside, the Stranger has exhibited strange powers, from communicating with fireflies to having some implied abilities of telekinetic influence of nature — like the moment the Stranger snaps a tree branch, just as Nori’s father, some distance away, breaks his ankle setting up a Harfoot structure.

But if the Stranger is one of the Wizards, which could he be? Gandalf seems like the obvious choice, of course — and especially so considering that landing near, and being cared for, by the diminutive Harfoots could explain his eventual kinship with the Hobbits later down the line. Given his connection to the natural world, it’s likewise possible he could be Radaghast, who was known for his love of nature. But pretty much every Wizard is an intriguing option: a chance to see a pre-villainy Saruman at his peak could be a fascinating idea, as would be the chance to explore the lives of Alatar and Pallando, who largely remained mysterious even in Tolkien’s own works.

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