Gandalf’s origins and prior knowledge of Middle-earth

Map Fire

New Member
If Gandalf is ancient and arrived in Middle Earth after Isildur lost the ring than did he arrive with absolutely no divine knowledge of the events leading up to when he arrived? Am I misunderstanding the nature of the Maia and their ability to perceive events in Middle-earth without being present? Why does he need to research in Denethor’s archives at all for where the ring ended up? Shouldn’t he have know Isildur’s/the ring’s fate up to that point at least?

Which leads me to another question: after assuming the guise of Gandalf, do we know if Olórin retained knowledge of his true origins? Does Gandalf know he is a Maia? It has always bugged me that if Saruman was of divine origin that he could ever think that possessing the ring would end well for him long-term.

It’s likely I am overlooking something that explains this all, but any insight would be great! Thanks!


Well-Known Member
The Istari were greatly changed when they were made incarnate (put into bodies that were not merely the costumes the Valar and Maiar normally wear) and sent into the world. We don't really know the extent of it, but consider Gandalf the Gray (incarnate) and Gandalf the White (at the very least incarnate in a different way, but most probably not incarnate any more).

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
It has always bugged me that if Saruman was of divine origin that he could ever think that possessing the ring would end well for him long-term.
Eh. In ME, everybody is of divine origin. It could even be argued that Men and Elves originate more directly from the Divine than the Wizards do: after all, they are called "the children of Illuvatar". And you could just as well say that Melkor and Sauron should have known better: it certainly doesn't end well for either of them.

Being of Divine origin doesn't make you perfect. Or wise.


New Member
This is from Unfinished Tales on "The Istari" - hopefully it's helpful...

"For it is said indeed that being embodied the Istari had need to learn much anew by slow experience, and though they knew whence they came the memory of the Blessed Realm was to them a vision from afar off, for which (so long as they remained true to their mission) they yearned exceedingly. Thus by enduring of free will the pangs of exile and the deceits of Sauron they might redress the evils of that time."

Map Fire

New Member
These are all great, thanks! It makes me appreciate Gandalf’s journey more and grounds him and the other wizards more as worldly beings that accumulated knowledge through life’s experiences and did not just arrive fully cooked.

Kate Neville

Active Member
The development of the character of Gandalf is one of the most fascinating parts of Tolkien's legendarium. Arguably, he has changed more over time than any other character. And that's saying something for the Master of Retcon.