What is Gandalf's job?

Steve Melisi

New Member
Very timely, I just listened to ep 159 at the same time as I was wrapping up my annual LOTR read. Hit this passage in Homeward Bound, with Gandalf talking to the hobbits and he in essence gives his job description. "My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so." It's a pretty broad description, of course, and open to much interpretation -- but one i think all the wizards took to heart. Because is it too far-fetched to say that this was ALL of their jobs? To set things to rights and help folk to do so? Not a bad idea -- we should all do the same, no?

As for them, they have all approached the task in their own particular idiom -- after having gone frankly native, also in their own particular idiom. Let's face it, this IS sort of what they were doing. Gandalf of course was the mover of all that had been accomplished. Radagast took things on a smaller scale, though, and dealt with the birds and beasts -- and who's to say he didnt set many things to rights there? And I don't mean merely saving a hedgehog. As for Saruman, it could be argued that he took the road of trying to defeat the Enemy -- the only thing worthy of being set to rights, as surely Gandalf felt -- but his choice was to do it with the Enemy's own weapons. Alas he fell victim to the powers of the Enemy, not realizing how they could corrupt.


New Member
I think whether or not Gandalf even has a job depends on whether you see him as an agent of Ilúvatar, possessed of free-will, or whether he is more directly an extension of Ilúvatar operating in Middle Earth. If you believe the former then I guess his role is to guide the Third Age to a close and usher in the Age of Men, guided and shielded to an extent by Ilúvatar. Personally though I think there are some moments in the text that suggest Gandalf is closer to the latter.

In Chapter 2 when he states that "Bilbo was meant to find the ring", to me that is Ilúvatar showing his hand. Gandalf's out-of-the-blue decision to recruit Bilbo for the Smaug quest is the only reason he was anywhere near the mountains at the exact moment the ring left Gollum's finger. Gandalf/Ilúvatar directly intervened to send an obscure hobbit to the mountain passes at precisely the right moment, with zero precedent. That to me isn't just Gandalf executing good judgement to do Ilúvatar's bidding - it is the very moment of direct divine intervention Gandalf is talking about to Frodo. Gandalf himself is the other power he is referring to when he says "there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker".

Gordy N. Knott

New Member
Interesting, ergotpoisoning. I would never had considered that. Certainly Ilúvatar intervenes in these works, but I wouldn't have said it was as direct as you suggest. How would you reconcile Olórin the Maia from the Silmarillion with Gandalf the extension of Ilúvatar? Perhaps it's as simple as recognizing that The Hobbit and TLOTR were initially not intended to be part of the Silmarillion world?


Well-Known Member
The clearest description of the nature and job of the Wizards (Istari) in TLOTR comes in Appendix B in the introduction to the section on 'The Third Age'.

"When maybe a thousand years had passed, and the first shadow had fallen on Greenwood the Great, the Istari or Wizards appeared in Middle-earth. It was afterwards said that they came out of the Far West and were messengers sent to contest the power of Sauron, and to unite all those who had the will to resist him; but they were forbidden to match his power with power, or to seek to dominate Elves or Men by force and fear."

So, here (if we assume that what was 'afterwards said' was accurate) we learn that they were 'messengers from the Far West'. The only beings that we know to live in 'The Far West' are Valar and Elves. So, we have to think that the Istari are one of these, and probably Vala (as we are told, "They came therefore in the shape of Men", and we are not aware that Elves have the ability to take this shape).

(Of course, in later and unpublished writings, JRRT opines that they are Maia. But the Maiar do not exist in TLOTR).

Their job, it seems to me, is succinctly described. "To contest the power of Sauron, and to unite all those who had the will to resist him". That is Gandalf's job, and the job of all the Istari. Of course, each may have differed in detail on where to focus in this effort. Radagast seems to have focused on uniting those birds and beasts with a will to resist Sauron. Gandalf more on the peoples of the North and West of Middle-earth.

Also interesting is the constraints to their job (as reported by whoever 'afterwards said'). Forbidden to match Sauron's power with power (Did the attack which drove Sauron from Dol Guldur comply with this restriction?) Forbidden to seek to dominate Elves or Men by force and fear (would or could Gandalf have really let Bilbo see "Gandalf the Grey uncloaked? That would seem to seek to dominate him by fear? Or, are Hobbits not included in the injunction against using force or fear to seek to dominate Elves or Men?) (When Gandalf calls the lightning in Meduseld, and Wormtongue sprawls on his face on the floor, silenced, is Gandalf using force and fear to at least temporarily dominate him?)

So, when Gandalf says, "it is no longer my task to set things to right, nor to help folk to do so," he is just paraphrasing the Job of the Istari. "Setting things to right" means "Contesting the power of Sauron". "Helping folk to do so" means "Uniting all those who had the will to resist him". Job done. It is not Gandalf's job to set everything to right, nor to always help people to do so. His job, the job of all the Istari, is restricted to Sauron.
I think that is right about Gandalf's job in general. When I first saw this discussion I thought immediately of the bridge of Khazad Dum, where Gandalf plainly tells what his job is: " 'You cannot pass,' he said. The orcs stood still and a silence fell. 'I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor.'
Discussions of this generally agree that his job has something to do with fire. To my mind, that scene is where we do see Gandalf uncloaked - Gandalf before his death and return - and he identifies himself by his relation to the Secret Fire and the Flame of Anor. It gives me goosebumps.