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Gandalf is the best-known of the Maiar of the people of Manwë and Varda. He is said to be one of the wisest of that order, rivalling Saruman. He came to Middle-earth in the Third Age as a Wizard in order to counsel and assist all those in Middle-earth who opposed Sauron.
Role in The Hobbit
In The Hobbit, Gandalf arranges and partially accompanies the adventurous quest of Bilbo Baggins and the thirteen Dwarves to regain the Dwarvish treasure of the Lonely Mountain that was stolen many years before by the dragon, Smaug. It is on this quest that Gandalf finds his sword, Glamdring, and that Bilbo finds the One Ring (though at the time it is mistaken for a lesser ring).
Role in The Lord of the Rings
In The Lord of the Rings, he urges Bilbo to give the Ring to Frodo, whom he motivates to take the ring and destroy it in Mount Doom. Gandalf is initially unable to accompany Frodo and his companion Sam, but rejoins them in Rivendell as the second half of The Fellowship of the Ring begins. Taking leadership of the fellowship (nine representatives of the free peoples of Middle-earth "set against the Nine Riders"), he and Aragorn lead the hobbits and their companions on an unsuccessful effort to cross Mount Caradhras in winter. Then they take the "dark and secret way" which leads to Gandalf's apparent demise fighting the Balrog in the Mines of Moria.
Gandalf is "brought back" (either resurrected or reincarnated), returning as a more imposing white-clad figure, Gandalf the White. In Fangorn forest he encounters the Three Walkers (Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas) who were tracking Merry and Pippin. They then go on to prosecute the war against Isengard and Barad-Dur (the Two Towers).
Gandalf initially appears as an old man with a grey beard, a grey cloak (probably responsible for the name Gandalf the Grey) and a large, pointed blue hat. Although some of the Wise know his true nature, others mistake him for a simple conjurer. After he is resurrected the change of his signature colour from grey to white is significant, for he has been sent back to replace the corrupt Saruman as the chief of the Wizards. In the book he says that he has himself become what Saruman should have been.
- Olórin, his name in Valinor and in very ancient times. It is Quenya, and means "dreamer" or "of dreams", from the root olor-.
- Mithrandir, his Sindarin name, used in Gondor, and meaning Grey Pilgrim.
- The White Rider (mounted on the great horse Shadowfax)
- Incánus (in the south)
- Tharkűn (to the Dwarves)
- Gandalf Greyhame
Tolkien borrowed the name Gandalf from the "Catalogue of Dwarves" section of the poem Völuspá contained within the Elder Edda. The name means "cane-elf". Many of Gandalf's attributes seem to be derived from the Norse god Odin's incarnation as "the Wanderer", an old man with one eye, a long white beard, a wide brimmed hat, and a staff. Tolkien himself when writing about how Gandalf should be portrayed in a potential film adaptation stressed that he was an "Odin-like wanderer".
Within the Middle-earth mythos itself, "Gandalf" translates as "Elf-of-the-wand (or cane/staff)" in old northern Mannish. Most denizens of Middle-earth incorrectly assumed Gandalf was a Man (human), although he was really a Maia spirit (approximately equivalent to an angel). However, a less common misconception that occurred during the beginning of his career in Middle-earth was that for someone to be using as much magic as he was, he must have been an Elf. Although fairly soon after that it became apparent to all that he couldn't be an Elf (he didn't look like an Elf, he was old and Elves don't generally age), the nickname stuck with him. He later gave it as his name to others he met, who didn't know its original meaning.
Actors playing Gandalf
John Huston provided the voice of Gandalf in two animated television features. In the BBC radio dramatizations, Heron Carvic played him in The Hobbit and Sir Michael Hordern played him in The Lord of the Rings. Sir Ian McKellen was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
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