V. E. Istari (Wizards)

  1. Who were the Istari (Wizards)?

    The Wizards were Maiar (spiritual beings of lower "rank" than the Valar) sent to Middle-earth by the Valar in human form as Messengers to help in the struggle against Sauron: the term "incarnate angel" is approximately correct. Being incarnated limited their power, and intentionally so, because their mission was to organize the resistance and to inspire the peoples of Middle-earth to help themselves, not to do the job for them. Their main temptation, then, was to try to speed up the process by dominating other free wills -- a principle reason for their mission was to prevent such actions by Sauron.

    It was said that there were Five Wizards in the Order, but only three came into the story:

    • Saruman ('Man of Skill') the White
      [Sindarin: Curunir ('Man of Skill'); Quenya: Curumo]
    • Gandalf ('Elf of the wand') the Grey (later the White)
      [Sindarin: Mithrandir ('Grey Pilgrim'); Quenya: Olorin]
    • Radagast the Brown [Quenya: Aiwendel]

    Gandalf was the only one who remained true to his mission, and in the end succeeded in bringing about Sauron's defeat. He was also the keeper of the Elven Ring Narya, the Red Ring (the Ring of Fire).

  2. Of the Five Wizards, only three came into the story. Was anything known about the other two?

    [Question III.C.7 of the Tolkien Newsgroups FAQ contains additional discussion of this issue.]

    Very little. No names given them in Middle-earth are recorded, just the title Ithryn Luin, 'The Blue Wizards' (for they were clad in sea-blue) (their names in Valinor were Alatar and Pallando). When the Istari first arrived in Middle-earth, Saruman and the Blue Wizards journeyed into the east, but only Saruman returned. The Essay on the Istari says: "whether they remained in the East, pursuing there the purposes for which they were sent; or perished; or as some hold were ensnared by Sauron and became his servants, is not not known." (UT, p. 390)

    Tolkien speaking as himself was only barely more explicit. In a letter he said that he knew "nothing clearly" about the other two: 'I think they went as emissaries to distant regions, East and South, far out of Numenorean range: missionaries to enemy-occupied lands, as it were. What success they had I do not know; but I fear that they failed, as Saruman did, though doubtless in different ways; and I suspect they were founders or beginners of secret cults and "magic" traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron.' (Letters, p. 280).

  3. What happened to Radagast?

    Radagast was said to also have failed his mission, but it's tempting to think that his "failure" was not as bad as that of the others. The Essay on the Istari: "Indeed, of all the Istari, one only remained faithful, and he was the last-comer. For Radagast, the fourth, became enamoured of the many beasts and birds that dwelt in Middle-earth, and forsook Elves and Men, and spent his days among the wild creatures." (UT, p. 390)

    Radagast certainly never became evil. The above quote suggests, however, that his mission was not just to relate to wild creatures but also to build bridges between them and Elves and Men. He did, in fact, have his friends the birds gather much information, but since they were reporting to Saruman as the head of the Council that wasn't altogether helpful. On the other hand, it has often been suggested (though there is no direct textual evidence of any kind) that the way Eagles kept showing up at opportune times may have been partially his work.

    We know nothing of what happened to Radagast after the end of the Third Age. It seems conceivable, though, given the more ambiguous nature of his failing, that he might have been allowed back to Valinor eventually.

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