Gandalf is one of the strongest characters in the whole Lord of the Rings world, but can he really be stronger than the second Lord of Darkness? In this article, we will go in-depth about their powers, and see is Gandalf stronger than Sauron in the Lord of the Rings.
Sauron was stronger than Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings, but it has to be said that there were a few different shapes of both characters. Sauron was stronger than Gandalf the Grey, but probably not stronger than Gandalf the White. Also, there are their true Istari forms that should be compared.
There are a couple of things at work here. We will give you a detailed look at both characters, and explain why Sauron, in our opinion, was stronger than Gandalf. If you want to find out more about the strongest characters in Middle-earth, check out our link.
Gandalf the Grey, later known as Gandalf the White, and originally named Olórin, was an Istar (Wizard), sent to Middle-earth in the Third Age to combat the threat of Sauron. He joined Thorin and his company to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from Smaug, convoked the Fellowship of the Ring to destroy the One Ring, and led the Free Peoples in the final campaign of the War of the Ring.
Gandalf is often described in The Lord of the Rings as quick to anger, and equally quick to laugh. His deep wisdom and compassion clearly derived from the patience he learned in Valinor, just as his care for all creatures of goodwill must have come from his strong sense of pity for the weak. Both his patience and sense of pity were revealed again and again, extending even to the servants of his enemies.
Keen observers of Gandalf often detected a veiled power, usually revealed in his eyes, which appeared deep and wise. He was alternately affectionate and brusque; he often surprised others with his bluntness when the time was of the essence. Gandalf consistently upbraided foolish behavior, but also richly rewarded those who acted with good intentions.
Gandalf is one of the wisest and most knowledgeable beings in Middle-earth and believed by Galadriel to be more worthy than Saruman in leading the White Council. He has extensive knowledge of many languages and writing systems used in Middle-earth, as well as in the history and customs of several of its peoples. He considers himself the greatest scholar of Hobbit traditions. His long journeys have allowed him to meet many influential and powerful individuals and form lasting bonds with them. The Hobbits know him as a masterful crafter of firecrackers.
Outside of the Shire, however, Gandalf the Grey is revered as one of the most powerful and wisest beings to tread Middle-earth, although he was wary of confronting Saruman and Sauron directly, the latter also after his rebirth, as well as of the influence of the One Ring. He was considered the most powerful member of the Fellowship of the Ring, as well as, according to Aragorn, its leader, not in small part thanks to his encyclopedic knowledge.
His vast intelligence allows him to accurately guess the thoughts of others and makes him perhaps the preeminent architect of Sauron’s defeat. He is often noted to have extremely sharp eyes that can see not only into darkness but also into the dimension of wraiths, such as when he perceived the lingering effects of the Morgul-blade on Frodo as part of his body has become almost transparent. He also has a degree of extrasensory perception, which he demonstrated by feeling Durin’s Bane while casting a spell.
Armed with an Elfin blade, Gandalf is as valiant a fighter as the other swordsmen in the Fellowship, in no way hindered by his elderly appearance when fighting or riding. He is rendered even more formidable by his magic.
Gandalf the Grey has command over a great array of spells for all situations, such as to enhance Elrond’s flood spell, giving the water the appearance of galloping knights, and seal doors shut or open them, although it should be noted that he was unable to open the Doors of Durin prior to remembering the password. He stated that Durin’s Bane nearly overpowered him with its counter-spell, forcing him to rely on a word of Command that resulted in a blast which caused the ceiling of the room beyond the door to collapse.
Gandalf described himself as “a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor”. Coincidentally, many of his spells are based on light and fire. He was able to light a faggot of wet wood simply with a touch of his staff, which he considered distinctive enough that any onlooker would recognize his handiwork.
He can cause the tip of his staff to glow with bright white light so as to see in the dark and increase the radiance at will, as demonstrated in Moria. He later displays the ability to focus this light into a beam. When fighting a pack of wolves, he set fire to all treetops on a hill with a single blazing branch, and the air became so hot that an arrow burned mid-flight. At the cost of shattering his staff, he was able to conjure a sea of white flames that caused the bridge under the feet of Durin’s Bane to crumble. Similar spells he displayed are:
- Heating fire
- Manipulating sparks
- Creating massive pillars of smoke
Gandalf the White displays these same powers, but more advanced. When he first met Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas in his new form, he shocked and quickly overpowered them with his agility and magic: he effortlessly disarmed the former two, one by causing his sword to burst into flames, the other by pulling the ax from his hands with a wave of his staff, and burnt the Elf’s arrow into nothing when the latter loosed it. Shortly afterward, he said that he had recently battled Sauron’s eye to prevent him from locating Frodo, and although successful, the confrontation left him spent. He also displayed the ability to communicate with horses and was able to reach Shadowfax with his mind.
Finally, he also shattered Saruman’s staff, and stripped him of his divine power.
As his unrestricted form, Olorin, he had all his previous powers massively boosted, and the ability to shapeshift. However, even this form seems to have restrictions, as the Ainur were said to have their power restricted upon descending to earth.
Sauron, the eponymous Lord of the Rings, was a fallen Maia, creator of the One Ring, a gifted student of Aulë the Smith and the greatest lieutenant of Melkor (Morgoth). After Melkor’s defeat by the Valar, Sauron in time became the second Dark Lord and strove to conquer Arda by creating the Rings of Power.
In the Second Age, he was defeated in the War of the Last Alliance by Elves and Men united under kings Gil-galad and Elendil. In the final battle, Isildur managed to cut off the One Ring from Sauron’s finger, dismantling Sauron’s corporeal form and power. After lying dormant and regaining strength for centuries, Sauron returned to power late in the Third Age and would be permanently crippled in the War of the Ring by the destruction of the One Ring by Frodo Baggins.
He was called Gorthaur the Cruel by the Sindar.
Sauron was among the mightiest of the Maiar. Originally of Aulë’s people, he acquired great “scientific” knowledge of the world’s substances and how to use them. He would retain this knowledge throughout his tenure as the Dark Lord in Middle-earth, using it to forge the One Ring and construct his fortress of Barad-dûr. Sauron also seemed primarily linked to the use of fire, and as Morgoth’s chief lieutenant, his ability to tap into the fires in the Earth was of great value.
Among Sauron’s chief powers were deception and disguise: In the First Age Sauron took on many forms. His battle against Luthien and Huan in The Silmarillion has him taking on no less than four separate shapes: his “normal” shape, presumed to be that of some kind of terrible dark sorcerer, a great wolf, a serpent, and finally a vampire “dripping blood from his throat upon the trees” (“Of Beren and Lúthien,” The Silmarillion).
At the end of the First Age, Sauron took on a fair form to appeal to the Captain of the Hosts of the Valar and ask for pardon. In the Second Age, Sauron took up that fair form again and used it under the alias “Annatar” to deceive the Elves into creating the Rings of Power. The level of deception required to fool the Elves of Eregion must have gone beyond simply taking on a fair form. Sauron was literally instructing the Elves to make artifacts that while capable of great good, were ultimately purposed for his own domination and were imbued with the power to arrest the natural order of the world. The Elves were unaware of who they were dealing with until the eleventh hour, and only narrowly escaped his trap.
Centuries later, Sauron was able to deceive the Númenóreans and steer them directly to their own destruction under promises of eternal life. Such destruction is a testament to Sauron’s manipulative nature and the ability to twist the perceptions of his enemies.
An interesting dichotomy is set up between his deceptive nature and his symbol. While rarely appearing personally and deceiving all but the wariest, he represented himself as an all-seeing eye that could pierce all disguises. He himself was able to disguise himself by changing shape and taking a fair form.
But, after the Fall of Númenor, he was incapable of taking physical form for many years, and then later became a horrific Dark Lord. After losing the Ring, it took even longer for him to regain physical form, although, by the War of the Ring, he had regained it.
The extent, nature, and specifics of Sauron’s power are largely left to the imagination. Like Morgoth, he was capable of altering the physical substance of the world around him by a mere effort of will.
Conclusion – Is Gandalf Stronger Than Sauron?
In our opinion, Gandalf, mostly, is not stronger than Sauron.
In the beginning, they were both approximately equal. Not all of the Maiar were created equal. Gandalf is described as being the wisest of the Maiar, however, Tolkien loved parallels. Just as Melkor and Manwe were the most powerful of the Ainur, probably Sauron and Gandalf were among the most powerful of the Maiar. Tolkien wrote a passage that supports that Sauron and Gandalf were equal in the beginning:
“It was believed by many of the ‘Faithful’ that ‘Gandalf’ was the last appearance of Manwë himself… But I think it was not so… To the overthrow of Morgoth he sent his herald Eonwë. To the defeat of Sauron would he not then send some lesser (but mighty) spirit of the angelic people, one coeval and equal, doubtless, with Sauron in their beginnings, but not more? Olórin was his name. But of Olórin we shall never know more than he revealed in Gandalf.” (Unfinished Tales).
It should be noted at this point that it is specifically Gandalf mentioned, not any of the other Istari. Saruman was their elected leader, not a leader by default of power. Gandalf was actually the first to be asked to be a leader, which he refused. Probably, upon creation, Saruman was weaker than Gandalf and Sauron, and he spent his entire existence trying to increase his power, leading to his jealousy of Gandalf and eventual betrayal. Gandalf was hand-selected and sent by Manwë. Saruman volunteered.
After that, in the Undying Lands, Sauron was more powerful.
After the creation of the world, the Maiar descended into Arda. Mairon (Sauron) began studying under Aulë, learning craftsmanship. Olórin (Gandalf), on the other hand, learned pity and patience from Nienna. He also delighted in watching the elves, and seemed to be overall a very gentle soul, still “new” (at least to a physical form) and “young” without being as emotional and driven as he would be later. During this time, Sauron increased his skills beyond his inborn power as a strong Maia. Gandalf seemed to mostly stagnate power wise, though his wisdom increased during this time leading him to be called the “wisest of the Maiar”.
Gandalf the Grey vs the 2nd birth of Sauron, Sauron would probably be stronger
At this point, Sauron has lost the ring of power. He has also begun to feel the effects of diminishing, which is the fate of all that rebel against Eru. Or rather (it seems) use their power for a purpose outside of Eru’s. When Morgoth created his armies, the dragons, volcanoes, etc he had to use power from within rather than the ambient energy from Eru.
It seems when a being uses power from within, it is not replaced. Morgoth, who at one time was able to hold off all of the Valar combined, was later captured by Ungoliant (a being likely on the same order as the Maiar, and possibly a corrupted one) and needed aid from the Balrogs. This was after he began feeling the effects of diminishing. Sauron, and Saruman, used their powers the same way (albeit on a lesser scale) and so diminished.
Because Sauron was diminishing, he lost all the advantage he had of being unfettered by a human-like form as the Istari were. By losing the ring he lost all the advantages that he had gained over Gandalf because of his study under Aulë and Morgoth. This is also after the fall of Numenor. The loss of his physical body forced him to expend a lot of energy to create a new one, resulting in yet more diminishing.
Gandalf on the other hand:
Was bound, as all the Istari were, in a human-like form. “… clad in bodies as of Men, real and not feigned, but subject to the fears and pains and weariness of earth, able to hunger and thirst and be slain…”. This resulted in them being far less powerful than they were as pure spirits. However, since they were forbidden from matching power with power, it can be assumed that they still had enough power to be able to destroy parts of Middle Earth in any conflict, as this is what the Valar were trying to avoid.
Was afraid of Sauron. However, it could also mean that he was less combat-oriented than Sauron. Also, the last time he saw Sauron would have been just before Sauron left, a being with at least the same power as Gandalf and far more knowledge in combat. He wouldn’t have known how far Sauron had diminished. “… Olórin declared that he was too weak for such a task and that he feared Sauron.” Plus, would you want to fight against an opponent with a 50 50 chance of beating you and then killing/eternally torturing you?
We know that Sauron even weakened and without the ring, was stronger than Saruman. “… Saruman the White, fell from his high errand … he was ensnared by that dark spirit [Sauron], mightier than he.” This is referring specifically to Sauron’s spirit, not his full might (armies, Nazgul, etc). So in single combat, Saruman proved the weaker.
However, we have reason to believe that Gandalf was stronger than Saruman upon creation, and stronger at the time of their arrival in Middle Earth. “from their first meeting at the Grey Havens [Cirdan] divined in [Gandalf] the greatest spirit and the wisest; and he welcomed him with reverence, and he gave to his keeping the Third Ring, Narya the Red.” (Unfinished Tales, The Istari) This is reiterated later on when Tolkien talks about “Círdan’s perception that Gandalf was the greatest of them”.
“Saruman soon became jealous of Gandalf, and this rivalry turned at last to hatred, the deeper for being concealed, and the more bitter in that Saruman knew in his heart that the Grey Wanderer had the greater strength, and the greater influence upon the dwellers in Middle-earth, even though he hid his power and desired neither fear nor reverence. Saruman did not revere him, but he grew to fear him, being ever uncertain how much Gandalf perceived of his inner mind, troubled more by his silences than by his words. ”Unfinished Tales- J.R.R. Tolkien “Concerning Gandalf, Saruman, and the Shire”
Also when Saruman the White imprisoned Gandalf the Grey, Gandalf would have been sucker-punched because he was not expecting Saruman’s betrayal. Saruman would have used everything in his first shot, as his jealousy of Gandalf would also have made him extremely cautious. Gandalf also would not have fought back all that much, since he was not corrupted and would have tried not to match force with force. Even while both in their human-like forms, any combat using their full power (what they had access to) between the two would have resulted in enough of a struggle to destroy parts of Middle Earth (as the Valar vs Morgoth did). He knew Saruman needed him, and that he would then have a chance to escape, therefore he wouldn’t necessarily have felt the need to fight back. He also knew Strider (Aragorn) would meet Frodo for him if needed.
Gandalf, in his bound form, defeated a Balrog with limited damage to the land. Balrogs were Maiar spirits, unfettered, unlike the Istari. Also, while initially Sauron’s underling, the Balrog would not have felt like much of the diminishing effect as Sauron (as they did not create armies and other things the way Sauron and Morgoth did) nor would it have put most of its power into a ring that was then lost. Gandalf, even as a semi-mortal old man, defeated it.
Gandalf also held off Sauron’s Nazgul at the time on Weathertop, and they were even afraid of him (at least during the day). Next to the ring of power, I would say that Sauron invested the most strength into his servants.
Another point that could be made is that when Frodo offered the Ring to Gandalf, Gandalf would have been influenced by it, yes, but he would have had “power too great and terrible to imagine….I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself” (Fellowship 95). Gandalf obviously thought that if he took up the ring, it would end just as badly as if Sauron got the ring back. This idea is reiterated by Letter 246, where Tolkien states that Gandalf with the ring would have been worse than Sauron both in power and in corruption.
So, because both Gandalf and Sauron were acting under restrictions at the time, it is hard to say which would win in single combat, but I would say that Gandalf was definitely more powerful than Saruman at the time and that he would be (probably) approximately equal to Sauron (mano a mano) as long as Sauron didn’t have the ring. If Sauron got the ring, he would be definitely stronger than Gandalf.
Gandalf the White vs the 2nd birth of Sauron: Gandalf was more powerful
Sauron in the Third age was weaker than he had been in the second age and far weaker than he had been as Mairon. This would mean that in the third age he was also weaker than Olorin, as Olorin was equal to Mairon.
“When he found how greatly his knowledge was admired by all other rational creatures and how easy it was to influence them, his pride became boundless. By the end of the Second Age he assumed the position of Morgoth’s representative. By the end of the Third Age (though actually much weaker than before) he claimed to be Morgoth returned.”Letter 183 Footnote
When Gandalf returned as Gandalf the White, it was with access to all of his powers as the Maia Olorin. Sauron, however, was still acting under the restrictions of diminishing and the loss of the ring. Since they were equal in their beginnings (at least in the Unfinished Tales), I would say that the effects of diminishing at this point would be so great on Sauron that even if he got the ring he would be lesser in power to Gandalf, or rather Olórin. This not to say that Gandalf would be able to win the war single-handed, as this is obviously not the case.
“I am Gandalf, Gandalf the White, but Black is mightier still!”Two Towers
This passage does not mention either Gandalf or Sauron’s spirit (as some of the earlier quotes talking about “might” did), so it is talking about (my interpretation) Sauron’s full strength and all the resources at his command. He had vast armies of orcs, trolls, and fouler things not to mention his alliances with evil men. This statement is also prior to Saruman’s defeat. Between Saruman and Sauron, they should have been able to crush any opposition. They were both “black”.
Gandalf, on the other hand, was the only “white” Maiar left. Saruman had turned to evil, Radagast was useless, and the Blue Wizards were AWOL. He only had the help of a few human nations who were far weaker than Sauron and Saruman’s armies. So “white” was less than “black”.
But even if one chooses not to interpret it this way, there is a large amount of evidence written by Tolkien after he wrote this that it is quite probable that his opinion changed after writing LOTR.
“Very nearly it (the ring) was revealed to the Enemy, but it escaped. I had some part in that: for I sat in a high place, and I strove with the Dark Tower; and the Shadow passed.”
While Gandalf the White was tired after this, he not only prevented Sauron from finding the ring while Frodo had it on but he also posed enough of a challenge to Sauron that Sauron chose to retreat from the confrontation despite having felt the ring.
Considering how desperate Sauron was to find the ring of power, the fact that he was forced to withdraw speaks volumes. Sauron was outmatched by Gandalf. With the ring he might or might not have won: it is more likely that he would have just been able to stand his ground. This was also with Gandalf the White not using enough of his power to destroy any of the lands: if he had gone full force he might have defeated Sauron right then. But that would have been at the expense of Middle Earth.
All in all, this would be one of the hardest battles in Lord of the Rings world, and, depending on which time they would clash, the outcome would be different. I feel Gandalf was more limited in his powers in his human form, but on the other hand, Sauron lost his power during the time, because of his doings.