The wizard Gandalf is not just one of the most famous, he is also one of the most mysterious characters in Tolkien’s Legendarium. Most people know him via Sir Ian McKellen’s masterful interpretation in Peter Jackson’s two trilogies, but the character of Gandalf has so much depth and his story is far bigger than the version we saw in the movies. Gandalf is going to be the topic of this article, as we are going to talk about his reputation and what is Gandalf known for in The Hobbit and in The Lord of the Rings.
In The Hobbit, Gandalf is described as a great adventurer, a great wizard, and a great maker of fireworks by both the Narrator – who is Tolkien himself – and Bilbo Baggins, the novel’s protagonist. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is still perceived as a mysterious figure by the Hobbits – they know he is not an ordinary man, yet they do not fear him, despite not being able to fully comprehend his persona; also, he remains a master of fireworks even in The Lord of the Rings.
The rest of the article is going to be a short presentation of Gandalf and the evolution of his reputation in Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. We have prepared an interesting story for you so be sure to stick with us until the very end!
Gandalf’s reputation in The Hobbit
Gandalf is introduced in the first chapter of The Hobbit, titled “An Unexpected Party”. The narrator, who is Tolkien himself, introduces us to Gandalf as he approaches Bilbo at the very beginning of the novel. Bilbo is, of course, unaware of Gandalf’s intentions and he doesn’t even recognize the famed wizard, although he knows his name, just as well as Gandalf knows Bilbo’s name very well. This is the scene that introduces us to Gandalf:
“By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at his door after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his woolly toes (neatly brushed)-Gandalf came by. Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort of remarkable tale. Tales and adventures sprouted up all over the place wherever he went, in the most extraordinary fashion. He had not been down that way under The Hill for ages and ages, not since his friend the Old Took died, in fact, and the hobbits had almost forgotten what he looked like. He had been away over The Hill and across The Water on businesses of his own since they were all small hobbit-boys and hobbit-girls.
All that the unsuspecting Bilbo saw that morning was an old man with a staff. He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which his long white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots.”– The Hobbit, Chapter I, “An Unexpected Party”
As you can see, even before we find out anything about Gandalf, Tolkien (the narrator), affirms that he is a remarkable character with a remarkable background. The narrator doesn’t reveal much save for a few general remarks about the extraordinary nature of his adventures, thereby foreshadowing yet another one that Bilbo, Thorin, and his crew, and we, as the readers, were going to experience not long after. But, this paragraph doesn’t reveal much about Gandalf’s actual reputation – okay, we know he was an adventurer, but that isn’t much now, is it? – which is further explored in a later paragraph, not long after Bilbo Baggins finally realizes he’s talking to the legendary Gandalf. Here’s what we know:
“‘Not at all, not at all, my dear sir! Let me see, I don’t think I know your name?’
‘Yes, yes, my dear sir-and I do know your name, Mr. Bilbo Baggins. And you do know my name, though you don’t remember that I belong to it. I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me! To think that I should have lived to be good-morninged by Belladonna Took’s son, as if I was selling buttons at the door!’
‘Gandalf, Gandalf! Good gracious me! Not the wandering wizard that gave Old Took a pair of magic diamond studs that fastened themselves and never came undone till ordered? Not the fellow who used to tell such wonderful tales at parties, about dragons and goblins and giants and the rescue of princesses and the unexpected luck of widows’ sons? Not the man that used to make such particularly excellent fireworks! I remember those! Old Took used to have them on Midsummer’s Eve. Splendid! They used to go up like great lilies and snapdragons and laburnums of fire and hang in the twilight all evening!’ You will notice already that Mr. Baggins was not quite so prosy as he liked to believe, also that he was very fond of flowers. ‘Dear me!’ he went on. ‘Not the Gandalf who was responsible for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad adventures? Anything from climbing trees to visiting elves-or sailing in ships, sailing to other shores! Bless me, life used to be quite inter-I mean, you used to upset things badly in these parts once upon a time. I beg your pardon, but I had no idea you were still in business.’
‘Where else should I be?’ said the wizard. ‘All the same I am pleased to find you remember something about me. You seem to remember my fireworks kindly, at any rate, and that is not without hope. Indeed for your old grandfather Took’s sake, and for the sake of poor Belladonna, I will give you what you asked for.’
‘I beg your pardon, I haven’t asked for anything!’
‘Yes, you have! Twice now. My pardon. I give it you. In fact I will go so far as to send you on this adventure. Very amusing for me, very good for you-and profitable too, very likely, if you ever get over it.’
‘Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea-any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good bye!’ With that the hobbit turned and scuttled inside his round green door, and shut it as quickly as he dared, not to seem rude. Wizards after all are wizards.”– The Hobbit, Chapter I, “An Unexpected Journey”
This abstract from The Hobbit gives us a bit more insight into Gandalf’s reputation from Bilbo’s point of view. Gandalf was a great wizard, a great adventurer, and a person known throughout Middle-earth, but what Bilbo also remarks is that he makes great fireworks. So, basically, that is Gandalf’s reputation in The Hobbit, presented from the point of view of the narrator (Tolkien) and Bilbo Baggins, the protagonist of this “this adventure”, as Gandalf says.
Gandalf’s reputation in The Lord of the Rings
Now, the preceding section covered Gandalf’s reputation in The Hobbit, but that doesn’t really tell us much about how he was perceived in The Lord of the Rings. Did his reputation change? Okay, the time span – when compared to Tolkien’s regular chronology – wasn’t all that big, but things can change drastically in much less time than the period that passed between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. So, what does Tolkien say about Gandalf when he first arrives at Bilbo’s house much in the manner of The Hobbit, with the main difference being that the Hobbit recognized his friend this time. Let us see:
“‘Elves and Dragons’ I says to him. ‘Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you. Don’t go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you’ll land in trouble too big for you,’ I says to him. And I might say it to others,’ he added with a look at the stranger and the miller.
But the Gaffer did not convince his audience. The legend of Bilbo’s wealth was now too firmly fixed in the minds of the younger generation of hobbits.
‘Ah, but he has likely enough been adding to what he brought at first,’ argued the miller, voicing common opinion. ‘He’s often away from home. And look at the outlandish folk that visit him: dwarves coming at night, and that old wandering conjuror, Gandalf, and all. You can say what you like, Gaffer, but Bag End’s a queer place, and its folk are queerer.’
‘And you can say what you like, about what you know no more of than you do of boating, Mr. Sandyman,’ retorted the Gaffer, disliking the miller even more than usual. If that’s being queer, then we could do with a bit more queerness in these parts. There’s some not far away that wouldn’t offer a pint of beer to a friend, if they lived in a hole with golden walls. But they do things proper at Bag End. Our Sam says that everyone’s going to be invited to the party, and there’s going to be presents, mark you, presents for all C this very month as is.’
That very month was September, and as fine as you could ask. A day or two later a rumour (probably started by the knowledgeable Sam) was spread about that there were going to be fireworks C fireworks, what is more, such as had not been seen in the Shire for nigh on a century, not indeed since the Old Took died.
Days passed and The Day drew nearer. An odd-looking waggon laden with odd-looking packages rolled into Hobbiton one evening and toiled up the Hill to Bag End. The startled hobbits peered out of lamplit doors to gape at it. It was driven by outlandish folk, singing strange songs: dwarves with long beards and deep hoods. A few of them remained at Bag End. At the end of the second week in September a cart came in through Bywater from the direction of the Brandywine Bridge in broad daylight. An old man was driving it all alone. He wore a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, and a silver scarf. He had a long white beard and bushy eyebrows that stuck out beyond the brim of his hat. Small hobbit-children ran after the cart all through Hobbiton and right up the hill. It had a cargo of fireworks, as they rightly guessed. At Bilbo’s front door the old man began to unload: there were great bundles of fireworks of all sorts and shapes, each labelled with a large red Gand the elf-rune, That was Gandalf’s mark, of course, and the old man was Gandalf the Wizard, whose fame in the Shire was due mainly to his skill with fires, smokes, and lights. His real business was far more difficult and dangerous, but the Shire-folk knew nothing about it. To them he was just one of the ‘attractions’ at the Party. Hence the excitement of the hobbit-children. ‘G for Grand!’ they shouted, and the old man smiled. They knew him by sight, though he only appeared in Hobbiton occasionally and never stopped long; but neither they nor any but the oldest of their elders had seen one of his firework displays C they now belonged to the legendary past.
When the old man, helped by Bilbo and some dwarves, had finished unloading. Bilbo gave a few pennies away; but not a single squib or cracker was forthcoming, to the disappointment of the onlookers.
‘Run away now!’ said Gandalf. ‘You will get plenty when the time comes.’ Then he disappeared inside with Bilbo, and the door was shut. The young hobbits stared at the door in vain for a while, and then made off, feeling that the day of the party would never come.
Inside Bag End, Bilbo and Gandalf were sitting at the open window of a small room looking out west on to the garden. The late afternoon was bright and peaceful. The flowers glowed red and golden: snap-dragons and sun-flowers, and nasturtiums trailing all over the turf walls and peeping in at the round windows.”– The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter I, “A Long-Expected Party”
This sums up the Hobbits’ perception of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. As you can see, it had not changed much. The Hobbits were fascinated by Gandalf, but they did not fear him. To them, he was a mysterious figure; they knew he was no ordinary man, but they also couldn’t really perceive his persona fully. Except for Bilbo Baggins, who had had his fair share of adventures with Gandalf the Grey or, as he would later be known, Gandalf the White. And this sums up everything we have to say about Gandalf’s reputation in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. His reputation had not changed much and that’s a good thing because a large part of Gandalf’s person was his mysterious character and the need to explore his backstory.
Oh, if you thought that his reputation as a master of fireworks faded, think again (and with this, we conclude our text):
“When every guest had been welcomed and was finally inside the gate, there were songs, dances, music, games, and, of course, food and drink. There were three official meals: lunch, tea, and dinner (or supper). But lunch and tea were marked chiefly by the fact that at those times all the guests were sitting down and eating together. At other times there were merely lots of people eating and drinking C continuously from elevenses until six-thirty, when the fireworks started.
The fireworks were by Gandalf: they were not only brought by him, but designed and made by him; and the special effects, set pieces, and flights of rockets were let off by him. But there was also a generous distribution of squibs, crackers, backarappers, sparklers, torches, dwarf-candles, elf-fountains, goblin-barkers and thunder-claps. They were all superb. The art of Gandalf improved with age.
There were rockets like a flight of scintillating birds singing with sweet voices. There were green trees with trunks of dark smoke: their leaves opened like a whole spring unfolding in a moment, and their shining branches dropped glowing flowers down upon the astonished hobbits, disappearing with a sweet scent just before they touched their upturned faces. There were fountains of butterflies that flew glittering into the trees; there were pillars of coloured fires that rose and turned into eagles, or sailing ships, or a phalanx of flying swans; there was a red thunderstorm and a shower of yellow rain; there was a forest of silver spears that sprang suddenly into the air with a yell like an embattled army, and came down again into the Water with a hiss like a hundred hot snakes. And there was also one last surprise, in honour of Bilbo, and it startled the hobbits exceedingly, as Gandalf intended. The lights went out. A great smoke went up. It shaped itself like a mountain seen in the distance, and began to glow at the summit. It spouted green and scarlet flames. Out flew a red-golden dragon C not life-size, but terribly life-like: fire came from his jaws, his eyes glared down; there was a roar, and he whizzed three times over the heads of the crowd. They all ducked, and many fell flat on their faces. The dragon passed like an express train, turned a somersault, and burst over Bywater with a deafening explosion.”– The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter I, “A Long-Expected Party”