What Race Is Gandalf? Is It the Same as Sauron?

gandalf the white

One of the most prominent figures in the history of The Lord of the Rings and of JRR Tolkien’s other writings in his Legendarium is the Wizard named Gandalf the Grey, who wandered all over Middle-Earth to aid the different races and make new friends with various people and personalities. However, while he does come off as a friendly old man that loves to travel, Gandalf is an incredibly powerful Wizard that is probably second only to Sauron among all of the races that live in Middle-Earth. So, what race does Gandalf belong to?

Originally named Olórin, Gandalf is an Ainur that is part of the Maiar. As such, he is like Sauron, who was also a Maia among the Ainur. However, when Gandalf was sent to Middle-Earth to aid the people against Sauron’s darkness, he was given the physical form of an elderly man, like all of the other wizards. 

For those who aren’t aware of the history and the different beings that exist in Tolkien’s Legendarium, Gandalf may seem like an old and wise man that’s capable of magic. However, he has always been something greater than a mere old man, as he is one of the strongest entities in Middle-Earth due to his status as an Ainur. As such, let’s look at what we know about Gandalf’s race.

What Race Is Gandalf?

There are a lot of different lovable personalities and characters in JRR Tolkien’s Legendarium, as many of the different names that exist in his writings all have their own unique stories. But the one figure that has always captivated a lot of different people is the Wizard named Gandalf, who was the one responsible for pushing Bilbo out of his door to go on an adventure. He was also the one who aided Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring in their quest to help the people of Middle-Earth against Sauron’s darkness and destroy the One Ring once and for all.

Of course, Gandalf himself may be an old man, but he was always the most powerful out of the Fellowship of the Ring. In fact, he was also a lot more powerful than any other Elf, Man, or Dwarf, as only a few characters (such as Galadriel and Sauron) could stand up to his incredible prowess. And he displayed his might when he told the rest of the Fellowship that the Balrog of Moria was beyond any of them and defeated it in a battle that lasted days.

While he may seem like an old man that’s capable of magic, the very fact that Gandalf can perform magic and be powerful enough to stand up against an entity that not even Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, and Gimli could defeat proves that his might exceeds almost any other character’s power in The Lord of the Rings. So, if he is so powerful, what race is Gandalf?

Gandalf is one of the Ainur, and that means that he is a divine spirit that existed during the dawn of time. Specifically speaking, he is a Maia and is one of the first creations of Eru Ilúvatar, who is the supreme god of Tolkien’s Legendarium.

Ainulindale by Alassea Earello 1

At the very beginning of time, Eru Ilúvatar created the Ainur through his thoughts. The Ainur themselves helped him in the creation of the world through the Music of the Ainur. All of these Ainur were created at the same time, but they were not created to be equal. That’s because there are two types of Ainur: the Valar and the Maiar.


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The Valar are 14 Ainur (15 if Melkor is counted) that are far stronger than the rest of the Ainur and are the ones who are associated with the different powers and elements that make up the world. Working under the Valar are countless Maiar that are there to assist their Valar counterparts in the governance of the world. Essentially, they are all the same in the sense that they are divine spirits with no physical form. The only difference between the Valar and the Maiar is the fact that the Valar are far stronger than any other Ainur.

Gandalf, when he was created by Eru Ilúvatar, was a Maia named Olórin, who was said to be the wisest out of all of the Maiar, despite the fact that he wasn’t necessarily strong. Unlike most Maiar, who are associated with only one Valar, Olórin was associated with Manwë, Varda, Irmo, and Nienna. Like Varda, he was associated with light and fire.

Olorin in the Gardens of Lorien by Kip Rasmussen

However, during the time when Sauron was still an active threat in Middle-Earth, Manwë, the chief of all of the Valar, decided to call Maiar that would be willing to go to Middle-Earth to aid the people in their fight against Sauron. Olórin was one of the Maiar tasked to go to Middle-Earth, although he was actually reluctant to do so because he feared Sauron’s power. Despite that, Manwë told him that his fear of Sauron was exactly why he needed to go to Middle-Earth, as doing so would allow him to confront and overcome his fears.

Olórin and four other Maiar were sent to Middle-Earth in the form of old men that soon became the Istari or the Wizards. Dressed in grey, Olórin became known as Gandalf the Grey and started journeying around the western part of Middle-Earth, where he became a popular personality among the different people and races of the realm. Meanwhile, the other Wizards eventually did their own thing as well, as we know that the Blue Wizards went east and were never heard from again, while Saruman and Radagast decided to settle down in their own territories as well.


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As such, it is the fact that Gandalf is a divine spirit that makes him quite strong. This also explains why he was able to come back to life after his death at the hands of Durin’s Bane, as Gandalf merely lost his physical form. The Valar decided that his mission on Middle-Earth was not yet done, and that’s why he was sent back as Gandalf the White, who Saruman should’ve been had he not been corrupted by power.

Do Gandalf And Sauron Belong To The Same Race?

As powerful as Gandalf may be, the one entity that could surpass him in Middle-Earth was Sauron in his full might. And the reason why Sauron is just as powerful or even more powerful than Gandalf is the fact that he was always known to be the strongest and most gifted out of all of the Maiar.


In that regard, the fact that Sauron is a Maia means that he is also like Gandalf in the sense that they belong to the same race. They are both of the Ainur, and that means that both Gandalf and Sauron are divine spirits with incredible powers. Sauron, however, is a lot stronger because of the fact that he was always the strongest of the Maiar.

On top of that, when Gandalf and the Five Wizards were sent to Middle-Earth, they were tasked to only guide the races of Middle-Earth as they weren’t supposed to confront and defeat Sauron themselves or even try to exceed his power. That’s because the Valar wanted the people of Middle-Earth to be the ones to defeat this darkness. As such, Gandalf, as powerful as he was, was never allowed to even become as powerful as Sauron due to his directive as a guide.

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