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Is there any commentary as to why these particular Maia were chosen to help men combat Sauron in Middle Earth? Were they assigned their tasks specifically? Did they volunteer or were they hand picked?

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Did you just name the blue wizards? I've never heard those names spoken... – Oxinabox Feb 24 at 4:15
up vote 41 down vote accepted

This is answered in Unfinished Tales:

  • Saruman and Alatar either volunteered, or were sent by their Valar (emphasis mine):

    [I]t was resolved to send out three emissaries to Middle-earth. "Who would go? For they must be mighty, peers of Sauron, but must forgo might, and clothe themselves in flesh so as to treat on equality and win the trust of Elves and Men. But this would imperil them, dimming their wisdom and knowledge, and confusing them with fears, cares, and weariness coming from the flesh." But two only came forward: Curumo, who was chosen by Aulë, and Alatar, who was sent by Oromë.

    Unfinished Tales Part Four Chapter 2: "The Istari"

    It's not actually entirely clear from this context whether they volunteered or were volunteered by their Valar liege-lords; it's notable that Curumo and Alatar are said to have been "chosen" and "sent", but also that they "came forward".

    Since Radagast was foisted upon them (more on that soon), I'm inclined to suggest that the Valar went to their respective Maia for volunteers, and these were the only two who initially stepped forward. However, that's just my interpretation.

  • Gandalf went at the behest of Manwë:

    Manwë asked, where was Olórin? And Olórin, who was clad in grey, and having just entered from a journey had seated himself at the edge of the council, asked what Manwë would have of him. Manwë replied that he wished Olórin to go as the third messenger to Middle-earth

    Unfinished Tales Part Four Chapter 2: "The Istari"

  • Radagast went because Yavanna nagged Saruman:

    The note ends with the statement that Curumo [Saruman] took Aiwendil [Radagast] because Yavanna begged him

    [...]

    On another page of jottings clearly belonging to the same period it is said that "Curumo was obliged to take Aiwendil to please Yavanna wife of Aulë."

    Unfinished Tales Part Four Chapter 2: "The Istari"

    The reason for Yavanna's insistence isn't clear; Christopher Tolkien notes:

    There is no hint of an explanation of why Yavanna's evident desire that the Istari should include in their number one with particular love of the things of her making could only be achieved by imposing Radagast's company on Saruman

    Unfinished Tales Part Four Chapter 2: "The Istari"

    Obviously Yavanna's primary motivation is that somebody should keep an eye out for the non-sentient creatures (this is the same motivation that prompted the creation of the Ents). What's not clear is why she couldn't simply nominate Radagast, the way Gandalf was nominated.

  • Pallando went because Alatar asked him to:

    Alatar took Pallando as a friend.

    Unfinished Tales Part Four Chapter 2: "The Istari"

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Great answer Jason, thank-you. – Morgan Feb 23 at 22:13
    
I now wonder if Mairon and Curumo actually had all that planned from the beginning. – void_ptr Feb 23 at 23:37
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As a friend of my likes to say, they didnt volunteer, they were voluntold. – David Grinberg Feb 24 at 2:15

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