People say things like:

"Never trust Wizards"

They talk about Wizards like they're abundant, when in reality there are only five, two of whom (the blue wizards) aren't even known to be active, and the brown wizard prefers animals over people.

Why the discrepancy between the perceived abundance of wizards and the actual, very limited number of wizards?

  • 11
    Because there are wizards and Wizards...
    – HorusKol
    Jan 7, 2016 at 23:37
  • 7
    Where is the 'never trust wizards' statement made in LoTR?
    – NKCampbell
    Jan 7, 2016 at 23:46
  • 4
    "now, Pippin my lad, don't forget Gildor's saying - the one Sam used to quote:_ Do not meddle in the at Fairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger_.' 'But our whole life for months has been one long meddling in the affairs of Wizards,' said Pippin"
    – Valorum
    Jan 7, 2016 at 23:52
  • 9
    @Richard - all of your quotes are about meddling with wizards, not "never trust a wizard" - I don't think that is in the text (but I don't have my digital copy at the moment) - I think the OP is confusing "never trust an elf" with that particular phrase
    – NKCampbell
    Jan 7, 2016 at 23:58
  • 19
    Eg. Julius Caesar was a single person who lived 55 years and yet we have sayings about him. Now imagine if he lived until today, was born at the dawn of time, and there were 5 of him.
    – Superbest
    Jan 8, 2016 at 4:08

4 Answers 4


Book Answer: Tolkien didn't limit the number to five until after writing LotR

Tolkien at points believed that they were many wizards, but with five main ones. His views on various details were not finalized while writing LotR and Hobbit. This can be seen from "the essay on the Istari" (written c.1954, Unfinished Tales)

Of this Order, the number is unknown, but of those that came to the North of Middle-Earth, where there was most hope (because of the remnant of the Dunedain and of the Eldar who abode there), the chiefs were five

As for the movies, your guess is as good as mine. Peter Jackson's Middle-earth is a lot more loosely constructed than Tolkien's Middle-earth and not really so open for analysis.

  • 17
    Guy turns up, does magic. How do you tell the difference
    – Valorum
    Jan 7, 2016 at 23:33
  • 3
    @Foreboding: "Gandalf openly admitted it in the Hobbit." — Only in the movies, and the movies aren't real.
    – jwodder
    Jan 8, 2016 at 0:03
  • 2
    @Foreboding if the question specifically refers to the movies, then you should use the movies tag.
    – ibid
    Jan 8, 2016 at 0:08
  • 4
    @Forboding The books say The Mouth of Sauron 'learned great sorcery' in his service to Sauron. Jan 8, 2016 at 0:22
  • 6
    @Richard: Right. You have to write "Wizzard" on it.
    – Zan Lynx
    Jan 9, 2016 at 2:32

This is largely covered in "The Unfinished Tales"

Basically there were (initially) only 5 of the Istari.

Wizard is a translation of Quenya istar (Sindarin ithron): one of the members of an ‘order’ (as they called it), claiming to possess, and exhibiting, eminent knowledg1e of the history and nature of the World. The translation (though suitable in its relation to ‘wise’ and other ancient words of knowing, similar to that of istar in Quenya) is not perhaps happy, since the Heren Istarion or ‘Order of Wizards’ was quite distinct from the ‘wizards’ and ‘magicians’ of later legend; they belonged solely to the Third Age and then departed, and none save maybe Elrond, Círdan, and Galadriel discovered of what kind they were or whence they came.

They spent a lot of time hanging around with important and powerful people

Among Men they were supposed (at first) by those that had dealings with them to be Men who had acquired lore and arts by long and secret study. They first appeared in Middle-earth about the year 1000 of the Third Age, but for long they went about in simple guise, as it were of Men already old in years but hale in body, travellers and wanderers, gaining knowledge of Middle-earth and all that dwelt therein, but revealing to none their powers and purposes. In that time Men saw them seldom and heeded them little.

As Sauron's power rose, people paid a hell of a lot more attention to them

But as the shadow of Sauron began to grow and take shape again, they became more active, and sought ever to contest the growth of the Shadow, and to move Elves and Men to beware of their peril. Then far and wide rumour of their comings and goings, and their meddling in many matters, was noised among Men;

At which point it was noticed that they weren't aging. This gave them celebrity status since they've now had hundreds of years to become well known

and Men perceived that they did not die, but remained the same (unless it were that they aged somewhat in looks), while the fathers and sons of Men passed away. Men, therefore, grew to fear them, even when they loved them, and they were held to be of the Elven-race (with whom, indeed, they often consorted).


Its true there are only five wizards, but that can still mean a lot of interactions.

My theory is, the wizards wander everywhere, and meddle in everything... so word gets around. It would be different if they were living like hermits on mountaintops, but given that they snoop around, interact with lots of people, and also have lived a very long time there's probably a lot of incidents where someone interacted/encountered/meddled/decided not to meddle/were warned. Some of which were likely high profile enough to be famous in song and story (so, very well known).

And the warnings passed up, down, and sideways means that even with only five wizards, everyone has connection with someone who heard something (and subsequently warns others not to meddle with wizards).

In short, even if wizards are uncommon, interactions with them might not be - so the saying becomes widely known.

However, it's just a theory.

  • 3
    Interactions: it's a real shame there are no lady wizards and no wizardlings
    – RedSonja
    Jan 8, 2016 at 12:24
  • @RedSonja I agree, that would have been something.
    – Megha
    Jan 8, 2016 at 12:31
  • 2
    Didn't Sauron kill off all of the "Younglings" when he declared himself? Jan 8, 2016 at 16:09
  • 2
    @PatFromCanada Perhaps, but are you sure you're not thinking of Darth Vader?
    – David Z
    Jan 8, 2016 at 19:39

I think it is really a problem of translation and the limited scope of the tales. Tolkien uses "Wizard" as a name for the Istari, but there are certainly other people who could reasonably be described as small-w wizards, for instance the Witch-King of Angmar & the Mouth of Sauron. Denethor would probably qualify as one, as he uses "magic" tools and mental powers, even if those aren't explicitly described. There are likewise references to past works of wizardry in Gondor, like Amon Hen & Amon Lhaw, so there must have been "wizards" to create them.

Just because we never meet any small-w wizards in the tales doesn't mean they don't exist. After all, we don't meet many farmers (after leaving the Shire, anyway), carpenters, weavers, garbage collectors, &c, though logically they must exist since we see the results of their activities.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.