Before Gandalf freed Théoden from Saruman/Gríma's hold, he refused to give away his staff.

Háma: I cannot allow you before Théoden King so armed, Gandalf Greyhame... by order of Gríma Wormtongue.
[Gandalf nods, and they hand over their weapons]
Háma: Your staff.
Gandalf: Oh... you would not part an old man from his walking stick?

After that, while he was breaking theirs hold on him, Gríma shouted to the guards

His staff! I told you to take the wizard's staff!

But what if he was denied the use of his staff? How much of his power is tied to his staff? Is he harmless/defenseless without his staff? If his staff is taken by an other magically capable being, how much of Gandalf's power would it have?

  • 5
    Of course, Grima might be under the impression that the staff is crucial, but mistaken. Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 15:17
  • It's my headcannon that the wizard is the staff, the the angelic spirit is imprisoned not merely in the body of an old man, but in the stick that the old man carries. After Gandalf breaks Saruman's staff, the wizard is expelled. The Saruman that plunders the shire is just a wily old man grown wise from long association with a Maiar.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 17:05
  • @JamesKilfiger I would point you point you to the last comment on the answer. If that was true, Gandalf should not have been so quick to break his own against the Balrog. Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 17:48

1 Answer 1


I couldn't find anything directly related to this in canon, but circumstancially, the staff seems to be needed to help express the magic of the Istari, but is not required/critical to it.

In this way, it seems somewhat akin to wands in Harry Potter - a good wizard can do magic without a wand but the wand helps focus the magic.

On the side of the staff helping magical usage:

  • Gandalf uses his staff to break the bridge on which the Balrog is advancing

  • Gandalf's staff is used to send a signal to the Giant Eagle to help escape from Orthanc.

  • Gandalf the White breaks Saruman's staff after asking to surrender it.

    This is a really weak and inconclusive data point, since it may have had more of a symbolic/moral meaning than practical.

On the side of the staff not being critical:

  • As per FotR, Gandalf was allowed by Saruman to keep his staff when captured (see the quote below pertaining to Frodo's seeing Gandalf's escape in a dream). If the staff was so critical to his ability to do magic, surely Saruman would have taken it from Gandalf!

    In the dead night, Frodo lay in a dream without light. ... The figure [Gandalf] lifted his arms and a light flashed from the staff that he wielded. A mighty eagle swept down and bore him away...

  • 3
    Yeah, the staffs are more symbolic than anything else. The Istari are far more powerful than they ever let on. They are of the Maiar -- lower gods. It's not really clear to me if they actually give up most of their Maia powers when they go to Middle Earth or simply promise not to use them. My guess is that it's the latter, since Sauruman certainly seems to exercise greater powers than any of the others do after he turns bad. Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 20:04
  • Actually, I might be wrong about that, see this question/Answer: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/13403/… Commented Mar 19, 2012 at 20:34
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    You might also note that a staffless Gandalf fought and killed the Balrog on its home field. He had Glamdring to help, of course; but that was surely not much of a factor in Gandalf's part of the "thunder ... and lightning" that "smote upon Celebdil, and leaped back broken in tongues of fire." (The Two Towers)
    – MLP
    Commented Mar 20, 2012 at 2:54
  • I don't think Gandalf had his staff when he was imprisoned atop Orthanc. Saruman took it off him in the fight scene. Commented May 7, 2017 at 18:12

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