I know the Maiar are essentially the demi-gods of the Tolkien's world, but the Istari are also supernatural beings, right? From reading a different answer to a question I learned that they are cloaking their full power in a "mortal shell", so to speak. So is there any canon proof of how powerful the Istari are in their true forms and are they more powerful than the Maiar (Sauron)? Couldn't Eru Iluvatar have just sent them to wipe out the threat?

Sorry I have so many questions wrapped up in one, but I feel that they are all essential in answering my main one. Thanks.

  • 10
    I think that the Istari actually are maiar, but were told to restrict their powers and aid the people of M.E. to destroy Sauron or his power, rather than doing the job for them. Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 15:02
  • 1
    Take a look at this question does it anwer your question?
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 15:03
  • 8
    @JeffZeitlin the istari most certainly are maia.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 15:04
  • @Edlothiad That is actually the other question I read that made me curious about this topic. So if they are Maia, why do they have such a hard time against Sauron and even the Witch King? Because Sauron didn't have his power limited? Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 15:08
  • 1
    Yes, because he's not an Istari. I think I understand your question, but I can't provide sources, so I'll start with a stub.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 15:09

2 Answers 2


The Istari are Maiar

Olorin I was in my youth in the West that is forgotten.

We must assume that they [the Istari] were all Maiar...

For with the consent of Eru they [the Valar] sent members of their own high order, but clad in bodies as of Men...

These three quotes seem to make it clear that the Istari are Maiar.

There is no canon evidence for how powerful the Istari are because "Power" is quite a complex thing in Middle-earth; it's not merely something that can be measured as a value.

Now as for why it was so difficult to defeat Sauron, as it was described in this Q&A the Istari were sent to lead men against Sauron and not to defeat him themselves — the reason for this supposedly being that the last time the Valar and the Maiar had intervened (at the end of the First Age) they'd caused a massive reshaping of the world. The Istari were therefore unable to use power aganst power to defeat Sauron and had to rely on their abilities to rouse the Free Peoples of Middle-earth.

Unfortunately for Gandalf, the other 4 members of his Order got lost from their task, and while the two Blue Wizards may have weakened the armies from the South, they did not help in the overall fight against Sauron. Gandalf himself roused the Rohirrim against Saruman and the combined forces of Men against Sauron to defeat him (while sending Frodo on a secret infiltration mission with the real threat to Sauron).

It is speculated that Eru had given up on Middle-earth and therefore only sent 5 Istari to solve the problems there. He may have feared that sending the Valar or full-blown Maiar might cause similar destruction as it had the previous time.

  • 1
    Thank you for the explainiation. It makes sense,. Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 16:36
  • 4
    Great answer, though I'd hesitate to include something positing Eru's thoughts (re. the last paragraph) unless there was significant evidence for it. Tolkien's works seem particularly vulnerable to having fan theories circulated as more than just that.
    – Harris
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 18:04
  • I've got to come back to the whole thing @HarrisWeinstein so yep, will do.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 19:36
  • Indeed. The thought that Eru (God) would give up on the world would be abhorrent to Tolkien. "It is speculated" doesn't mean much. By whom? Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 3:42
  • Amusingly it was something Sauron speculated, that Eru gave up on Arda after the destruction of Numenor and that led him to believe true victory was possible. Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 4:30

If you include The Silmarillion in your perception of Tolkien's "canon" (as I have heard some do not), then yes, the Istari (Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, and the other unnamed two) are Maiar, which are similar to, but "lesser" than the Valar.

Here is the passage from Valaquenta:

With the Valar came other spirits whose being also began before the World, of the same order as the Valar but of less degree. These are the Maiar, people of the Valar, and their servants and helpers. Their number is not known to the Elves, and few have names in any of the tongues of the Children of Iluvatar; for though it is otherwise in Aman, in Middle-earth the Maiar have seldom appeared in form visible to Elves and Men....

Wisest of the Maiar was Olorin. He too dwelt in Lorien, but his ways took him often to the house of Nienna, and of her he learned pity and patience... In later days he was the friend of all the Children of Iluvatar, and took pity on their sorrows; and those who listened to him awoke from despair and put away the imaginations of darkness.

The whole point in the Istari was to have them help to turn the hearts of Men and Elves back toward the good fight. (I know some people don't appreciate any connections being drawn between Tolkien and Christian theology, but if I may do so for a momenet for the sake of clarity, it's much like in the Old Testament where angels were occasionally sent as messengers or guides for the followers of God, but rarely ever directly combated the the forces of evil themselves). Therefore, one of the stipulations what was placed upon them upon coming to Middle-earth was that they must take on mortal forms, and this would greatly inhibit their power. And keep in mind that Sauron is against Eru, so of course he wouldn't follow that rule and instead use as much power as he could possibly muster.

  • That is a genius comparison between the Maiar and the angels. So is Olorin the true name of Gandalf? I seem to remember that when he came back from the dead that he didn't remember "what they used to call me" until Aragorn says it. Thank you very much for the info and quote :) Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 15:36
  • 4
    Yes, Olorin is Gandalf's true Maia name. And yes again, you are correct. When they find him again in Fangorn Forest after his battle with the Balrog of Moria, it took him a bit to remember that he had been called "Gandalf the Grey" by Men. And you're very welcome! :) Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 21:54
  • It's an apt parallel, since "angel" of course, means "messenger (of god)" Commented Feb 5, 2018 at 3:52

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.