70

There are several things in the text of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring that, to me, indicate that wizards were originally intended to not only number five altogether - Saruman, Gandalf, Radagast, Alatar, and Pallando - and were intended to be much more common.

The way that "wizards" are referred to in these indicates that they're not so... unusual.

There's this quote:

“Sorry! I don’t want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea—any time you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good bye!” With that the hobbit turned and scuttled inside his round green door, and shut it as quickly as he dared, not to seem rude. Wizards after all are wizards.
The Hobbit, chapter 1: "An Unexpected Party"

That line - "wizards after all are wizards", doesn't say "Gandalf after all is Gandalf", which would make more sense in the context of there being only the five (Saruman not really interacting with Hobbits, Radagast occupied with beasts, and the Blue Wizards being in the East).

The same applies to this famous quote:

"But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. The choice is yours: to go or wait."
"And it is also said," answered Frodo: "Go not to the Elves for counsel for they will answer both no and yes."
The Fellowship of the Ring, chapter 3: "Three is Company"

Any sweeping statements about "wizards" like this are suspicious.

Are there any other indicators that Tolkien initially meant for wizards to be much more common, such as in his letters or something?

  • 11
    I don't see how either of these suggest numerous numbers of wizards. Maybe the first suggests that the knowledge of wizards is more common then we're led to believe, but neither seems to imply they are more common then the 5 there are. – Edlothiad May 2 '18 at 13:02
  • 53
    It seems very strange to be making sweeping statements about "wizards" when there's only one who would be known around there. – user58 May 2 '18 at 13:04
  • 9
    I think the Hobbit, which wasn't originally meant to be part of Tolkien's larger legendarium, did take Wizards for granted, and spoke of them as if they were common. I think the second quote about meddling in the affairs of Wizards, though, shows the gravity with which the subject is treated, and might even hint at Galdor's knowledge or suspicion of their origin. I don't think it implies that Wizards are common. – Quasi_Stomach May 2 '18 at 17:14
  • 4
    Measured in wizard-years, they're not just five people, they're the population of a small town. (Gandalf lived as a human for more than 2,000 years.) – Gaultheria May 2 '18 at 23:17
  • 4
    I would also note that (and this is something that no one has mentioned), wizards tend to acquire lots of names: Gandalf itself is an assumed name one of at least half a dozen known names. Less knowledgeable folk might mistake pseudonyms for another new Wizard. – sharur May 3 '18 at 17:18
39

Maybe

In his 1954 letter on The Istari (Wizards), Tolkien comments on the Heren Istarion (Order of Wizards) being larger than 5 but only 5 came to the North West of Middle-earth. It is worth noting that this is the only time an unknown number for the Order is mentioned. It is unclear how long this idea lasted or when it had formed, only that it existed in 1954.

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 Dúnedain and of the Eldar that abode there), the chiefs were five.
The Unfinished Tales - Part IV, The Istari

In the context of the question, however, we get no explicit information that there were any more true wizards than the number we know of. This would suggest that for the above quotes, Tolkien had initially thought of the knowledge of wizards being far more common than we are later led to believe, with most people having been exposed to the 3 that roamed the North-West of Middle-earth and had been in contact with them often. This may have given the impression of "large numbers" as due to their long age, stories would pass down of encounters with wizards, Hobbits likely believing they were seeing different wizards.

The Hobbit and early writings of The Fellowship of the Ring:

There are instances in the Hobbit, which suggest that wizards may have been more common. While unclear whether this is with respect to there being wizards in an earlier form of the Legendarium, or because the Hobbit may have originally been part of a separate story, that was only brought into the Legendarium after it's success and the request for a follow-up. This combined with the path of the early drafts of the Fellowship being a close sequel to the Hobbit seems to have left remnants of an older idea of Tolkien's.

Even the good plans of wise wizards like Gandalf and of good friends like Elrond go astray sometimes when you are off on dangerous adventures over the Edge of the Wild...
The Hobbit - Chapter IV: Over Hill and Under Hill

Yes; not a bad fellow as wizards go, I believe.
ibid. - Chapter VII: Queer Lodgings

These two quotes seem to suggest that wizards may not have existed in large numbers but there were certainly more than just the two, Radagast and Gandalf, that we encounter. During the writing of the Hobbit, Tolkien seemed to entertain the idea that certain members of the Elder Race (Elves) may have been considered wizards or having wizardly traits (History of the Hobbit, John D. Rateliff)

It appeared that Gandalf had been to a great council of the white wizards, masters of lore and good magic...
ibid. - Chapter XIX: The Last Stage

It is true that for ever after he remained an elf-friend, and had the honour of dwarves, wizards, and all such folk as ever passed that way...
ibid.

Both of the above were spoken by Bilbo in the final chapters of The Hobbit, the former mentions a "great council of white wizards"; what would later become known as The White Council. We know from the LotR that the Council was made up (at least) of two Wizards and three Elves (with the possible inclusion of Radagast in the "great council"), whether this suggests that the original idea contained at least these 3 Elves, or whether there were other Wizards or if the Elves were the ‘Wizards’ isn't outlined. The final quote, however, does suggest that the Elves remained separate from the Wizards and we can therefore speculate that when the original host of Wizards became 5, Tolkien replaced the Wizards in the council with Elves.

And certainly it was from Bree that the art of smoking the genuine weed spread in the recent centuries among Dwarves and such other folk, Rangers, Wizards, or wanderers...
The Fellowship of the Ring - Prologue

The above seems to be the only other relevant mention of wizards in the LotR which seems to be relevant to wizards other than the 5 that once ventured through the North-West of Middle-earth. It can however be written off as being purely about the 5 which made up the Istari as the three we know most of at least 2 were regular smokers of pipe-weed, and it could be supposed that Radagast had similar habits based on his expertise.

The People's of Middle-earth

ñolmo a wise person; ingólemo one with very great knowledge, a 'wizard'. This last word was however archaic and applied only to great sages of the Eldar in Valinor (such as Rúmil). The wizards of the Third Age -emissaries from the Valar - were called Istari 'those who know'.

The above is the only other mention I could find relevant to wizards possibly other than the 5 outside the core 4 books and the Unfinished Tales. The preceding discussion is based on the definition of the Noldorin prefix "Ñolo". From such, the words for "wise person" and "one with very great knowledge" are derived. From the latter we could make the guess that in earlier forms of the legendarium, those of very great knowledge such as Cirdan or Elrond would be thought of as wizards. Similar to the "great sages" of the Eldar in Valinor.

  • 4
    The passage says, "the chiefs were five." Would only the chiefs of this Order be wizards? Otherwise, it seems like there's room for more wizards coming. – jpmc26 May 4 '18 at 9:55
  • 2
    @jpmc26, I remember that as a child when I read The Unfinished Tales, I assumed that there must have been other, lesser wizards being chiefed by the 5. – Prof. Falken May 4 '18 at 11:26
  • @jpmc26 the quote suggest there was an order of wizards, of which the chiefs were 5. And those 5 were sent to the North of Middle-earth. – Edlothiad May 4 '18 at 12:44
  • @Edlothiad - I read it as "Unknown set of wizards" > "Those who came to the North" > "five chiefs". So more than the chiefs came, but only those chiefs deserved mention. – Bobson May 4 '18 at 15:59
  • @Bobson I see where you’re coming from, but most scholars agree on the above so I’m going to stick to it – Edlothiad May 4 '18 at 16:03
28

It is difficult to say. The identification of the wizards with Maiar came after The Hobbit, I believe. In the book, Gandalf is presented in much the same vein as past literary and legendary wizards like Merlin and Prospero and Odin the Wanderer and can hence be seen as a archetypal wizard. There are other practitioners of magic in Tolkien's books, especially among the elves, and though they aren't referred to as wizards in the books, maybe Bilbo conflated all magic-users as wizards. Also, the men that Sauron gave rings to all "became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old." (including the Witch-King of Angmar), and hence might also be called wizards, although of a darker type than Gandalf.

I believe, but cannot prove, that Tolkien originally saw Gandalf and the other wizards as rather generic wizards, namely humans who have studied magic for ages (as befits their description as old men), but later retconned them to be Maiar. It is however fairly certain that he never intended wizards to be at all common, since even in the Hobbit, only two are mentioned (Gandalf and Radagast), in spite of the geographic scope of the story. They have, however, been around long enough for experiences about their habits giving ground to sayings.

  • 1
    There is at least one major flaw here, in that Tolkien never saw magic as something that could be studied, but something that was inherited. – Edlothiad May 2 '18 at 14:54
  • 10
    @edlothiad My impression was that studied skill in the use inherited magic was something that made sense in the legendarium. Take as examples the name Curunír for a prominent wizard, or Annatar's guise as a teacher of the secrets of forging magic rings to the Elves. – Racheet May 2 '18 at 16:21
  • 1
    @Edlothiad That doesn't seem to be entirely true; see this section of the Wikipedia article about the Blue Wizards. – Kenny Evitt May 2 '18 at 17:44
  • 1
    @Racheet your impression would be going against Tolkien’s word then. – Edlothiad May 2 '18 at 21:25
  • 3
    @Edlothiad can you link some references for such "Tolkien's word"? – jean May 3 '18 at 16:22
19

There is significant evidence scattered throughout Tolkien's works that magic was originally intended to be widespread in Middle Earth. Here are some examples from The Lord of the Rings that show that ordinary people were expected to have both witnessed and wielded magic.

  • In the introduction, when discussing Hobbits:

    Hobbits have never, in fact, studied magic of any kind

  • When Frodo vanishes in front of Bree tavern patrons:

    It was plain that many people regarded them now as the companions of a traveling magician of unknown powers and purpose.

  • In describing the backstory of the Witch-King; notice that he is described as being a sorcerer prior to receiving the ring:

    A great king and sorcerer he was of old, and now he wields a deadly fear.

  • Gandalf discusses opening spells at the gate of Moria, implying that he was not the author of them. Notably, they are in the languages of races of mortals.

    'I once knew every spell in all the tongues of Elves or Men or Orcs, that was ever used for such a purpose. ...'

  • Galadriel, being an elf, sees magic somewhat differently and implies that her kind of magic should be regarded as separate from that of Sauron's forces:

    This is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy.

However, there's just enough ambiguity that you can retcon every instance. Hobbits did not study magic because it doesn't exist. Bree's tavern patrons are superstitious fools. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien implies the Nine Men got their sorcery from the Nine despite the contrary implication in the quote. Perhaps the "spells" used in mortal tongues were just passwords to activate Elven or Enemy artifacts.

Galadriel's quote then encapsulates this (apparently) later view of Tolkien that there are actually three kinds of "magic" that are really quite different: the Art of the Elves, the deceits of the Enemy and the Wizardry of the Istari. He expands on this in Letter #155:

'magic' in this story is ... not to be come by by 'lore' or spells; but is in an inherent power not possessed or attainable by Men as such.

But apparently he was aware of the plot holes this view produces for scribbled in the margin he added:

But the Numenoreans used "spells" in making swords?

I don't believe there is any way to resolve this tension between the works as written and the later evolution of authorial intent, but initially it seems it was intended for wizards to be much more common.

  • 1
    The question is about Wizards, not magic, where the word “wizard” is a translation from the Elvish “Istar” (I believe Quenya, May have been Sindarin). As such, while interesting your post doesn’t really answer the question at hand. Magic users in the legendarium were not synonymous with wizards, this is covered in various places in the Letters. – Edlothiad May 3 '18 at 14:47
  • 6
    On the contrary, the question is concerned with "wizards" lowercase, meaning magic-users rather than "Wizards" uppercase meaning Istari. – Xerxes May 3 '18 at 15:47
  • 2
    Another relevant quote: Beorn stated Radagast was "not a bad fellow as wizards go". Which of the other five Istari would Beorn be referring to here? He didn't say "not a bad fellow compared to Gandalf". Unless he meant the Necromancer (Sauron), but I don't think Sauron could be called a wizard. – RobertF May 3 '18 at 17:21
  • 2
    @RobertF Or Beorn is just calling Saruman a jerk in a really passive-aggressive way. ;-) – Xerxes May 4 '18 at 17:57
  • Something else to consider: if non-Istari wizards or magicians were widespread in Middle Earth, they cannot have been powerful enough to change the history of Middle Earth or else Tolkien would have mentioned them. Perhaps there were magicians with some innate talent but they only mastered a handful of spells. Maybe the upcoming Amazon series will feature a non-Istari "traveling magician" or two. – RobertF May 4 '18 at 19:19
17

Also, consider the flexibility of language. While we know of five (capital W) 'Wizards', it's entirely likely that the term itself would be used flexibly/loosely of magic-users in general (the exercise of magical power in Middle-Earth is not limited to the canonical Istari, in fact in 'Concerning Hobbits' Tolkien specifically draws attention to their lack of magical ability - and ability gained through study, let it be noted). In this case, it's plausible that common lore and phrases would make reference to (small W) 'wizards' without necessarily implying knowledge of the five Wizards.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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