In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers after becoming Gandalf the White, Gandalf cast Saruman from the Order and the Council. He also got the power to break Saruman's staff, which was very powerful.

So when Saruman captured Gandalf the Grey on Orthanc, why didn't Saruman do the same? He meant to find the One Ring's location from Gandalf. He could have broken Gandalf's staff, thereby decreasing Gandalf's power.

  • 16
    I always assumed he wanted to turn Gandalf to join his cause. If Gandalf would lose his wand, he wouldn't be as useful. I got nothing to back that up though.
    – Mixxiphoid
    Nov 28, 2018 at 7:25
  • @Mixxiphoid He could get the One Ring's location from him. That could be done without his staff.
    – Fiddler
    Nov 28, 2018 at 11:55
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    Do we have reason to believe that Saruman did not break or confiscate Gandalf's staff, and Gandalf just picked up a new one in Rivendell after his escape from the roof? There is also the question of Gandalf's sword, Glamdring; is he not carrying it when he has his encounter with Saruman? In the movie it is on his horse, which is not Shadowfax, so why doesn't Saruman now have Glamdring? Nov 28, 2018 at 14:42
  • Somewhat related scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/85706/…
    – RedBaron
    Nov 29, 2018 at 4:43
  • Because he underestimated him? Nov 30, 2018 at 9:32

7 Answers 7


A wizard's staff is symbolic rather than a source of actual power, and so breaking a wizard's staff has no effect on the wizard's power.

How do we know this? Because Gandalf was able to defeat the Balrog without his staff.

At that moment Gandalf lifted his staff, and crying aloud he smote the bridge before him. The staff broke asunder and fell from his hand.

This was before his battle with the Balrog.

Saruman therefore didn't break Gandalf's staff because there was no need for him to do so and also because doing so would not have accomplished anything.

  • 15
    @Asif Iqubal: Symbolism, both for the good guys and to make the point to Saruman himself. While breaking Saruman's staff had no effect on Saruman's powers, it did make the point to S. that Gandalf, not he, was the more powerful. Remember, that Gandalf still hoped for S.'s redemption and aid in the fight against Sauron. Saruman understanding that he had lost his position as Chief Wizard was a necessary step in that direction. It also made the point to Rohan, the Ents and everyone else that Gandalf had changed. (Remember that G. was not allowed to lead by domination, people had to follow.)
    – Mark Olson
    Nov 28, 2018 at 12:56
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    I disagree. If Gandalf's staff was decorative, why did it broke after demolishing Moria bridge? Why did Gandalf insist to retain his staff during audience with Theoden? Nov 28, 2018 at 13:11
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    +1 on @user1643723; Gandalf needed to trick/convince the guards into letting him keep his staff in Edoras. He defeated the Balrog using his sword (and the cold waters).
    – molnarm
    Nov 28, 2018 at 13:28
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    Certainly a wizard doesn't need his staff to perform magic...but that doesn't mean the staff is symbolic. Anymore than the elven rings were symbolic. Clearly these staves are important to these wizards, and equally clearly, Gandalf is empowered to break Saruman's stuff in a way that Saruman was not so empowered. The wizard's staff is a vestment of authority, and the source of that authority comes from the Valar and ultimately, Illuvatar. and as Saruman was corrupt and fallen, authority was granted to Mithrandir. So I've always read between the lines, anyway.
    – nunya
    Nov 28, 2018 at 15:28
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    The breaking of Saruman's staff serves to excommunicate him. It is a withdrawal of Saruman's divine authority, enacted by Gandalf, as the loyal earthly agent of the Valar.
    – nunya
    Nov 28, 2018 at 15:30

Presumably because Gandalf was sent back by the Powers with greater power specifically for the purpose of fulfilling the role that Saruman had forsaken, to contest Sauron.

From The Two Towers (emphasis mine):

Naked I was sent back - for a brief time, until my task is done.

Then to Saruman later:

'Come back, Saruman!' Gandalf said in a commanding voice. To the amazement of the others, Saruman turned back as if dragged against his will...

Since the Istari were Maiar, an increase in power would only have come from some greater being (i.e. Ilúvatar) so Gandalf is able to do what he did to Saruman (a reversal of their earlier position) because he is an agent of a greater Power still, and was granted that authority by his divine master.

  • 4
    Nitpick: Gandalf was not brought back by the valar but by Eru Ilúvatar himself.
    – Rad80
    Nov 28, 2018 at 22:02
  • @Rad80 do you have a source? I don't recall that in the books/appendicies/silmarilion but I haven't read any of the other books (e.g. unfinished tales). Nov 28, 2018 at 22:14
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    It's in Tolkien's letters, I found out from this answer: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/109214/…
    – Rad80
    Nov 28, 2018 at 22:17
  • @Rad80 thanks, edited. Nov 29, 2018 at 12:28

I always saw sundering said staff as simply a sign of supremacy.

Saruman already outranked Gandalf when he defeated him. Breaking Gandalf's staff wouldn't serve any additional purpose; the higher-ranking wizard should have been expected to win anyway.

When Gandalf later defeats Saruman, Gandalf breaks the staff as a symbol that his power has become greater, and he assumes the dominant rank.

As to the staffs themselves... I think a wizard does gain benefit from their staff, but it's not because of power in the staff itself. It's merely the benefit you get from a tool that has become comfortable with long use, but still one you could make again if need be.


Poetry and drama. Gandalf's line, "Saruman, your staff is broken," is the only quote I remember from The Two Towers. It is not a direct command, it is as just as much a comment on how the positions have changed between these two wizards as well as destructive magic.

The storyline now apparently finishes with Saruman and the struggle for Middle-earth now turns towards Mordor.

  • 1
    This, appears, to be an answer from an out of universe perspective whereas I got the impression the OP was after in universe answers. This is of course fine as an answer just though it was worth mentioning.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Nov 28, 2018 at 13:37
  • newbie here, thank you for a very the polite description of my post. Admiring the prose and atmosphere is the main way I enjoy Tolkien otherwise I just wonder why Frodo could not have made the outward journey by deus ex machina eagles. Dec 1, 2018 at 13:59

Saruman didn't break the staff, because he managed to take it whole from Gandalf and kept it (check out the end of the fight where Saruman has both staffs).

When Gandalf flees Orthanc he does so without his staff (revisit the scene here) and later on gets another staff. This differs in the films from the books. The accounts of how he gets another staff in the movie universe differ a bit and maybe this is worth a separate question, but he clearly loses his staff in the fight with Saruman.

Somewhat authoritative sources for this answer are this IMDB FAQ (check out How did Gandalf get his staff back from Saruman? He simply leaps off of Orthanc without it) and the Lotr wiki.

The flight scene also shows that Saruman still hoped he could turn Gandalf until that moment, so it was reasonable to keep his staff intact, but out of reach of Gandalf. Also note that in the movie universe, wizards obviously can make use of the staffs of other wizards (perhaps less efficiently). So, even if he would not convince Gandalf it might be prudent to keep the staff just like you might keep a spare sword around, if you have it anyway.

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    are we certain OP is asking about the films? Seems like it's re: the books
    – NKCampbell
    Nov 28, 2018 at 19:32
  • @NKCampbell good point, for some reason I assumed it was clearly the movies, but you are right, there is no specific indication in that regard. Will see if I can later extend for the books. Nov 28, 2018 at 20:28
  • The last paragraph is the key part here, +1. Saruman wanted Gandalf's help and hoped he would come around after a night thinking about the looming alternative. Nov 29, 2018 at 14:30

It appears, from The Lord of the Rings books, that a wizard's staff is a method of channelling their respective energies.

For instance, in The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1:

..."The figure lifted his arms and a light flashed from the staff that he wielded. A mighty eagle swept down and bore him away."...

In Book 2:

..."...he thrust the end of his staff into the midst of it. At once a great spout of green and blue flame sprang out,..."

There are also many mentions of Gandalf lighting the way through Moria using his staff, and guiding the party (using the staff as a beacon).

As pointed out by Victim of Circumstance, Gandalf strikes the bridge with his power, most likely channelled through his staff to a point of force at the staff's end, so much power that it destroyed the staff. user1643723 is absolutely right in his comment - there is a power there, but maybe not within the staff itself.

Later, in The Two Towers, Book 3, we find Gandalf in Edoras. Háma states:

"The staff in the hand of a wizard may be more than just a prop for age."

There are many more references to the power of the staff throughout the books (a Kindle is a great resource!).

So, it could be that the wizard's staff is more than just an emblem of power - it could be a conduit to channel such power to a fine point, or a focus to bring that power to bear.


It might be that Saruman, possessing the staff of Gandalf, could have more control over him. While Gandalf broke his staff since he did not care about having control over Saruman.

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