In the 1977, animated version of 'The Hobbit' we see Gandalf appear out of nowhere in front of Bag End and again as they travel to Rivendell.

Can Gandalf really appear out of nowhere in Tolkiens Books?

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    IMO those comics were the worst things ever relating to Lord of the Rings – The Fallen Jul 7 '12 at 15:57
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    Perhaps he's just especially sneaky? – Adele C Jul 7 '12 at 22:56
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    @SSumner Hop on YouTube and do a search of Leonard Nimoy's rendition of the Ballad of Bilbo Baggins. That may change your mind. – dlanod Jul 10 '12 at 12:16
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    @dlanod Hahahaha loved it :D – 202 Jul 10 '12 at 12:25
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    @dlanod even my daughter (seven) said, ugh mom! Why are you watching THAT after it had been playing for about ten seconds. – balanced mama Nov 30 '13 at 22:56

No, nowhere in the books does Gandalf appear out of nowhere or use invisibility to hide. Bilbo does this a number of times in both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, Frodo a few times (obviously using the One Ring in both cases), but not Gandalf.

  • Is Bilbo wearing the ring when he disappear? – 202 Jul 7 '12 at 12:30
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    Yes, this is confirmed by Gandalf when he meets up with Bilbo. – dlanod Jul 7 '12 at 12:34
  • in fact it is mentioned explicitly that Bilbo is fingering the ring just before he disappears, and later that he slips it from his finger after he disappeared, just before putting it in the letter he prepared for Frodo. – jwenting May 31 '13 at 6:36
  • But this is incorrect. Re-read Over Hill and Under-Hill in the Hobbit. – balanced mama Nov 30 '13 at 23:08

During The Hobbit, Gandalf vanished without a trace right before the encounter with the trolls; nobody from Thorin's companions noticed this until they thought about asking him for help. Later he was able to follow the orcs who had captured Thorin's company down the tunnels of Goblin-town. Finally, moments before the Battle of Five Armies:

Suddenly without a signal they sprang silently forward to attack. Bows twanged and arrows whistled; battle was about to be joined. Still more suddenly a darkness came on with dreadful swiftness! A black cloud hurried over the sky. Winter thunder on a wild wind rolled roaring up and rumbled in the Mountain, and lightning lit its peak. And beneath the thunder another blackness could be seen whirling forward; but it did not come with the wind, it came from the North, like a vast cloud of birds, so dense that no light could be seen between their wings.

"Halt!" cried Gandalf, who appeared suddenly, and stood alone, with arms uplifted, between the advancing dwarves and the ranks awaiting them. "Halt!" he called in a voice like thunder, and his staff blazed forth with a flash like the lightning. "Dread has come upon you all! Alas! it has come more swiftly than I guessed. The Goblins are upon you! Bolg of the North is coming. O Dain! whose father you slew in Moria. Behold! the bats are above his army like a sea of locusts. They ride upon wolves and Wargs are in their train!" Amazement and confusion fell upon them all. Even as Gandalf had been speaking the darkness grew. The dwarves halted and gazed at the sky. The elves cried out with many voices."

This was presumably accomplished by a combination of stealth and some illusion magic (how else can one explain that whole armies advancing on each other didn't notice an old grey man before them?).

  • It was all done with smoke and--wait, Gandalf probably wasn't a master of mirrors. :-) – Paul A. Clayton May 31 '13 at 2:15
  • indeed Paul, mirror magic being generally regarded in fantasy work as dark magic :) – jwenting May 31 '13 at 6:39
  • @jwenting is it? So Galadriel was evil even without the One Ring? – leftaroundabout Jun 1 '13 at 17:48
  • @leftaroundabout she didn't use mirror magic, she used water and plants. If it was called Galadriel's mirror, that was because it provided a mirror into the viewer's mind :) – jwenting Jun 4 '13 at 5:41
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    "There was a terrific flash of lightning in the cave and a smell like gunpowder" (Over Hill and Under Hill, The Hobbit) He did vanish, but not quite "without a trace" +1 – balanced mama Nov 30 '13 at 23:03

Gandalf-as-Olorin is a Maia; he certainly doesn't need trinkets such as rings (or even Rings) to be invisible:

Moreover their shape comes of their knowledge of the visible World, rather than of the World itself; and they need it not, save only as we use raiment, and yet we may be naked and suffer no loss of our being. Therefore the Valar may walk, if they will, unclad, and then even the Eldar cannot clearly perceive them, though they be present.

Sourced from the Ainulindale, and although it specifically refers to the Valar, we may assume that the same capability is present in the Maiar - we see one similar example in Chapter 11:

Too bright were the eyes of Arien for even the Eldar to look on, and leaving Valinor she forsook the form and raiment which like the Valar she had worn there...

What about Olorin-as-Gandalf? Again in the Silmarillion, this time in the Valaquenta, we read the following:

for though he loved the Elves, he walked among them unseen, or in form as one of them, and they did not know whence came the fair visions or the promptings of wisdom that he put into their hearts. 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.

So it seems that invisibility is most definitely something he's capable of, even when constrained in his form as Gandalf.

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    Agree with everything until the last line "even when constrained in his form as Gandalf". The Istari were subject to the demands of their bodies (hunger, thirst, weariness etc) and surely visibility must be included. – TheMathemagician May 31 '13 at 8:28
  • I'd concede that, yeah, it's a weak conclusion – user8719 May 31 '13 at 22:12
  • Still, a stronger answer than the two that claim he never disappears in the books at all. Which is just wrong. – balanced mama Nov 30 '13 at 23:06

As dianod says, Gandalf doesn't do this anywhere in the books. It's an interesting question though whether he would be able to. We know that at least one Ring of Power - the One Ring - does have the ability to grant invisibility, at least to Hobbits. So the questions are, would the Ring that Gandalf carries, Narya, be capable of granting that power too: and, could it grant that to Gandalf or is invisibility something specific to Hobbits?

For the second question, we have the counter-example of Isildur, who was invisible until the Ring slipped off his finger after the Pelennor Fields. I've previously speculated that invisibility comes naturally to Hobbits as an extension of their natural stealth, but it's clearly not exclusive to them and we can imagine that someone as powerful as Gandalf would be able to access that power, if possible.

Which brings us back to the first question. Is Narya capable of bestowing invisibility? We don't know explicitly. It is described as having the power to inspire others to resist tyranny, but nothing about overt powers. But on the other hand, it does seem likely that invisibility was a standard power of Great Rings: Gandalf was able to identify Bilbo's ring as one simply on the basis of that, even before he knew it was the One.

So, in summary, I think Gandalf Ring would have given him the power to turn invisible, if he had wanted.

  • He may have chosen to not use this power, and this is just speculation, so that he wouldn't be revealed to Sauron. – David Roberts Aug 13 '12 at 4:39
  • Since (very) powerful rings (such as one which gives invisibility) are not common and Gandalf was rather knowledgeable, it could also be the case that Gandalf made an "educated guess" and it turned out that he was right. But I appreciate your line of reasoning. – Francesco May 30 '13 at 14:34
  • Isildur's invisibility, like Gandalf's and Frodo's, was granted by the One Ring, that much is clear. It is also mentioned explicitly that hobbits do NOT have powers of invisibility, just exceptional woodcraft skills that can make them seem invisible while standing close by, iow they're masters of hiding themselves. – jwenting May 31 '13 at 6:39

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