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Gildor says to Frodo: “But it is said: Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.”

He speaks as if the Elves have experience with many Wizards. It is later established that there are exactly five, of whom at most three are of possible concern to Frodo; and of those three, “quick to anger” does not seem to fit what little we know of Radagast.

Should we infer that, when he wrote this chapter, Tolkien had not yet decided who the Wizards were?

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    Maybe he's saying "I may act like a fairly easy-going guy, but don't push me."
    – DavidW
    Dec 18, 2019 at 22:35
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    The Wizards are probably at least clever enough to put the idea in people's heads that maybe they shouldn't be screwed with. Add to that, Saruman and Gandalf were probably also smart enough to keep their limited numbers - and the fact that three had buggered off - to themselves or to those they deemed important enough to know.
    – Radhil
    Dec 18, 2019 at 22:55
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    @DavidW Gildor is speaking of Gandalf, not of himself. Dec 19, 2019 at 0:55
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    Radagast doesn't really appear in the story, so we don't know what he's like. He could very well be quick to anger when dealing with people. Same goes for the Blue Wizards. Saruman can be quite unpleasant. And I'm pretty sure Gandalf gets snippy a few times.
    – Misha R
    Dec 19, 2019 at 3:04
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    @MishaR Fool of a Took!
    – Lexible
    Dec 20, 2019 at 2:32

1 Answer 1

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When Tolkien first wrote this chapter that line wasn't there, but it was added shortly afterwards in Mid-October to December 1938.

(Note: all dates in this answer are taken from the chronology in Hammond & Scull's JRR Tolkien Companion and Guide)

When this chapter (then called "Three’s Company and Four’s More") was originally written in February/March 1938, Gildor is already hesitant to give unguarded advice, but the exchange of proverbs isn't there in either the manuscript or typescript versions.

‘Dear me! It is all very mysterious. It is like solving riddles. But I have always heard that talking to Elves is like that.’
‘It is,’laughed Gildor. ‘And Elves seldom give advice; but when they do, it is good. I have advised you to go to Rivendell with speed and care. Nothing else that I could tell you would make that advice any better.
The History of Middle-earth VI - The Return of the Shadow

In August 1938, Tolkien went back and rewrote the earlier chapters, retitleing this one to "Delays are Dangerous". Further changes to this chapter were made at two different periods over the rest of this year, eventually retitling it the final form of "Three is Company". Christopher does not include the passage in question in his presentation of any of these changes, but the manuscript collection at Marquette shows that the line wasn't added until the 'Third Phase' version, written Mid-October to December 1938.

Tolkien's writings about wizards from 1938

Most of Tolkien's thoughts about the Istari came from a much later stage in the writing of The Lord of the Rings. I don't think we even have any meta discussion from him before then, but we can look at some of the earlier mentions in the text.

In the first draft of Frodo (then Bingo) meeting Strider (then Trotter), written in September 1938, Strider refers to "wizards" in the plural.

‘O yes you do,’ said Trotter. ‘But we had better wait till the uproar has died down. Then, if you don’t mind, Mr Bolger-Baggins, I should like a quiet word with you.’
‘What about?’ said Bingo, pretending not to notice the sudden use of his proper name. ‘O, wizards, and that sort of thing,’ said Trotter with a grin. ‘You’ll hear something to your advantage.’ ‘Very well,’ said Bingo. ‘I’ll see you later.’
The History of Middle-earth VI - The Return of the Shadow

In the third draft of the Frodo waking up at Rivendell, also written in September 1938, Gandalf says that Sauron has "wizards" under his employ. This also stays when Tolkien rewrites the chapter in December.

Because these horses are born and bred to the service of the Dark Lord in Mordor. Not all his servants and chattels are wraiths! There are orcs and goblins, there are wargs and werewolves; and there have been and still are many kings, warriors and wizards, that walk alive under the Sun, and yet are under his sway. And their number is growing daily.
The History of Middle-earth VI - The Return of the Shadow (reconstructed from Christopher's notes)

In the first draft of the second chapter (then titled "Ancient History" and only written around October 1938 after Tolkien had already gotten to Rivendell), Gandalf likewise lists "wizards" as some of the original sources of the nazgul.

‘But all the Nine Rings of Men have gone back to Sauron, and borne with them their possessors, kings, warriors, and wizards of old, who became Ring-wraiths and served the maker, and were his most terrible servants. Men indeed have most often been under his dominion, and are now again throughout the middle-earth falling under his power, especially in the East and South of the world, where the Elves are few.’
The History of Middle-earth VI - The Return of the Shadow

It was not until August 1940 that Tolkien conceived of Saruman and assigned colors to the wizards, and it wasn't until 1941 or 1942 that Tolkien first wrote that Wizards were emissaries from Valinor.

The page that I give first begins with the note 'Wizards = Angels', and this same note is found on the other two pages also. I take it to be the first appearance in written record of this conception, i.e. that the Istari or Wizards were angeloi, 'messengers', emissaries from the Lords of the West.
The History of Middle-earth VII - The Treason of Isengard

So yes, it would seem that at the time Tolkien wrote the exchange with Gildor he had not yet decided on who the wizards were.

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    Yikes, it would have been a very different story and hard to take seriously if the ring bearer's name (o) was Bingo.
    – JK.
    Jun 22, 2021 at 1:59
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    I find the use of "O, wizards..." amusing: but for the comma it looks like he is addressing a group of wizards. Today it would of course be "Oh, wizards...". Jun 24, 2021 at 12:24

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