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Everyone is familiar with Gandalf being described as "Gandalf the Grey", or, later, "Gandalf the White", and he was shown in both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies as being dressed from head-to-toe in the respective color. He was always dressed from head-to-toe in either grey or white (and sometimes seen with white sneakers on in the movies.) However, in The Hobbit book, in Chapter 1: An Unexpected Party, it describes Gandalf's attire as the following:

He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which his long white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots.

Obviously, he wasn't wearing completely grey attire, only partially.

My question: Was he originally intended to be a sort of piebald Wizard, possibly before Tolkien created the concept of colored Wizards (Grey Wizard, White Wizard, Blue Wizards)? Or was he meant to be dressed in only partially grey?

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  • 8
    And The Hobbit definitely predates Tolkien's notion of the Istari as wizards set from the West to provide aid against Sauron.
    – Buzz
    Jul 14, 2021 at 0:14
  • 3
    Sneakers, really? Where?
    – Wade
    Jul 14, 2021 at 2:55
  • 2
    Important clue: When did Tolkien come up with the name Mithrandir (Grey Pilgrim)?
    – Annatar
    Jul 14, 2021 at 5:24
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    When the Hobbit was written, and the concept of the Istari didn't exist, it's likely he was just a Man whose profession happened to be that of a wizard. His clothes being described with certain colours fits with the varying colours of the dwarves' clothes at the unexpected party, and it's a very fairytale element to point out all the various colours of the hats of a large ensemble cast. Jul 14, 2021 at 8:10
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    I never thought that the wizards could only wear clothes in their color. For instance I never assumed Radagast only wore brown. Jul 14, 2021 at 13:52

1 Answer 1

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Tolkien did not envision his wizards as wearing monochromatic outfits.

Towards the end of his life, circa 1970, Tolkien wrote an essay describing the appearance of the fellowship, in response to seeing a Pauline Baynes poster that he disliked.

Gandalf’s hat was wide-brimmed with a pointed conical crown, and it was blue; he wore a long grey cloak, but this would not reach much below his knees. It was of an elven silver-grey hue, though tarnished by wear – as is evident from the general use of grey in the book . . . But his colours were always white, silver-grey, and blue – except for the boots he wore when walking in the wild
Bodlien MSS Tolkien B61 a, fol. 1-31, quoted in The History of the Hobbit - "Bladorthin"

It should also be noted that the original inspiration for Gandalf was the Der Berggeist painting by Josef Madlener. (Humphrey Carpenter notes that "Tolkien preserved this postcard carefully, and long afterwards he wrote on the paper cover in which he kept it: 'Origin of Gandalf'".) The man depicted in the painting is not monochromatic either.

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Der Berggeist (c 1920s) by Josef Madlener

Tolkien writes about this painting:

The Berggeist has a green hat, and a scarlet cloak, blue stockings and light shoes. I altered the colours of hat and cloak to suit Gandalf, a wanderer in the wild, but I have no doubt that when at ease in a house he wore light blue stockings and shoes.
Bodlien MSS Tolkien B61 a, fol. 1-31, quoted in The Nature of Middle-earth

Furthermore, there was no stage in which Tolkien ever referred to Gandalf as "Gandalf the Blue". The passage cited from The Hobbit dates back (with one or two minor changes) to 1929, eleven years before the first appearance "Saramund the Grey" in an August 1940 outline to The Lord of the Rings. However the first color Tolkien associated with Gandalf was "the Grey".

A notable feature is the evolution of the 'colours' of the wizards, Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast, which came to the final form in the course of the writing of this draft. Saruman is at first 'the Grey', becoming at once 'the White', and Radagast immediately takes on the epithet 'Grey'. But Gandalf then becomes 'the Grey', and Saruman calls Radagast 'the Brown'
The History of Middle-earth volume VII - The Treason of Isengard - Commentary to the fourth version of The Council of Elrond

Gandalf's appearance predates the concept of colored wizards, but Tolkien stuck to it even afterwards, and insisted that Gandalf should be drawn that way for Lord of the Rings art as well.

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    Wow, thank you for the comprehensive answer! Seems Gandalf was ahead of his time. Jul 14, 2021 at 18:32
  • Does that last quote imply that Radagast got upgraded to the Grey after Gandalf got his promotion?
    – Zip Zap J
    Aug 2, 2021 at 20:10
  • @ZipZapJ - It is referring to the sequence of Tolkien editing the manuscript, not to anything happening in-universe.
    – ibid
    Aug 3, 2021 at 8:00

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