Gandalf, who is ever-quotable is well known for saying:

A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.

I often cite this to re-assure my friends who're being harsh on themselves for being late or behind on some goal.

But one friend retorted, that "That's a lie. He left the hobbits waiting in Bree, when he was delayed by his meeting with Saruman,"

So I'm wondering what are all the other times where Gandalf was late or early, either in The Hobbit or the main trilogy. I'll accept answers including scenes from the movie, but only if they focus on the books.

For the sake of the question, I'm interested in where, from an outside perspective, Gandalf said or implied he'd be somewhere at a fixed time and wasn't there roughly on time – whether deliberate on his part or not.

  • 74
    He was the "late" Gandalf the Grey after his fight with the Balrog ☜(゚ヮ゚☜) May 31, 2023 at 10:31
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    The premise is a bit problematic since according to Gandalf he just isn't "late". We might see his expression as a lame/funny excuse, but it may also point to a deeper understanding of fate than the hobbits (or we) are capable of. The same it's not clear if leaving the hobbits alone in Bree wasn't the best thing to do in the longer scheme of things and thereby also part of a "bigger plan". It really comes down to the definition of "late". We might naively assume "late" according to anyone else, but even then I'd strongly hesitate to construe that as Gandalf lieing, as your friend did.
    – TARS
    May 31, 2023 at 10:40
  • 7
    Gríma: "Late is the hour in which this conjurer chooses to appear." -- The Two Towers
    – user143126
    May 31, 2023 at 12:23
  • 15
    By his own admission, Gandalf was too late to save Thrain, or to retrieve the last of the Seven (The Council of Elrond). May 31, 2023 at 13:35
  • 3
    I'm amused by the thought of Gandalf being delayed because he met with Sauron. "Yeah the Dark Lord just went on and on about ring this and Nazgul that and Gondor blah blah orcs. Ugh! So yeah that's why I was late." He went to meet with Saruman, who betrayed and imprisoned Gandalf. May 31, 2023 at 14:27

2 Answers 2


It's hard to catch Gandalf on this, because he'll just retort the second half of the line, that whenever he came actually was when he meant to come.

So you'll have up look for places where Gandalf himself admits to coming at the wrong time.

Gandalf claims that this only happened once, when he failed to meet Frodo at the agreed time.

And that, Frodo, is the end of my account. May Elrond and the others forgive the length of it. But such a thing has not happened before, that Gandalf broke tryst and did not come when he promised. An account to the Ring-bearer of so strange an event was required, I think.
The Lord of the Rings - Book II, Chapter 2 - "The Council of Elrond"

  • 6
    Seeing as the Istari are basically angelic beings, he might even be right about the second half of the line.
    – Kevin
    Jun 1, 2023 at 3:28
  • 2
    What event was this? Was it when he failed to meet Frodo in Bree?
    – Skooba
    Jun 1, 2023 at 12:37
  • 3
    @Skooba Yes, since he was held prisoner by Saruman.
    – Amarth
    Jun 1, 2023 at 16:32
  • 1
    @Skooba - The plan was actually to meet Frodo in Hobbiton, but yes.
    – ibid
    Jun 1, 2023 at 18:37

We don't know how he portrays the situation to Saruman and the White Council, but Gandalf is late for their assembly when it comes time to drive Sauron out of Dol Guldur. He tells Thorin and Company as much before he sends them into Mirkwood in chapter 7 ("Queer Lodgings) of The Hobbit:

I have, as I told you, some pressing business away south; and I am already late through bothering with you people. We may meet again before all is over, and then again of course we may not. That depends on your luck and on your courage and sense; and I am sending Mr. Baggins with you.

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