I want to make a comparison here between some of the most powerful beings in Middle-earth during the Third Age.

I know Sauron was the most powerful of all even when he lost the Ring, but one of the rare comparisons one can find is Galadriel vs Saruman in The Hobbit films, where Galadriel seemed to be superior and silenced him to hear what Gandalf had to say.

Also Galadriel vs. Gandalf the White, and Gandalf the White vs the Witch-king of Angmar: in the movies Gandalf seemed almost powerless against the Witch-king, which I don't think to be accurate?

Is there some kind of 'rank' of power amongst these powerful entities?

  • 11
    What are you trying to achieve with this comparison, which is very artificial and non-constructive? "Power" is a very vague metric, and you can probably make a case for many different and conflicting answers. Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 5:55
  • @AvnerShahar-Kashtan I agree, but the reason i asked this is for the fact that I haven't read the books which is quite unfortunate, I know :((. So I thought maybe someone would point out something I don't know about, from outside the movies. particularly because I read many times all around, about the Nazgul not actually defeating Gandalf as demonstrated in the movies, so it might have came from there.
    – Force
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 7:12
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    The Witch-King was a man once and will die without the sustaining power of his ring. Gandalf is far more powerful as one of the Maiar (plus bearing one of the three Elven-Rings). Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 9:00
  • 1
    @Force: it'd be good if you could edit your question to clarify what your actual question is. Are you asking who is "most powerful" out of Galadriel, Gandalf the White, Saruman and the Witch King of Angmar? Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 9:50
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    Don't rely on the movies, especially The Hobbit movie since they chose to take it o far away from the spirit of the book. That scene where Galadriel silenced Sauraman never happened.
    – Ron Smith
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 13:31

4 Answers 4


Don't rely on the movies, they're a perversion of the books at many levels.

Gandalf is an anomaly in that he chose not to use his power as a weapon more often than not (indeed I believe his main power, being knowledge and wisdom, is not in itself capable of being a weapon, can only help others create or employ weapons).

Same with Galadriel.

It is therefore impossible to say who is "more powerful" on an individual level, as the powers of the main entities are so different in nature and are thus used differently.

The Witch-king was himself a mere servant of Sauron, yet (especially without the One) Sauron was diminished and could not achieve much of anything outside of his own dominion without having such servants at his disposal.

Galadriel is in a way similar, in that she uses her power exclusively to protect and preserve her own domain of Lórien, and if I remember correctly indeed states that her power is limited to its borders (though this may be by choice rather than actual restrictions).

We see Gandalf singlehandedly taking on and defeating the Balrog, alas at the price of his own death. (From which he is resurrected, something unique in the trilogy. Even Morgoth did not manage that and he was the most powerful single entity of the second age, to whom Sauron was a mere servant.) That feat shows he is certainly on an individual level extremely powerful, yet he apparently only uses that power in self defense or in direct aid to his immediate companions. Probably this unwillingness by Gandalf, Galadriel, and others on the "good side" comes from the old adage "power corrupts", as is hinted at in several places in the books.

Sauron, the Witch-king, and after his corruption (that word again) Saruman have no such qualms of course though Saruman apparently does prefer to act through his minions rather than in person, as does even Sauron (with him however this is mostly through his lack of form, caused by the loss of the One).

On an individual level therefore, comparison of "power" is useless if not impossible, the powers are too diverse and employed differently.

  • 3
    This is the only possible correct answer. The kind of "power" being asked about here is not the kind Tolkien wrote about. Just read the books.
    – user8719
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 8:11
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    I'm not sure if "anachronism" is the right word... "Anomaly", maybe, but not "anachronism".
    – Steam
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 13:16
  • I admit it's been a few years since my last reading, but I'm pretty sure Gandalf was not resurrected, he never dies. We can even argue if he can die seeing as he is immortal (a Maia), but I don't remember his fall during the fight with the Balrog being presented as a literal death. It's just that he came back from the fight changed.
    – terdon
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 15:34
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    @terdon Although the books imply death and resurrection but do not explicitly say so, Tolkien in letter #156 is explicit: "Gandalf really 'died' and was changed." Earlier in the same letter he also writes: "Gandalf sacrificed himself, was accepted, and enhanced, and returned." This was, Tolkien also states, an act not of the "the 'gods' whose business is only with this embodied world and its time" (i.e., the Valar), but instead was an act of the "Authority" who ordained the "Rules" (Eru).
    – Rob
    Commented Apr 26, 2022 at 5:44

I would also like to point out that you are comparing different classes of beings. This is not really explained in LotR or The Hobbit, but according to The Silmarillion, you have the following main classes of entities (in descending order of importance, "power" if you want):

  1. Eru Ilúvatar, the creator. This is the ultimate power, the one who created the Ainur, who in turn created the world.

  2. The Ainur are spirits created by Eru at the beginning of time. They then sang the world into existence. The Valar are the Ainur who chose to enter the world (this list includes Manwë, Varda and Morgoth who was then known as Melkor, the original bad guy). The Ainur are the most powerful beings that are present in the world and who (at least in the first ages) play an active role in it.

  3. The Maiar, are lesser Ainur many of whom chose to serve one of the Valar. Most of the creatures of power in the third age are actually Maiar, including Sauron himself, the wizards, and the balrogs. The only exceptions are those whose powers come from the rings they bear like the Nazgûl and some "left overs" like water spirits and Tom Bombadil.

  4. Finally you have Elves. These are actual flesh and blood beings, not incarnated spirits. In any comparison of pure power (whether or not that can be made) these will be the weakest when compared to one of the Maiar, let alone the more powerful Valar. Though some, like Elrond and Galadriel, wield rings that augment their power (so does Gandalf for that matter, he was entrusted one of the elves' rings, Narya, which originally belonged to Círdan the shipwright), they are less powerful than the Maiar who are, basically, minor gods.

So, while I agree that a real comparison of power is not possible for the reasons outlined by @jwenting, if it came to an all out fight, I would root for any Maia against an Elf (though with some of the really old ring bearing elves like Galadriel there may be a contest).

  • A good breakdown of position and status Terdon.
    – Morgan
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 16:48
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    Yes, this is a good summary. The OP shouldn't use it to get the idea that Tolkien characters have anything like midichlorian (and now I must have a shower) counts though!
    – user8719
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 17:24
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    This is true in general, but sometimes it gets a bit more complicated. For example, Tolkien said in one essay (I think it was in Morgoth's Ring: "Myths Transformed") that Sauron was more powerful in the Second age than Morgoth at the end of the First, despite being, in theory, a lesser spirit. Morgoth was also half-eaten by Ungoliant, overpowered by Luthien and badly injured by Fingolfin. And probably the Witch King had similar power in the Third Age as Sauron in the First. So I would say that power is a very relativistic thing. It depends on who are you speaking about, and in what moment. Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 17:27
  • @Taylor17387 I absolutely agree. To be honest, this is just the ranking I had in my head as an adolescent boy when the single most important question was "who is the most powerful". Mind you, if memory serves, Morgoth had been severely weakened before being eaten by Ungoliant and, in any case, she was some kind of strange spirit entity that entered the world from the outside, specifically she is from "before the world".
    – terdon
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 17:33
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    "Morgoth was also half-eaten by Ungoliant, overpowered by Luthien and badly injured by Fingolfin" - quite true; Luthien (with some help from Huan) was also quite easily able to overpower Sauron in the First Age. She could be argued to have been a special case though.
    – user8719
    Commented Apr 15, 2013 at 17:33

According to his own statements: Gandalf

"'Dangerous!' cried Gandalf. 'And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet, unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord.'"

A direct comparison to the 9 was also made: "And this I also say: you are our captain and our banner. The Dark Lord has Nine. But we have One, mightier than they: the White Rider. He has passed through the fire and the abyss, and they shall fear him. We will go where he leads.'"

  • I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the conversation that Gandalf has with Frodo in the shire before he sets off for Mordor with the ring. "Don't tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it. Not even to keep it safe. Understand Frodo, I would use this Ring from a desire to do good. But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine." I feel that this is implying that if the ring of power did corrupt him, he would be more powerful than Sauron himself. I would in fact think this is believable, since the ring carries a large part of Sauron's power, an augmented Gandalf, scary!
    – John Bell
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 12:42

It's difficult to make comparisons, agreed, but in terms of native power (the power an individual naturally has in their beginnings) Sauron is supreme by the time of the Third Age in Middle-earth. However, evil is inherently wasteful and ultimately destructive of those who are enslaved to it. Thus Melkor — the most powerful being within Eä, whose original role was to begin great new works at a cosmic level — becomes little more than a dispersed husk of himself as Morgoth at the end of the First Age.

Ungoliant is one of his most ancient servants from out there in the universe, into whom he has poured a great deal of his power and who rebels against him. I don't think she ever gets around to eating him — it's the Silmarils she wants to devour. Sauron has 'not yet fallen so low, and so has not yet squandered his native power so disastrously (until the Ring is destroyed).

The Witch-king at the height of his power, at the Battle of the Pelennor, has been given extra demonic (maiaric) power by Sauron and at this point would undoubtedly be formidable but you'll remember he was still conscious of the prophecy that he would not fall by the hand of any man so I doubt he would have chosen to tangle directly with Galadriel or any other Elf lord, but would have made use of his army in the destruction of Lórien instead. How the confrontation with Gandalf would have gone I don't know — was Gandalf classed as a man here, or had Sauron not told him of Gandalf's true nature? My money would normally be on Gandalf, but there seems to be some kind of destiny at work here. Gandalf himself didn't seem sure of the outcome in his answer to Denethor.

My own feelings are that Sauron is undoubtedly most powerful of those mentioned (even without the Ring), then Gandalf, then Galadriel then the Witch-king. Saruman would have been more powerful than Gandalf the Grey (I think) but lost it somewhere along the line when he fell into evil. To sum up — power of the evil ones can be given or taken away or squandered.

Finally, someone mentioned Gandalf's resurrection. This wasn't Gandalf's doing, but Eru's. Tolkien does write though about Melkor being so mighty as to be able to draw his old, original might back to himself over long ages and make his return; hence the Dagor Dagorath.

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