In the Lord of the Rings I recall some mention of when Cirdan gives Narya to Gandalf when the Istari arrive in Middle Earth. I think it is in the appendices but I cannot recall exactly, but I remember something about him suspecting Gandalf's origins and giving him the ring to aid in the fight against Sauron.

Throughout the novel, we learn that Saruman is more powerful than Gandalf and is his superior in some way. I recall somewhere in the novel Gandalf himself confirms this when he describes Saruman as the head of his order (here I assume that when he refers to "his order" he means the Istari - please correct me if this is wrong).

This being the case, I wonder if Tolkien ever discusses in interviews or other works the reasons that Cirdan chose Gandalf over Saruman as the person to pass Narya onto. It would seem to me that without the knowledge of the events to come that Saruman would be the more natural choice if Cirdan was intent on passing on Narya to someone else.

  • 1
    Why should being head of the order have any weight in who keeps the ring? The order is the order, and Narya is Narya. Besides, Cirdan was surely smart and old enough to know that the boss isn't always the most qualified in a group. Not to mention that the most powerful often become so by actively seeking power. Not the best quality in a keeper of a ring of power.
    – Misha R
    Jul 28, 2015 at 16:27
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    Cirdan is always Wright. Jun 8, 2018 at 14:00
  • Well, perhaps he had some shipping in mind... May 22, 2020 at 11:57

5 Answers 5


Someone who has access to the books can provide the exact quote. But somewhere in the appendices there is a quote that goes something like this: "Cirdan, who could see deeper than anyone else in Middle Earth" saw that Olorin (Gandalf) was the better bearer for the ring. There is also a quote from Cirdan, something like "take this ring, as it will help you in your efforts".

I guess I should keep a copy of the books at work :)

Appendix B (The Tale of Years), fourth paragraph under the heading The Third Age:

Throughout the Third Age the guardianship of the Three Rings was known only to those who possessed them. But at the end it became known that they had been held at first by the three greatest of the Eldar: Gil-Galad, Galadriel and Círdan. The ring of Gil-Galad was given by him to Elrond; but Círdan surrendered his to Mithrandir. For Círdan saw further and deeper than any other in Middle-earth, and he welcomed Mithrandir at the Grey Havens, knowing whence he came and whither he would return.
"Take this ring, Master," he said, "for your labours will be heavy**; but it will support you in the weariness that you have taken upon yourself. For this is the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill. But as for me, my heart is with the Sea, and I will dwell by the grey shores until the last ship sails. I will await you."

  • The quote was something along the lines of using it to warm the hearts of men
    – The Fallen
    Apr 19, 2013 at 21:08
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    "Take now this Ring," he said; "for thy labours and thy cares will be heavy, but in all it will support thee and defend thee from weariness. For this is the Ring of Fire, and herewith, maybe, thou shalt rekindle hearts to the valour of old in a world that grows chill"
    – WOPR
    Apr 20, 2013 at 8:05
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    +1. Saruman may have been more powerful, but Gandalf was the right one for the ring. Remember that Saruman was more aloof, whereas Gandalf travelled among the people of Middle Earth and was close to them, so the ring, with its power to rekindle hearts, would be more useful to him. Apr 20, 2013 at 15:09
  • Excellent point to find the rekindling hearts quote. I think this falls perfectly in line with how Tolkien portrayed Gandalf having researched a bit more. He was the wisest of the Maiar, who listened to Eru's song for the longest and learned of pity, patience and compassion for the beings of middle earth. Something I feel that Saruman probably didn't acquire, since he did fall to corruption and greed. So it's not as straight forward as "the most powerful should have a ring of power", it's more to do with, who would utilise the power of a ring best with his actions.
    – John Bell
    Jul 21, 2015 at 8:56

Cirdan gives Gandalf his ring because

"from their first meeting at the Grey Havens [Cirdan] divined in [Gandalf] the greatest spirit and the wisest; and he welcomed him with reverence, and he gave to his keeping the Third Ring, Narya the Red.", Unfinished Tales, The Istari (called by C. Tolkien, "essay on the Istari").

In his editorial comments immediately following the essay, C. Tolkien notes "Cirdan's perception that Gandalf was the greatest of [the Istari]".

However, in a late note (possibly from 1972, cited soon after in the same chapter), Tolkien writes that Gandalf was "evidently the next in order" below Saruman in "Valinorean stature". Like other puzzles in LotR, when the foregoing is taken together with statements elsewhere that Saruman was the greatest of the Istari (e.g., Two Towers III 8 - "chief of Wizards", Fellowship II 2 - at Council, Gandalf: "Saruman ... is the greatest of my order") the answer tends be to unclear. Even so, Cirdan sees something in Gandalf greater, wiser, and more worthy than Saruman. In hindsight, Cirdan was right in perceiving that Gandalf would remain true to his purpose, while Saruman would not.


Cirdan was the wisest of the Elves, granted great wisdom by the Valar.

Unfortunately, it also seems he was a bit of a Cassandra. He counseled Celebrimbor about not trusting Annatur (Sauron), counseled Isildur to destroy the ring after the battle where Sauron, Gil-Galad, and Elendil fell, and warned Thingol of the Kinslaying. All these counsels were ignored.


Saruman's talents lie in superior strength and power as well as wise and stern council, Gandalf's strengths are less in raw power but in inspiring the hearts of the free people's and unifying them with strategy and manipulation for the greater good.

Circan might have seen this and saw that strength of the people's hearts and hope is more valuable in defeating evil than the awesome power of Saruman. Narya's power can ignite people's hearts and Circan was likely able to see it would best serve Gandalf's talents and ultimately best ensure the free people's defeat of Sauron. Ultimately he saw unity and hope in the people's hearts as stronger than raw power and authority.

  • That makes sense! :) And welcome to the site! :) There's a tour and guidelines if you're interested! :)
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    Circan > Cirdan. I can't edit your spelling since there's not enough to fix.
    – Clay
    Jul 15, 2018 at 16:57

Great answers above, but I'd like to address that you think Saruman was greater than Gandalf. The Valar did not all agree Saruman should lead the Istari, so his superiority was never certain (see the excellent discussion here).

Also they are both great in their own way, like all the wizards. Saruman may have been too like Sauron and led to his straying from the mission (see Corruption of Saruman here).

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    Do you have any quote to support your statement about Saruman? Jul 27, 2015 at 19:08
  • Which statement? If the first see scifi.stackexchange.com/a/48390/47278
    – Clay
    Jul 28, 2015 at 15:05
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    your whole answer. I mean, I know it's true and it can be found in the books, but it's highly recommended to quote your answers in order to make them trustworthy. I apologise for not being clear enough. Jul 28, 2015 at 15:09

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