Throughout both the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (and I need to stress that I'm talking about the books, not the movies) we see Gandalf quite liberally tossing magic about.

  • He uses lightning in his battles with the Nazgul (on Weathertop) and the Balrog (in and above Moria).
  • He regularly ignites fires.
  • He casts light from his staff.
  • He uses spells to (attempt to) open doors, to close doors (even bragging about how many of the former he knows).
  • He speaks "words of command".
  • He casts shafts of white light at flying Nazgul.

And many more examples.

Yet, as a member of the Istari he is supposed to be restricted from using power. He is supposed to inspire, encourage, and get results primarily through the actions of other people.

Now, I consider myself quite well-read in my Tolkien, but I'm having some difficulty reconciling the two. What's going on there, then?

Answers I'm looking for would include sourced quotes that need not go so far as to explain this exactly, but at least support it's plausability.

  • I agree. He uses his power on Theoden directly and he struggles with Denethor's will, both cases of using brute force to dominate, even for good reason. But all along Gandalf seems to be the instrument of "fate", and after he comes back as the white, having proven himself many times over, it looks like he is the chosen tool Eru uses to take back the control of the music.
    – Joel
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 20:26
  • And when he breaks Saruman's staff, it sounds like he was given from above the mission to break and tame the maverick.
    – Joel
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 20:35

2 Answers 2


The Wizards were not restricted from using their power. They were forbidden from using their power against Sauron directly and from using their power to subjugate the peoples of Middle-earth.

From Appendix B:

Istari... were messengers sent to contest the power of Sauron, and to unite all those who had the will to resist him; but they were forbidden to match his power with power, or to seek to dominate Elves and Men by force and fear.

They were not restricted from using their abilities, or even from openly displaying their power. The kinds of actions they were forbidden to take might include:

  • Ruling their own lands
  • Going one-on-one (five-on-one) with Sauron (one wonders if the incident at Dol Goldur might have been a violation)
  • Creating their own Ring of Power in which to dominate the peoples of Middle-Earth and take out Sauron

The examples cited in the question seem quite trivial compared to what they might be capable of.

  • 7
    Amen. He wasn't prohibited from using magic. He was prohibited from abusing his power in prohibited ways. A little door-opening isn't nearly in the dangerous neighbourhood. Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 0:05
  • As I more-or-less expected; it's good to have it on this site though. Replace the Wikipedia extract with an actual quote and I'll give the accept.
    – user8719
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 0:39
  • I've an example of Gandalf openly unveiling himself, described in terms surprisingly (or perhaps not-so-surprisingly) similar to the Balrog, added to this question.
    – user8719
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 0:19
  • On Dol Goldur. The council moved against The Necromancer who Gandalf suspected was Sauron, so I don't think that counts. Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 15:19
  • 3
    @BinaryWorrier -- The White Council's trip to Dol Guldur was fact finding. That it could be considered reconnaissance in force only indicates prudence on their part, not violation of the edict forbidding confrontation with Sauron (they did let him escape/not pursue him after all).
    – user23715
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 17:06

Well they aren't spells that totally tip the balance of the overall war to instant victory. They're little boosts, not game-winning moves. As it were. To be any less would be disarmament. ​Tolkien's​ level of wizard magic ​is​ the leanest level, IMO.

It can't go any lower.

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