In LotR the Two Towers, it is explained that Saruman has been kicked out of the Wizard council for allying with Sauron.

This allows Gandalf to become the new head of the order and become Gandalf the White. (I feel like this is what happened, but please correct me if I'm wrong).

I was under the assumption that each of the 5 Wizards had their own specific role to fulfil, each with their own purpose and power (hence why Gandalf could break Saruman's staff once he became the White Wizard, as Saruman was previously more powerful than him).

If this is the case, did anyone take up the mantle of the Grey Wizard? Or did a wizard need to die before he could return in another form?

Details from any canon would be appreciated.

  • 10
    Related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/6283/…. There doesn't appear to be a correlation between colour and role; although "X the White" seems to have been the most powerful wizard, they all had the same role: resist Sauron Mar 19, 2015 at 15:29
  • 15
    Geoff in the mail room was really thrilled when he got the promotion to Geoffrey the Grey. Mar 19, 2015 at 20:08

4 Answers 4


As far as I know, there has never been any good explanation for why the colors of the wizards were chosen to be what they were. The most prevalent theory involves the Istari taking on the color of the Valar they were associated with, but if you read through the Silmarillion looking for evidence, the theory doesn't really hold up. One thing we do know is that the colors are not a ranking system; though Saruman was appointed the leader of the Istari, the other 4 were all considered equals.

Thus, the only color that seemed to have any significance was the color White -- Saruman's original color, which represented a blending of all other colors. This identified him as the head of the Istari order. Gandalf's Grey color, and Radagast's Brown color, were merely ways to distinguish them from each other. (Even that theory falls apart when you realize there were two Blue wizards.)

Thus, when Gandalf was "promoted" to White, it indicated two things:

  • Saruman, the previous White Wizard, was no longer considered the head of the Istari order, or even a member of it, and
  • Gandalf had taken his place.

No one would need to step in and take over Ganfalf's "position" as Grey Wizard because that color had no more or less importants than the Brown or Blue of the other Istari.

  • 11
    I don't agree that Saruman's original colour represented a "blending." Gandalf seems to disapprove of this interpretation when Saruman calls attention to it Mar 19, 2015 at 15:35
  • 15
    Saruman changes the way he identifies himself from "white" to "many colors"; Galdalf's actual quote is something like "taking something apart to see what it's made of makes you a fool." IMO, what Gandalf disapproves of is splitting up the White robes into it's parts.
    – KutuluMike
    Mar 19, 2015 at 15:43
  • 2
    It still doesn't say anywhere (that I'm aware of) that White specifically represents the blending of the other colors. Mar 19, 2015 at 19:10
  • 6
    @MatthewRead - Saruman seems to believe it though, or at least came to believe it: '"White!" he sneered. "It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken."'
    – user8719
    Mar 19, 2015 at 23:13
  • 4
    Maybe they just wear what they like and change them when they feel like it. Mar 20, 2015 at 10:27

I don't think anyone needed to replace Gandalf the Grey. By the time he became Gandalf the White, Sauron's time in middle earth was almost at an end. With no Sauron, the Istari have no mission.

  • 1
    Sauron is not the ultimate evil. Even if Sauron or Morgoth didn't exist the Istari would still have a purpose because Men and Elves are still free to choose evil.
    – Zan Lynx
    Mar 19, 2015 at 16:49
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    @ZanLynx - true up to a point; Tolkien notes (in Letter 131) of the Third Age that it was "the last also in which Evil assumes a single dominant incarnate shape" so there is a special distinction to be drawn here.
    – user8719
    Mar 19, 2015 at 18:00
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    @ZanLynx - also Gandalf's words in The Steward and the King: "The Third Age was my age. I was the Enemy of Sauron; and my work is finished." and Homeward Bound: "My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so." - the purpose of the Istari was not to assist against evil in general, but to assist against a very specific evil.
    – user8719
    Mar 19, 2015 at 19:20
  • Whoa! Didn't expect Darth Satan to come to my defense ;)
    – Zachary F
    Mar 19, 2015 at 23:11
  • @ZacharyF - well it was a right answer :)
    – user8719
    Mar 19, 2015 at 23:14

I would say (as others have stated before) there's no special meaning to the colours of the wizard.

And I want to raise a point everybody is overlooking (thus, I might be wrong). When the Istari arrived to Middle Earth, there was no leader among them. Indeed, Galadriel wanted Gandalf to be the leader but the Council chose Saruman instead.

Unless they received their clothes after the council, which seems unlikely.

Also, isn't it funny that both Cirdan the Shipwright and Galadriel saw Gandalf was the "good boy" but Saruman was appointed as CEO in the end?

(Please excuse my English, any corrections would be very much appreciated)

  • 3
    That was leadership of the Council rather than leadership of the Istari, but it's still a good point. Notable that according to UT Saruman was already wearing white when he arrived in Middle-earth (although he had black hair back then): "The first to come was one of noble mien and bearing, with raven hair, and a fair voice, and he was clad in white".
    – user8719
    Mar 19, 2015 at 23:17
  • I suppose it would be strange for the leader of the Council to have a lower rank that his fellow Istaris.
    – Gin
    Mar 19, 2015 at 23:55
  • 1
    I think the choice of Saruman as leader of the White Council made sense: Gandalf is characterized as the constant wanderer, moving from place to place, never staying long. While Saruman is considered more of a scholar. I believe it is even alluded to in the books that when Saruman took up residence in Orthanc it solidified him in the eyes of others as having great wisdom. We also only see Saruman after his corruption - Aragorn and Gandalf both come to his defense when discussing his skill and wisdom prior to his fall. Feb 7, 2017 at 17:31
  • It wouldn’t be strange at all. Gandalf didn’t want to be iirc and that’s why.
    – Pryftan
    Jul 15, 2018 at 20:02

The Wizards or Istari were 5. The white, the grey, the brown and 2 blue brothers.

I don't think those "roles" and colors would be replaced if someone missing.

Futhermore when the world is about to be split in two between elven/gods people and dying dwarves/taller hobbits/dominating humans. The earth is close to be rounded and the Undying Lands will be cut from human world. Gods won't have more interactions with humans.

I know this isn't exactly the question from OP, but context helps to understand that there is no place for a wizard council anymore.

Imho, Gandalf becoming the white from the grey represents the gift as power the god give him.

  • 4
    Welcome to SFF.SE. Do you have a source to back this? It looks like this is your opinion, but the asker is looking for canon details.
    – Null
    Mar 19, 2015 at 15:27
  • 1
    It's my memory from reading Silmarillion and other books from Tolkien. Sorry I haven't those near me and not so much time to search the web. Will do asap.
    – Yohann V.
    Mar 19, 2015 at 15:31
  • 2
    This is pretty accurate actually ("But the Dominion of Men was preparing and all things were changing" - Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, and it's documented that it was Ilúvatar who brought Gandalf back and promoted him) but could be hugely improved with references to the texts.
    – user8719
    Mar 19, 2015 at 16:31
  • Thank you to support my post, will reference it better next time.
    – Yohann V.
    Mar 20, 2015 at 7:25

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