We know Aragorn is strong enough to reveal himself (due to being rightful owner of the palantir) but why is it that Gandalf does not think he could endure Sauron? Does he, in the back of his mind, think if he reveals himself he will be ensnared like Saruman or that maybe, if he reveals himself, Sauron may change his plans?

Why does Gandalf not think he's ready for such a test?

  • 4
    What was the upside for Gandalf?
    – Aaron Hall
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 19:56
  • 8
    Why should he do dangerous things himself when he has pet king? Commented May 19, 2015 at 14:44
  • @BarafuAlbino I laughed heartily at that. Especially since it's pretty much the most un-Gandalf thought there ever was.
    – corsiKa
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 16:43
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    To rephrase the question slightly: why was it better for Pippin to use the Palantir than it would have been for Gandalf to use it? Because Pippin doesn't know as much as Gandalf does. He therefore has less useful information to give Sauron. Pippin doesn't know much more about where the Ring is than Sauron already knows: a hobbit named Baggins has it, and his whereabouts are unknown. Pippin does know that the plan is to destroy the Ring, but fortunately, he was smart enough to keep that to himself.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 21:23
  • 1
    And until Pippin accidentally used it, Gandalf wasn't sure what the Palantir was. If he had used it before he identified it as a Palantir, he might not have been on his guard to avoid giving Sauron information. That would have been catastrophic, considering how much he knew. And more generally/obviously, Sauron is a VERY intimidating, formidable opponent- even Gandalf has ample reason to fear a direct confrontation with such a powerful adversary. Sauron is evil incarnate- wouldn't you be scared of him?
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 21:27

5 Answers 5


I always thought of it this way: Gandalf knows that in a contest of wills between Saruman and Sauron, Sauron won. He has no reason to believe he's that much stronger than Saruman. That answers the question as asked.

However consider the risks. Sauron is no fool. He knows who Gandalf is, and possibly his greatest fear is that Gandalf will claim the ring for himself (it never occurs to Sauron that the council would try to destroy the ring, for him it was a question of who would claim the ring first). He knows that Gandalf, of all people, probably knows where the ring is.

Let's say Gandalf picks up the palantir for a bit of banter with Sauron. Sauron will immediately see that Gandalf isn't wielding the One Ring, and he will bend every bit of mental muscle he has to wrinkle its location out of Gandalf's head. He'd see the actual plan (hobbit to throw ring in Mount Doom), he'll see the battle before the gates as the diversion it is. Any hope for Middle Earth is extinguished.

Sauron also learns that Gandalf carries one of the three, and will learn also that Galadriel & Elrond also carry rings, compromising those two and their realms. So the single greatest asset the good guys have (Gandalf) is compromised, as are their only allies.

The risks for Gandalf using the palantir are astronomical, but to what end? What will Gandalf learn that's worth the risk?

Aragon is the safer choice, going for shock and awe, the bloodline & the blade that slew Sauron's corporeal form and diminished his spirit. There were still risks, but as you say, they are mitigated by Aragon's innate right as master of the palantir.

Also consider that Gandalf (like the other Istari) is forbidden from tackling or confronting Sauron directly, he can only help (direct and encourage) others in their struggles against the dark lord.

  • 5
    I don't think Sauron can influence the three rings while the one ring is lost. Elrond and Galadriel wear theirs openly, IIRC. Gandalf only doesn't because he is so often in direct confrontation with the servants of Mordor and doesn't want to make himself a bigger target than he already is.
    – TylerH
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 16:43
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    "Sauron will immediately see that Gandalf isn't wielding the One Ring..." But Sauron would know immediately if anyone claimed the ring.
    – Dan Barron
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 19:44
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    In the books at least, having Aragorn look into the Palantir is not something Gandalf chooses. It's something Aragorn decides to do by himself, although Gandalf suspects he would try and could presumably have taken more steps to prevent if he thought it was a really bad idea. Commented May 18, 2015 at 23:36
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    @DanBarron Sauron would also know if Gandalf was carrying it around waiting for the right moment to declare himself. After the Battle of Minas Tirith Sauron clearly believes that Aragorn has the One, but has not yet declared himself. Commented May 18, 2015 at 23:38
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    @WadCheber At the time he gets access to the palantir, Gandalf knows (from Aragorn) that Frodo has crossed the Anduin with the Ring and with Sam. This is not exactly the same as knowing exactly where the Ring is, but it is definitely invaluable information from Sauron's point of view: it makes it clear that (a) Isildur's Heir does not have the Ring and neither does Gandalf, and that (b) his forces are better spent searching for two hobbits East of the Anduin rather than anything else. It also hints strongly that the real plan is to destroy the Ring stealthily rather than use it.
    – sergut
    Commented May 20, 2015 at 14:02

Aside from the (correct, IMHO) things that Binary Worrier said, in the Unfinished Tales we read this about the choosing of the Istari (although I lifted that quote from Wikipedia where I have read it recently)... emphasis is mine:

Manwë summoned the Valar for a council [- maybe he had asked Eru for counsel -] at which it was resolved to send out three emissaries to Middle-earth and he asked who would go. They would have to lose might and clothe themselves in flesh to win the trust of Elves and Men but this would also imperil them, diminish their wisdom and knowledge and bring upon them fear, the care and weariness of the flesh. Only two came forward; Curumo [Saruman] and Alatar. Curumo was chosen by Aulë among "his" Maiar, and Alatar was sent by Oromë. Manwë asked where Olórin [Gandalf] was, and Olórin, just returning from a journey and coming to the meeting, asked what he wanted from him. Manwë said that he wished him to go as the third to Middle-earth. Olórin answered that he thought himself too weak for such a task, and added that he feared Sauron. Then Manwë said that that was all the more reason why he should go, and he commanded him to go as the third. There Varda broke in and said "Not as the third," and Curumo remembered that."

So Gandalf was, from the very beginning, convinced that he would not hold up in a one-on-one against Sauron.

In this, he very much embodied the idea the Valar had for the Istari: To counsel, guide, and encourage, but not to match Sauron power against power. I do not have a direct quote for the latter, but I am pretty sure I have read about the Istari being forbidden a direct confrontation by the Valar.

So, Gandalf basically followed his own preconceptions about his and Sauron's relative power, as well as the will of the Valar.

  • three emissaries? Weren't they five?
    – Taladris
    Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 0:24

The answers by DevSolar and Binary Worrier are spot on. But also consider that Sauron has been in possession of a palantir for a long time and is presumably practised in its use. He also is known to have been great skill in crafting powerful devices, since he taught the elves how to forge great rings, and that may have given him some affinity for the Ithil-stone.

Gandalf had almost certainly never seen a palantir before the fall of Orthanc. Even if he had seen them ages past in Valinor, before they went to Númenor, it's doubtful he would ever have used one.


Gandalf is a lesser being than Sauron. Remember, Sauron was the lieutenant of the evil Ainor who was thrust out into the void. Gandalf can and does engage with a Balrog, who was a lesser servant of the evil one. The contest is so evenly matched that Gandalf is out of things for a bit.


From what I understand, the Istari were sent by the Valar to help Middle-Earth, not solve their problems for them. This explains why Galdalf always runs off in times of need. More so in The Hobbit than in The Lord of The Rings.


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