Obviously in the final legendarium, Gandalf was always a Maia as he is Olórin, one of the Ainur who was present at the singing of the Music.

What I want to know is: did Tolkien always consider Gandalf a Maia? If not, at what point did Gandalf become Olórin the Maia, instead of just an unattached Odinic wandering wizard? It could have been in the Hobbit, LOTR, during later work on the Silmarillion, etc.

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    The answer may be found in the "History of Middle-earth" series of books. It must have been very early on in the development of the "legendarium", as the concept of Maiar and Ainur itself took shape. I wish I could provide more detail, but sadly I've not read those books yet. May 25, 2015 at 7:53
  • Ecthelion? Did you recover from your fall?
    – Möoz
    Sep 24, 2015 at 22:51

2 Answers 2


Gandalf wasn't always a Maia, he started his literary life in The Hobbit as a wizard, an old wise man with some magical powers. Gandalf's role and importance was substantially increased in the conception of The Lord of the Rings, and in a letter of 1954, Tolkien refers to Gandalf as an "angel incarnate". In LotR, Gandalf refers to him being called Olorin in the West. After Tolkien finished LotR and returned to working on The Silmarillion in 1951, he wrote of Olorin as one of the Maia:

With the Valar were other spirits whose being also began before the world: these are the maiar, of the same order as the Great but of less might and majesty. Among them Eonwe the herald of Manwe, and Ilmare handmaid of Varda were the chief. Many others there are who have no names among Elves or Men, for they appear seldom in forms visible. But great and fair was Melian of the people of Yavanna, who tended once the gardens of Este, ere she came to Middle-earth. And wise was Olorin, counsellor of Irmo: secret enemy of the secret evils of Melkor, for his bright visions drove away the imaginations of darkness. Of Melian much is later told; but of Olorin this tale does not speak. In later days he dearly loved the Children of Eru, and took pity on their sorrows. Those who hearkened to him arose from despair; and in their hearts the desire to heal and to renew awoke, and thoughts of fair things that had not yet been but might yet be made for the enrichment of Arda. Nothing he made himself and nothing he possessed, but kindled the hearts of others, and in their delight he was glad.

  • Thanks for the details! Your answer is accurate too, I just had a bit more info on the genesis of the Maia link to Gandalf.
    – ecthelion
    Jun 1, 2015 at 8:05
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    +1. Reading The Hobbit makes a lot more sense if you think of Gandalf as a Merlin-style wizard, rather than an angelic being like he is in LOTR.
    – Nerrolken
    Jun 1, 2015 at 16:45
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    @Nerrolken Reading both The Hobbit and LOTR makes more sense with a magic-grandpa wizard mindset. He shows no obvious angelic nature in LOTR. Probably because it was meant to be a secret to everyone, in-universe, but also because he wasn't meant to be such, at the time of LOTR's original writing.
    – user40790
    Apr 12, 2016 at 18:55
  • @Terriblefan "also because he wasn't meant to be such, at the time of LOTR's original writing" Except there are several subtle confirmations of it in Lord of the Rings, especially at the end. Particularly being able to go to Valinor in the end without any sort of explanation and including 'Olorin I was in my youth in the west that is forgotten' among his list of names. Also the appendix explaining the wizards came on ships from the west. Lord of the Rings was fairly lacking on information about the Ainur, Valinor etc, but the evidence of Gandalf being a Maia is there. Feb 28, 2017 at 1:37
  • @suchiuomizu The appendices came with the Return of the King and delayed the book's release. The LOTR trilogy was done 6 years prior to the release of the last book. If anything this only proves my point.
    – user40790
    Feb 28, 2017 at 14:31

In The Treason of Isengard, Christopher Tolkien states the first known conception that Gandalf is actually one of the Emissaries from the West, and thus a Maia:

The page that I give first begins with the note 'Wizards = Angels', and this same note is found on the other two pages also. I take it to be the first appearance in written record of this conception, i.e. that the Istari or Wizards were angeloi, 'messengers', emissaries from the Lords of the West: see Unfinished Tales pp. 388 ff., and especially my father's long discussion in Letters no. 156 (4 November 1954).

The note isn't dated but was written during the creation of LOTR (specifically, the real-world time period chronicled in TToI.)

Additional reading:

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