The eighth post in my series about Thorin Oakenshield - the years before and leading up to the Quest of Erebor. I'm going to deviate a little away from Thorin in this post in order to look into the background of Gandalf as he is instrumental in the story of the Quest of Erebor and later in the fall of Sauron, Lord of the Rings. (Source for this post: J.R.R. Tolkien: "Unfinished Tales")
The Istari (Quenya for "wizards") or Malar first appeared in Middle Earth in the year 1000 of the Third Age. They were wanderers, emissaries of the Valar, the Lords of the West, and dressed very simply. They gathered information and knowledge of Middle-earth and its people. Initially they did not reveal their powers but as Sauron grew in power, they began to become more active in order to make Men and Elves aware of Sauron's evil. They sought to unite all those whom Sauron aimed to corrupt and dominate. The Istari formed an "Order of Wizards" - it was not known how many there were, but five of the Order came to Middle-earth. The first had a "noble mien and bearing" , he had raven black hair and wore white. He was deemed the leader of the Order. The second and third wore sea blue, and the fourth wore brown. The fifth was smaller than the rest and looked older by leaning on a staff. He had grey hair and was dressed in grey. Cirdan. the Master of the Grey Havens and Keeper of the Third Elven Ring, Narya the Red, was most impressed with the last of the five and predicted that he was the wisest and greatest. For this reason, he gave Narya into his keeping.
"For" said he "Great labours and perils lie before you, and lest your task prove too great and wearisome, take this Ring for your aid and comfort..." (J.R.R. Tolkien Unfinished Tales" p 504)
The "Grey Messenger" as he was known took the Ring and kept it hidden. The White Messenger learned of it however and deeply resented the fact that he did not possess it. He silently bore the Grey Messenger ill will. The White Messenger was known as Saruman in the language of Men.
The Istari (wizards) journeyed throughout Middle-earth learning about it's people. They were observed by Men to never die but outlive them. They came from the Blessed Realm, "clad in the bodies of Men," they experienced pain, hunger, fear and weariness, "but because of their noble spirits, they did not die". As their years on Middle-earth went increase, they were obliged not to lose sight of their mission (to help unite the people against evil) . By enduring the pain of exile from their Blessed Realm (Valinor or Aman), their sense of mission was supposed to be strengthened. For some Istari, however, "being clad in the bodies of Middle-earth, might cause them to fall away from their purposes, and do evil, forgetting the good in the search for power to effect it." (Unfinished Tales p504)
Saruman after wandering Middle-earth, later settled in Gondor. It was not known what became of the Blue wizards. Radagast, the fourth, became enchanted by the birds and beasts of Middle-earth and elected to live amongst the wild creatures forgetting his purpose. Saruman later became an impatient, proud wizard who was seduced by a love of power. It was his love of power that allowed Sauron to later ensnare him. That left one who remained faithful to the mission. The Grey Wizard. He did not live in any one place but wandered the Westlands, befriending folk in times of need. He was warm and friendly, and under the influence of Narya, the 3rd Elven Ring, he was "eager of spirit".
"He was the Enemy of Sauron, opposing the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles, and succours in wanhope and distress; but his joy and his swift wrath, were veiled in garments grey as ash, so that only those that knew him well glimpsed the flame that was within. Merry he could be, and kindly to the young and simple, and yet quick at times to sharp speech and the rebuking of folly; buthe was not proud, and sought neither power nor praise; and this far and wide he was beloved among all those that were not themselves proud. Mostly he journeyed unwearyingly on foot, leaning on a staff; and so he was called among Men of the North, Gandalf, 'the Elf of the Wand'" (J.R.R. Tolkien: "Unfinished Tales" p 505-6)
His mission, as it was for all five, was to unite all those who had the will to resist Sauron's evil.
In 2850 of the Third Age, Gandalf suspicious of an evil brewing in Mirkwood, set out to discover if his suspicions had any foundation. In disguise, he was able to enter Dol Guldur (hill of sorcery) which lay in the southern parts of Mirkwood and discovered that its Master was Sauron (thought to have been defeated at the end of the Second Age in the "War Against the Last Alliance of Elves and Men"). It was at Dol Guldur, that he discovered......
"..... an unhappy dwarf dying in the pits. I had no idea who he was. He had a map that belonged to Durin's folk in Moria, and a key that seemed to go with it, though he was too far gone to explain it. Ane he said that he had possessed a great Ring.
Nearly all his ravings were of that. The Last of the Seven he said over and over again. ... But he gave the map and the key to me. 'For my son' he said; and then he died and soon after I escaped myself. I stowed away the things myself and by some warning in my heart I kept them always with me, safe, but soon almost forgotten" (J.R.R. Tolkien. "Unfinished Tales" p 419)
The "unhappy dwarf" was Thráin and the map and key re-surface 99 years later when Gandalf finally encounters Thorin Oakenshield in Bree.
TBC - next post. Gandalf's fears of Sauron's plan to take over the North and the meeting with Thorin - how the histories all start to fit together.
Side note: Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic. As I was reading about Gandalf , it struck me that there were similarities to the prophets of biblical times.