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Ten reasons why Gandalf is the greatest wizard EVAR

03.28.11 | Kunochan | 13 Comments

FARK.com directed me to this, a post on The Correctness blog entitled “10 Reasons why Gandalf is a terrible wizard,” authored by Admin_rock. Now, lest ye think I was immediately offended by the very existence of such a post, the fact is it’s something I easily could have written myself. Yes, Gandalf is my favorite literary character, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take him down a few pegs.

No, the reason I decided to write a point-by-point response to this post isn’t because I felt the need to rush to Gandalf’s defense, but because I don’t think the post is very well thought-out. If you’re going to go after Mithrandir, Admin_rock, at least put some real effort into it.

The original post hobbles itself by criticizing only the cinematic Gandalf; my response shall include the literary wizard as well.

1. He’s almost undone before things get going Gandalf avoids the temptation of the ring from the get-go

I don’t know what movie Admin_rock was watching, but Gandalf was not “tempted by [the Ring] at Bilbo’s place.” Both the movie and book Gandalfs (Gandalves?) manage to avoid the temptation of the ring – they never come close to giving in. Don’t get me wrong – Gandalf is tempted, sorely. But he never comes close to succumbing, as opposed to Saruman or (arguably) Galadriel.

2. Gets suckerpunched by Saruman Gets sucker-punched by Saruman, and escapes unharmed

First of all, it’s hardly fair to criticize Gandalf for being betrayed, defeated and kidnapped by the leader of his own order. Saruman had hidden his turn to evil from everyone, including Elrond and Galadriel. And he was more powerful (if less wise) than Gandalf. Also, Saruman had an indestructible tower built by the Númenóreans, while all Gandalf had was a stick.

Second – well, the movie and the book are very different on how Gandalf escaped from Orthanc. In the movie, Gandalf is proactive, using his five dots in Animal Language: Moths to send for an Eagle savior. Admin_rock compares this one instance of Cinematic Gandalf’s power – talking to moths – and compares it to Cinematic Saruman’s weather control, orc creation and enemy teleportation abilities. Let’s forget that Cinematic Gandalf kills a freaking balrog. And that’s Gandalf the Grey, he hasn’t even received his upgrade to White yet.

As for Literary Gandalf, well, he doesn’t rescue himself from Orthanc at all, except by coincidence (and in Tolkien’s world, “coincidence” equals “intervention by Eru Ilúvatar”).

What Admin_rock is missing here is that Saruman and Gandalf are very different types of wizard. Saruman is the tower-dwelling, machine-building, minion-commanding, brooding-over-a-magic-ball type of wizard, while Gandalf is the wandering, storytelling, living-with-elves, sitting-in-the-corner-smoking-a-pipe kind of wizard. Yes, Saruman is generally better at ass-kicking, but there’s more to life than ass-kicking. And let me reiterate – balrog.

One more thing; if Gandalf can kick a balrog’s ass, why doesn’t he ever kick Saruman’s? The reason is obvious, since Gandalf actually explains it – balrogs are irredeemably evil, but Saruman is not. Gandalf hopes (in vain, as it turns out) that Saruman will switch back to good.

3. Gets suckerpunched by Saruman again Gets sucker-punched by the power of Caradhras

Here’s an instance where Gandalf actually does take one on the chin. In the movie, Saruman uses his seemingly godlike weather-control powers to block the Pass of Caradhras. In the book, it’s the malevolent force of the mountain itself that blocks the way. Either way, the Fellowship is forced to seek a path through Moria.

As for Gandalf being a terrible wizard? Movie: we established that Saruman was the more powerful wizard. Book: Gandalf never claimed to be able to defeat freakin’ mountains. Anyway, what kind of a story would LOTR be if Gandalf could teleport the Fellowship past every obstacle? They might as well all fly eagles to Mordor.

4. Gets outsmarted by a hobbit Receives invaluable aid from the smartest of the hobbits

In the movie, Frodo is the one who figures out the “Speak Friend and Enter” riddle at the Doors of Durin. In the book, it’s Gandalf himself.

Is Cinematic Gandalf an idiot, as Admin_rock implies, for not guessing the “4th grade level riddle?” Please. Like Admin_rock was sitting in the movie theater, guessing the riddle before Frodo did. As if.

5. He’s kind of a dick, too

Well, duh. Why do you think he’s my favorite character?

6. Didn’t watch his footing Gandalf defeats the balrog and saves the Fellowship

Admin_rock thinks Gandalf is a terrible wizard because he couldn’t take down a balrog with one simple strike against a rock bridge. Let’s take a moment to handicap this battle, BALROG v. MITHRANDIR.

The balrog is the physical manifestation of an evil Maia, a demonic being of the First Age, so scary it’s the only thing Legolas shows any fear towards in the whole story. It’s clad in a 20-foot-tall fiery horned demon body with penguin wings, and carries a long fiery whip.

Gandalf is the physical manifestation of a good Maia, an angelic being of the Uttermost West, so beatific that Círdan the Shipwright gives him his Elven Ring of Power. Unfortunately, he’s clad in a 5-foot-tall ornery old man and carries a stick. No fire, no horns, no whip. Just a gray dressing gown and an old sword. Yet Gandalf still manages to kill the balrog, although he dies as well.

Pull out your copy of The Silmarillion and look at the long list of Great Heroes of the First Age killed by balrogs. Yet Gandalf kills a balrog, while in human form, after falling down a bottomless pit and then climbing to the top of the Misty Mountains. Let’s see Saruman try that!

7. Needs a second life Gandalf is sent back to Middle-earth to complete his great work

I’m not sure what Admin-rock’s criticism is here. He accuses Gandalf of lying about why “they” (this would be the Valar) sent Olórin back to Middle-earth as Gandalf the White, and describes how the new Gandalf is able to overcome Saruman’s control of King Théoden and rally reserve forces for the Battle of Helm’s Deep. It all seems like badassery to me.

I’ll agree with Admin-rock that Cinematic Gandalf does show up a bit late at Helm’s Deep, when 98% of the Men and 100% of the Elves were already dead. (Don’t get me started about Elves at Helm’s Deep. Just don’t.)

8. Leaves Ultra-Powerful Crystal Ball lying around

I have to agree with Admin_rock on this one, Gandalf really dropped the ball. Get it? Dropped the ball?

9. Beats down a grieving father Gandalf assumes the duties of the maddened Denethor

Here we’re again faced with some serious differences between movie and book, so let’s look at the Jackson version. Grieving over the death of his son Boromir, Denethor refuses to prepare a defense against the oncoming armies of Mordor – so Gandalf conks him on the head and takes over himself. As far as cinematic shorthand goes, Admin_rock is correct in saying this is questionable behavior. Whereas Literary Denethor was actually driven mad by the images shown to him by Sauron through a palantír, forcing Gandalf to take over as de facto leader of the Minas Tirith defense.

Admin_rock thinks Gandalf could have done more to save Denethor from self-immolation. I just reviewed the appropriate pages in the book, and Literary Gandalf does try to stop Denethor, but could not. As for Cinematic Gandalf? I have to admit that his attitude toward Denethor was rather cold – he seemed willing to let the Denethor problem solve itself, as long as Faramir was okay. Still, that doesn’t make him a bad wizard. Rather, it means he made a hard tactical decision in the middle of a pitched battle.

10. Total lack of Wizard Type actions in battle Gandalf restrains himself in battle

Admin_rock seems most upset that Gandalf is not some kind of Dungeons & Dragons/Harry Potter-type spell-casting wizard, when in fact this is Gandalf’s best quality. Here’s a list of reasons that Gandalf does not blast his foes with Magic Missiles ten times per round:

  1. Magic does not work that way in Tolkien’s world. There are very few “spells,” and magic items are exceedingly rare. Magic exists in the world and of the world, and is a part of who you are and your relationship to the world. To Elves, magic is like breathing, and they don’t even understand what the word “magic” means. To Gandalf, “magic” is wisdom and understanding, not Bigby’s Masturbating Hand.
  2. Gandalf was sent (by the Valar) to Middle-earth to gently aid the forces of Good in their struggle against Sauron, not to fight the war for them. He’s a friend and counselor, not a warrior. He only fights at Minas Tirith because Sauron has driven Denethor mad.
  3. Gandalf possesses Narya, the Ring of Fire, one of the three hidden Elven Rings of Power. If he uses its abilities in battle, Sauron will become aware of its location, and Gandalf will find himself fighting nine Ringwraiths instead of one.

Now, does this mean we can’t criticize Gandalf? Of course not. He did make that mistake with the palantír. I would also add the following:

1. Gandalf doesn’t give a crap about people of color

Although Gandalf is said to have traveled in the East, he doesn’t seem to care about the fates of any Men except the blond-haired, blue-eyed Men of the West – and of course, Elves and Hobbits. With Radagast and the Blue Wizards pretty much out of the picture, who is going to fight for the Easterlings and Southrons?

2. Gandalf left Frodo alone with the Ring while he set off to consult with Saruman

Biggest. Mistake. Ever.

3. Told Frodo to wait until September to leave the Shire, setting the Fellowship up for a winter journey

Second biggest mistake ever.

Feel free to agree with me in the comments below!

Read the original post here.

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