Gandalf and sacrifice

The theme of sacrificial angelic power is particularly associated in Tolkien’s letters with the Istari or “wizards,” of which Gandalf and Saruman are the most notable members. Of the Istari Tolkien writes: “At this point in the fabulous history the purpose was precisely to limit and hinder their exhibition of ‘power’ on the physical plane, and so that they should do what they were primarily sent for: train, advise, instruct, arouse the hearts and minds of those threatened by Sauron to a resistance with their own strengths; and not just to do the job for them” (L 202, emphasis added). Of Gandalf in particular Tolkien says that, even after his “death” and “resurrection” as “Gandalf the White,” he was “still under the obligation of concealing his power and of teaching rather than forcing or dominating wills, but where the physical powers of the Enemy are too great for the good will of the opposers to be effective he can act in emergency as an ‘angel’—no more violently than the release of St Peter from prison. He seldom does so, operating rather through others, but in one or two cases in the War … he does reveal a sudden power…” (L 202-3, emphasis added). Like the Valar in their sub-creative and governing capacity, as a counselor Gandalf is charged with limiting the use of the power that is his by nature. (For more on the theme of angelic sacrifice in Tolkien, see Hood, “Nature and Technology: Angelic and Sacrificial Strategies in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.”)


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