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Gandalf is a Wizard of surpassing power and wisdom, but
when we first meet him he merely appears to be a wizened old man
driving a wagon full of fireworks. This mix of the awe-inspiring
and the touchingly human defines Gandalf. He is as comfortable at
a Hobbit birthday party as at the Council of Elrond, and he counts
both the celestial Galadriel and the lowly Barliman Butterbur among
his friends. This quality makes Gandalf a more sympathetic character than
the sometimes aloof Elves. It also gives him insights that even the
wise Elrond misses, as when Gandalf supports Pippin and Merry’s
wish to be included in the Fellowship on the grounds that their
loyalty to Frodo makes up for their lack of experience and strength.
Paradoxically, we see Gandalf grow in power throughout The Fellowship
of the Ring even as he comes up against obstacles that show
him at the limits of his power. He is tested again and again, whether
by Saruman or at the Door to Moria or, finally, on the Bridge of
Khazad-dûm. In some of these moments Gandalf responds with a blazing
magical spell or a feat of wizardry, but in others he triumphs in
more modest, human ways. After many unsuccessful attempts to open
the Door to Moria, Gandalf finally realizes that the password is
a deceptively simple riddle. When he cannot remember which way to
go in the tunnels of Moria, he calms himself down with a smoke.
As we see later, in The Two Towers, Gandalf returns, having
survived his battle with the fearsome Balrog and been made even
more powerful by his trial. Nevertheless, even at the height of his
powers, Gandalf retains his common touch.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Fellowship of the Ring!