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Old 06-12-2002, 03:46 PM   #1
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Silmaril 5 Istari

What might the significance be of the number of Istari? Was it simply an arbitrary number assigned to the number of that order? Where was the first mention of there being five wizards? (was it in the Hobbit, or LOTR?) (I don't have the books here with me.)

What was the purpose of including two wizards in the notes (Unfinished Tales), that have no mention or purpose in any of the stories?
In other words...why do you think there needed to be five?

I noticed that all the 'powers' are odd numbers...three rings for Elven Kings, Seven for Dwarf Lords, nine for mortal men, One for the Dark Lord...he skipped five. Five Istari. Is there some numeroglogy involved here? Why would he arbitraily apply these numbers to the most important factors of his world, the 'powers'...perhaps just because they are nice, round numbers? I doubt it...anyone have any ideas?
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Old 06-12-2002, 04:19 PM   #2
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I never thought of that. You might be on to something.
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Old 06-12-2002, 04:32 PM   #3
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Really interesting question!! I've never thought about numbers in Tolkien's books (in fact I never think about numbers)But now I'm interested.
As for the Isteri being mentioned in various books, I don't remember anyone but Gandalf mentioned in "The Hobbit". "The Silmarilion" reads:
Of these Curunir was the eldest and came first, and after him came Mithrandir and Radagast and others of the Istari who went into the east of Middle Earth, and do not come into these tales.
So it may well be that the 2 wizards are reall mentioned only for the sake of number.
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Old 06-12-2002, 05:06 PM   #4
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The two blue wizards, Alatar and Pallando, went to the lands east of Mordor. The number of the Istari is "unsure." Only 5 landed in the north and theyw ere thought to be the chief of the Istari. saruman,gandalf,radagast, and the blue wizards alatar and pallando.
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Old 06-12-2002, 05:14 PM   #5
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It wouldn't seem to since not all 5 of the Istari were there for the same purpose, Gandalf aided the free peoples against Sauron and his minions, Saruman once did too, but not Radagast, and the other two's missions were unknown, in other words their deeds were not Rings related.
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Old 06-13-2002, 03:14 AM   #6
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I've never thought about the numbers of the Istari before, Leto (great name, btw), and now that I am it is really bothering me. Tolkien often used "magic numbers" when writing. 3, 6, 9, 12, etc. I am troubled that I can't think of why 5 would be a magic. The best* that I've come up with in discussion is that they are five fingers** of a hand, to grab at Sauron and depose him.

*Best, but probably still wrong.
**obloquy came up with the idea of five fingers and toes.
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Old 06-13-2002, 06:41 AM   #7
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"Of this Order the number is unknown; but of those that came to the North of Middle-earth, where there was most hope [...], the chiefs was five." (UT, IV, ii)

Unfortunately, an ambiguous remark, for it could both refer to the Heren Istarion, and the Order of the Ainur:

" Wizard is a translation of Quenya istar (Sindarin ithron): one of the members of an "order" (as they call it), claiming to possess, and exhibiting, eminent knowledge of the history and nature the World."
But also: "they belonged solely to the Third Age and then departed". (ibid.)

This could imply that the Heren Istarion was an ad hoc formation of the five Maiar that were to go to Middle-Earth as messengers.

On the other hand, two quotes make it likely that the Order of unknown number is the order of the Ainur:
"Emissaries they were from Lords of the West, the Valar, who still took counsel for the governance of Middle-earth, and when the shadow of Sauron began first to stir again took this means of resisting him. For with the consent of Eru they sent members of their own high order..." (ibid.)
This 'members of their [the Valar's] high order' precedes the 'of this Order the number is unkown', it is therefore likely the latter refers to the Valar.

Note also that in the Istari essay at hand, the term Istari always only means the five that went to Middle-Earth and are known to us, I consider it unlikely that a line such as "Indeed, of all the Istari, one only remained faithful" (ibid.) could leave the possibility of Istari in Aman at all, being that they would not fall like those that went East.

"We must assume that they [the Istari] were all Maiar, that is persons of the "angelic" order, though not necessarily of the same rank. [...] Saruman is said (e.g. by Gandalf himself) to have been the chief of the Istari – that is, higher in Valinórean stature than the others. [...] It may be seen that they were free each to do what they could in this mission; that they were not commanded or supposed to act together as a small central body of power and wisdom;" (ibid.)

Again, we have the order of the Ainur, and no hint of a order of the Wizards beyond the five. The leading rōle of Curunķr is, as the quote shows, only due to the 'Valinorean' stature, not stature in the Heren Istarion -- the first led to the latter, obviously, implying that the HI was indeed an ad hoc formation.
Also note that the last line given above shows that there hardly was such a thing as an 'order' even in Middle-Earth; had there been a fixed unity between the five aforehand, it can assumed to have been otherwise.

The council of the Valar -- "a council of the Valar, summoned it seems by Manwė ("and maybe he called upon Eru for counsel?"), at which it was resolved to send out three emissaries to Middle-earth" is also of utmost importance for the question.
Not only does it show that the Valar did not consider the Heren Istarion as the body from which to recruit the messengers, it is also highly interesting that the number originall designed by the Valar to depart East was three, and the other two only joined for other, practically unnecessary reasons, hence making the image of the 'hand' even less likely (though not less striking).

In short, the conclusions that can safely be drawn from an attentive reading of the Istari essays would be that the order of the Heren Istarion consisted of the five Wizards we know, and that it only came into being with their mission, and ceased to exist with the passing of Saruman at the latest. There were obviously no Istari in this narrow sense beyond the five.
Linguistically, of course, istari, wizards, means nothing more than 'versed and wise in the ways of the world' (see above). Now, undeniably, this can be applied to all Ainur, and the question about the number boils down to a question about the definition of the term Istari. If we are to distinguish the Five from the other Ainur for their mission they went on, we are led to the differentiation explained above (it is clear that throughout most writings, and practically all analysis thereof, this distinction is made).
If the Five are seen as Istari together with all other Ainur, no less wise than they, one obviously comes to the same conclusion -- for the number of the Order of the Ainur is and will remain unknown.
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Old 06-13-2002, 09:24 AM   #8
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Of course the North is the only area we are concerned with, in terms of the story. According to the essay, and the notes, three was indeed the number the valar had intended. Then why did he include the other two? In terms of narrative, they were added on, one by Yavanna, and the other as a friend. But why did Tolkien see fit to include two maiar that had no significance to the story? If three had been his intent, he could have left it with Saruman, Gandalf, and Radagast. He obviously intended for the 'solid' number of that 'order'...the maiar who were sent to Middle Earth for the purpose of contesting Sauron, to be five. The notes on the meeting of the Valar make no mention of various 'others' to be sent elsewhere in middle earth...and even if others had been sent, their purpose was obviously not to contest Sauron...(who's presence was mainly on the North). So the question remains...why might Tolkien have decided on the number five, for the Istari? This is not about the definition of 'Istari', or 'order'...even if there were more than five maiar who came to middle earth...he still says 'five were their chiefs' who were sent to the North of Middle Earth...
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Old 06-13-2002, 09:07 PM   #9
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Alatar was of the original three planned to be sent, not Radagast. Radagast was added to the order by Yavanna.
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Old 08-19-2002, 01:08 PM   #10
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Mayhaps simply a fillip to numerologists. Five is the number for Man, in the sequence "Man is five, the Devil is Six and God is Seven". Also of interest, the pantheon of heavens in the Christian religion, God reigning in the Seventh.

I stray. Five is the number referring to Man, and thus my be Tolkien reminding the discerning reader of the true purport of the Heren Istarion. The number and ensuing concept may be applied both to their limitation and to their results.

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Old 08-19-2002, 07:33 PM   #11
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Good point Lego. There were only going to be three at first, then Yavanna got Radagast in and Alatar asked for Pallando. Does that mean there is no importance to 5?
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Old 08-19-2002, 07:50 PM   #12
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maybe they represent the free peoples of middle earth?

1 for man
1 for elf
1 for dwarf
1 for hobbit
and 1 for, well perhaps beasts?
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Old 08-20-2002, 11:19 AM   #13
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Perhaps Buranhobbit is on to something when he talks about the five fingers of a had.
The best* that I've come up with in discussion is that they are five fingers** of a hand, to grab at Sauron and depose him.
If the number of Istari (Five) is meant to represent the five fingers of a hand, then whose hand does it represent? This could be the hand of the Valar, sent to fight against the Hand of Sauron (four fingered).

There were Five Istari (Mithrandir, Radagast, Saruman, Pallando and Alatar) perhaps they were all supposed to help stop Sauron in some way. We know Gandalf helped for sure, Saruman betrayed them, Radagast became infatuated with his birds and the blue wizards we know nothing of.
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Old 08-20-2002, 11:58 AM   #14
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It does fit.

The two blue wizards are the ring/pinky, as they are sort of stuck together and semi-difficult to direct on occasion.

Radagast is the thumb, sort of doing his own thing regardless of why he was sent to Middle-earth in the first place.

Saruman is the middle finger: appearing as the chief, reflected in that finger's length. Gets a little cocky, sticks itself up at someone and is shot clean off.

Gandalf is the index finger, instrumental in most uses of the hand and always pointing the way.

Or perhaps that is a little far-fetched.

I had fun thinking about it though.
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Old 08-20-2002, 03:51 PM   #15
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Far-fetched it may be Legalos, but we have to reach far to understand such things do we not? Knowledge can't evolve without the imagination to let it do so...
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