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Old 01-30-2019, 08:21 PM   #1
R.R.J Tolkien
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What do we Know About Radagast?

My interest in the Istari continues.

“a worthy wizard, a master of shapes and changes of hue... and he has much lore of herbs and beats” a “friend of all beats and birds”
-Gandalf

“indeed, of all the istari, one only remained faithful.... for Radgast, the fourth, become envenomed of the many beast and birds that dwelt in Middle-earth, and forsook elves, men and spent his days among the wild creatures.”
-Unfinished tales The Istari



Radagast lived in western mirkwood and did not travel much. A “worthy wizard” and as Beorn described him “not bad” for a wizard is presented as an wizard who fell in love with nature so much that he turned from his mission. He is perhaps Tolkiens view of a normal powered istari to counter the better known Olorin “Wisest of the maiar” [Gandalf] and Saurman the leader of the order. He is presented as having much less wisdom and power than Gandalf and Saruman.


“Radagast is presented as a person of much less power and wisdom”
-Unfinished Tales


Saruman in particular seems to disregard radagast as a much lower being and uses his intellectual advantage into tricking him into helping Saruman capture Gandalf.

Radagast the simple, Radagast the fool, yet he had just the wit to play the part that I set him”
-Sarumon




But what else do we really know about him?
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Old 02-03-2019, 09:23 AM   #2
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He was not among the council of the wise instead Elrond and Galadriel and the better known Istari were. It seems when news went out from Rivendell to have Radagast join the council he could not be found. Neither did he return to the west after the war of the ring, it appears he had died.

Wilt thou learn the lore || that was long secret
of the Five that came || from a far country?
One only returned. || Others never again
—J.R.R Tolkien
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Old 02-03-2019, 04:55 PM   #3
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As I understood it, his original aim was to rally and influence the animals of middle earth and that was his inclination towards the beasts and nature. His downfall as I understand was he became too focused on the animals and on nature and lost sight as to why he was actually there.
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Old 02-14-2019, 11:02 AM   #4
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What do we know about Radagast?

We know that he was one of the Istari, a Maia that was incarnated in a human body. That means that he was, for all intents and purposes, essentially human, although somewhat "supercharged": stronger, more endurance, powered by a superior spirit, blessed with otherworldly knowledge and magical power. But his human body restricted his spirit and his power in several respects: he had to rest, he needed nourishment, he could be harmed and even killed, and so on.

We also know that the Istari aged. In fact they aged rather rapidly, considering their origin and their mission (defeating Sauron, an immortal (!) warlord). When Saruman arrived in Lindon in 1000 T.A. he is described as a middle-aged man with black hair. But only 2000 years later, at the time of the War of the Ring, he appears as a very old man, his hair now completely white. 2000 years is a rather short time from a valinorean or elven perspective and I wonder what would have happened if Sauron had been a lot (a lot, lot, lot) more patient and if for example the War of the Ring had occurred in the year 8000 of the Third Age and not in 3018. If 2000 years were enough to completely age Saruman, then the Istari probably would have been dead or "faded" by then!

Back to Radagast. Tolkien fails to mention him at the end, that leaves two possibilities:
- he was either killed during the war in Mirkwood
- or he stayed in Middle-Earth after the defeat of Sauron.

If he stayed in Middle-Earth, what happened to him? He cant remain in his human body forever. It may take thousands of years, but he will eventually "die", i.e. his body will cease to function and his sprit will depart from it.
As we have seen when Gandalf and Saruman were killed, the incarnated Istari were not able to re-incarnate themselves. This seems to be somewhat of a rule in Ea. Once a naturally discarnate being (like an Ainu) becomes fully incarnated, the being becomes completely tied to that body and a destruction of that body is irreversible. Melkor, once he became incarnate after the theft of the Silmaril, knew that - thats why he was so afraid of combat. Only Sauron was able to circumvent that rule, when he was able to re-incarnate himself after his death during the Battle of Mount Doom - but that was only possible because the One Ring anchored him in the material world. And even then it took him over a thousand years.

So what would happen to Radagast after the eventual death of his body? He cant re-incarnate himself. Would the Valar intervene and bring him back to Valinor to rehouse him or return him to his natural state? I sure hope so, at least that is my head-canon. The alternative just seems too cruel.

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Old 03-03-2019, 06:13 PM   #5
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Once disembodied, an incarnate Maia becomes a discarnate spirit (just like Elves and Men). But notice how Saruman's end played out- that spirit actually was visible, a shadowy form rising from the body, which looked almost pleadingly into the West before a great wind blew it away (that was Manwe saying "You're fired!") Exactly the same as Sauron, except Sauron's shadow-spirit was much, much bigger.

But Radagast certainly never became a villain and didn't earn "spirit of malice gnawing itself forever in the dark" status, so we would have to assume that Radagast simply defaulted to base-Maia status, an incorporeal being with the ability to don or doff physical forms at will.
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Old 03-07-2019, 05:40 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin View Post
But Radagast certainly never became a villain and didn't earn "spirit of malice gnawing itself forever in the dark" status, so we would have to assume that Radagast simply defaulted to base-Maia status, an incorporeal being with the ability to don or doff physical forms at will.
I do not think that it matters if he became a villain or not. Gandalf the Grey certainly did not become a villain, but he still was not able to reembody or reincarnate himself (after the death of his body) without outside help (from Eru). The Istari were fully incarnate. If they were slain or would die of "natural causes" (after millennia), they would not be powerful enough to rehouse themselves. Tolkien clearly wrote that the destruction of the form of a clothed Ainu had a negative effect, that such a destruction diminished the power of the Ainu, and that that effect was even more pronounced if the being was not merely clothed but fully incarnated.

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Old 03-09-2019, 12:29 PM   #7
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I think villainy makes all the difference- not in the power to re-embody himself, but in whether his spirit would be admitted to Valinor where the Valar would restore his previous status.

Gandalf isn't an especially helpful example because Eru intervened and short-circuited matters
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Old 03-09-2019, 01:18 PM   #8
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Then we are in agreement. But the question remains if Radagast would be able to reach Valinor and/or if the Valar would allow his return. Tolkien wrote that only Gandalf stayed true to the mission. What does that mean for Radagast? I find it hard to imagine that the Valar would judge him as harshly as Saruman and deny him re-entry, but who knows.

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Old 03-09-2019, 07:11 PM   #9
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I wonder if Radagast would even want re-entry, at least unless some major change happens to the world. I thought he was quite happy just doing his own thing in Middle-earth. So before asking the terms on which he would be allowed back in, I wonder if he would even try to go back.
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Old 03-10-2019, 12:51 AM   #10
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I wonder if Radagast would even want re-entry, at least unless some major change happens to the world. I thought he was quite happy just doing his own thing in Middle-earth. So before asking the terms on which he would be allowed back in, I wonder if he would even try to go back.
Yes, he was quite happy. But we are talking about the hypothetical case of a bodyless Radagast after the eventual death of his body. Why would he not be willing to return? He cant really "do" anything in Middle-earth without a body, can he?
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Old 03-10-2019, 09:44 AM   #11
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Yes, he was quite happy. But we are talking about the hypothetical case of a bodyless Radagast after the eventual death of his body. Why would he not be willing to return? He cant really "do" anything in Middle-earth without a body, can he?
I don't know. He might still be pretty happy to hang out among the nature he loves even in bodiless form. I think it's a possibility. Though on the flip side the loss of a physical body could indeed be the wake up call that reminds him of his initial purpose there and of the land that may be awaiting his return.
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Old 03-12-2019, 08:59 AM   #12
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I don't know. He might still be pretty happy to hang out among the nature he loves even in bodiless form. I think it's a possibility. Though on the flip side the loss of a physical body could indeed be the wake up call that reminds him of his initial purpose there and of the land that may be awaiting his return.
The most parallel case I can think of is Melian, who forsook the Undying Land and seemingly bound herself into corporeal form. She ended up returning to Valinor when Thingol died, because the thing she had fallen in love with and stayed for was now gone.

In the case of Radagast, he loved the natural world, and that was not gone. Assuming he even could 'die of old age' (denethorthefirst, you assert that he must, but I don't know what you're basing that on), I'm inclined to the view that he would stay because of that love. He may not be able to create a new body, but so what? He could still linger over the things he adored, in the same manner as Tolkien originally saw the elves doing.

Of course, part of the reason I think this is that I remain convinced he's supposed to be someone or -thing from mythology. Like how Numenor is the source of the Atlantis story, or Frodo's song became 'the cow jumped over the moon', the passing-mention wizard whose name ends in 'gast' - and how close is that to 'ghost'? - really seems like a character from the primary world sneaking his way into the Legendarium. There's even a thread on the Downs about that...
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Old 03-12-2019, 12:15 PM   #13
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Assuming he even could 'die of old age' (denethorthefirst, you assert that he must, but I don't know what you're basing that on) [/url]
Because Tolkien wrote that the Istari aged. For example Saruman had black hair when he arrived in Lindon in ca 1000 T.A. but by the time of the War of the Ring his hair was almost completely white. So his appearance went from middle-aged to rather old. Same with Gandalf. Frodo noticed that Gandalf looked older: "but secretly he thought that Gandalf looked older and more careworn" (Lord of the Rings, The Shadow of the Past). The aging process cant go on indefinitely, can it? If Saruman went from middle-aged to very old in a rather short time period (2000 years, that is nothing for a Maia), then how much longer could he go on? The bodies of the Istari are essentially human. In my opinion they would, eventually, "die", it would only be a matter of time.
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Old 03-12-2019, 12:44 PM   #14
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The aging process cant go on indefinitely, can it? If Saruman went from middle-aged to very old in a rather short time period (2000 years, that is nothing for a Maia), then how much longer could he go on? The bodies of the Istari are essentially human. In my opinion they would, eventually, "die", it would only be a matter of time.
Except that the UT essay regarding the Istari states:

Quote:
....because of their noble spirits they did not die, and aged only by the cares and labours of many long years.
Why would the Valar have sent the Istari in such a form as could disintegrate prior to their being able to complete their mission?
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Old 03-12-2019, 01:00 PM   #15
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Why would the Valar have sent the Istari in such a form as could disintegrate prior to their being able to complete their mission?
Maybe for the same reasons why they sent them in human bodies in the first place, to experience the world from a human perspective, to share all the bodily experiences, the pains and limitations that humans face: "clad in bodies of as of Men, real and not feigned, but subject to the fears and pains and weariness of earth, able to hunger and thirst and be slain" (Unfinished Tales). Maybe the finite lifespan also added a bit of pressure to their mission, that they cannot wait and stay idle indefinitely. They have a purpose and must act. Of course they were still extremely long-lived and had ample time, maybe their bodies would only have died after 10 000 years - its all speculative of course.

I have wondered about the quote you mentioned:

"because of their noble spirits they did not die, and aged only by the cares and labours of many long years.".

But I have always interpreted that quote to mean that the bodies of the Istari did not die during a specific time (from the in-universe-writers perspective, almost 2000 years, from their arrival in Lindon until the War of the Ring). A normal human being would have died during that time period, but the Istari did not, because of their spirits. They survived for 2000 years, for 2000 years their spirits powered their human bodies. At least thats how I have always understood that quote. The quote does not state that the Istari will never die of old age. Just that they did not die of old age during a specific timespan, but that does not mean that they will not, eventually, die.

If their bodies are unable to die of old age, then how do you explain the aging process? Is the mentioned aging just cosmetic? Will it stop at some point? Then why did Tolkien mention it at all? Of course one could argue that the Elves also aged (and even grew beards and developed signs of old age, for example Cirdan), but were still immortal (except for the inevitable "fading" of their bodies). But the elven aging process (beyond maturity) seems to be more a physical manifestation of psychological experiences and trauma. Maybe the aging of the Istari worked in a similar way?

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Old 03-12-2019, 02:15 PM   #16
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But I have always interpreted that quote to mean that the bodies of the Istari did not die during a specific time (from the in-universe-writers perspective, almost 2000 years, from their arrival in Lindon until the War of the Ring). A normal human being would have died during that time period, but the Istari did not, because of their spirits. They survived for 2000 years, for 2000 years their spirits powered their human bodies. At least thats how I have always understood that quote. The quote does not state that the Istari will never die of old age. Just that they did not die of old age during a specific timespan, but that does not mean that they will not, eventually, die.
In the same UT essay is given a snippet from the sketch in which the Valar chose the particular Maiar for the mission:

Quote:
...[The Istari] must forgo might, and clothe themselves in flesh so as to treat on equality and win the trust of Elves and Men. But this would imperil them, dimming their wisdom and knowledge, and confusing them with fears, cares, and wearinesses coming from the flesh.
No mention of eventual physical death from aging among the perils.

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If their bodies are unable to die of old age, then how do you explain the aging process? Is the mentioned aging just cosmetic? Will it stop at some point? Then why did Tolkien mention it at all?
The above quote references that, I think. The aging would help in not scaring the mortals in ME. There are other references to the Istari being clothed in forms "weak and humble" for the same reason. And it is noted in the essay that on landing at Mithlond, Gandalf was already grey-haired, and looked more aged than the others. I impart that to a general theme in Tolkien's works that humility accomplishes more than pride, and since Saruman was described as having a "noble mien and bearing", maybe that has some weight.
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