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Old 11-20-2010, 06:04 AM   #1
Ghanberryghan
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Istari and their staves

Now I'm sure this is one of many frequent topics for discussion, but there seems to be several ideas as to the significance of the wizards' staves and how important they were.
Here are the most common I've come across:

1. They serve as conduits for a wizard's power.

2. Merely symbolic of their prowess.

3. Both.

If we look at when Gandalf loses his staff on the bridge of Khazad-dum and falls, he is still able to kill the Balrog (obviously with magic). This must indicate that the staff is not necessary for a wizard to harness his power.

But then again Saruman gets his staff broken and is later described as having "lost all power, save his voice."

Now the clear difference between the two is that lost his staff due to a fight, whereas Saruman lost his due to Gandalf expelling him, and the braking of his staff was supposedly symbolic.
So maybe it's not so much the staff that is important, but more the rank and title of being a wizard that gives them such power.

Introducing....................................
Number 4!!!!!
My idea (and because I lack originality is probably many other people's as well) is that the staff is like a police badge:
A policeman has the power to arrest someone, is able to incapacitate a criminal, etc.
Gandalf lost his staff in a fight, which is the equivalent of a policeman having his badge torn off by a criminal. Thus still leaving him with the powers that he would have even if he had the badge.
Saruman had his staff taken off him by someone of higher authority, which is the same as a policeman being fired. An ex-policeman still knows how to incapacitate someone, and there is nothing stopping them from falsely arresting them, only they would have the law against them (or in this case the Valar).
The use of the word 'power' in the Scouring of the Shire is rather ambiguous, and could actually mean something more like right/justification. Frodo says Saruman has 'lost all power' which if put into an ex-policeman threatening to arrest someone context, could be seen as saying he's not allowed.

So what do you think? Could the staves of the 5 wizards be like police badges?


-PS: an extra question...

When Gandalf states about Saruman that "He has power still, I think, in Orthanc; to resist the Nazgul." Does this emphasize the point that maybe a wizard's power was not drawn from a staff?
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Old 11-20-2010, 06:10 AM   #2
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Yeh, I'd go with number 4 it sounds good. Welcome to the Downs by the way.
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Old 11-20-2010, 07:39 AM   #3
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Eye A wizard's staff has a knob on the end

I'd reckon that the staff was a conduit for the wizards' power, and a badge of office as well.

Gandalf seems to have brought down the Bridge at Khazad-Dum by breaking his staff upon it - perhaps a conduit for Gandalf's power, perhaps using some 'energy' stored within the staff - its difficult to tell. As well as hewing the Balrog with Glamdring it seems clear that there was serious spell-casting in the Battle of the Peak, so Gandalf could still do magic without the staff. Maybe Gandalf's death was even caused by utter magical exhaustion rather than physical wounds, and maube he would have fared better with his staff - speculation though!

As far as I remember the staves were issued in Valinor, so are likely pretty special!

Oh, and remember the to-do about Gandalf's staff at Edoras, though the assumption that Wizards required the staff appears wrong.
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Old 11-20-2010, 07:54 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Rumil View Post
I'd reckon that the staff was a conduit for the wizards' power, and a badge of office as well.

Gandalf seems to have brought down the Bridge at Khazad-Dum by breaking his staff upon it - perhaps a conduit for Gandalf's power, perhaps using some 'energy' stored within the staff - its difficult to tell. As well as hewing the Balrog with Glamdring it seems clear that there was serious spell-casting in the Battle of the Peak, so Gandalf could still do magic without the staff. Maybe Gandalf's death was even caused by utter magical exhaustion rather than physical wounds, and maube he would have fared better with his staff - speculation though!

As far as I remember the staves were issued in Valinor, so are likely pretty special!

Oh, and remember the to-do about Gandalf's staff at Edoras, though the assumption that Wizards required the staff appears wrong.
Yea I was thinking of it kind of like that, like a Wizard might also have far more abilities when he physically holds his staff, but he's not completely powerless without it, just weakened. Like if Saruman could resist the Nazgul without his staff it shows he's not powerless, but the fuss in Edoras shows that it must somehow enhance their power.
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Old 11-20-2010, 10:50 AM   #5
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Moreover, Gandalf points his staff at the things he wants to set on fire.
And where did he get a new staff from after he broke his on the bridge of Moria?

I think that the magic that anyone does comes from the willpower of that person. Incantations and staffs are probably just used to help direct the power to the correct action. However, people with inner power don't need staffs. If you define magician, you'd get someone with supernatural abilities. Galadriel does "magic" when she works her mirror. And she says that she can make the nirror show whatever she wants with her will. Aragorn enables the Grey Company to make the trip from the Path of the Dead through entire Gondor without much rest with his will, as is noted on a few occasions.
This would mean that wizards will still have their power if their staffs are broken, but it would be harder for the to release it to specific things.

By the way, I like the analogy with the policemen.
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Old 11-20-2010, 10:55 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Galadriel55 View Post
Moreover, Gandalf points his staff at the things he wants to set on fire.
And where did he get a new staff from after he broke his on the bridge of Moria?

I think that the magic that anyone does comes from the willpower of that person. Incantations and staffs are probably just used to help direct the power to the correct action. However, people with inner power don't need staffs. If you define magician, you'd get someone with supernatural abilities. Galadriel does "magic" when she works her mirror. And she says that she can make the nirror show whatever she wants with her will. Aragorn enables the Grey Company to make the trip from the Path of the Dead through entire Gondor without much rest with his will, as is noted on a few occasions.
This would mean that wizards will still have their power if their staffs are broken, but it would be harder for the to release it to specific things.

By the way, I like the analogy with the policemen.
Oh thank you!
But yea I was always under the impression that if the staffs were needed for any reason, then them being broken would mean that they were unable to do certain things IE No longer able to shoot fireballs, but stall able to use words of command.
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Old 11-24-2010, 06:31 AM   #7
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So maybe the staffs are used to direct the power? To release it only on certain things/actions?
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Old 11-24-2010, 09:51 AM   #8
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The wizards have the bodies of old men; the staffs are to help them walk, and to lean on.
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Old 11-24-2010, 10:55 AM   #9
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Given the general attitude towards power (and authority) which LotR explores, I'm constantly bemused at how often questions of power come up in Middle-earth discussions. Must be some kind of magical after-effect of all that gaming.
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Old 11-24-2010, 04:09 PM   #10
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The wizards have the bodies of old men; the staffs are to help them walk, and to lean on.
They're certainly an appropriate accessory to the "costume" of old men in which they were clothed. I get the impression from the three wizards that we actually meet (Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast) that none of them actually were infirm enough genuinely to need them, however.

They were certainly a badge of office, though a rather impractical one, I think. How annoying it must be to have to drag around a big stick your whole life, rather than just pinning a tin star to your wizard robe and forgetting about it. They had to be carried, grasped in the hand, generally paid attention. That was their main purpose, I think. To focus the wizards attention. The staffs came from Aman, and are therefore a reminder of where the wizards came from, and why they are in Middle Earth, what their mission is supposesd to be. As such, they would naturally help the wizard to focus their mind on the innate power each of them posesses. I don't think the staffs were imbued with any "magical" properties. They were special for their artifact value. For example, a couple of the pearls in Queen Elizabeth's crown are known to have been worn by Elizabeth the first. Other parts of her state robes have each their own story. Do you wonder how she feels, on state occasions, garbed in all that history? I think these staffs had a similar significance to the wizards.
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Old 11-24-2010, 05:47 PM   #11
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So what you're saying is that the staves maintain the connection of istari to Valinor, which is closer than the other Valinor-ME connections?
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Old 11-24-2010, 06:16 PM   #12
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So what you're saying is that the staves maintain the connection of istari to Valinor, which is closer than the other Valinor-ME connections?
I'm not trying to imply a magical connection of any kind. It's purely psychological, I think, a persistent reminder of their mission, their obligations, their power. Otherwise, they might as well wear a tin star that requires no fuss, carries no weight in their hand.

As for other Valinor-ME connections . . . ? I'm not sure specifically to what you are referring so I don't think I can answer without more detail.
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Old 11-25-2010, 04:01 PM   #13
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They're certainly an appropriate accessory to the "costume" of old men in which they were clothed. I get the impression from the three wizards that we actually meet (Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast) that none of them actually were infirm enough genuinely to need them, however.
Indeed not, and I seem to recall Tolkien explicitely saying (in some place that eludes my researching patience right now) that they appeared 'old but hale', or something very much like that. Still, if you make a habit of journeying long distances on foot (like all the Istari seem to have done in their early years, though only Gandalf kept it up later, as far as we're told), a staff is an invaluable prop, even if you're reasonably fit.

I like Ghanberryghan's idea of the staves as badges of office very much, and this, too:
Quote:
Originally Posted by radagastly View Post
The staffs came from Aman, and are therefore a reminder of where the wizards came from, and why they are in Middle Earth, what their mission is supposed to be. As such, they would naturally help the wizard to focus their mind on the innate power each of them posesses
...and thus facilitate their use of that power. If I may throw another analogy into the discussion, maybe the staves were also like musical instruments - e.g. take the guitar away from somebody like Jimi Hendrix or Frank Zappa, and they can't play certain kinds of chords and solos without it, but they've still got their musical talent and can still sing or perhaps make do with a banjo or ukulele, or maybe they're even skilled at another instrument like the piano as well, only they can't express themselves in the way that comes most naturally to them.
Or maybe, now I think of it, it was exactly the other way round, and the staves were for those things that weren't personal to the respective wizard. For every one of them, there was some special area of work they were best in - for Gandalf, I'd say it was inspiring others with courage and wisdom; for Saruman, all kinds of 'technological' lore and skill (in which I'd include his manipulations of others' minds through the use of his Voice); for Radagast, communication with animals; and for the Blue Duo, we don't know. These things, I think, were unique and innate to each of them and not connected with the staves at all; whereas most of the things we see Gandalf do with his staff (like his fireworks against the wargs under Caradhras, or the breaking of the bridge) were of a more tactical or 'energetic' nature, drawing on the elemental power he shared with all other Ainur, and in the use of which the Istari were restricted by their orders. (Maybe they were even given the staves, among other reasons, as part of their camouflage, so that in situations when they were forced to use this kind of power before witnesses it would be attributed to the tool rather than the person?) [/wild brainstorming]

All in all, I think the staves were both, badges and instruments, with authority being a crucial point.
Nice thread, Ghanberryghan - not the first on wizards' staves, but provoked some interesting thoughts. Welcome to the Downs!


PS. -
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bêthberry
Given the general attitude towards power (and authority) which LotR explores, I'm constantly bemused at how often questions of power come up in Middle-earth discussions. Must be some kind of magical after-effect of all that gaming.
This, too. That's why I love all those "Who was more powerful, Bill the Pony or Fatty Lumpkin" threads so much.
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Old 12-02-2010, 08:11 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Pitchwife View Post
...and thus facilitate their use of that power. If I may throw another analogy into the discussion, maybe the staves were also like musical instruments - e.g. take the guitar away from somebody like Jimi Hendrix or Frank Zappa, and they can't play certain kinds of chords and solos without it, but they've still got their musical talent and can still sing or perhaps make do with a banjo or ukulele, or maybe they're even skilled at another instrument like the piano as well, only they can't express themselves in the way that comes most naturally to them.
Or maybe, now I think of it, it was exactly the other way round, and the staves were for those things that weren't personal to the respective wizard. For every one of them, there was some special area of work they were best in - for Gandalf, I'd say it was inspiring others with courage and wisdom; for Saruman, all kinds of 'technological' lore and skill (in which I'd include his manipulations of others' minds through the use of his Voice); for Radagast, communication with animals; and for the Blue Duo, we don't know. These things, I think, were unique and innate to each of them and not connected with the staves at all; whereas most of the things we see Gandalf do with his staff (like his fireworks against the wargs under Caradhras, or the breaking of the bridge) were of a more tactical or 'energetic' nature, drawing on the elemental power he shared with all other Ainur, and in the use of which the Istari were restricted by their orders. (Maybe they were even given the staves, among other reasons, as part of their camouflage, so that in situations when they were forced to use this kind of power before witnesses it would be attributed to the tool rather than the person?) [/wild brainstorming]

All in all, I think the staves were both, badges and instruments, with authority being a crucial point.
Nice thread, Ghanberryghan - not the first on wizards' staves, but provoked some interesting thoughts. Welcome to the Downs!


PS. -

This, too. That's why I love all those "Who was more powerful, Bill the Pony or Fatty Lumpkin" threads so much.
Oh I like that idea with the instruments! It makes a lot of sense. I always end up thinking not only of Gandalf's fight with the Balrog, but also Saruman foretelling Frodo's misfortune shortly before his death, and how he seems just as powerless in his tower with his staff than he is without it.
I actually got this idea with reading MANY other threads on wizard's and their staves, and they all come to different conclusions. The Istari were of the same race as Sauron himself, but were in middle earth for a different reason; to serve as advisers and messengers for the free peoples, and their powers were there to aid them in troubled times. Their staves could have shown that they, being maiar in middle earth for a different reason, were allowed to use their powers and if the staff broke by physical means, that doesn't mean they weren't allowed to use their godly power. If they were cast down that could mean they weren't allowed to as they were no longer the messengers of the Valar. They would still be ABLE to, but that would be like a police officer searching a house without a warrant, or incapacitating a citizen without a justification.
Gah... I'm probably repeating myself but still, you get the idea.
But yes, just like instruments, you could pretend there were three musicians, one who plays guitar, one who plays violin and one who plays clarinet. To show that they were musicians they each carry a music stand. See the similarities? They can use their stands to help them play music (help them cast spells) but without a stand a musician might be able to play what he remembers on his own instrument without the use of a stand (Guitarist remembers songs which he can play without a music stand) which could be like Saruman using the power of his voice which he had.
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Old 12-02-2010, 12:20 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Galadriel55 View Post
Moreover, Gandalf points his staff at the things he wants to set on fire.
And where did he get a new staff from after he broke his on the bridge of Moria?
After Gandalf is sent back, Gwaihir takes him to Lorien, where Galadriel gives him newly washed white robes and I'd imagine where he also got a new staff

With the power of the wizards' staves I've always thought Hama made an interesting comment:

Quote:
"The staff in the hand of a wizard may be more than a prop for age," said Hama. He looked hard at the ash-staff on which Gandalf leaned.~The King of the Golden Hall
It is an ordinary (at least looks ordinary) wooden staff, but Hama adds an interesting point, "in the hand of a wizard." There is no power in a staff, other than being used as a prop, but in the hand of a wizard, they can be used as ways to focus their power. Like how Gandalf uses his staff to break the bridge of Khazad-dum.

Quote:
At that moment Gandalf lifted his staff, and crying aloud he smote the bridge before him. The staff broke asunder and fell from his hand. A blinding sheet of white flame sprang up. The bridge cracked. Right at the Balrog's feet it broke,...~The Bridge of Khazad-dum
Handy tool to break and smite things. Surely Gandalf wouldn't want to power-punch the bridge.
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Old 12-03-2010, 01:16 AM   #16
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If a wizard’s staff from Aman was a reminder that he also came from Aman, then Gandalf’s breaking Saruman’s staff suddenly makes sense: his connection to home was broken. He’d been offered a chance to repent and be redeemed, but he refused. Saruman himself broke his real connection to Valinor; Gandalf’s breaking his staff only made him aware of what he had done. That would explain how Saruman might still trap a Nazgûl at Orthanc, how he could cozen Treebeard despite all he’d done to the ents and the fact that Treebeard actually understood his purposes, but without that connection back to Valinor, he was increasingly unfocused. When Gandalf’s body was killed, his spirit wandered but remained intact; when Saruman’s body was killed, his spirit was dissipated.

It also throws light on how Radagast failed in his mission. Radagast never became evil: Gandalf calls him “the honest Radagast”, and it was through Radagast’s interventions that Gwaihir rescued Gandalf from Orthanc. But Radagast “became enamored of the many beasts and birds that dwelt in Middle-earth, and forsook Elves and Men”. (Unfinished Tales, “Istari”) Gandalf’s description at the Council of Elrond of his meeting with him portrays Radagast as frightened and unfocused, as if he had forgotten his connection to Valinor and so lost his connection to his mission in Middle-earth.
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Old 12-03-2010, 04:07 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Ghanberryghan
But yes, just like instruments, you could pretend there were three musicians, one who plays guitar, one who plays violin and one who plays clarinet. To show that they were musicians they each carry a music stand. See the similarities? They can use their stands to help them play music (help them cast spells) but without a stand a musician might be able to play what he remembers on his own instrument without the use of a stand (Guitarist remembers songs which he can play without a music stand) which could be like Saruman using the power of his voice which he had.
Nice analogy, I like it. Besides, I just love this little imaginary dialogue:
"So why did the Istari carry staves?" - "Because music stands would've been to cumbersome."
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Originally Posted by Boro
It is an ordinary (at least looks ordinary) wooden staff, but Hama adds an interesting point, "in the hand of a wizard." There is no power in a staff, other than being used as a prop, but in the hand of a wizard, they can be used as ways to focus their power. Like how Gandalf uses his staff to break the bridge of Khazad-dum.
This is a good point, I think. Like an instrument (or a music stand) doesn't have any power in the hands of somebody who can't play, but in hands of a virtuoso, wow!
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Old 12-03-2010, 06:07 AM   #18
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Hmmm it does make sense having the staff also serve as a focus or connection between the wizard and Valinor. That would explain why Saruman didn't seem very different without his staff than he was with it, and why Gandalf never lost any power when his was destroyed in Moria.
I always have wondered how exactly Saruman would use his power against the Nazgul in Orthanc though. Could it mean that the tower itself could serve as a focus, much like his staff? Orthanc was built by the numenoreans so it would make sense if it gave Saruman a connection to Valinor.
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Old 12-07-2010, 10:34 PM   #19
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Hey I don't know if someones said this already I tried to read every post but there are a lot and some quite long.

I think that the staff's are only status symbols in there order and that their power and magical ability is because they are Maiar
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Old 12-08-2010, 05:03 PM   #20
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Hey I don't know if someones said this already I tried to read every post but there are a lot and some quite long.
I think that the staff's are only status symbols in there order
This is kinda the thread's main idea...


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and that their power and magical ability is because they are Maiar
Yes. An example would be Melian - I don't recall reading about any staff, but she was still able to protect Doriath and do less noticeable "magic". I think it is marvelous how people can always read some message in her eyes...
A bit off topic there. Sorry!
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Old 12-10-2010, 12:36 AM   #21
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Pipe :p

I was just agreeing with #2 instead of #1, 3, or 4 in the first post...
and yes Melian is also Maiar but she is not in the Order of Istari...
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Old 12-10-2010, 12:45 AM   #22
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Narya

and I just noticed this...

""When Gandalf states about Saruman that "He has power still, I think, in Orthanc; to resist the Nazgul." Does this emphasize the point that maybe a wizard's power was not drawn from a staff?"

I think it does emphasize that the wizards power was not drawn from his staff they just have the power in them.
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Old 12-10-2010, 03:48 AM   #23
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Referring back to the original post, I would cast my vote for #3, that the staffs were both conduits and symbols. However, I would say that they were more a symbol of their office rather than their power. The main passage I am thinking of is the very powerful moment when Gandalf breaks Saruman's staff and expels him from the order. Saruman is no longer one of them. It is more of a ceremonial move imho, although it may well have also served to limit Saruman's power in some way.

In reference to their being conduits, Gandalf on several occasions appears to use his staff to focus his power and perform some feat such as lighting fuel on Caradhras or breaking the Bridge of Khazad-Dum. Also, I'm not convinced that he actually did use spells on the Balrog after losing his staff. The closest reference I could find to his possibly using magic in the battle is the following rather obscure observation of Gandalf:

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Those that looked up from afar thought that the mountain was crowned with storm. Thunder they heard, and lightning, they said, smote upon Celebdil, and leaped back broken into tongues of fire.
These things could possibly have been seen simply as a result of the Balrog bursting into flame, with some inclement weather thrown in the mix. Glamdring and tenacity may well have been enough!

I like the idea of the staffs as a connection to Valinor. They certainly were symbolic of the mandate given to the Istari to act for and on behalf of the Valar, which Saruman had officially stripped of him by Gandalf the White. But as pointed out, Gandalf's white staff did not come from the Undying Lands.
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Old 12-10-2010, 10:31 PM   #24
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  • When Aragorn and Frodo watched the battle between Gandalf and the Nazgûl on Weathertop from the Midgewater Marshes, Aragorn said that, “It is like lightning that leaps up from the hill-tops,” and Frodo could see “white flashes” in the distance.
  • This sounds very like the “stab of white light” the Company of the Ring saw at the top of the stair when the Chamber of Mazarbul collapsed on the Balrog as it tried to wrench the door from Gandalf’s control.
  • When Gandalf was wielding Glamdring against the flaming red sword of the Balrog, there was a “stab of white fire”. (Aside: there were flames running down the sword of the Lord of the Nazgûl when he confronted Gandalf at the Gates of Minas Tirith.)
  • When Gandalf broke the Durin’s Bridge, there was “a blinding sheet of white flame”.
  • And when Gandalf chased off the pursuing winged Nazgûl to rescue Faramir and his companions as they retreated to Minas Tirith just before the beginning of the siege, Gandalf “raised his hand, and from it a shaft of white light stabbed upwards.”
All of these sound like lightening. At the very least, they are all some kind of intense, white light that the Nazgûl and the Balrog intensely disliked. And as you point out, at least on the peak of Zirakzigil, Gandalf did not have a staff with him.
  • In TT, “King of the Golden Hall”, there is the episode where Gandalf silences Wormtongue’s deceits:
    Quote:
    “...I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a serving-man till the lightning falls.” He raised his staff. There was a roll of thunder. The sunlight was blotted out from the eastern windows; the whole hall became suddenly dark as night. The fire faded to sullen embers. Only Gandalf could be seen, standing white and tall before the blackened hearth.

    In the gloom they heard the hiss of Wormtongue’s voice: “Did I not counsel you, lord, to forbid his staff? That fool, Hama, has betrayed us!” There was a flash as if lightning had cloven the roof. Then all was silent. Wormtongue sprawled on his face. …
    I had always assumed that Gandalf produced the lightning using his staff; now I am not so sure.

Gandalf did use the staff when starting the fire on Caradhras, and his staff broke when he broke Durin’s Bridge, as doug*platypus has pointed out. But perhaps the bridge incident can be explained another way: “The Istari” essay in UT says early on that the Istari
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…were forbidden to reveal themselves in forms of majesty, or to … open display of power, but coming in shapes weak and humble were bidden to advise and persuade Men and Elves to good…
When Gandalf fought the Balrog in Moria, although he was still confined to a “shape weak and humble”, it was a battle between two Maia, something that had not taken place in Middle-earth since Eönwë the Herald of Manwë fought in the War of Wrath. Perhaps in breaking his staff, Gandalf was signifying that he was putting off any pretense of appearing to be a Man or Elf, summoning all the strength available to him as Olórin the Maia, hobbled as he might remain by the restrictions imposed upon him when he left Valinor. That was his best hope of saving the Ring-bearer and the Heir of Elendil from Durin’s Bane; and of course, he died after overthrowing the Balrog.

Which leads to this: If that last paragraph is correct, and Gandalf broke his staff as a sign that he had broken his restrictions as an Istar, did he die merely from physical injuries sustained fighting the Balrog, or also because that was the natural outcome of his decision to “fight like a Maia”?
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Old 12-11-2010, 08:11 AM   #25
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did he die merely from physical injuries sustained fighting the Balrog, or also because that was the natural outcome of his decision to “fight like a Maia”?
I always interpreted Gandalf's death as neither of these. I think that since he used ALL his power to defeat the Balrog, he didn't have any strength to stay alive. I mean both inner and physical strength. I don't think that his death was a punishment for revealling himself as a Maia at a time of need - why would it be? Gandalf was went back to ME to complete his task, so I think that the Valar and Eru totally approved of Gandalf's choice. Just think - would they rather have Gandalf reveal himself once or let Sauron get the Ring? Cause that's what would've happened if Gandalf didn't stop the Balrog from killing the whole Fellowship.
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Old 12-11-2010, 08:37 AM   #26
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One thing that I find curious is that upon the arrival of the Istari in Middle-earth, staves were not apparently seen carried by all of them by the Elves at the Havens.

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The first to come was of noble mien and bearing, with raven hair, and a fair voice, and he was clad in white; great skill he had in works of hand, and he was regarded by well-nigh all, even by the Eldar, as the head of the Order. Others there were also: two clad in sea-blue, and one in earthen brown; and last came one who seemed the least, less tall than the others, and in looks more aged, grey-haired and grey-clad, and leaning on a staff.
UT The Istari (emphasis mine)

If all of them had staves when the disembarked, why was Gandalf's possession of one noteworthy? And if only Gandalf brought his from the Undying Lands, perhaps that was symbolic of the fact that he was, ultimately, the greatest among them, as discerned by Círdan.

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But Cirdan from their first meeting at the Grey Havens divined in [Gandalf] the greatest spirit and the wisest...
UT The Istari

Also, the only occasion in which we "see" Radagast personally in the story, when Gandalf describes their meeting on the Greenway to the Council of Elrond, he is not described as having a staff.

I'm not saying any of this is definitive, but I do wonder why it seems that the staff was mainly associated with Gandalf, and not to the Istari as a whole, at least not initially.
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Old 12-11-2010, 07:45 PM   #27
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If all of them had staves when the disembarked, why was Gandalf's possession of one noteworthy? And if only Gandalf brought his from the Undying Lands, perhaps that was symbolic of the fact that he was, ultimately, the greatest among them, as discerned by Círdan.
Also, I'm not sure about in the canon itself, but isn't the name Gandalf meant to contain 'gandr', the Old Norse word for staff?

EDIT: After some research I found this, which shows that the name Gandalf does mean "Wand/Staff Elf", though, again, I'm not sure how well this translates in-canon. But it does seem to me that Gandalf was noted for having a staff, which may suggest that the others didn't.

On the other hand, Gandalf was his Mannish name, and so "Staff Elf" may just show that because Men thought he was an Elf, they found it strange for him have (or need) a staff. Since they didn't know of his magic, I'd say they probably assumed it was only a walking aid, which I can't imagine Elves using, it would be a enough of a defining characteristic to make it into his name.
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Old 12-11-2010, 08:21 PM   #28
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Since in a sense the wizards were "stewards" of Middle-earth, as Gandalf tells Denathor, my personal interpretation has been that they are largely symbolic to their office, as the steward of Gondor has a white rod signifying his position. Whatever the case, we do know that Gandalf wasn't the only one with a staff, as Saruman had one that was broken when he was cast from the order. And if Saruman is to be believed, all five Istari had staves, since when he accuses Gandalf of wanting greater power, he refers to the staffs of the Five Wizards. To me, it makes sense that they are emblems of their office, as Gandalf breaks his to shatter the Bridge as his own office comes to its moment of personal failure, and Saruman's is broken when he loses his position as the head of the order and is cast from it. But there is no concrete proof for my theory, only conjecture partially based on my perception of a vague similarity in symbolism between the staff of a wizard and the signet of the Gondorian steward.
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Old 12-11-2010, 10:47 PM   #29
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I I think that since [Gandalf] used ALL his power to defeat the Balrog, he didn't have any strength to stay alive. … I don't think that his death was a punishment for revealling himself as a Maia at a time of need… Gandalf was went back to ME to complete his task, so I think that the Valar and Eru totally approved of Gandalf's choice. …
I agree. That’s why I posited that his death
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was the natural outcome of his decision to “fight like a Maia”
To clarify – and concur –, I was not suggesting that it was some kind of “punishment”, but rather the natural outcome of using all his powers in the “shape weak and humble” to which he was confined; and perhaps that would have been the outcome even had he retained the physical form he’d used in Valinor.

But since this thread is about his wizard’s staff, it has been noted already that Gandalf’s staff was an ex-staff by this point. I don’t think he was “missing” any of his power when he fought the Balrog.

So what did Gandalf’s breaking his staff signify? He did not intend to die: what would have been the outcome without the staff? Could he just pick up another one anywhere in the woods? Did the staff of an Istar need somehow to be consecrated?

-|-

As first conceived, I think it may be that a wizard’s staff was merely a “staff of office.” In Treason of Isengard, chapter “Flotsam And Jetsam” (remember, this is a draft of Two Towers), one of the earlier versions said,
Quote:
Gandalf demands [Saruman’s] staff of office. He refuses; then Gandalf orders him to be shut up [in Orthanc].
Later in ToI, in the chapter “Voice Of Saruman” (again, this is not the finished tale of TT), CJRT says that
Quote:
in the original sketches … Saruman was not in his tower, Gandalf took his staff from him and broke it with his hands
And footnote 6 to this chapter says that in one draft Gandalf advises Treebeard, “with the Key of Orthanc and his staff [Saruman] must not be allowed to escape.”

-|-


There are at least two other broken staffs in Lord of the Rings. For now, I impute no associations with the breaking of Gandalf’s or Saruman’s staffs, but I report them so that they might be useful to the general discussion.
  1. In TT in “Shelob's Lair”, Sam broke the stout walking staff that Faramir gave him across Gollum’s back. This staff seems to be purely utilitarian. The description Tolkien gives us is,
    Quote:
    The staff cracked and broke.
    Compare that to the TT final published “Voice of Saruman”, where JRRT describes Gandalf’s breaking Saruman’s staff:
    Quote:
    There was a crack, and the staff split asunder in Saruman's hand, and the head of it fell…
    And in FotR, “The Bridge of Khazad-dûm”, the description used is
    Quote:
    The staff broke asunder and fell from his hand.
    My point is that the description of Sam’s breaking his purely utilitarian staff over Gollum’s back is similar to the breaking of Gandalf’s and Saruman’s staffs.

  2. In RotK, “Pyre of Denethor”, Denethor lit a fire, climbed onto the funerary table in its midst, broke his staff of office over his knee, and cast the broken remains into the blaze. Here the staff, although likely quite old, was purely symbolic. Later in “The Steward and the King”, Faramir handed Aragorn “a white rod” as the symbol of his office of Steward, which Aragorn took (emphasizing that the office of Steward was Aragorn’s to bestow), gave the stewardship to Faramir as an hereditary office (the House of Húrin had at first remained stewards by consensus among the uneasy nobles), which he symbolized by returning the white rod to Faramir.

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Old 12-12-2010, 12:32 PM   #30
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Whatever the case, we do know that Gandalf wasn't the only one with a staff, as Saruman had one that was broken when he was cast from the order. And if Saruman is to be believed, all five Istari had staves, since when he accuses Gandalf of wanting greater power, he refers to the staffs of the Five Wizards. To me, it makes sense that they are emblems of their office
I seem to have totally forgotten that in my last post post. That's what happens when you're on the 'Downs at almost 2AM...

Still I think my second point still stands about him being more associated with his staff in the eyes of Men. Because he travelled a lot and never stayed in one place, they would see him with his staff all the time, serving the dual purpose of just being useful for walking and as a symbol of his position in the order (which he'd have to take with him all the time as he doesn't have anywhere to stay).

Saruman, on the other hand, lives in Orthanc, and so probably wouldn't carry around his staff all the time.


As for the purpose of the staff itself, I'd say it did mostly act as a sign of one's position in the Order. However I do think it also aided with "magic", in particular the "non-native" magic of the wizard. I'm not sure what his natural power would be (it's quite vague), but I don't think the flashes of light(ning?) he used against the Nazgul at Weathertop were part of it, and I assume that the staff, as a symbol of authority, would allow him to more easily do "magic" that wasn't entirely natural to him. So basically, while acting as a reminderto (and maybe actually acting to) limit his power, it would give him authority over things that he wouldn't normally have, just as I think Narya would help him with fire.


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[B][i]So what did Gandalf’s breaking his staff signify?
Well, with the staff being the symbol of Gandalf's role in the Order, I assume breaking the staff effectively meant ending his role as the Grey. I'm not sure whether this means that if he didn't die he'd have to ask the Valar to reaffirm his position as the Grey, he knew he would die, or what it meant for the rest of the short time before his death. Would he only be able to use his own "native" power (as well as Narsil and Glamdring) against the Balrog? Would all the "magic words of command" still work?

I also think he would lose his authority as an Istar, so he wouldn't be able to break another wizard's staff or expel them from the order unless he was sent back.
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Old 12-12-2010, 01:34 PM   #31
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It's possible that the lightnings that Gandalf keeps using come from Narya, not his original power or the staff.
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Old 12-12-2010, 02:54 PM   #32
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It's possible that the lightnings that Gandalf keeps using come from Narya, not his original power or the staff.
Possibly, but not conclusively.

In any case, it does not explain Gandalf’s description of what happened to him during the battle. He was burned. He was drowned. He was frozen. He was strangled. Perhaps one of the great among the Eldar could have survived such an ordeal; I don’t believe a Man could. He fought despite all, dealing out as well as he received and more, because the Balrog fled from him. He doesn’t seem to have been greatly diminished because he lost his staff: he was strong enough to defeat the last surviving Balrog in Middle-earth.

Tolkien doesn’t say that Saruman was diminished in power when Gandalf the White broke his staff. He was stripped of authority, cast from the White Council and from the Order of the Istari, as well as from his positions of leadership. And later on, Saruman did get himself another staff: he was leaning on it when Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, Celeborn, and the hobbits came upon him in Dunland. I don’t recall that he had it at Bag End, where he does indeed seem to have been much diminished in power, though he retained his ability to daunt and frighten the folk of Hobbiton.

At this point, I think a wizard’s staff is undoubtedly a symbol of authority: the name “Gandalf” is appropriate, “Elf of the Wand” where “wand” might be interpreted as “rod” of authority. In that sense, when Gandalf broke Saruman’s staff and cast him from the Order of Istari, he might not only have stripped him of authority, but stripped him of some of his abilities to exercise his power in Middle-earth. I think that he could do that as “Gandalf the White, who has returned from death,” plenipotentiary of the Valar and perhaps in this regard of Eru Himself.

But it seems to me there must be something else going on with a wizard’s staff. When Gandalf offered terms to Saruman, he demanded the Key of Orthanc – Saruman was no longer a trustworthy keeper of a strategic asset of Gondor, not even in time of peace but particularly so in time of war – and Saruman’s staff. He explained that, “They shall be pledges of your conduct, to be returned later, if you merit them.” Without them, Saruman was free to go even to Mordor. I can understand Saruman’s reluctance to give up Orthanc as a power-mad would-be dictator: he libraries, archives, machinery, prepared materials – all the things he needed to wage war and project power – were there. He would be impoverished and left dependent upon others. (Gandalf seems in contrast to have assumed a vow of poverty, like a travelling friar: he seems to have had few possessions.) But Gandalf’s insistence upon having his staff was what fired Saruman’s pride and hate.

But look for a moment at Saruman’s angry refusal. The “Keys of Barad-dûr” match the Keys of Orthanc – control over things and wealth. The “crowns of seven kings” match the “rods of the Five Wizards” – and crowns are not instruments but symbols of royal power.

So I don’t know. I am undecided. I think there must be more to a wizard’s staff than mere symbolism, unless Gandalf’s breaking Saruman’s staff was a physical symbol of his stripping him not only of authority but also of either his power or – better yet – his ability to exercise that power.
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Old 12-12-2010, 05:30 PM   #33
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One thing that I find curious is that upon the arrival of the Istari in Middle-earth, staves were not apparently seen carried by all of them by the Elves at the Havens.

...

If all of them had staves when the disembarked, why was Gandalf's possession of one noteworthy? And if only Gandalf brought his from the Undying Lands, perhaps that was symbolic of the fact that he was, ultimately, the greatest among them, as discerned by Círdan.

...

Also, the only occasion in which we "see" Radagast personally in the story, when Gandalf describes their meeting on the Greenway to the Council of Elrond, he is not described as having a staff.

I'm not saying any of this is definitive, but I do wonder why it seems that the staff was mainly associated with Gandalf, and not to the Istari as a whole, at least not initially.
I found this to be the most thought-provoking post in the whole thread, because it gives the strongest reasons to wonder whether there actually *is* an Istari-staff connection--whether we might just be over-valuing Saruman's possession of a staff and single statement about the five wizards as truthful of all wizards, rather than just momentary hyperbole (and appropriate rhetoric, perhaps).

On the side of "all wizards need staves," I'd like to just make the semantic quibble that Gandalf is singled out as using a staff, as needing a staff. Rather than implying that the wizards otherwise had no staves, this always occurred to me as signifying that Gandalf was somehow "older" in appearance than the others. One notes that Saruman has "raven" hair back then... perhaps he wasn't sent to Middle-earth as aged as Gandalf?

On the other hand, however, I wondered... if Gandalf is the only one with a staff on arrival, why did Saruman pick one up in the meantime? Clearly, not just because he got older, because Gandalf removing it is a major problem for him, and not because he needs a crutch.

The thought that occurred to me, reading all this, was that maybe it is because the staff belongs with the Keys of Orthanc--part of his badge of office as the steward of Gondor's power in their far-flung tower. Obviously, this thought owes a great deal to the aforementioned fact that Denethor and Faramir both have staves as their badge of office. What if, perhaps, this was not only true of the Steward of All Gondor, but true of any steward office holder in Gondor? Remember that one of Denethor's chief assistants in the rule of Minas Tirith was Húrin, Keeper of the Keys.

Mind you, that brings up the legal question of how Gandalf could deprive Saruman of a Gondorian office--although, I should mention, this problem still exists for the Keys, even if there is no connection to Saruman's staff. One answer is that, as the emissary of the Valar, Gandalf can "morally trump" the legal system. Another might be that, as Saruman's superior in the Istari, he can declare Saruman unfit for duty, and ineligible to serve a "foreign power." Another could assume that Gandalf has Aragorn's implicit consent, and that (as with the Palantíri, Aragorn doesn't need to be crowned to exert his royal prerogative over Orthanc).
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Old 12-12-2010, 08:19 PM   #34
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I think that when the Istari came to ME, Gandalf already seemed the oldest. As for the legal-or-not thing, Gandalf is the "stewart" of all of ME, and thus should have the authority to decide what will happen to Isengard. He has more authority than Aragorn or Denethor or both combined.
If the staffs are symbols of the order, then what do the colours of the wizards signify? I thought that colour has a corresponding rank to it, white being the highest. Saruman "renounced" his colour, but wanted to keep the rank assosiated with it. Maybe by breaking his staff Gandalf showed him that its either none or both.
I find it curious how Gandalf only has the power/authority to break Saruman's staff and kick him out of the order when he becomes white. It could be because until that time Saruman was still superior to Gandalf, no matter how corrupted he got. It is possible that when Gandalf was sent back he received more power/authority that Saruman had, or at least the same amount. An inferior can't kick out his boss, but an equal can kick out an equal.
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Old 12-12-2010, 10:18 PM   #35
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I think that after his return from physical death, Gandalf had a few new things to deal with. One of these was certainly Saruman: like Sauron, Saruman had become a rogue Maia, and the ultimate ruler of the Maiar – Eru – was responsible for Gandalf’s return. Saruman was given “a last choice and a fair one: to renounce both Mordor and his private schemes, and make amends by helping” the West. (TT, “Voice of Saruman”) He refused: “He will not serve, only command.” (ibid.) This is pride, and if we look at Lord of the Rings as a Catholic book for a moment, pride is the first, primordial sin.

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Saruman "renounced" his colour, but wanted to keep the rank assosiated with it. Maybe by breaking his staff Gandalf showed him that its either none or both.
I had not considered this before: Saruman willfully, knowingly, deliberately and repeatedly broke the rules under which he was supposed to act. What necessarily followed was his dismissal “for cause”.

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Originally Posted by Galadriel55 View Post
I find it curious how Gandalf only has the power/authority to break Saruman's staff and kick him out of the order when he becomes white. It could be because until that time Saruman was still superior to Gandalf, no matter how corrupted he got. It is possible that when Gandalf was sent back he received more power/authority that Saruman had, or at least the same amount. An inferior can't kick out his boss, but an equal can kick out an equal.
I agree. Gandalf the Grey did not have the authority to act against Saruman, who was his superior in the Order of the Istari. Gandalf the White did have that authority, and apparently had been charged to deal with him.

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Originally Posted by Formendacil View Post
On the side of "all wizards need staves," I'd like to just make the semantic quibble that Gandalf is singled out as using a staff, as needing a staff. ...

On the other hand, however, I wondered... if Gandalf is the only one with a staff on arrival, why did Saruman pick one up in the meantime? Clearly, not just because he got older, because Gandalf removing it is a major problem for him, and not because he needs a crutch.

The thought that occurred to me, reading all this, was that maybe it is because the staff belongs with the Keys of Orthanc--part of his badge of office as the steward of Gondor's power in their far-flung tower. ...

...[T]hat brings up the legal question of how Gandalf could deprive Saruman of a Gondorian office... Another could assume that Gandalf has Aragorn's implicit consent...
Gandalf’s Dwarven name, Tharkûn, was said to mean “Staff-man”. He is the only one of the Istari in the Unfinished Tales essay that I can find who is mentioned carrying a staff.

The symbol of royal office in both Arnor and Númenor was a scepter, a kind of staff or rod; and the rod of office of the Lords of Andúnië was used as the Scepter of Annúminas, the royal scepter of Arnor that Elrond returned to Aragorn before he gave him the hand of Arwen.

As for Gandalf’s acting as Aragorn’s chancellor or prime minister, that seems to be their implicit agreement up to “The Last Debate” of the Captains of the West, and the explicit command of Aragorn from that point onwards until Gandalf “resigns” that post at the hallow on Mount Mindolluin when Aragorn finds the sapling of the White Tree. Aragorn does not seem to have wanted to reveal himself to Saruman (at the time, neither he nor Gandalf knew for certain that Saruman had been communicating with Sauron using the Orthanc-stone, though they might have guessed), so at least in demanding from Saruman the Keys of Orthanc, Gandalf was surely acting as Aragorn’s agent; nor could Denethor have objected, since Saruman in Orthanc posed a threat to Gondor’s defense.

It may be that Gandalf had more authority than either Aragorn or Denethor, but his leeway to exercise that authority was closely circumscribed. After all, Saruman’s ignoring the circumscription to his authority is why he was cast from the Council and the Order. The Order of Istari (UT, “The Istari”)
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were forbidden to reveal themselves in forms of majesty, or to seek to rule the wills of Men and Elves by open display of power, but … bidden to advise and persuade Men and Elves to good, and to seek to unite … those whom Sauron … would endeavor to dominate and corrupt.
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Old 12-13-2010, 10:37 AM   #36
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I think that when the Istari came to ME, Gandalf already seemed the oldest. As for the legal-or-not thing, Gandalf is the "steward" of all of ME, and thus should have the authority to decide what will happen to Isengard. He has more authority than Aragorn or Denethor or both combined.
I... really wonder about that. Gandalf tells Denethor "I am also a steward," but that does not mean "I am also a legal authority charged with governance in the absence of the one charging me with that authority." To put it another way, Gandalf is a steward, yes--but what is he stewarding? You say Gandalf is "steward of all Middle-earth," and I agree in a sense... but not in a legal sense.

To be sure, I agree that Gandalf "has more authority than Aragorn or Denethor or both combined"... but I don't think that's legal authority. In other words, I don't think, really, that Gandalf is "emissary of the Valar, and by reason of being Head of the Istari the chief steward of their authority in Middle-earth, which pre-empts all prior claims." In other words, I don't think Gandalf was saying "I'm standing here with the authority of Manwë, vicegerent of Arda," in the way Denethor was asserting his authority as "Steward of the House of Anárion."

It's a rather pedantic point that I'm making, but an important one in my opinion. Gandalf's actions throughout the book are not consistent with a "legal" view of his stewardship. Rather, he has a stewardship of Men's hopes. His stewardship is not to assert the Valar's authority in Middle-earth, but to keep the flame of resistance alive against Sauron. It is an important part of his mission that this is NOT done by putting his authority over that of the kingdoms of Men (and others...). On the contrary, he is an encourager, a persuader, and a bringer of hope.
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Old 12-13-2010, 11:57 AM   #37
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I agree with Form's post, when Gandalf tells Denethor he's "a steward" as well, it's more Tolkien making a commentary on the difference between Denethor's Stewardship and Gandalf's. There are different meanings to the word and Tolkien is contrasting the two meanings by using Gandalf and Denethor.

(all quotes from Minas Tirith)

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"Yet the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men's purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mind and no other man's, unless the king should come again."
This part is interesting because Denethor is flat out saying he rules Gondor, he is the "Lord," and thus the good of Gondor is his only purpose. Originally the house of Stewards, in Gondor, was designed to rule the realm when the King was gone.

When Earnur chases off after the Witch-King after being insulted, the Steward, Mardil stays and rules Gondor until Earnur is able to return. Although, in this case, Earnur doesn't return as he is killed, ending Anarion's line and Mardil becomes what would be the 1st "Ruling Steward." The Ruling Stewards all took oaths to hold the throne and sceptre until a king returns. Overtime the Stewards took these oaths out of tradition, and even though legally they could never claim the title of king (as it was decided only the line of Anarion could rule Gondor and the House of Stewards were not from Anarion's line), they essentially ruled as kings and weren't interested in giving up their power. As is evidenced when Denethor said Aragorn's house was "long bereft of Lordship," and his "unless the king should come again" comment is far from convincing. Something that Gandalf notices.

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"Unless the king should come again?" said Gandalf. "Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom still against that event, which few now look to see. In that task you shall have all the aid that you are pleased to ask for. But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair and bear fruit and flower again in the days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?"
There's a lot of things going on here, but look at the capitilization when Gandalf addresses Denethor as "lord Steward" and then when Gandalf says he's a "steward." The former he associates with a position of rule. Denethor says Gondor is his rule. The latter "steward" Gandalf associates with care. All things are Gandalf's care, in fact he rules nothing.

Gandalf is pointing to the humbler origins of stewardship, as opposed to Denethor's idea of Stewardship. The humbler origins have a religious context of stewards being like shephards to their flock. Denethor's idea of Stewardship is asserting his authority in Gondor.

If I've read Form's post correctly, I guess I'm saying Gandalf is actually doing the exact opposite. He is using the humble origins of what it is to be a "steward" to actually say he's in no legal, or authoritative position. He rules nothing, but cares for all. And goes to contrast Denethor's legal position of Gondor, as a "Steward."
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Old 12-13-2010, 04:48 PM   #38
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I didn't mean to say that Gandalf is such a stewart as Denethor. But as you said, his job is to care for all of ME, or as much as he can. No matter how you interpret his stewartship, though, you can say that he's responsible for the fate of ME. The job of a ruler, any ruler, is to govern only his country, and that is basically all he's responsible for. Gandalf's responsibility is by far greater and more important. Thus, it should also give him more leagal authority. He does indeed care for ME and doesn't rule it. However, in order to be able to care for it, he requires some power/authority over others. He doesn't abuse it, like Saruman did, and avoids using and displaying it, like Denethor, but he still posesses it.
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Old 12-14-2010, 10:36 PM   #39
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We might be thinking about Gandalf’s broken staff in the wrong way.

Gandalf had been using the staff as a focus, or at least as an extension of himself: lighting the fire on Caradhras, for instance. That doesn’t mean it’s “magic”. To the person who understands it, it’s just a tool. A shepherd’s crook may seem “magic” to the sheep rescued from a ledge, for instance, but to the shepherd, it’s just a useful tool.

If Gandalf on Durin’s Bridge is already tired and wants to keep his distance between himself and his opponent, he might use the staff as means to do that, channeling whatever he’s doing to break the bridge through the staff. Think of the expression, “I wouldn’t touch that Balrog with a ten-foot pole!” Gandalf could have been as surprised as the rest of the onlookers that the staff burst. For that matter, he was pretty smart: he might have done it for effect, to surprise the Balrog; and the Balrog does seem to have been surprised.

Maybe the staff burst the same way the door to the Chamber of Mazarbul burst: we know, or think we know, that Gandalf intended to break the bridge. Perhaps the Balrog tried to stop him. If Gandalf was using the staff as a tool, then just like the door on which each of them had his hand, it could have broken under the strain between them when the bridge broke.

-|-

Another idea presents itself as well. If the staff has symbolic meaning – Gandalf, you are to unite Men and Elves in opposition to Sauron – breaking the staff might be interpreted as, Gandalf, you’re done with the first assignment. Don’t leave without killing the Balrog.

If Gandalf had escaped and the Balrog survived, the Umaia might well have helped Sauron in his three assaults upon Lórien. Celeborn seemed uncertain that the little kingdom would have survived, and probably for good reason! It would not mean that Gandalf had either exceeded his authority or abandoned his charge: he was confronted with something unforeseen. It doesn’t appear that Eönwë took a head-count of Morgoth’s balrogs at the end of the War of Wrath, the Balrog was a problem that had to be dealt with, and Gandalf was the only one in the Fellowship capable of dealing with it. (Glorfindel had already successfully dealt with balrogs, but he stayed behind in Rivendell when Merry and Pippin filled up Elrond’s count.)

Last edited by Alcuin; 12-14-2010 at 10:44 PM.
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Old 01-27-2011, 07:54 PM   #40
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Referring back to the original post, I would cast my vote for #3, that the staffs were both conduits and symbols. However, I would say that they were more a symbol of their office rather than their power. The main passage I am thinking of is the very powerful moment when Gandalf breaks Saruman's staff and expels him from the order. Saruman is no longer one of them. It is more of a ceremonial move imho, although it may well have also served to limit Saruman's power in some way.
I had another (late) thought on the breaking of Saruman's staff, that I found rather neat.

At Orthanc, Gandalf tells Saruman he has no colour anymore, and is 'cast from the Order and from the Council'. Then Gandalf says:

Quote:
'Saruman, your staff is broken.' There was a crack, and the staff split asunder in Saruman's hand, and the head of it fell down at Gandalf's feet.
The Voice of Sarumen, TTT (emphasis mine)

I just think it's no coincidence that the head of the staff just happened to fall right at Gandalf's feet. Saruman was the "head" of the Order, and I see that as an affirmation of the "staves as authority symbols" view. As Gandalf was given the authority to cast out Saruman, he was at the same time given a sign from his superiors that he was from that point the "head", not only of the Istari, who were pretty much defunct as a body, but also the leader in the war against Sauron.
That seems to me to be another clear sign that Gandalf's actions were necessary not from a standpoint of stripping Saruman of all his power, but of his authority as a representative of the Valar.
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