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"The wise will stay here and hope to rebuild our town..." — Master of Lake-town
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Angel Falto - The Istari.jpg
"The Istari" by Angel Falto
General Information
Other namesIstari
OriginsMaiar sent to Middle-earth
LocationsOrthanc (Saruman)
Rhosgobel (Radagast)
East (Blue Wizards)
AffiliationSauron (Saruman in late Third Age)
MembersSaruman, Gandalf, Radagast, Blue Wizards
Physical Description
GalleryImages of Wizards
"Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger."
Gildor Inglorion[1]

The Wizards of Middle-earth, also known as the Istari in Quenya and the Ithryn in Sindarin, were a small group of beings outwardly resembling Men but possessing much greater physical and mental power.

All gone.



Tolkien's Istari were not wizards in the common sense of the word, but rather more like 'wise men' or even 'messengers.' Tolkien, a lifelong philologist and devoted Catholic, deliberately used the word wizard, as it connoted 'wisdom' and conveniently conveyed to the reader the 'other worldly' powers of the characters. These sentiments were best worded by Tolkien himself in the first paragraph of the essay The Istari in the Unfinished Tales:

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 of the World. The translation (though suitable in its relation to "wise" and other ancient words of knowing, similar to that of istar in Quenya) is not perhaps happy, since Heren Istarion or "Order of Wizards" was quite distinct from "wizards" and "magicians" of later legend; they belonged solely to the Third Age and then departed, and none save maybe Elrond, Círdan and Galadriel discovered of what kind they were or whence they came.

The Quenya word Istari means "those who know".[2] The word seems to come from the verb ista- ("to know"), and possibly the agentive ending -ro.[3]

Other versions of the legendarium

In Gnomish, one of Tolkien's early conceptions of an Elven language, the word for "wizard" is curug (and "witch" is curus). An alternative word is thothweg, also translated as "wizard".[4] In The Hobbit, while no mention is made of an Order of Wizards, Gandalf tells Beorn that Radagast is his "cousin".[5] In the Unfinished Tales it is said that the wizards appeared in Middle-earth about 1000,[6] but in The Peoples of Middle-earth a rough note by J.R.R. Tolkien said that the Blue Wizards (Alatar and Pallando, or Morinehtar and Rómestámo) came much earlier in the Second Age.[7] Christopher Tolkien stated that much of the writings about the Istari are rapid jottings and often illegible.[6]

Other fiction

A wizard, who puts a spell on the dog Rover, appears in Tolkien's story Roverandom. The bewitchment turns Rover into a toy.

Portrayal in adaptations

2001-03: The Lord of the Rings (film series):

In Peter Jackson's film version of The Lord of the Rings, two of the five Wizards (Saruman and Gandalf) were portrayed and featured heavily in the film trilogy (as the characters do in the books.)

2012-14: The Hobbit (film series):

Although Radagast has a small role in The Lord of the Rings, his role was omitted in Peter Jackson's film trilogy. However, Radagast had a substantial supporting role in The Hobbit films, and Saruman had a brief appearance.


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Three is Company"
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 156, (dated 4 November 1954)
  3. Helge Fauskanger, "Quenya Affixes", Ardalambion (accessed 27 November 2021)
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, "I-Lam na-Ngoldathon: The Grammar and Lexicon of the Gnomish Tongue", in Parma Eldalamberon XI (edited by Christopher Gilson, Arden R. Smith, and Patrick H. Wynne), pp. 27, 73
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Queer Lodgings"
  6. 6.0 6.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The Istari"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "XIII. Last Writings", The Five Wizards, pp. 384-385