Lord Of The Rings: 15 Things You Didn't Know About Gandalf

Ian McKellen as Gandalf from The Hobbit trilogy

Equally enigmatic and wise, Gandalf is one of the most intriguing characters found within The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit.

Known for being a wandering traveler, Gandalf is also renowned for his wisdom, leadership qualities, and a certain affinity for pipeweed. In The Fellowship of the Ring, one of Gandalf's most memorable quotes stemmed from an encouraging moment with Frodo.

Feeling the heavy burden of the one ring, Frodo laments, "I wish it need not have happened in my time," to which Gandalf responds, "So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

In this list, we would like to take a closer look at the mysterious qualities surrounding Gandalf. We’ll delve deeper into his backstory from The Silmarillion, and also find out more about the translations for his different names.

In addition, we’ll shed some light on some of the behind-the-scenes secrets during actor Sir Ian McKellen’s time on set. Whether it was filming director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or the later film adaptations for The Hobbit, there are plenty of juicy trivia snippets to discover. Find out all you need to know about Gandalf.

Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Gandalf.

15 Sir Ian McKellen took some props off the sets

Dwarven Gold in The Hobbit

Sir Ian McKellen might be best known for his titular role as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films, but unbeknownst to most, he also had a brief kleptomaniac streak. While he was working on the set for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, McKellen purportedly took home a few pieces of memorabilia for his own personal collection.

According to Daily Mail, Sir Ian McKellen took home several unique gold coins that were used on set for Smaug's horde of treasure. After finishing work on The Lord of the Rings, McKellen also took home another souvenir from the Shire.

In a discussion with Reddit, McKellen shared some of his most memorable experiences while working on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies. "And I think my favorite set, that I didn't act in, was the golden Lair, where the dragon was hiding. Hundreds of thousands of golden coins, specially made. And if you don't tell anyone, I can tell you that I have some of those coins."

14 Sir Ian McKellen didn’t read the books in the beginning

Lord of the Rings Books JRR Tolkien

With his compelling performance as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films, you might assume that Sir Ian McKellen has been well-versed in Tolkien lore.

According to an interview with Looking Closer, McKellen actually didn’t read the original Lord of the Rings novels in the beginning. “I hadn't read the book when I was asked to do it.” McKellen admitted. “I just took the job on the job on the basis of the script.” In the interview, McKellen also learned more about thousands of fans for J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic novel around the world.

McKellen's co-star, Sir Christopher Lee, was known for reading all of J. R. R. Tolkien's book at least once a year. Lee, who played Saruman in the trilogy, was also the only person of the Lord of the Rings cast to actually meet Tolkien in real life.

13 He is known for being one of the Maiar called Olórin

Sir Ian McKellen Lord of the Rings Gandalf the White

In The Silmarillion, J. R. R. Tolkien explains more about Gandalf's back story in greater detail. In Valinor, Gandalf was first called Olórin.

Olórin was known for being one of the most wise Maiar, a Quenya word for an angelic-like, immortal spirit. When Sauron's dark forces began to overrun Middle-earth, Gandalf was selected as one of the five Maiar to aid the people from his wrath.

Initially, Olórin was very reluctant to go because of his great fear of Sauron. However, Manwë, the King of the Valar, told him that he should go and help the people of Middle-earth. When he arrived, Olórin appeared as an old man wearing grey robes.

Gandalf was known for being a wandering traveler, and he was called different names over the years.

12 The name Gandalf means "elf of the wand"

Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf The White Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson

When Olórin arrived in Middle-earth, men referred to him as “Gandalf.” The name derives from a dialect from the Northern region of Middle-earth, often called Old Mannish.

The name “Gandalf” loosely translates as “Elf of the Wand”, which is referring to the staff he carried with him. His name can also be literally translated with the meaning of “Wand-elf.”

During his early years on Middle-earth, many people were puzzled by Gandalf, and often confused him for being an elf. However, Gandalf was actually was Olórin, one of the wisest of the Maiar.

Olórin, as Gandalf was known in Valinor, translates from Quenya as "dream" or "of dreams." The Dwarves called him Tharkûn, which means "staff man" and the people of Gondor and the Elves would call him Mithrandir, meaning "Grey Pilgrim."

11 He spent over two thousand years in Middle-Earth

Gandalf (Ian McKellen)

Throughout the events of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf is initially referred to as Gandalf the Grey, however, he returns in The Two Towers as Gandalf the White.

As mentioned before, he was sent to aid the people of Middle-earth in the struggle against Sauron. There, he was given a ring of power called Narya, the ring of fire. In Middle-earth, he was referred to as Gandalf and spent years learning about the various cultures of Middle-earth.

After the destruction of the one ring, it is said that Gandalf visited with Tom Bombadil for some time. All told, Gandalf spent over two thousand years in Middle-earth before he traveled across the sea to the Undying Lands.

10 Ian McKellen based his performance on Tolkien

J R R Tolkien Author Lord of the Rings

In an interview with The Huffington Post, director Peter Jackson explained how Sir Ian McKellen's performance as Gandalf was heavily inspired by none other than J.R.R. Tolkien himself.

Jackson elaborated on the process, stating that he and McKellen would meet to discuss the character of Gandalf, and also the vocal quality and gestures that they envisioned for the film. In the interview, Jackson said, “We listened to audio recordings of Tolkien reading excerpts from Lord of the Rings. We watched some BBC interviews with him — there’s a few interviews with Tolkien — and Ian based his performance on an impersonation of Tolkien. He’s literally basing Gandalf on Tolkien. He sounds the same, he uses the speech patterns and his mannerisms are born out of the same roughness from the footage of Tolkien. So, Tolkien would recognize himself in Ian’s performance."

As many fans can attest, McKellen certainly delivered a powerful performance as Gandalf the Grey in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, and again with The Hobbit films.

9 While working on The Hobbit, Ian McKellen almost quit acting

Ian McKellen Green Screen Hobbit Peter Jackson

Although many might assume that acting is a breeze, Sir Ian McKellen can certainly beg to differ. The esteemed actor is known having a diverse approach to his craft, including his wide range of roles and captivating performances.

However, McKellen has also suffered from his own series of challenges, particularly with a brief stint on set with director Peter Jackson. After agreeing to return to New Zealand to work on The Hobbit, McKellen actually thought about quitting acting altogether.

In the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, McKellen revealed that he felt terrible while filming against a green screen. "I felt so miserable... and thought perhaps, has the time come for me to stop acting altogether if I can't cope with these difficulties? It was so distressing and off-putting and difficult that I thought 'I don't want to make this film if this is what I'm going to have to do'. McKellen shared in the commentary.

8 His powers include creating smoke, casting light, telekinesis, and telepathy

Gandalf Balrog Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson

Known and loved by many people across Middle-earth, Gandalf was recognized for having a slew of powers. In the Lord of the Rings books, Gandalf was known in The Shire for having skill with "fires, smokes, and lights."

Being a Maia, Gandalf is akin to an angelic character and has numerous types of powers. When he arrived in Middle-earth, he assumed the shape of a man, and he possessed the power of immortality. Gandalf could also use enchantments, like setting pine-cones on fire against evil foes like wargs.

Gandalf spent years studying languages and accumulating knowledge, and his words of wisdom certainly shouldn't be underestimated. Gandalf could also write and decipher runes, which was a useful skill during his time with Thorin Oakenshield.

In the series, Gandalf is also depicted as being able to cast spells and specifically mentions his abilities when standing with the Fellowship outside the Gate of Moria.

7 His main weapon was his staff, but he also wielded an Elven sword

Gandalf Glamdring Elrond The Hobbit Peter Jackson

Off hand, one might assume that Gandalf only utilizes one weapon—his staff. However, the wizard was also known for wielding an impressive blade called Glamdring.

Also referred to as the Foe-Hammer, the sword was first used by Turgon, the King of Gondolin. The king fought with the blade during the Nirnaeth Arnoediad and the Fall of Gondolin, but then, the weapon disappeared for years.

Although Tolkien never specified this in his own writings, an inscription was added on the blade for the movies. The runes read "Turgon Aran Gondolin, Tortha gar a matha Glamdring, Vegil Glamdring gud daelo. Dam an Glamhoth." which translates to "Turgon, King of Gondolin, wields, has, and holds the sword Glamdring, Foe of Morgoth's realm, Hammer of the Orcs."  

Gandalf first encountered Glamdring during the events of The Hobbit, when the company stumbled upon the blade hidden within the Troll's cave. In conjunction with Thorin Oakenshield's blade, both weapons were feared by Goblins, who referred to Glamdring as "Beater" and Orcist as "Biter."

6 Ian McKellen wore a prosthetic nose

Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf The Grey The Shire Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson

In the Extended Edition of The Fellowship of the Ring DVD, it is revealed that Sir Ian McKellen sported a prosthetic nose for his role as Gandalf the Grey.

McKellen's actual nose would have been perfectly fine, however, when the makeup department added his beard and hair, his real nose looked minute in comparison. To balance things out, McKellen was asked to wear a prosthetic nose.

Intriguingly enough, the makeup department employed the same materials used for the pointed Elven ears. Actors Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan, Billy Boyd and Sean Astin also had to wear prosthetic feet for their roles as Hobbits.

Sir Christopher Lee, who portrayed Saruman, also had to wear a prosthetic nose while on set.

5 The character of Gandalf was inspired by Old Norse mythology

Ian McKellen as Gandalf in Minas Tirith

When J.R.R. Tolkien was first working on The Hobbit during the early 1930s, Tolkien used the name Gandalf for a character who would later become Thorin Oakenshield.

Tolkien was known for having a deep love of languages and linguistics, and his passion is made abundantly clear with his inspiration from Old Norse mythology. For instance, the name Gandalfr combines two words; gandr which means "staff" or "magic" and the word álfr which refers to "elf".

Interestingly enough, the name Gandalf is also referenced in a Norse myth called Heimskringla. Loosely based on actual events, the Heimskringla follows Gandalf Alfgeirsson, a renowned king hailing from East Norway.

A Norwegian playwright named Henrik Ibsen also wrote about a character named Gandalf, who appeared as a king in his play called The Burial Mound.

4 Ian McKellen reprised his role as Gandalf this year for charity

Lord of the Rings Ian McKellen as Gandalf Hobbit Hole

Peter Jackson's final film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings officially came to an end with the release of The Return of the King in December 2003. Several years later, Sir Ian McKellen agreed to reprise his role as Gandalf for The Hobbit trilogy, and many fans assumed that would be the final opportunity to catch McKellen as Gandalf. However, McKellen was presented with a new opportunity to cast another spell for fans, this time with a charitable cause in mind.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, McKellen recently had a solo performance in London entitled Shakespeare, Tolkien, Others & You. When describing the piece, McKellen said, "I’m performing at Park Theatre to help raise funds for the charity. In a short time the theater has established itself on both the theatrical and local maps. But with no public subsidy for core costs they need to bring in donations of around £250,000 ($311,000) every year just to keep the doors open."

3 Ian McKellen agreed to do the role partially because of Tom Cruise

Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf The White Glamdring Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson

For years, Sir Ian McKellen has practically become synonymous with the mere thought of Gandalf the Grey from The Lord of the Rings. McKellen is also well-known for his portrayal of Magneto in the X-Men film adaptations.

However, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, McKellen revealed that he almost missed out on playing both roles. According to McKellen, he was asked to star in Mission: Impossible II with Tom Cruise, but he ended up turning down the role. “I couldn’t judge from reading just those scenes what the script was like,” he revealed. “So I said no. And my agent said, ‘You can’t say no to working with Tom Cruise!’ and I said, ‘I think I will.'”

Interestingly enough, McKellen was approached with two intriguing offers, only a mere day later. McKellen noted that director Peter Jackson was considering him to play Gandalf, but was concerned about the timing between Lord of the Rings and X-Men. Bryan Singer, director of X-Men, completely understood, assured him that there would be no scheduling conflicts for his work.

2 John Huston, William Squire, Todd Hansen have all voiced Gandalf over the years

Gandalf in animated Lord of the Rings

For decades, numerous actors have lent their voice for the role of Gandalf in various adaptations, ranging from animated films to video game productions.

In the 1977 animated film adaptation of The Hobbit, actor John Huston lent his voice for the role of Gandalf. Huston later reprised his role for The Return of the King in 1980. In the animated Lord of the Rings film directed by Ralph Bakshi, actor William Squire voiced Gandalf.

In more recent years, actor Todd Hanson gave an amusing rendition of Gandalf in the animated hit, The Lego Movie. Todd Hansen later reprised his role as Gandalf for The LEGO Movie Videogame in 2014.

Ian McKellen also voiced the role of Gandalf for several Lord of the Rings video games, including The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Battle for Middle-Earth, and The Battle for Middle-Earth II - The Rise of the Witch-king.

1 David Bowie was considered for the role

Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and David Bowie

For many fans, it’s nearly unfathomable to picture anyone else besides Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf. However, in the early stages of production for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy, things almost happened quite differently.

Last year, we learned that David Bowie was also considered for the role of Gandalf. Lord of the Rings casting director Amy Hubbard revealed that director Peter Jackson was vying for Bowie to join the crew as Gandalf. However, at the time, Bowie couldn't make it work with the large time commitment.

In addition, actors such as Sean Connery, Tom Baker, Christopher Plummer, and Patrick Stewart were also in the running to play Gandalf. Of course, the role ultimately went to the esteemed Sir Ian McKellen.


Do you have any other Gandalf related trivia that we might have missed? Let us known in the comments!

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