Lord Of The Rings: 20 Weirdest Things About Gandalf's Anatomy

Where would Middle-earth be without the great wizard Gandalf? The mysterious, mercurial mentor guided Frodo and Sam through their heroic journey full of misadventures and glory, but that particular mission was barely a brief moment in Gandalf’s long and legendary career. This elusive and compassionate wizard sits near the top of the list of awesome heroes. In fact, perhaps the only person cooler than Gandalf the Grey is Gandalf the White. But how well do we really know him? Even the Hobbits, whom Gandalf had a special fondness for, did not fully understand the depths of his wisdom and power. Frodo himself was surprised to find “Gandalf, whom he thought he knew so well” to be as impressive and important as he was at the Council of Elrond. Outside of the Shire, the peoples of Middle-earth seem to have a better respect for his wisdom and abilities, but even his colleague Saruman underestimates him, first by failing to keep him captive and later by not recognizing how strong he’d become as Gandalf the White. The limits of Gandalf’s power are unknown and he continually revealed them to be greater than expected as he rescued the Bilbo’s Dwarf companions from Goblins, returned alive to Middle-earth after his fight with the Balrog, and drove five Nazgûl back from Minas Tirith.

Endlessly inscrutable, and with a curriculum vitae longer than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we could spend years getting to know our favorite wizard, if only Tolkien had written more. Here we’ve collected some of the most interesting (and crazy!) features of the wizened wizard, the secretive scholar, the mystical Maia, Gandalf the Grey. Without further ado, here are Lord Of The Rings: 20 Weirdest Things About Gandalf's Anatomy

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20 Ian McKellen wore a prosthetic nose

It's understandable that people love Sir Ian McKellen for the immense credibility and charisma that he brought to the role of Gandalf. Many rightly view him as the embodiment of the character, and it really is hard to separate McKellen's face from any visualization of the mighty wizard himself.

We must point out that he underwent one or two small alterations to his visage in order to take on the form of Gandalf.

But never fear, Ian was totally on board with all the changes that the costume crew had to make - check out his blog about the whole process. From his description, it sounds like he went through some real discomfort along the way, but thought it was totally worth it. Let's be thankful he was on board and did such a great job!

19 Gandalf's official height is listed as 5’ 6”

Gandalf's stat sheet reveals that he fell well short of the six foot mark and stooped in addition, which it's safe to say didn't hold him back very much in life. While it might have kept him off of the high school basketball team, Gandalf seems to have compensated for this minor lack in plenty of other successful ways. In his work Unfinished Tales, Tolkien adds a little more regarding Gandalf's physical description, saying that he "seemed the least, less tall than the others, and in looks more aged, grey-haired and grey-clad, and leaning on a staff." But, since Gandalf chose his own form for his sojourn through Middle-earth, he clearly had his reasons! Who are we to question his choice?

18 He looks like an ordinary man of about 60, but this is deceptive

Have you ever heard the phrase "If you meet the Buddha on the road, get him!"? Though a variety of interpretations could be attached to this piece of advice, many agree that it's pointing out that the true Buddha would never take great care to look like someone wise and revered. In fact, the real Buddha would likely try to conceal his identity and so, if you think you've met Buddha on the road, you have in fact met an impostor. Judging anyone in advance based solely on their external characteristics is always a fool's errand and though it may work a hundred times in a row there will always come an exception. One would likewise be well advised not to assume too much about Gandalf based on his humble human form.

17 His eyes “were set like coals that could suddenly burst into fire”

Since Gandalf's eyes appear to be grayish-blue in the movie, this description likely refers to how deeply set his eyes were, shaded by his brows, and also to the overall effect created by his visage. They say eyes are the windows to the soul and this description seems appropriately to both hint at, but not reveal the depths of the veiled power that Gandalf contained. While Gandalf enjoyed laughter and had a mischievous streak, he was "swift in anger" as well, as he demonstrated in the film adaptation of The Return of the King when he snatched the Orthanc stone from Pippin. That's a moment when you can easily picture his normally dormant coals-for-eyes coming alive in a blaze.

16 His hat was actually blue, though it was described as looking gray because of dirt

Gandalf the Grey had many names to the many different peoples of Middle-earth, being known by the Elves as Mithrandir (meaning “gray pilgrim”), by the Rohirrim as Greyhame (“grey cloak”), and derogatorily by the steward of Gondor as Grey Fool. Perhaps because the color gray was such a defining characteristic for Gandalf, it’s often forgotten that his hat was, in fact, blue. The animated The Lord of the Rings portrays his hat this way while the Peter Jackson films have his hat match his cloak’s gray hue. There’s an argument to be made that rather than disregarding the source material, the creators of the film recognized that dirtied by the dust of years of travel, both his cloak and hat could have weathered into the same gray. But more likely they just thought it was a better look. It's up for debate.

15 When he first returned as Gandalf the White, he was too bright to look at

It's a shame that the residents of Middle-earth didn't carry sunglasses around. After Gandalf fought the Balrog and returned as Gandalf the White, his visage was so luminous that he couldn't even be looked upon. Here's a direct quote from the book: "They all gazed at him. His hair was as white as snow in the sunshine; and gleaming white was his robe; his eyes under his deep brows were bright, piercing as the sun; power was in his hand. Between wonder, joy, and fear they stood and found no words to say. At last Aragorn stirred. 'Gandalf!' he said. 'Beyond all hope you return to us in our need. What veil was over my sight? Gandalf!' Gimli said nothing, but sank to his knees, shading his eyes."

14 The inspiration for his character was from a postcard in Switzerland

Famous writers often have the luxury of vacationing anywhere they like – it’s one of the perks of the trade. We should all be thankful that one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s holidays took him to Switzerland in 1911, because it’s there that he found the inspiration for the wizard Gandolf on a postcard. Check out this excerpt from Humphrey Carpenter’s book J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography: "Before setting off on the return journey to England, Tolkien bought some picture postcards. Among them was a reproduction of a painting by a German artist, J. Madelener [sic]. It is called Der Berggeist, the mountain spirit, and it shows an old man sitting on a rock under a pine tree. He has a white beard and wears a wide-brimmed round hat and a long cloak. He is talking to a white fawn that is nuzzling his upturned hands, and he has a humorous but compassionate expression; there is a glimpse of rocky mountains in the distance. Tolkien preserved this postcard carefully, and long afterwards he wrote on the paper cover in which he kept it: 'Origin of Gandalf'."

13 Gandalf is described as being shorter than Elrond and Glorfindel

When in the company of tall people, short people can run the risk of being quite literally overlooked.

Even though Gandalf was below average height, he didn’t appear any less noble when rubbing elbows with the VIPs of the Elven race.

Despite being shorter than both Elrond and Glorfindel at the Council of Elrond, at which the fate of the Ring was to be decided, Gandalf nonetheless looked “like some wise king of ancient legend” at their side. Together, Frodo thought they appeared as “lords of dignity and power.” We’re willing to bet that that’s exactly how Gandalf felt as well, unintimidated by the company he kept, and quite likely intimidating others in spite of his stature.

12 When he wears his ring of power, it seems to be on his left middle finger

Now you see it, then it's gone. Did Gandalf wear a ring or not? You may have thought you saw it in one scene, only to pause during the next and find it missing. The answer is, Yes! (mostly). Gandalf definitely had a ring, though it became visible to the naked eye only when he was questioned. The ring's name is Narya and it means "fiery red." Besides having the power to inspire others toward virtue and away from vice, Narya could also shield its wearer from remote observation. It was originally forged for the Elves and, unlike certain other rings which caused a lot of trouble in Middle-earth, Narya imbues its wearer with the courage to fight against evil.

11 Gandalf is actually "only" a spirit

"But he looks so real!" That's Gandalf's job - to adopt whatever form is most beneficial and profitable both to his mission and to those he is trying to help. In fact, the Gandalf that we know and love was originally called "Olórin" and was known as one of the wisest of the Maiar - ancient spirits whose time predated Middle-earth by quite a bit. All of this means that he is basically formless and can shift his shape to adopt any body that he chooses. Perhaps Gandalf chose to follow the example of Odin during his time among the residents of Middle-earth. The Norse god Odin was known to adopt the appearance of a bearded man of advanced age, but vigorous constitution. Gandalf and Odin - now there's a fight we'd like to see.

10 Gandalf becomes “light as a swan’s feather” when picked up by Gwaihir

In some religions, the ability of the body to become light enough to levitate is a revered and sought after achievement. While we have no doubts that Gandalf in any form could have achieved the spiritual advancement needed to exercise levitation, it turns out that it was a little easier in his case.

Because he is a Maia, or spirit, becoming of little to no weight came a little more naturally to him.

Gwaihir corroborates Gandolf's feat when rescuing him from the Misty Mountains: '"A burden you have been," he answered, "but not so now. Light as a swan's feather in my claw you are." We're sure Gwaihir appreciated this thoughtful gesture from Gandalf.

9 He also became translucent when being carried by Gwaihir

Something about Gwaihir clearly brings out some of the coolest qualities and talents of Gandalf. Besides becoming as light as a feather during his flight with the great eagle, Gandalf apparently also turned nearly invisible. The eternally observant bird further remarked "The Sun shines through you. Indeed I do not think you need me any more: were I to let you fall you would float upon the wind." The Windlord made a keen and accurate observation, for the wizard had just undergone a transmutation that must have left him more spirit than flesh. Thankfully, Gandalf gained his weight back, for he still had much to accomplish during his time in Middle-earth. He was soon to come back more powerful than ever.

8 His voice, with his Words of Command, can perform magic

There's a reason why spells are so formidable and why they must be cast with absolute precision and consistency. Words have the potential for immense power and many believe that words both contain and can alter the very fabric of reality. The ever eloquent Gandalf proves this to us several times in The Lord of the Rings by uttering "Words of Command." When fighting the Balrog, Gandalf speaks a word of command to combat his opponent's spell.

The silver-tongued wizard even used his vicious voice to shatter the staff of Saruman. 

The lesson to be learned here? When responding to anything that comes out of Gandalf's mouth, a simple "Yes, Sir" is your best option.

7 He is telepathic and telekinetic

The powers of the mind are great, varied, and often untapped. Unless you're Gandalf. The wonderful wizard had the powers of telepathy and telekinesis readily available for any situation that called for it.  For a brief example of Gandalf's telepathic skills, remember that he told Frodo "It has not been hard for me to read your mind and memory." Telekinesis was another of his specialties, and we're told that he has "made a special study of bewitchments with fire and light." We've seen him cause light to fly out of the end of his staff and watched him set pine cones on fire. Thankfully, Gandalf also possessed the wisdom and discipline to use these powers for good.

6 He could create a glowing barrier as a shield

Gandalf’s powers are a bit hard to pin down and a lot of his power seems to just be his knowledge - of people, of languages, of history, and more. As fans of the series, we recognize him as a mighty wizard, but don’t get to witness his wizardry very often, which makes it all the more of a treat when we do. One of the most exciting examples of the extent of his powers is when he fights the Balrog in the mines of Moria. As the demonic monster attempts to cross a narrow bridge over a cavern, Gandalf conjures a shield of light to protect his companions from its wrath, giving them time to escape.

5 He is described as having “ broad shoulders”

Gandalf must have felt like Atlas more than once during his lengthy and busy existence; even in the short time that we got to know him in The Lord of the Rings it seemed like he had the weight of the whole world bearing down on his shoulders. But, he managed to be more than up to the task, because Middle-earth emerged intact. Turns out this was no coincidence, as Tolkien himself described Gandalf as having the broad shoulders needed for this task. In The Fellowship of the Ring we're told about a wizard whose "long white hair, his sweeping silver beard, and his broad shoulders, made him look like some wise king of ancient legend." Well done, sir.

4 His “sweeping silver beard” is the stuff of legends

Beards are all the rage these days and in some circles they function as a kind of status symbol. A “yeard” is an especially grand accomplishment for some; basically, you grow a beard for one year without trimming it at all. But when Gandalf walks in, all the other beards quiver on their chins, because he’s been working on his for thousands of years. Described at different times as having a “sweeping silver beard” or a “long white beard” which hung down below his waist, Gandalf truly sets the gold standard for epic beards. Though most guys can only dream of attaining “wizard beard” status in their lifetimes, there are resources out there to help us cheat a little, at least around Halloween… though let’s just call it using a little magic.

3 It seems that he had grayish-blue eyes

Tolkein doesn’t seem to have been preoccupied with eye color, describing some of the elves and Men of the West as having gray eyes, but never noting the specific color of Gandalf’s eyes.

Being from the West himself and being the gray wizard, we can make a reasonable guess that Gandalf’s eyes too would be gray.

In the recent live-action films, however, many of the characters from Frodo to Legolas have blue eyes. Gandalf is only a slight exception, if an exception at all, with his eyes in the film being somewhere between blue and grayish-blue. Since Tolkein never specified, this seems like a reasonable choice for the film creators to make and since Sir Ian McKellen nails both the twinkle and the authority that Gandalf’s eyes can express, we don't really care what color they were.

2 He had bushy brows that stuck out further than the brim of his hat

There are messy brows, there are unruly brows, and then there are Gandalf's brows. Was Tolkein exaggerating for literary effect? It's quite possible.

Gandalf's eyebrows in the Peter Jackson films certainly are not quite as long as described in The Hobbit.

But it's amusing to picture them sticking out "further than the brim of his hat" - even more amusing as we recall that Gandalf chose his appearance and therefore chose to have absurdly long eyebrows. It points to his eccentricity and perhaps even humor, as Frodo noted in his Lament for Gandalf that he was "quick to laugh." Or maybe he chose them for a more practical reason: long eyebrows are expressive eyebrows, and would have allowed Gandalf to even more effectively convey his anger, joy, surprise, and more.

1 He looks good for his actual age of several thousand years

Gandalf is a pretty good-looking guy, it’s hard to deny. Sure he has some touches of gray (or white, depending on when you catch him) but he’s energetic, genial, and enormously strong. Even though he looks barely a day over 55, would you believe that he’s several thousand years old? Most likely not. Though he spent about 2,000 years walking Middle-earth in the form we all recognize, he was alive long before Middle-earth was even created. Gandalf even gives a hint of his own age when he says in The Lord of the Rings movie "Three hundred lives of men I have walked this earth and now I have no time!" Gandalf is definitely our supreme model for growing old gracefully.


Which of these surprised you most? Speak up in the comments!

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