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The Old Grey Wizard

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A Mortal Life: 1. A Prologue and Author's Explanation

Prologue (Poached Shamelessly from sections of The Silmarilion) and Author's Explanation 

(Note: since I've added a prologue, the chapter numbers of the listed chapters and those noted in each chapter title are off by 1.)

A few centuries after the beginning of the Third Age, the first rumor of Sauron's continued presence was heard. News of it came at long last to Valinor. The Council of the Ainur met and discussed the troubling problem at length. What should they do, if anything? Each time the Ainur had intervened in the affairs of Middle Earth, it seemed, unforeseen consequences had occurred. Had the Ainur not invited the Elves to come and live in the West, perhaps Feanor might never have created the Silmarils and tempted Melkor to steal them, some said. What horrors had come of that miscalculation! And if Valinor had not sent an army to conquer Melkor, Arda would not have been broken and so much of Middle Earth lost beneath the sea. But the consequences of failing to intervene also seemed terrible. What greater evils might have come to be had the Ainur done nothing at all, and left Melkor free to reign? And now, Melkor's greatest servant was rising again. The discussion went on and on.

In the end, the Council decided to send messengers to give advice and aid to the folk of Middle Earth in their struggle against Sauron. These advisors were to stand in opposition to evil wherever they found it, as representatives of Valinor. Ultimately, it was hoped that these messengers would assist the people of Middle Earth to free themselves from Melkor's chief servant. But the Ainur sent only five; not until the battle that would be waged at the end of all things would Valinor again send an army. The messengers were chosen from amongst the Maia, for Sauron was of that rank of the Ainur. They were chosen from the five greatest Houses of Valinor: Air, Night, Earth, Water, and Living Things.

In Middle Earth the messengers were forbidden to exist in their true forms. In order to walk freely among all people they took on the appearance of mortal beings, even as Sauron had before them. Men called them wizards and witches, or sorcerers; the Elves, knowing from whence they came, called them Istari, meaning wise messengers from afar.

They were truly mortal, and though far stronger than ordinary mortals they were subject to the ways of mortal flesh. They could withstand long deprivation, yet they required nourishment and sleep. Ordinary sicknesses did not affect them, but they could die of deadly poisons and illness, and they could be injured or killed. The Istari would age, unlike Elves, though would do so very slowly. And once the messengers were transformed into mortal flesh, they could not choose to become what they once had been for more than a few hours, without permission of the Council of the Ainur. They each took a solemn vow to complete their task before returning to Valinor, unless they died in the attempt.

When they arrived, the messengers were past youth but not yet old. To the Istari a century would be but a few years; many centuries after their arrival, they would appear aged and yet would still be hale. They retained their Maiar powers, each unique, but were commanded to use them only at great need, and never for subjugation over others. Thus the Istari were compelled to accomplish their task slowly and in concert with the people of Middle Earth. They could do little working alone. No one of the Five was given command over the rest; they were to come as equals. Over the long passage of years, the messengers became more and more mortal. Some seemed to forget that they had ever been other than what they now were. 

Two of the Istari—Pallando and Alatare, of the Houses of The Sea and of Night--traveled long ago to the distant East. Those in the West of Middle Earth lost all knowledge of them, and what became of them was never told in any tale. A third, Aiwendil, or Radagast the Brown as men knew him, was sent as messenger to beasts, birds and the plants and trees. Aiwendil was of the house of Yavanna, the Lady of the Living Arda as it was before speaking life—people—arrived. His task was not to set himself against Sauron directly, but to watch over the creatures that had no one else to speak for them.   

The two that remained were Curumo and Olorin. Curumo was considered by some to be the greatest of the Istari. He stepped forward to volunteer for the difficult task, and was named first of the five. He was of the people of Aule the Smith of the House of Earth, the same Ainur household as Sauron, and was thought to have an equal level of knowledge and skill as the Enemy, though was not equal in power to Sauron at his height. He was wise; Elves named him Curunir, which meant "Man of Skill," and men called him Sauruman, or "Wise Old Man" in the common tongue. Vast knowledge of past events and lore, and the art of making devices and machines of marvelous design were his chief skills. Curunir's greatest power was an unlimited capacity to comprehend the inner workings of things: all devices, the secret mechanisms of animals, plants and minerals, and the intricacies of the human mind.  

Many sought Curumo's words of advice. He listened to all in turn, weighed the importance of each one's words, and gave his solemn judgments equitably. The rulers of Gondor allowed him to use the citadel of Orthanc, at the southern tip of the Misty Mountains, for his dwelling place, and his fame grew. Men came to learn from him and give their service and allegiance to Curumo, and Orthanc became a city of power and repute. Great smithies were built beneath Orthanc, and the designs of Curumo were fashioned in their fiery heat. High in his Tower the great wizard devoted himself to the study of Sauron the Enemy and of all his arts and deceits, so to defeat him when he at last revealed himself.

Curumo was also very persuasive. It was said that in debate he could best nearly anyone, for he read the thoughts, doubts and fears of others, and could shape his speech to whatever need he perceived. When others listened to his words, they found great comfort if they heeded his advice, and felt uneasy if they disagreed. It was said that to speak in opposition to Curumo was difficult and even dangerous, for one's very words could be turned against oneself by the wizard's unrelenting logic. 

For the remaining messenger the Vala chose Olorin. He was originally of the household of Manwe, the Lord of Air and chief of the Ainur. Manwe himself put forth his name. He was beloved by the people of Varda, the Queen of the Night Sky, and had many friends in other Ainur households. Olorin had dwelt long in the house of Lorien, the Master of Dreams, and there learned much from Lorien's wife Nienna who was the Lady of Pity and Grief. But he was also a great friend to Ulmo and his people of the Waters, who were known for their mischievous wit and easy laughter. Even Mandos the Seer of Valinor, who rarely spoke except to give solemn and ponderous pronouncements, supported his assignment as one of the Five.

Olorin did not wish to go against the will of the Council. But he felt he'd been chosen by mistake, for he knew all too well the extent of Sauron's strength. He was the only one who spoke openly of his fear of Sauron and what he had become. They had once—long, long ago—called one another friend. But in the first days of the conflict between Manwe and Melkor, Sauron had turned their friendship into treachery. Arranging a meeting, he tried to persuade Olorin to join Melkor's cause. Olorin rejected him utterly, and began to leave. Sauron then seemed to repent, and begged his old friend to stay and hear him out. Olorin lingered, wary but ever willing to believe the best of other's intentions. Suddenly a dozen of Melkor's servants appeared and surrounded Olorin, taking him captive. Sauron demanded that he reveal the secrets of Manwe's dwelling place and its defenses. When Olorin refused, Sauron commanded the others to do whatever was necessary to force him to speak, but he remained silent. At last he escaped and returned to Valinor alone. The tale of Sauron's treachery was soon known widely. But of their ill treatment of him, Olorin spoke to no one, though Manwe guessed what had transpired.

Manwe knew of many other times that Olorin had found himself standing in opposition to evil even when outmatched. Indeed, Olorin had been one of those who had dared to warn Manwe of his brother's imminent attack. Manwe initially rebuffed his advice; but he remained by his side and prepared for what was to come, and did many deeds of courage in the first war long ago. At the Siege of Thangorodrim at the end of the First Age, Olorin searched in vain for Sauron after the fall of Melkor. He hoped to find him and turn him away from the path he had taken. Eonwe was relieved to hear that he failed, fearing the outcome of such a meeting. But Olorin always held true to what he thought was right even when to do so was perilous. It was for this integrity and courage that Manwe named him as one of the Five. He agreed reluctantly to join the other messengers.

Olorin did not at first have a great store of knowledge; indeed, at times he could be forgetful. He did not place much importance in setting to memory things that, as he put it, could just as well be written down. He made one exception; it became his special study to learn languages so he could converse with creatures and beings of all kinds. There were no runes or letters he could not decipher. Once he learned a new language he never forgot it.

But his main skill was in understanding the deepest longings of those around him. It was said that Olorin could walk in the thoughts of others and bring peace to troubled minds, or rekindle inspiration and hope. For that was the meaning of his name, which in the ancient High Elven tongue meant "one who walks in dreams." He could see truth, and know falsehood. Pity came easily to him. He claimed not to have the right to judge the deeds of others, for he would say, who can know all the ways of another's heart? He had a warm spirit, and those open to it were drawn to him. In those with closed, cold hearts, Olorin inspired fear and jealousy, perhaps because their own secrets were exposed to them. His wit was quick, as was his impatience, especially with his own mistakes. His sudden dark moods came like storms in the mountains. No one served him; indeed, no servant would he accept. But the desire to follow where he led awakened in many. In need he could be a great leader.

In no one place did Olorin dwell but to all places he wandered. As the ages past and he made many journeys, he became a familiar figure to the people in the West of Middle Earth. Everywhere he went the wizard was given a new name. Elves seemed to know and love him best; they called him Mithrandir. Many men called him Gandalf the Grey; to the Dwarves he was Tharkun, and in the South he was named Incanus. He rarely traveled to the East.

He was known for his skill in the use of fire, and the only things he made with his own hands were clever displays of many-colored fireworks. For, though few other than Manwe knew it, Olorin had learned to conjure flame from air as long ago as when Arda was young. Unlike Sauron, who had only thought to put fire to use for other purpose and jealously guarded the secret of his discovery, Olorin loved fire for its beauty alone, and gave freely of it to any who asked.

As he grew older he picked up an odd habit. When he desired to refresh his mind, or had a puzzle to work out, he would light the dried leaves of a particular pungent weed in a pipe and breathe its smoke.


What follows is a story of Gandalf-Mithrandir-Olorin in relative youth. Deviations from canon include my exploration of the Istari being sent to Endore when past youth but not yet old, the Houses of the Ainur from which the messengers come, my idea (my wish, really) that one of the Istari was female (Alatare), a point explored much more thoroughly in another fic of mine (not yet posted as it is under major revision) and as will soon become obvious, that my version of Olorin doesn't exactly act according to some of JRRT's more Victorian principles of behavior. This tale is pure speculation and would probably make the poor Professor spin in his grave. 

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Last Update: 29 Mar 13
Stories: 7
Type: Author List
Created By: Aiwendiel

Stories of mine that center on Gandalf, either gap fillers or alternate universe themes.

Why This Story?

An imaginary early life for the visitor from the West.


Story Information

Author: Aiwendiel

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Kings

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 04/07/12

Original Post: 04/07/12

Go to A Mortal Life overview