HASA Resources

Things of Middle-earth

Gandalf's Staff

Type: Artifacts

Other Names:
the wizard's staff
a thorny staff
the ash-staff
a rod

The Hobbit only:
his magic staff
his wand

Description:

The rod carried by the wandering wizard, Gandalf, which has both prosaic and magical uses:

Table of Contents:

Significance of a Wizard's Staff

Non-magical Uses
—  A Walking Stick
—  A Weapon

Magical Uses
—  A Light Source
—  A Fire Starter
—  An Instrument of Attack
—  An Instrument of Power

Notes


Significance of a Wizard's Staff
When Gandalf suggests that he relinquish his staff as a condition of his release from imprisonment, Saruman's outrage indicates its profound importance to him:

'I am giving you a last chance. You can leave Orthanc, free — if you choose.'....

'But you will first surrender to me the Key of Orthanc, and your staff. They shall be pledges of your conduct, to be returned later, if you merit them.'

Saruman's face grew livid, twisted with rage, and a red light was kindled in his eyes. He laughed wildly.... [His] voice rose to a scream. 'Later! Yes, when you also have the Keys of Barad-dûr itself, I suppose; and the crowns of seven kings, and the rods of the Five Wizards, and have purchased yourself a pair of boots many sizes larger than those that you wear now.... [Go] away, and come back when you are sober!'

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 10, The Voice of Saruman

A wizard's staff and his robe color appear to be marks of a wizard's membership and relative status and power among the order of the Istari:

'Saruman!' he cried, and his voice grew in power and authority. 'Behold, I am not Gandalf the Grey, whom you betrayed. I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death. You have no colour now, and I cast you from the order and from the Council.'

He raised his hand, and spoke slowly in a clear cold voice. '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 Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 10, The Voice of Saruman

'Think of the last part of that business with Saruman! Remember Saruman was once Gandalf's superior: head of the Council.... He was Saruman the White. Gandalf is the White now. Saruman came when he was told, and his rod was taken; and then he was just told to go, and he went!'

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 11, The Palantír


Non-magical Uses

Non-magical Uses:  A Walking Stick
[Last of the Order of Istari] 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.

Unfinished Tales, Part 4, Ch 2, The Istari

Mostly he journeyed unwearingly on foot, leaning on a staff; and so he was called among Men of the North Gandalf, "the Elf of the Wand"

Unfinished Tales, Part 4, Ch 2, The Istari

All that the unsuspecting Bilbo saw that morning was an old man with a staff... a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which a white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots....

The Hobbit, Ch 1, An Unexpected Party

It looked like an old beggar-man, walking wearily, leaning on a rough staff....

When he was a few feet away, he stood, stooping over his staff, with his head thrust forward, peering at them from under his hood.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 5, The White Rider

... an old man in a battered hat
who leaned upon a thorny staff.

From When evening in the Shire was grey
The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 7, The Mirror of Galadriel

[In] the dark they could not see a descent, until they came on it, and put their feet out into emptiness. Gandalf felt the ground with his staff like a blind man.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 5, The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

'A Balrog,' muttered Gandalf.... He faltered and leaned heavily on his staff. 'What an evil fortune! And I am already weary.'

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 5, The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

Gandalf stood in the middle of the span, leaning on the staff in his left hand, but in his other hand Glamdring gleamed.... Gandalf stood firm.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 5, The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

Gandalf stood, leaning on his staff, gazing into the darkness, east and west.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 6, The King of the Golden Hall

The guard still hesitated. 'Your staff,' he said to Gandalf. 'Forgive me, but that too must be left at the doors.'

'Foolishness!' said Gandalf.... 'I am old. If I may not lean on my stick as I go, then I will sit out here, until it pleases Théoden to hobble out himself to speak with me.'

Aragorn laughed. 'Every man has something too dear to trust to another. But would you part an old man from his support?'....

'The staff in the hand of a wizard may be more than a prop for age,' said Háma. He looked hard at the ash-staff on which Gandalf leaned. 'Yet... I believe you are friends.... You may go in.'

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 6, The King of the Golden Hall


Non-magical Uses:  A Weapon
Gandalf bore his staff, but girt at his side was the elven-sword Glamdring....

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 3, The Ring Goes South

Gandalf... was still standing outside the door, and laughing long but quietly. After a while he stepped up, and with the spike of his staff scratched a queer sign on the hobbit's beautiful green front-door.

The Hobbit, Ch 1, An Unexpected Party

[There] came — a loud knock. Not a ring, but a hard rat-tat on the hobbit's beautiful green door. Somebody was banging with a stick!

Bilbo... pulled open the door with a jerk.... And there was Gandalf..., leaning on his staff and laughing. He had made quite a dent on the beautiful door; he had also, by the way, knocked out the secret mark that he had put there the morning before.

The Hobbit, Ch 1, An Unexpected Party

Gandalf stood before the door of Orthanc and beat on it with his staff.... 'Saruman come forth!'

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 10, The Voice of Saruman

'Follow me!' [the guard] said. 'Théoden gives you leave to enter; but any weapon that you bear; be it only a staff, you must leave on the threshold. The doorwardens will keep them.'

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 6, The King of the Golden Hall


Magical Uses

Magical Uses:  A Light Source
Boromir muttered.... 'Who will lead us now in this deadly dark?'

'I will,' said Gandalf.... 'Follow my staff!"

As the wizard passed on ahead up the great steps, he held his staff aloft, and from its tip there came a faint radiance.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 4, A Journey in the Dark

Gandalf walked in front.... In his left hand he held up his glimmering staff, the light of which just showed the ground before his feet....

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 4, A Journey in the Dark

In the pale ray of the wizard's staff, Frodo caught glimpses of stairs and arches and of other passages and tunnels....

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 4, A Journey in the Dark

He held up his staff in the hope of finding some marks or inscription...; but nothing of the kind was to be seen.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 4, A Journey in the Dark

But the wizard was taking no risks. He lit up his wand..., and by its light they explored the cave from end to end.

The Hobbit, Ch 4, Over Hill and Under Hill

Then Gandalf lit up his wand. Of course it was Gandalf; but just then they were too busy to ask how he got there.

The Hobbit, Ch 4, Over Hill and Under Hill

But they were seen by the goblins that ran silently up behind, for Gandalf was letting his wand give out a faint light to help the dwarves as they went along.

Quite suddenly Dori... was grabbed from behind in the dark.

The Hobbit, Ch 4, Over Hill and Under Hill

They groped their way down a long flight of steps, and then looked back; but they could see nothing, except high above them the faint glimmer of the wizard's staff.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 5, The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

Gandalf struck a blue light on the end of his magic staff, and in its firework glare the... hobbit could be seen....

The Hobbit, Ch 1, An Unexpected Party

Gandalf stepped before the narrow opening of the door and thrust forward his staff: There was a dazzling flash that lit the chamber and the passage outside. For an instant the wizard looked out....

'There is no hope of escape that way.'

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 5, The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

'[We] must be in a wide hall. I will now risk a little real light.'

He raised his staff, and for a brief instant there was blaze like a flash of lightning. Great shadows sprang up and fled, and for a second they saw a vast roof far above their heads upheld by many mighty pillars hewn of stone. Before them and on either side stretched a huge empty hall.... Three other entrances they saw, dark black arches.... Then the light went out.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 4, A Journey in the Dark

'Halt!' [Gandalf] called in a voice like thunder, and his staff blazed forth with a flash like the lightning.

The Hobbit, Ch 17, The Clouds Burst

Then Gandalf climbed to the top of his tree. Then sudden splendour flashed from his wand like lightning, as he got ready to spring down... among the spears of the goblins.

The Hobbit, Ch 6, Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire

Frodo lay in a dream.... Suddenly a shadow... passed across the moon. The figure lifted his arms and a light flashed from the staff that he wielded. A mighty eagle swept down and bore him away.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 1, Ch 7, In the House of Tom Bombadil


Magical Uses:  A Fire Starter
[Though] they had brought wood and kindlings..., it passed the skill of Elf or even Dwarf to strike a flame that would hold amid the swirling wind or catch in the wet fuel. At last reluctantly Gandalf himself took a hand. Picking up a faggot he held it aloft for a moment, and then with a word of command, naur an edraith ammen! he thrust the end of his staff1 into the midst of it. At once a great spout of green and blue flame sprang out, and the wood flared and sputtered.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 3, The Ring Goes South


Magical Uses:  An Instrument of Attack
[Gandalf] raised his staff....

In the gloom they heard the hiss of Wormtongue's voice: 'Did I not counsel you, lord, to forbid his staff? That fool, Háma, has betrayed us!' There was a flash as if lightning had cloven the roof. Then all was silent. Wormtongue sprawled on his face.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 6, The King of the Golden Hall

The old man... lifted up his staff, and Gimli's axe leaped from his grasp and fell ringing on the ground. The sword of Aragorn... blazed with a sudden fire. Legolas gave a great shout and shot an arrow high into the air: it vanished in a flash of flame.

'Mithrandir!' he cried.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 5, The White Rider

Gandalf stood up and strode forward, holding his staff aloft. 'Listen, Hound of Sauron!' he cried.... 'Fly, if you value your foul skin! I will shrivel you from tail to snout, if you come within this ring.'

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 4, A Journey in the Dark


Magical Uses:  An Instrument of Power
[Suddenly Gandalf] changed. Casting his tattered cloak aside, he stood up and leaned no longer on his staff; and he spoke in a clear cold voice. 'The wise speak only of what they know, Gríma son of Gálmód. A witless worm have you become. Therefore be silent, and keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. 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.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 3, Ch 6, The King of the Golden Hall

He stepped up to the rock again, and lightly touched with his staff the silver star in the middle beneath the sign of the anvil.

Annon edhellen, edro hi ammen!
Fennas nogothrim, lasto beth lammen!

he said in a commanding voice. The silver lines faded, but the blank grey stone did not stir.

Many times he repeated these words in different order.... Then he tried other spells, one after another.... Then he spoke many single words of Elvish speech. Nothing happened. The cliff towered into the night..., and the doors stood fast.

Again Gandalf approached the wall, and lifting up his arms he spoke in tones of command and rising wrath. Edro, edro! he cried, and struck the rock with his staff. Open, open! he shouted, and followed it with the same command in every language that had ever been spoken in the West of Middle-earth. Then he threw2 his staff on the ground, and sat down in silence.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 4, A Journey in the Dark

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, and the stone upon which it stood crashed into the gulf, while the rest remained, poised, quivering like a tongue of rock thrust out into emptiness.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 5, The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

He stood upon the bridge alone,
and fire and shadow both defied.
His staff was broken on the stone.
In Khazad-dûm his wisdom died.

From When evening in the Shire was grey
The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 7, The Mirror of Galadriel


Notes
1Gandalf also appears to be quite capable of igniting flame without employing his staff:

Stooping..., he lifted a burning branch and strode to meet the wolves.... High in the air he tossed the blazing brand. It flared with a sudden white radiance like lightning; and his voice rolled like thunder.

'Naur an edraith ammen! Naur dan i ngaurhoth!' he cried.

There was a roar and a crackle, and the tree above him burst into... blinding flame. The fire leapt from tree-top to tree-top.

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 4, A Journey in the Dark

2Though included here to preserve the integrity of the quotation, using the staff as a means of relieving tension — by tossing it away in a fit of pique — presumably qualifies as a non-magical use.

Contributors: Elena Tiriel 22Jan10

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