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So how Old is Gandalf Exactly in ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’?

Just remember that a wizard is never late

Elijah Wood and Sir Ian McKellen, as Frodo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey, ride through Hobbiton in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

I think we can all agree that the world written by J.R.R. Tolkien wouldn’t be the same without Gandalf in it, and that the cinematic adaptations of both works wouldn’t be the same without Sir Ian McKellen’s interpretation.

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Both Bilbo’s and Frodo’s journeys start because of Gandalf, who provides the inciting incident that starts their stories in true Morphology of the Folktale fashion—by organizing a dwarf rave a meeting for the Erebor dwarves traveling with Thorin Oakenshield in Bilbo’s house. Gandalf also entrusts the One Ring to Frodo until Frodo gets to the town of Bree, at least according to his original plan.

Gandalf’s own story, however, goes way beyond the events that surround the One Ring at the end of the Third Age of Middle-earth. After all, as he says to Bilbo, he is no mere “conjurer of cheap tricks,” but at the same time, he’s also not just a powerful wizard who ascends to the highest seat in his order once he sheds the role of Gandalf the Grey and takes on the mantle of Gandalf the White. 

Plus, if you were surprised about Bilbo celebrating his 111th birthday or Galadriel being roughly 5000 years old when the Fellowship meets her in Lothlórien, just wait until you hear about Gandalf’s theorised age. So let’s get into the lore concerning wizards in Middle-earth.

Unlike other wizards, Gandalf was particularly close to the Hobbits— which proved to be just what Middle-earth needed (New Line Cinema)

The Men of Middle-earth were inclined to believe that wizards were pretty much like them, and that they acquired their magic through years of studying, or that they were Elves, considering how they did not die. However, wizards are actually part of the Maiar, spirits who helped the Valar—to put it simply, the gods of the world created by Tolkien—shape Arda, the World, which includes Middle-earth. 

Five of those Maiar were gathered after the shaping of the world into the Order of Wizards, known in Quenya as Heren Istarion—which is why they are also known as Istari—and sent to Middle-earth during the Third Age to help the Free peoples resist Sauron and hopefully defeat him. To once again put it simply, think something along the line of angels incarnating into human bodies.

Saruman the White initially leads the Order, as Gandalf himself tells Frodo and Sam before they all leave the Shire at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. In Valinor, he was known as Curumo, and he was bound to the Smith of the Valar Aulë. Then there’s Gandalf himself, or Olórin, bound to the King and Queen of the Valar, Manwë and Varda. 

There’s no escaping from the eye of Sauron, at least for Saruman (New Line Cinema)

Then there’s Radagast the Brown, also known as Aiwendil, bound to Yavanna, the giver of all things that grow. Finally, there’s the duo known as the Blue Wizards, both bound to the Hunter of the Valar Oromë—however, they are never seen throughout the events of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, since they went into the East and South upon their arrival in Middle-earth.

We saw Radagast in The Hobbit movies (New Line Cinema)

This fact alone makes Gandalf older than the creation of the World—ten thousand years old at the very minimum. Most Tolkien fans, however, will say that the question of Gandalf’s age is one that is unanswerable in nature and that has little reason to be asked at all. Since Gandalf existed before time did, how exactly do you count years when there is no concept of years to be counted?

On the other hand, it’s much easier to calculate how long Gandalf has walked alongside the Free peoples of Middle-earth incarnated in his human body—the one that got killed after his battle with the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring, and that was later brought back when Gandalf became the head of the Heren Istarion instead of Saruman, who had turned to Sauron.

Insert iconic “Run you fools” line (New Line Cinema)

Just like the other Istari, Gandalf was sent to Middle-earth around the year 1000 of the Third Age—which means that by the time Bilbo departs with Thorin Oakenshield towards Erebor in the year 2941, Gandalf had been around for almost two thousand years. Eventually, Gandalf returned to the West with Frodo in the year 3021, so more than two thousand years after he had first arrived in Middle-earth—once his mission was well and truly finished and the One Ring destroyed.

(source: Tolkien Getaway; featured image: New Line Cinema)

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Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.

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