Lord of the Rings: A Brief History of Gandalf - The Fantasy Review

Lord of the Rings: A Brief History of Gandalf

The Fantasy Review’s Brief History of Gandalf.

Gandalf, one of the Istari and arguably the one most responsible for the defeat of Sauron in the Third Age, is one of the most recognisable characters of Middle-Earth, and indeed the whole of the fantasy genre. Here is a brief history of Gandalf!



‘Gandalf’ was not his “real” name, nor was it the only one used by the inhabitants of Middle-Earth. ‘Gandalf’ was the name given to him by the Men of the North. The Elves called him ‘Mithrandir’, meaning ‘Grey Wanderer’ or ‘Grey Pilgrim’. 

The Dwarves called him ‘Tharkûn’, and the Haradrim knew him as ‘Incánus’. Some of his other names include:

  • ‘Gandalf Greyhame’ by the Rohirrim
  • ‘Stormcrow’ by Theoden and himself
  • ‘Láthspell’ by Gríma Wormtongue
  • ‘The Grey Fool’ by Denethor II
  • ‘The Enemy of Sauron’ and ‘The White Rider as a general title during The War of the Ring

Gandalf’s real name was given to him in Valinor, and it was ‘Olórin’.

A Brief History of Gandalf


Before his resurrection, Gandalf wore a grey cloak and had grey hair. He was seen as an old conjurer, and a meddlesome elderly man by some. In the heat of battle, however, he showed how incredibly powerful he really was.

After his demise, he was resurrected as Gandalf the White, turning his hair and clothing from grey to white. His body was no longer mortal and could not be harmed by weapons, and his power over the Unseen was increased dramatically.

A Brief History of Gandalf

Gandalf was a Maia spirit who lived in the gardens of Lórien when he was known as Olórin. Around the year TA 1000 (The Third Age), he was selected as one of the five Wizards (Istari) to go to Middle-earth. 

Gandalf arrived in Middle-earth and was given one of the Three Rings (Narya) by Círdan the Shipwright. He travelled mostly in the West of Middle-earth, having no permanent home.

Of all the five Istari sent to Middle-earth, he cared the most for things that were seemingly unimportant, finding the best and most incredible aspects of these things, such as trees and Hobbits.   

At the request of the White Council, Gandalf went to Dol Guldur as a spy in TA 2063 to identify the lord there. He was unable to do so, but tried once again in TA 2850 and found out that it was Sauron.

This led to Galdalf’s recruitment of Thorin to take back control of Erbor as a strong realm in the north, to oppose the allies of Sauron. This was the Quest of the Lonely Mountain, and it led to the slaying of Smaug the Dragon. Thorin was convinced to hire Bilbo Baggins as a burglar on this expedition, having the unintended consequence of Bilbo coming into possession of the One Ring.

Suspecting that Bilbo’s ring was indeed the One Ring, Gandalf kept a close eye on Bilbo and the Shire from TA 2941 to 3001, along with the assistance of the Rangers. In 3001, Gandalf convinced Bilbo to relinquish the Ring to Frodo, and in 3018 he sent Frodo on the Quest of Mount Doom.

During his time as one of the Companions of the Ring, assisting Frodo on his quest to destroy it, Gandalf was killed while defending the Fellowship, in a battle against the Balrog of Moria in Khazad-dûm. He was then resurrected as Gandalf the White to complete his task, now stronger and less vulnerable than before, along with his horse, Shadowfax.

A Brief History of Gandalf

Gandalf was instrumental in the War of the Ring, releasing King Théoden from Grima’s spells, casting Saruman out of the order of the Istari, holding back the Witch-king at the gates of Minas Tirith, and guiding Gondor and Rohan in their victory. 

Once the War of the Ring was over, he sailed to the Undying Lands in TA 3021 with the Keepers of the Rings.


All of the information from this article came from the following books. Have a read of them if you want a more in-depth look into the history of Gandalf.

The Hobbit

The Lord of the Rings

The Silmarillion

Tolkien’s World from A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth

A Dictionary of Tolkien

Related to: A Brief History of Gandalf

Owner and Editor of The Fantasy Review. Loves all fantasy and science fiction books, graphic novels, TV and Films. Having completed a BA and MA in English Literature and Creative writing, they would like to go on to do a PhD. Favourite authors are Trudi Canavan, Steven Erikson, George R. R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson.

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