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Thread: The Strongest Wizard??


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Some interesting points were raised in this thread. I'll just add something after three years (!). I notice some confusing of the book with the movies; for instance, there is no suggestion in the book that the blizzard was caused by Saruman. More importantly, Saruman didn't "defeat" Gandalf at Orthanc --that was all Peter Jackson. In fact, there was never a "fight" between wizards in the book.

Woo-hoo PT lives on! So good to be here! Even better to see it being kept up with so many new faces! Still the same poll though 5 years later xD

In regards to you Slippery you are so absolutely correct. BUT, even though Tolkien didn't officially describe a battle, Saruman did imprison Gandalf atop Orthanc, and this would imply more or less that Saruman "defeated" Gandalf in some fashion that day, as I highly doubt Gandalf willingly walked to the top without some sort of struggle. True we will never know the details, I guess a group of uruk-hai could have run up and dog piled him or something, but even years before the films, the first time I read Fellowship I remember pausing here and picturing this moment happening. I was a litle kid so more fire and lightning, but there was definitely a struggle. So, for me at least, it is quite accurate to the books

This was basically the trend throughought all of the LOTR film trilogy. Peter Jackson took the "unspoken" moments and used those to make dramatic scenes. So while in one regard the films are horribly inaccurate, in another they are actually fairly accurate (compared to many book-to-movie adaptations and the length of the books). While the movies of course left out tons of stuff from the novel, almost all of the scenes in the films are in the novel...unlike The Hobbit, where they basically shat all over everything. However it's a lot of what happens 'within' those scenes that PJ decided to take his liberties with, and this is either acceptable or unforgivable, depending on your view. In some cases I liked what he did (like the duel between Gandalf and Saruman. I don't think it took away from Tolkien's intentions and it was a question everyone asked). Others not so much (like the Witch King breaking Gandalf's staff). But, that's another discussion that's been had ad nauseum in this place over the years!

I still think Gandalf the White would beat Saruman the White though

Yes, I "imagine" I imagined it that way, too, on first reading it at age 17 (it was so long ago, I don't remember! ), but here, in Gandalf's words, is the end of the encounter: ' " The third choice is to stay here, until the end". ' "Until what end"? ' "Until you reveal to me where the One may be found. I may find means to persuade you. Or until it is found in your despite, and the Ruler has time to turn to lighter matters: to devise, say a fitting reward for the hindrance and insolence of Gandalf the Grey". ' "That may not prove to be one of the lighter matters," said I. He laughed at me, for my words were empty, and he knew it. 'They took me and they set me alone on the pinnacle of Orthanc . . .' Now, we may WANT there to be a fight of some kind, but as the text stands, there is no hint of one. And I believe this was Tolkien's intention; "Wizards" (a term he came to regret) was, as you no doubt know, his translation of Istari, having the same meaning as our angeloi: "messenger" . Much as we might like it, they were not, I believe, intended to be D&D-type "wizards", but messengers, sent to bring help and encouragement to the people of Middle Earth, in their resistance to the Shadow. They had "powers" of a sort, but these were severely limited, by the will of the Valar. There's no indication of the kind of "battle of the Wizards" portrayed in the movies. Even the greater power displayed by Gandalf, later in the story, were given to him only after he died and was sent back, in order for him to make his last supreme effort against Sauron.
One thing I really need to figure out: how to make my paragraphs stay "paragraphed" here. I hate the walls of text my posts get turned into. Li'l help?

Hmm you should just have to hit Enter to break it into a new paragraph?

Thank you for providing that paragraph for reference, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment on how Tolkien meant the Istari to be viewed. You certainly aren't wrong. I'm not denying a bit of stretching is needed, but I don't "imagine" I imagined anything, I very clearly remember laying in bed that night reading about this encounter and thinking "how would he just take him?" In fact I'm pretty sure it's because I was hoping they were more DnD like and wanted it to happen. I was 12, I didn't fully appreciate the subtleties of Tolkien just yet. I just wanted a wizard battle. And I didn't think one up so much as assumed something happened between the two of them that allowed Saruman to overtake and imprison him, even if it was just holding in place or something. That something is key though. PJ went a little crazy with it.

Of course it's not directly hinted at, that's not Tolkien's style. But it is hinted that Saruman isn't against using violence: giving Gandalf ultimatums, the last of which involves imprisonment, threatning him with things like "to devise, say a fitting reward for the hindrance and insolence of Gandalf the Grey," implies he has no problem (and in fact intends to) harming Gandalf. And when one Valar chosen Istari threatens to harm another, I'd imagine the one being threatened would do something.

Of course if they didn't Middle Earth is where that would be. It absolutely is possible Gandalf went with his hands up to the top of Orthanc. That's the great thing about Tolkien, there really isn't one right answer here. To be honest the non-violent finish is more than likely, but it doesn't have to be the only one.....and PJ went with it. You love it or you don't. I don't think wizards should have crazy duels in Middle Earth, but I do think they would have struggles of powers unknown to men. It's true Tolkien regretted the use of wizards, but he regretted a lot of things, so if you go with all of his regrets, pretty much all of his work is up for interpretation of any kind....but to be honest this is something I've always been adamant about, keeping the regrets separate from the published works. I know some disagree but, to each their own!

But ok sure, let's mix things up a bit, let's say that 'is' the case. Saruman called up some orcs and they handcuffed ol' Mithrandir and locked him up atop a tower. In a purist discussion of the strongest wizard, if the battle of the Istari wasn't fought with fire and lightning but instead with words, and Saruman convinced Gandalf to be escorted to the top of Orthanc by orcs...then that is still a battle right there, a battle of wits that Saruman won.

There needs to be separate Strongest Wizard film/novel threads to keep things simple...though in both cases I think Gandalf the White would beat Saruman the White sad

And ya know, in Gandalf's recanting of why he was delayed, I don't see why he'd go into detail about the part where he got whooped before his imprisonment. A detail that could easily be left out but still fit in somewhere in that excerpt. And considering how the rest of Tolkien history is mostly retellings of stories told by someone moreso than an encyclopedic history, just because Gandalf didn't say it doesn't mean it didn't happen...

In the "love it or don't" debate, you'll have to put me in the "Don't" column. In fact, Tolkien's comments on the proposed 1950's movie become hilarious in light of the movies that were made: "Aragorn is always whipping out his sword", or "Z has a preference for fights". It's almost as if PJ read Tolkien's criticisms and said "Hey -- those are all great ideas!". But that debate has been beaten to death, so there's no point in going over it again. If someone likes the movies, fine; if they prefer the movies,well. . . .I don't know what to say. I really only take issue with confusing the two. You're quite justified in being leery of bringing Tolkien's ssecond thoughts into the discussion, but, really, .what else have we fanatics to reach for, to fill in the gaps? One thing I'll mention concerning the "colors": there has been much speculation about their origins and significance over the years, including some ingenious attempts to link them with the wizards' Valar "sponsors". My own impression was that in this,as in so much else, Tolkien adapted parts of his own upbringing in the Catholic Church-- in this case, the colors of the various orders. The close resemblance of Radagast to St. Francis is clear enough. And the Dominicans, with their white habit, were always considered an "intellectual" order. I'm not sure it goes further than that, although Saruman's hubristic color change, and disdain for the purity of white, may also contain an element of demonic parody of Joseph's "coat of many colors". As far as the "battle" goes, you're right-- Gandalf bested Saruman.
Oh yes, someone earlier (and years ago) mentioned not being able to find the place where Gandalf refers to Saruman as "the greatest of my order". It's in the "Council of Elrond" chapter, where he also calls him "Saruman the Wise".

Your feelings about the movies were pretty clear from the start  But honestly I completely understand where you are coming from and agree with MUCH of what you say. I definitely don't prefer the movies though I do enjoy them...trust me I cringed at plenty of scenes. But, somehow I'm able to over look them and enjoy it for what it is xD I also really appreciate the fact that it brought Tolkien to a much wider audience and made it "cool" to like fantasy. They also aren't half bad if looking at it completely objectively from a cinematic standpoint...It is 'some' testament that Return of the King still holds countless box office records, including most best picture awards recieved (even though I think Fellowship is the best one). But you're right it isn't even a convo worth having anymore lol, just do a quick search and you'll find it 100 times on here

...Though just to be clear this isn't including The Hobbit series which is a total travesty to the Tolkien name. Martin Freeman was perfect as Bilbo, everything else was a disgrace.

And fyi I LOVE talking about Tolkien's second hand thoughts, as disappointing as I find some of them...I just think it's better to keep them separate if the films are involved too, it can get messy!

Oh, the movies had their moments. And I certainly agree that anything that gets more people to read Tolkien is great -- they got LOTR back on the Bestseller lists again, after all. For me personally, one important effect was that they made it possible to bring a number of older studies back into print -- Paul Kocher's "Master of Middle Earth", for instance. And a host of new ones came out -- some of them ephemeral, created just to cash in, but some of real value. So I can't complain, all in all.
Say, is it OK to mention other forums here? I recently joined The Tolkien Forum. Over there, I'm the "Squint-eyed Southerner". : )

Well I haven't been around in awhile but in the past a looot of the members here were members of multiple Tolkien forums and it was never really a problem. I can't imagine that's changed much, there's only so many places for us Tolkienites to go these days ha. But now with CRT passing down the torch, the future remains unclear, and we might have another spike of interest for Middle Earth coming up. I just really, really hope all this upcoming stuff stays true to Tolkien and not become a Game of Thrones rip off or anything

Also "For me personally, one important effect was that they made it possible to bring a number of older studies back into print"  I could not agree more. The sad truth is that now, almost 20 years later, without those films it is entirely possibly Tolkien would have faded into the "classics," along with Tom Sawyer, Romeo and Juliet, and Homer...and nobody reads the classics anymore (sad, but true). But it kept going strong, and just as it's starting to fade away again, this Amazon series is announced. I'm quite curious to see what happens next...

So am I. I did see somewhere that someone involved described it as "edgier". I hope that was just hype of some kind. "Sex and Murder in Middle Earth" would be horrible. GoT is GRRM's anti-romance; upending conventions may seem "daring" but by itself, ultimately becomes puerile. It would be a shame if it became the go-to model for fantasy. I'm reminded of William Ready's judgment of Aragorn as a two-dimensional character, in the first book-length study of Tolkien: he "has some of the qualities of a noble horse"; he'd prefer him to show a "sharp taste for sin" (well answered by Kocher, in one of the better early examinations of Aragorn's character). On a more hopeful note, I 've also read that the Tolkien Estate has some controls in the contract over what gets done with the material. We'll see.

I don't think the Istar were sent with a defacto leader. Rather each had his own misson and purpose. It was only when the White Council was formed that a leader was chosen. The 'strenght' of the wizards might have been something subjective as well as Galadriel wanted Gandalf to be the head even though he was 'The Grey' back then.

As for the fight in the movie, I don't think it would actually have come down to a real fight as after all, Gandalf was in Saruman's 'house' and bar their powers, he had a host of his servants at hand. I don't think even Gandalf would have dared to run the gauntlet against all of them.

I very much agree Thorin, I probably should have clarified when I said defeat in my initial post I wasn't referring specifically to the physical fight, just that Saruman bested Gandalf to be able to imprison him. How it happened is ultimately up to the reader, which is the genius of Tolkien. Slippery is right though that there never was any kind of duel. I think the thought of it is exciting (judge me), but the most "magical" I see it actually getting is Saruman holding Gandalf in place while orc servants come and grab him...still a defeat though in my opinion! xD

Edit: Also, HEY THORIN! Long time no see! Glad to see familiar faces still around!

Slippery we definitely agree there, I really don't want this to take the dark fantasy path, and I am a big GRRM fan. The only good I can see coming out of something like that is if they do another series/movie down the line, which I'm sure they will (I think they've already said they had others planned?), which will intentionally try to be more faithful to the style of the books to counteract this new "edgier" tone, and we 'might' actually get something that does the real story justice....might.

Not holding my breath, but fingers crossed. (No wonder I can't get anything done!)
I'm coming back to the thread because it occurred to me that what was said about an "unseen" sort of fight has a parallel with the early Universal horror films, like Dracula or The Mummy: much of the clash was non-physical, even non-verbal. In 1934's The Black Cat, for instance, there's a constant impression of a titanic struggle going on between Karloff and Lugosi, just out of the range of our perception. Karloff's evil character seemed to be the stronger, in the clash of wills: https://youtu.be/fWRN2OUfg0o Of course Lugosi flayed him alive at the end! Though I believe the Hayes Office forced the director to cut or reshoot much of that sequence. Edit: I see my attempt to paste in a link failed. It's the famous "The phone is dead" clip.
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