The White Wizards

Carole Ann Penney '07, English 65, Fantasy, Brown University, 2003

J.R.R. Tolkien includes two wizards in his trilogy The Lord of the Rings. The wizards begin as Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the White, but both undergo a change in the colors of their robes.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf journeys to Isengard to seek Saruman's help. He shortly realizes that Saruman is not what he appears to be.

"For I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman the Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!"

I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.

"I liked white better," I said.

"White!" he sneered. "It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken."

"In which case it is no longer white," said I. "And he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom." [252]

In The Two Towers, when Gandalf returns to the Company after falling in Moria, his new identity comes as a surprise to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli.

His hood and his grey rags were flung away. His white garments shone. . . . He stepped down from the rock, and picking up his grey cloak wrapped it about him: it seemed as if the sun had been shining, but now was hid in cloud again. . . . "Yes, I am white now," said Gandalf. "Indeed I am Saruman, one might almost say, Saruman as he should have been." [484]


1. Why does Tolkien choose to depict Saruman with robes that appear white but are actually "woven of all colors?" (252).

2. Though Saruman is clearly an evil figure, providing support to the Dark Lord, why is Gandalf's entrancement in Saruman's robes described with positive language? He tells the members of the Company that the colors of the robes "shimmeredÉso that the eye was bewildered" (252). Does this language imply an attraction to Saruman's colors and what they represent?

3. What significance does Gandalf's transformation from Gandalf the Grey to the The White Rider hold? He explains to the Company that he has returned as "Saruman as he should have been" (484). What does he mean by this?

4. Why does Gandalf hide his white robes under grey rags?


Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1966.

Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. Houghton Mifflin, Boston: 1966.

Victorian Web Overview J. R. R. Tolkien Victorian courses

Last modified 25 February 2004