Mithrandir (Grey Wanderer), Gandalf** (Elf-of-the-Staff), Incánus* (North Spy / Mind-Ruler), Tharkûn (Staff-Bearer)
The majority of the information we have on Olórin (originally Olórion) comes from an essay and associated jottings on the Istari, in Unfinished Tales. The details below come from there, as well as from The Silmarillion and LotR, unless mentioned otherwise.
It is seems likely that Olórin had already visited Middle-earth before his appearance as one of the Istari, as his love for its inhabitants was known to Manwë (Peoples of Middle-earth). It was Manwë who wished Olórin to go to Middle-earth as a member of the Istari, seemingly because of Olórin’s love for the Eldar. Olórin declared that he was too weak for the task, and that he feared Sauron, but that made Manwë even more certain that he should be one of the Istari.
“He was humble in the Land of the Blessed; and in Middle-earth he sought no renown. His triumph was in the uprising of the fallen, and his joy was in the renewal of hope.” (Morgoth’s Ring, and incorrectly omitted from The Silmarillion)
Associations with the Valar
Olórin seems to have been primarily associated with Manwë and Varda, and therefore his innate characteristics should be, in some way, reflective of theirs. There are also some links with Lórien, not least through an earlier version of Lórien’s name, Olofantur. It is also mentioned that Olórin was the counsellor of Irmo, which was why Olórin could plant fair visions or words of wisdom into people’s hearts without them knowing it. In The Silmarillion, it also mentions that Olórin dwelt in Lórien, but it also says that he journeyed often to the house of Nienna, where he learnt pity and patience.
Olórin in Middle-earth
The exact date Olórin entered Middle-earth is unknown, though he came from over the Seas at around the same time as the first signs were seen of the return of the shadow. It is possible that his travelling companionship was Glorfindel (Peoples of Middle-earth). Olórin seemed in some ways the least of the Istari: “and last 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.” But Círdan immediately recognised that he had the greatest spirit, and the wisest, and he gave Narya to Olórin at their first meeting at the Grey Havens.
In Middle-earth, the Elves called Olórin the ‘Grey Pilgrim’ as he wandered the realms, gathering neither wealth nor followers. He went around the Westlands, from Gondor to Angmar, from Lindon to Lórien, befriending all peoples in their times of need.
“Warm and eager was his spirit (and it was enhanced by the ring Narya), for he was the Enemy of Sauron, opposing the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles, and succours in wanhope and distress; but his joy, and his swift wrath, were veiled in garments grey as ash, so that only those that knew him well glimpsed the flame that was within. Merry he could be, and kindly to the young and simple, and yet quick at times to sharp speech and the rebuking of folly; but he was not proud, and sought neither power nor praise, and thus far and wide he was beloved among all those that were not themselves proud. Mostly he journeyed unwearyingly on foot, leaning on a staff; and so he was called among Men of the North Gandalf, ‘the Elf of the Wand’.”
The name of Olórin
Olórin was a High-elven name, and therefore must have either been given to him by the Eldar in Valinor, or must be a translation of his real name that had significance to the Eldar. “Olor” is often translated as “dream” – but truly it represents the contents of memory, imagination, and true vision.
Olórin as Gandalf
Tolkien himself said that “of Olórin we shall never know more than he revealed in Gandalf.”
Significant events of Olórin’s life as Gandalf:
– Galadriel asked Gandalf to become the chief of the White Council, but he refused, leaving the post open for Saruman. He wished no ties and no allegiances while in Middle-earth, and he would not be subject to any summons, save by those who sent him.
– Entered Dol Guldur in 2063, and again in 2850 when he discovered that the Necromancer was Sauron.
– With Aragorn, he searched for Gollum to try and find the truth of the Ring, but only discovered its properties many years later.
– Planned the disposal of the Ring.
– Reborn as Gandalf the White after battling a Balrog.
– Greatest opponent of Sauron in the Third Age, fulfilling his destiny to be the chief architect of Sauron’s Downfall.
– Would not enter Mordor, but rallied the Free Peoples for long enough to give Frodo his only chance at destroying the Ring. By bringing to bear every last ounce of his will and determination, Gandalf countered every move that Sauron made.
Gandalf returned to the Blessed Realm in 3021, two years after Frodo’s quest was completed. He set sail with the other Ring Bearers.
* Incánus is an ‘alien’ word, being neither Westron nor Elvish, not being understandable from the surviving tongues of Northern Men. It may be a form adapted to Quenya of a word in the Haradrim tongue meaning North-spy (Inka – nus), or an Quenyan word from ancient Gondor.
** Gandalf is derived from an actual Norse word, and the word Gandalf was created to mean ‘Elvish wight with a (magic) staff’.