Who is Gandalf the White in the movie?
Halfway through ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, the fellowship looses Gandalf who gives them a chance to run from the Balrog and goblins in Moria. Because they know very little about wizards, they assume he is lost forever and they flee to Lothlórien, where they can rest and eat.
In ‘The Two Towers’, Gandalf reappears in Fangorn Forest. Mistaken for Saruman, the three hunters attack him. When they notice their mistake, they apologize and a short conversation learns them what happened to Gandalf. He comforts them about the faith of Merry and Pippin and leads them out of the forest to the meadow, where he whistles for Shadowfax.
Together, they ride straight to Edoras, where they find Théoden King possessed by Saruman and “counseled” by Gríma Wormtongue. Gandalf and Saruman have a mental fight and Gandalf wins, revealing himself as the white wizard.
With a war at hand, he advices Théoden to fight back, instead of retreating to Helm’s Deep, but Théoden ignores this advice. Gandalf takes off with high speed to find Éomer, who is banished, and tells Aragorn that he must stay next to Théoden. (Notice that Háma, one of Théoden’s wardens, dies in a confrontation with warg scouts.)
When the battle for Helm’s Deep seems to end badly for mankind, Gandalf shows up with Éomer and his host at the time he told Aragorn he probably would be back. During the fight that follows, Gandalf develops himself as a warrior more than a wizard, fighting along with the men. The only “magic” he uses is the rising sun, which seems to intensify and blinds the Uruk-hai when the men ride down the hill.
In the added scene in TTT, Éomer warns his men that they must not follow the Uruk-hai into the forest. These trees are the Huorns, which moved from Fangorn to Helm’s Deep.

The White Rider by Ted Nasmith

Who was Gandalf the White in the book?
The three hunters meet Gandalf the White in Fangorn Forest, where he walks around clad in grey and worn stuff, like a beggar. Although they insist, Gandalf does not reveal himself immediately, but he waits until there is some action. Gimli mistakes Gandalf for Saruman (and not Legolas, like in the movies) and he cries out for action. When they finally learn that it is not Saruman, they walk through Fangorn, telling each other what happened. In the books, Gwaihir had taken Gandalf away when he lay on the rock. Gandalf was taken back to Lothlórien to heal and there he gets his white clothes. Galadriel sent him away with a message in a song for Aragorn and Legolas and a short message to Gimli. This unfortunately did not make it to the screen.
After they gathered their horses, the company is riding to Edoras, but they are halted by guards who speak to them in the Tongue of Rohan. From the guards, they learn about the bad situation of Théoden and Gríma‘s influence. The company rides on to the Golden Hall. There is no such “exorcism” action like in the movie, but Gandalf speaks to Théoden, and opens a window so free air can flow in.
Against Gandalf’s advice, the Rohirrim retreat to Helm’s Deep, but the women and children are sent separately to Dunharrow, and they are not traveling along with the men. Gandalf travels with the soldiers, and leaves after a while without telling where he goes. There is no word about wargs and Háma is not killed during the trip.
When Gandalf returns, he is traveling with Erkenbrand (and not Éomer) and his host, who relieve the people in Helm’s Deep. There is no word of Gandalf fighting along.

Scene by scene
In the prologue, Frodo has a nightmare of the falling of Gandalf, fighting the Balrog, all the way down to a cave in Moria. In the book, there is no such prologue. The story of Gandalf’s fight with the Balrog is told in Chapter 3.V., The White Wizard.

In the movie, Merry and Pippin are taken to ‘the White Wizard’ by Treebeard, who thinks they are little orcs.
In the books, Treebeard is less suspicious, and soon they have a nice conversation, where Gandalf is mentioned. In fact. It is Merry and Pippin who inform Treebeard that Gandalf has fallen out of the Fellowship. This has not made it to the screen.

The White Rider
In the movie, this is the first “real” meeting with Gandalf the White. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli came to Fangorn Forest after the hunt for Merry and Pippin. Legolas “senses” that “the White Wizard approaches”. Mistaken for Saruman, our threesome attacks the Wizard, who talks to them. They cannot see his face, because he is standing in a radiant and blinding light. When he reveals himself, Legolas apologizes for his mistake. Gandalf explains who he is and why he came back.
In the book, Legolas rather sees than senses the presence, and he points it out to Aragorn.
In the movies, it is Aragorn who tells his fellow hunters to be ready for action, in the books, it is Gimli who has mistaken the presence for Saruman (and not Legolas) and calls out to get ready to fight.
In the movies, the hunters attack immediately. In the books, there is a small conversation first, until Gimli cries out “Saruman!”. Only after that, the attack starts.

In the books, the presence is clad in grey rags, bent and looking like a beggar. He awaits the actions of the hunters, instead of take action himself first. In the movies, Gandalf is shown directly as a white wizard. Funny detail is, that later on, when they leave Fangorn, Gandalf actually wears his grey cloak, while he did not carry it with him during the walk in the woods.
In the movies, Gandalf is telling very soon what happened to him after the fight with the Balrog. In the books, it is only told when the hunters told about their adventures after they left Moria.

In the movies, Legolas recognized Shadowfax as one of the Mearas. In the books, the horse is introduced as such by Gandalf. Also, in the books Gandalf speaks to Shadowfax, and he is “told” that the horse knows the best road to ride to Edoras.

In the books, Aragorn tells Gandalf about Sam leaving with Frodo in Fangorn, but in the movies, this information is told when they are on their way to Edoras (added scene in TTT EE, start of “The King of the Golden Hall”). In the theatrical version, this bit of info is left out.

The king of the Golden Hall
In the books, simbelmynë is introduced by Gandalf, when they ride towards Edoras. In the movies, it is Théoden who introduces it, after Théodred‘s funeral.
In the movies, no guard at the gates of Edoras is shown. In the books, the company is halted by watchers, who speak in the Tongue of Rohan and Gandalf answers them in their own tongue.
In the movies, they can walk straight into the Golden Hall, where Gríma Wormtongue is introduced. In the books, Gríma is mentioned by a guard when they are halted. In both, Gandalf is familiar with Gríma Wormtongue.
In the movies, Gandalf is actually fighting Saruman, who has taken over Théoden’s mind. In the books, there is no such thing as a mental fight or “exorcism”, but Gandalf opens a high window with his staff, letting in light and “free air” and he speaks gently but persistent to Théoden. And he reveals himself just before the mental fight as Gandalf the White, while in the books, he only does that when they are making arranges to ride off and he is named a Lord of the Mark.
The council of Gandalf to Théoden is much less in the movies than in the books. In the movies, Gandalf lets the decision depend more on Théoden (“and what then is the King’s decision?”), while in the books, Gandalf keeps on pointing out the need to fight.

Helm’s Deep
When they leave to Helm’s Deep, Gandalf is already gone to get Éomer back, who was banished. In the books, he takes off with the soldiers to Helm’s Deep, but he leaves them after a while. While in the movies he returns with Éomer, in the books he returns with Erkenbrand and his host.

– Although the arrival of Shadowfax is filmed quite extended, there is no sign of the other horses (Arod and Hasufel) arriving at the borders. So where were they?

Gandalf with Shadowfax by Ted Nasmith

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Gandalf's eyes by RosieTheCarnivorouseBeast

Related Information
About wizards
In general
The origin of the wizards is not further mentioned in the books. Therefore, we have to take "Unfinished Tales", Part 4 chapter II; Istari.
Istar (plural: Istari) is a Quenyan word for "wizard" or "a member of a specific order".
In those ages, there were two kinds of angelic spirits: the Valar and the Maiar. The latter were a lesser kind of angelic spirits than the first, but still powerful. Of course, there was also Ilúvatar or The One, but no further explanation about Ilúvatar is needed here. The Valar and Maiar were selected to govern ME, without getting involved and certainly not mend to rule the inhabitants. Some of them did not stay true to that, and they turned selfish and at last evil (Melkor/Morgoth as Vala, Sauron as his Maia-servant at first, but later replaced Morgoth).

After the battles and relative peaceful times, the Valar decided at some point that ME needed the help of their kind against the threat of Sauron. So they sent some of their Maiar-servants to Arda.These servants are known as the Istari: the wizards. The full number is unknown, but those who came to ME were: Saruman the White, Radagast the Brown, two wizards (Allatar and Pallando) clad in blue who became known as "Ithryn Luin", The Blue Wizards, and Gandalf the Grey. They got many names, depending of the tongue of the people they spoke. Radagast sometimes shows up, but from the Blue Wizards, there is very little known.

It is assumed that the wizards were "adjusted" to a Vala of their capability: Saruman had great skills for craftsmanship, and could be so a Maia of Aulë, Gandalf had wisdom and lore, and could be so a Maia of Manwë, Radagast had a great love for the birds, and could be so a Maia of Yavanna, the Blue Wizards are assumed to be Maiar of Oromë, though this is not certain. Of course, this is very hypothetical and no statue is known about this.

Of all these wizards, Gandalf was the only one who remained true to his task. Saruman was influenced by Sauron, Radagast remained in his woods and talked rather with the birds than with other living beings (except for his fellow-wizards, when he was asked for help or summoned) and of the fate of the Blue Wizards is nothing known.
When they were introduced to the Eldar, Cirdan sensed a great spirit in the Grey Wizard, and he gave Narya, the Ring of Fire, to him, to keep it secret. Saruman knew Gandalf kept Narya, and was probably jealous (which might explain his own hunt for the One Ring?).

(Next is very hypothetical, and it sprang out of my own mind: Morgoth was as Melkor a Vala of craftsmanship, Sauron was a Maia servant of Aulë at first and later of Morgoth, Saruman/Curunír was likely a Maia added to Aulë... should the message be that craftsmanship and the ability to make beautiful things lead to jealousy, envy and attempts to rule the world? Looking at the Sil, Fëanor had many skills and made the Silmarils, but he was torn apart by fear that someone would steal the stones and when they were stolen, he was prepared to doom his people, just to get the stones back.
Probably, someone has seen the connection already, but I thought it was worth mentioning it.)

About Gandalf:
Known as the Grey Pilgrim who comes and goes, wanders between all people of ME, known as the maker of nice fireworks, known as a disturber of the peace. He has many names. Known as a wise one and honored by the Elves and the Dúnedain, little known and therefore distrusted by most of mankind.... Sent to ME to save it from Sauron, together with his fellow-wizards.

Gandalf's Quenyan name is Olórin. The word means "dream, fantasy", but not in the sense of "dreaming while asleep". It is merely in the way of "getting ideas and/or thoughts". Probably could the presence of Gandalf give "open-hearted" people thoughts or good ideas. In the movies, he is portrayed as a friendly "manipulator", but it is possible that this only is an effect of his seemingly ability to give people these ideas when he is around. This capacity makes Gandalf a great counselor, of course. His ability is already shown in The Hobbit, when poor Bilbo certainly is not looking for any adventure, but gets sucked into it because of Gandalf. In The Lord of the Rings, it is Gandalf who settles the board of the "good side", who more or less arranges Bilbo leaving the Ring behind and Frodo taking the Ring to Mount Doom (through Rivendel, of course, but deep in his heart, Gandalf knows that Frodo is probably the only one who can take the Ring so far). Gandalf seems to let his friends be after they have done what he had in mind, but behind the screens, he is arranging or investigating other things, whatever needed to be arranged or investigated.

After his task was done, he was granted to go home, back westwards with one of the last ships which left ME.

Related Books vs. Movies Articles
- 3.01.*a. Prologue by elenluin
- 3.05. The White Rider by Morwinyoniel
- 3.06. The King of the Golden Hall by atalante_star
- 3.07. The Battle of Helms Deep by atalante_star

- Gandalf the Grey by atalante_star

Interesting Links:
Our Character Gallery has a separate section devoted to Gandalf.
It also has the screencaps of the theatrical version, as well as the extended edition.

A transcript of 'The Lord Of the Rings: The Two Towers' can be found in our Film Fun & Facts section.

A summary of 'The Lord Of the Rings: The Two Towers' can be found in Elrond's Library.

You can also check out some pictures of Ian McKellen in our Cast & Crew Gallery or read a short biography in our Film, Fun & Facts section.

Some articles that are related to Gandalf the White:
- Our Middle-earth Section has an article about Gandalf (Olórin).
- You can find an article about Glamdring in our Weaponry Section.

Forum threads related to Gandalf the White/ Ian McKellen:
The Books Forum has threads on Gandalf’s Sword and The Istari.

Take a look at how some artists saw Gandalf the White in The Two Towers:
- Gandalf and the Balrog on Zirak-zigil by John Howe
- Gandalf the White by Ian Miller
- Gandalf the White by Ted Nasmith
- Gandalf and Shadowfax by Ted Nasmith
- Gandalf judges Gríma Wormtongue by Anke Eissmann

Preview the Gandalf theme here.

Looking for something more creative - you may find it here: