Gandalf’s Limits

Gandalf.The nature of Gandalf’s character is revealed when he refuses the Ring. When Frodo offers the Ring to Gandalf, Gandalf says:

Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength.

Gandalf’s recognition of his weakness makes him strong. It’s what differentiates him from Saruman. Saruman falls prey to the darkness and to the allure of power that the darkness supposedly has. Gandalf does not. Gandalf understands that to take the Ring or any other devices of Sauron would compromise his character and his nature. He would not become stronger; he would be depleted. He would become enslaved to a thing. He no longer would be free to make his own choices. He no longer would be Gandalf.

Gandalf’s wizardry, then, as impressive as it may be, is not what makes him who he is. He is a wizard, but he’s much more than that. He’s a person who recognizes his limits. He’s a person who understands that strength is found in admitting his weakness and that one sometimes has to refuse a thing, has to flee from it, in order to remain strong.

Photo: Chad Thorson (CC 2.0)


  1. This is great, Erin. I’ve enjoyed your whole treatment this week of Lord of the Rings characters. The only criticism I have is that now you’ve made me want to re-read the series again!…

    • yuvizalkow I wish I could say I’m sorry for making you want to re-read the books, but I’m not. Today’s post is the final one in the series unless someone asks me to write about a specific character. :)Thank you. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the series. Are you on the final weeks of the book tour? I’m making some adjustments with things in September, so maybe I’ll be able to devote more time to your book. I started reading it, then had to stop so that I could work on some projects.

  2. Of course confronting his fears and defeating them manifested in the Balrog is how he was able to gain the white.

    • richescorner I guess I don’t see the encounter with the Balrog as a testing of his limits, at least not primarily. I think the encounter proves his selflessness and love for others, which throws him in stark contrast to Saruman. It’s his character and not his acts that make him “white.” Saruman, of course, is known as “white,” but upon closer inspection the books says that his robes glimmer and aren’t actually white. The impetus behind Gandalf’s not taking the ring and fighting the Balrog may have been the same. I’m just not sure that the two offer a one-on-one comparison. Gandalf knew his limits with the ring and therefore didn’t test them. Gandalf also knew his limits with the Balrog, but his limits didn’t matter. The lives of Frodo and Aragorn were more important than his. To save many, he sacrificed himself.


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