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Why Doesn’t Gandalf Use Magic More Often in Lord of the Rings?

Why Doesn’t Gandalf Use Magic More Often in Lord of the Rings?


  • The Valar forbids Gandalf from using full power to guide mortals in achieving their own peace – a key element in the trilogy’s story.
  • Gandalf understood the limits of power and greed, avoiding becoming another Saruman through Valar-imposed restraints.
  • Gandalf’s sparing use of magic was due to its taxing nature and the need to influence others to take control of their own affairs.

The Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest trilogies ever made, and there are several reasons for this. Certainly, the key characters, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Frodo (Elijah Wood), Sam (Sean Austin), and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), left an indelible mark on the story. In particular, Gandalf, who portrayed a wizard that guides the people of Middle-earth on the path of peace, has made the trilogy far more interesting.

Having said that, have you ever wondered why Gandalf doesn’t use magic more often, despite being capable of defeating almost every adversary he comes across? His role in Sauran’s downfall at the conclusion of the trilogy was crucial, but it paled in comparison to what he is truly capable of, as seen during his fight against Balrog, later resurrected as an angel-like being known as Maia. So, what hindered Gandalf from using his full abilities in The Lord of the Rings films?

The Valar Forbids Gandalf From Using Full Power

While not everyone knew Gandalf’s identity at the beginning of the trilogy, it was revealed towards the end that he is an Istari who was sent to Middle-earth by the Valar to combat the menace of Sauron (Sala Baker). The Valar were the rulers of the Arda, overseen by Eru Ilúvatar, the supreme deity of the Arda. So, when the Valar agreed to send the Istari to Middle-earth, they established some ground rules, which included restrictions on their powers.

The Valar thought that it was ultimately the responsibility of the people of Middle-earth to achieve their own peace, with Istari assisting them in every way possible in their fight against the mighty forces of Sauran. While this may seem illogical, given the sacrifices made near the end, it makes perfect sense with the way Aragorn earned his kingship, and Frodo discovered his purpose in life. From the beginning, Gandalf’s purpose was to steer others in the right direction so that they would work together to save their own world from the invaders rather than rely too much on people like him who might not always be there to help them.


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In another sense, Tolkien’s wizards were intentionally restrained in the realm of magic, in order to make room for other characters like Legalos and Aragorn, who are designed to flourish in battle. Using their powers more than required implies that they would become the saviors and even rulers of Middle-earth, which will ultimately interfere with the Valar’s grand plans to prepare mortals to face future calamities.

Gandalf Knew the Limits of Greed

While the notion of not using power for the sake of guiding mortals sounds reasonable, it is limited to Istari, who follow Valar’s principles without ulterior motives. In other words, Saruman is the perfect example of what happens when you lose control of your greed, which eventually leads to the destruction of the world’s natural order. Apparently, when Saruman was brought to Middle-earth to guide the Children of Ilúvatar, he grew in power and desired dominion over them.

Saruman’s existence itself conflicted with natural laws and the principles of the Valar since the Maia were never supposed to become rulers but rather guides who helped the people of Middle-earth fight their own adversaries. In this regard, Gandalf had the same opportunity to use his prowess to make things easier for Frodo and others, which would’ve resulted in a quicker conclusion to the war, but he decided against it.

Gandalf the White was so powerful that he could defeat the Nazguls by himself. However, if he had stepped in every time they needed help, he could have lost his path and become another Saruman that Middle-earth never needed in the first place. Since greed is catastrophic, especially in the hands of those in authority, Gandalf understood why the Valar imposed restraints on the Istari.


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Magic Isn’t Easy

Gandalf the White in The Lord of the Rings
New Line Cinema

Meanwhile, others believe that Gandalf’s use of magic is extremely taxing, as seen in his fight against Saruman and Balrog, which nearly drained his life. Similarly, Saruman was also weakened each time he used the Palantir to communicate with Sauron. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Gandalf does not use his wizard powers as frequently.

In a nutshell, Tolkien created the wizards in The Lord of the Rings in a way that they are full of wisdom and influence that could potentially be used for both good and evil purposes. All they are capable of is persuading the people of Middle-earth to deal with their own affairs, but at a significant cost. At the very least, wizards in the film series differ from those in the Harry Potter franchise, who can fly on broomsticks and cast mysterious spells to defeat their opponents. Instead, Gandalf and others are more pragmatic, only utilizing their power when a dire situation arises.

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