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  1. #1

    Question What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    Okay, okay, I admit it. I've never read all the Lord of the Rings books. I read the Hobbit (twice) and am now about halfway though Fellowship of the Ring (I actually started it a year ago and got distracted by another book, then went on a non fiction kick before only recently picking it up again).

    Something that I am curious about and hope that someone can enlighten me on is, what do the color designations mean for wizards? Gandalf the Grey (what does "The Grey" mean?) and then there was Saruman the White. I am to the point in the book where he's telling Gandalf (in Gandalf's recollection to the Council of Elrond) that he's no longer the white but instead Saruman of many colors and Gandalf is explaining the virtues of "The White". Then there is Radagast the Brown.

    It seems to me these colors mean something. I would be grateful for an explanation. Thanks!
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  2. #2

    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    i always thought it ment the level of thier power, wisdom, smarts (mabey not smarts), and their status in the order. other then that i dont know. with saurman i think the many colors thing. i think that was the courruption from sauron
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  3. #3
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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    Ok this may be a bit out of the air. I don't know of any direct explanation from the Legendarium itself, but going from traditional English/European folklore symbolism that JRR drew on would go something like this:

    White-pure. Kinda like a pure white priest's collar or nun's habit, someone who has purged themselves or purifed their own soul to the point of transcending base humanaity and becoming more godly. Saruman should have been this to become leader of the order (see Gandalf's transition with the Balrog). The Many Colors means he has delved in the good, the bad and the ugly of magic/spiritual. While this may be poweful in one sense, just as Gandalf points out, he loses his purity and special type of power he had as the White. Just to add to this, at one point Gandalf says he has "passed through fire" metaphorically meaning the fire has purified him in some respect, enabling him to become the White.

    Grey-I am guessing the simple answer. Old, wise, experienced, mature. A related term would be "greybeard", an old wise man.

    Brown-color of the earth, land, close to the earth, humble. Radagast seems to be this by his special affinity to beasts, bird and nature.

    Blue-healing, cleansing. There are 2 blue wizards mentioned that don't enter into the story anywhere (that I know of). My guess is that either in earlier ages or possibly in the 4th age they travel around and clean up the disaster made by the wars of Elves, Men and the Rings of Power. I imagine them to be more quiet, behind the scenes characters more like Radagast than out in front and involved in everything like Saruman and Gandalf. Maybe that's why we don't know that much about them.

    Anyhoo, this may be total trash but makes sense to me.
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  4. #4
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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    There really isn't any explanation given that I know of. I'd say Amra is on the right track though.

    Quote Originally Posted by ilikeham49 View Post
    i always thought it ment the level of thier power, wisdom, smarts (mabey not smarts), and their status in the order. other then that i dont know. with saurman i think the many colors thing. i think that was the courruption from sauron
    Yeah, definitely not smarts. Gandalf was said to be the wisest and yet Saruman was the leader of their order, as well as the White Council.
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  5. #5

    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    they come from what the wizards were wearing when they first arrived in middle earth. saruman was in white, gandalf in gray, radagast in brown and the other two in blue. it also seems to designate rank, but i think that between saruman and gandalf, it also seems to symbolize their attitudes. saruman is very active, and behaves almost like a king, hence a bright, shining color, whereas gandalf the gray is more passive, and never seeks to appear kingly or influence the wills of others, hence a more bland, 'ordinary' color. it isnt until gandalf becomes the white that he begins to exercise real power and authority.

    also, in the book, saruman declares himself saruman of the many colors, and gandalf rebukes him for this, so it seems that there is some importance placed on having a single color.
    Last edited by newwwwb; Jun 02 2009 at 03:22 PM.

  6. #6
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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    According to some writings by Tolkien (specifically, in the book "The Peoples of Middle-Earth (The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 12))", he states that the Blue Wizards came in the Second Age at the time of the forging of the One Ring with a mission to be sent to the East to undermine Sauron by planting the seeds of distrust with Sauron's allies. Apparently the wizards were successful, having a huge role in the eventual downfall of Sauron.

    Incidentally, Tolkien also suggests that Glorfindel was sent back to Middle-Earth with the Wizards, thus making Glorfindel in the Third Age the same Glorfindel who fought the Balrog at The Fall of Gondolin.

    Having said all this, it's been a good 3 years since I read it and could be mistaken!
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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amra_the_Lion View Post
    Ok this may be a bit out of the air. I don't know of any direct explanation from the Legendarium itself, but going from traditional English/European folklore symbolism that JRR drew on would go something like this:

    White-pure. Kinda like a pure white priest's collar or nun's habit, someone who has purged themselves or purifed their own soul to the point of transcending base humanaity and becoming more godly. Saruman should have been this to become leader of the order (see Gandalf's transition with the Balrog). The Many Colors means he has delved in the good, the bad and the ugly of magic/spiritual. While this may be poweful in one sense, just as Gandalf points out, he loses his purity and special type of power he had as the White. Just to add to this, at one point Gandalf says he has "passed through fire" metaphorically meaning the fire has purified him in some respect, enabling him to become the White.

    Grey-I am guessing the simple answer. Old, wise, experienced, mature. A related term would be "greybeard", an old wise man.

    Brown-color of the earth, land, close to the earth, humble. Radagast seems to be this by his special affinity to beasts, bird and nature.

    Blue-healing, cleansing. There are 2 blue wizards mentioned that don't enter into the story anywhere (that I know of). My guess is that either in earlier ages or possibly in the 4th age they travel around and clean up the disaster made by the wars of Elves, Men and the Rings of Power. I imagine them to be more quiet, behind the scenes characters more like Radagast than out in front and involved in everything like Saruman and Gandalf. Maybe that's why we don't know that much about them.

    Anyhoo, this may be total trash but makes sense to me.
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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    Quote Originally Posted by tweekthedrummer View Post
    I choose this one.
    Absolutely.. this is a nice description of what the colors could mean! I don't think the meaning of colors has ever been touched on in any of the Tolkien books. Radaghast definitely went off into nature never to be seen again at some point in time. You know... to be with the squirrels, so I like the Brown/Earth kind-of relation there.
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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    Quote Originally Posted by Reddhawk View Post
    There really isn't any explanation given that I know of. I'd say Amra is on the right track though.



    Yeah, definitely not smarts. Gandalf was said to be the wisest and yet Saruman was the leader of their order, as well as the White Council.
    Yeah, Saruman became leader because Gandalf was wise enough to say "Thanks, but no thanks".
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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    Quote Originally Posted by SMSFaust View Post
    Radaghast definitely went off into nature never to be seen again at some point in time. You know... to be with the squirrels.
    OMG that's hilarious!
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  11. #11

    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    Quote Originally Posted by SMSFaust View Post
    Radaghast definitely went off into nature never to be seen again at some point in time. You know... to be with the squirrels
    I think I remember in the Histories Vol. V that Radaghast went to a corrupted swamp and saved all the rabbits and squirrels while a few brave warriors fought off the evil creatures around him. He just stood there while a few of them died.
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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    The colors might also have something to do with which Vala they "belonged" to in Valinor. Sauruman was said to be a Mia of Aule, the crafter. It is also believed the Sauron may have originally been of Aule before turning to Morgoth. Tolkien seems to have a theme throughout his works that craftiness and industry sometimes can lead to evil. Sauruman "breaking" (in the words of Gandalf's rebuke) the White color into many colors was an indication of this sort of things - meddling with and ruining something that was naturally whole and beautiful in its original form. Sauruman's affinity for craft and making no doubt also made him more succeptible to being ensnared by desire for the One Ring. Apparently, he had already tried his hand at making his own rings of power as well.

    I forget for sure, but I believe Olorin (Gandalf) was of Manwe. Someone also correctly noted that when the Istari were originally selected for their mission, Olorin was asked to be their chief. He declined. This is yet another theme throughout Tolkien's work - humility and rejection of overt power over others is good - desire to control or dominate others is evil. Olorin wasn't interested in being "in charge."

    Radagast was undoubtedly a mia of Yavanna.

    The blue guys? No idea. We don't know anything about their personalities or powers. It's hard to say what Vala blue might represent... And I might be way off on all this anyway, lol. Manwe is the Vala of air and wind. That could be blue? But wait, I already said gray - DOH! Perhaps Ulmo, lord of the waters? Who knows.

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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hellgato View Post
    I think I remember in the Histories Vol. V that Radaghast went to a corrupted swamp and saved all the rabbits and squirrels while a few brave warriors fought off the evil creatures around him. He just stood there while a few of them died.
    ROFL, good ol' Raddy.
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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    I always took it to be like a symbol or rank kinda like an archetype you could say.
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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    The colors, as any writings in any book, are what you interpret them to be.

  16. Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    My theory on color order, from highest to lowest: White, Gray, Brown, Blue. White is obvious, since it's worn by the head of the Order. The rest derive from which Vala/Valie the Wizard once served, in order of power. The significance of each specific color is totally up to your interpretation.

    Saruman's self-endowed title of "Many Colors" almost certainly means that he views himself as superior to every other Wizard of every other color and thus assumes their roles. This is symbolized by wearing a robe that changes colors depending on what angle you view it at.
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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    Quote Originally Posted by Arasilion View Post
    My theory on color order, from highest to lowest: White, Gray, Brown, Blue. White is obvious, since it's worn by the head of the Order. The rest derive from which Vala/Valie the Wizard once served, in order of power. The significance of each specific color is totally up to your interpretation.

    Saruman's self-endowed title of "Many Colors" almost certainly means that he views himself as superior to every other Wizard of every other color and thus assumes their roles. This is symbolized by wearing a robe that changes colors depending on what angle you view it at.
    Once again Arasilion, you sum it up very well
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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    My take on the White was that it was diametrically opposed to black, and grey was a halfway house in purity.
    Gandolf the grey, I always thought was grey because he did somethings that were a means to an end... that were a bit less than holy, when he defeated the balrog he took a stance of fighting the good fight. Previously he played mostly in the shadows, he was manipulative to a degree, and you were never really sure exactly what you were getting with Gandolf.

    Sauron when he went to the dark side interpretted the white to mean of all things rather than of purity, and thus justified his actions in consorting with Evil. The fact that he was a technophilic person only aided the Evil in reaching him.

    I do agree with the post about Tolkien being somewhat of a technophobe and tending to think that, and or write that progress was not necesarily what it represents. You see a very lush shire that after the Evil treatment looks like a nuclear holocaust happened.
    I think its still pretty subjective though.
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    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    Quote Originally Posted by falarc View Post
    I always took it to be like a symbol or rank kinda like an archetype you could say.
    Rank makes the most sense, because, if you recall, Gandalf became "White" after Saruman fell and Gandalf became the head of the order.

  20. #20

    Re: What do the color titles mean for wizards?

    I think a few of the posters have touched on some good points.

    Just to elaborate a little, "splintered light" is a major theme in the Silmarillion and the Lord of the Rings. In the Silmarillion, the white, whole light originates only with Iluvatar and then is "splintered" or refracted in a series of steps both literal and symbolic -- on the literal side, the Lamps of Arda, Two Trees, the Silmarilli, the Sun and Moon; on the symbolic side the fragmentatation of languages and peoples, with the origin of the language of the Elves literally being light (when they opened their eyes for the first time and beheld the stars, saying "Ele! Behold!").

    In his poem "Mythopoeia" Tolkien describes mortals metaphorically as prisms that refract God's white light:

    Though now long estranged,
    Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
    Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
    and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
    his world-dominion by creative act:
    not his to worship the great Artefact,
    Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
    through whom is splintered from a single White
    to many hues, and endlessly combined
    in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
    For Men and Elves, and creatures of that order, this is a good thing and the natural way of the world. Light is Creation, and refracted light is subcreation; Man "make[s] still in the law by which we're made". But in the Lord of the Rings, Saruman wears white because originally he has the grace to be transparent to the white light; he doesn't refract it but allows it to pass through himself unfiltered. After his fall, Saruman destroys that gift. He seems to think that "more colours are better than one", but of course while white light is all colours, it more than just the sum of its parts. That is why Saruman is weakening himself rather than strengthening himself (as he thinks) by splintering the light that metaphorically passes through him.

    As others mentioned earlier, Gandalf's original colour, grey, is also like white a combination of colours in different proportions. After his sacrifice and resurrection, he is now purified and able to be transparent to the whole, white light as Saruman once was. I think the colours of Gandalf and Saruman are most relevant the splintered light theme in the Lord of the Rings, but I really liked the suggestion made by one of the posters earlier in the thread that Radagast's colour is representative of the earth. The weird thing about the Blue Wizards is that their colour is a primary colour, rather than a blend like the other three wizards, and of course that there are two of them. They are quite an enigma!

    There's a really good discussion about all of this in Verlyn Flieger's excellent book "Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World" if anyone wants to read more.
    Last edited by lafeeverte; Sep 06 2011 at 10:35 AM.

 

 

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