For some reason or another, I recently decided to throw the Lord of the Rings films on, and while I was watching, it occurred to me: Gandalf is a terrible wizard. He’s terrible. Pants. Teh suck.
I know, you’re already arguing with me in the comments board in your mind, but allow me to lay it out for you. Gandalf is a “powerful wizard” and a member of “The White Council” and possibly a member of the “ACLU”. During the films, through other character’s actions and dialogue, we’re to believe that Gandalf is a figure of great importance and power. With that in mind, let’s take a trip through reality.
1. He’s almost undone before things get going
Admittedly, this is more to do with the power of the One Ring, and less with Big G himself. But come on. Gandalf isn’t that stupid, he had suspicions of what the ring really was, and still ended up in a position to be tempted by it at Bilbo’s place. A bit like an alcoholic visiting his friend’s place when he hears about a strange powerful liquid in a bottle. Ill advised.
2. Gets Suckerpunched by Saruman
Gandalf visits Saruman, another powerful wizard, and is totally cold-cocked by him. He might not have had reason to suspect Saruman, but that just adds to the evidence of lack of good judgement. Then he’s imprisoned at the top of a tower, escaping by talking to a butterfly. Yup, you read that right. The butterfly goes for help, gets a big eagle to come, and Gandalf is back in the game. Minus 2000 points for falling for that. My opponent can cause massive snowstorms, create a new life form, and transport me to a prison tower, but I can make the talky talky with the pretty Mariposa.
3. Gets Suckerpunched by Saruman AGAIN
Gandalf leads the Fellowship to the pass at Mount Caradhras, where, you guessed it, Saruman sends a big storm to stop their progress, dumping a mountain of snow on them. C’mon Gandalf, wake the hell up! Get your game together. You’re a super power wizard. Stop falling for this crap. Your opponent is really freaking old. You can’t out think him even once? In his defense, there didn’t appear to be any butterflies on the mountain.
4. Gets outsmarted by a hobbit
Okay, so after they get back down the mountain, they try to enter the mines of Moria, through a door near a lake. Apart from being surprised by the creature in the lake, which seems to be a theme for these guys, Gandalf is absolutely stymied by what is roughly a 4th grade level riddle. On the door, in Elvish, it says “Speak Friend and Enter”. Gandalf the Grey, of the White Council, Wizard extrordinaire, can’t suss this one out. They’re literally sitting around, waiting, until Frodo comes up with the obvious answer.
5. He’s kind of a dick, too
Okay, this is not a reason why he’s a bad wizard, but in general, he seems to have two responses to things: get mad, or be fooled by. In the mines, one of hobbits (Pippin, I think) knocks a suit of armor into a badly placed well/hole, causing a huge racket and alarming the Orcs and Trolls to their presence. He reams Pippin out, being a big jerk about it. I guess you’re the only one allowed to make huge mistakes endangering everyone, right G?
6. Didn’t watch his footing
When the party tries to escape Moria, they are confronted with a Balrog. Now, don’t get me wrong, Balrogs are pretty tough, and show up at inconvenient times, like when you’re fleeing Orcs, or right before you leave on summer vacation, when the car is packed and you’re LITERALLY walking back to it from locking up the house, or 4:30 on a Friday with a bunch of reports that it suddenly needs today, though it knew that this morning and could have said something then. Fucking Balrogs. Anyway, Gandalf decides to put this one down using gravity, by snapping his staff and breaking the bridge under its feet. Pretty good, redeeming himself a LOT here. But he takes his eye off the ball, and the balrog grabs his leg, and pulls him down into the pit. Gandalf has never seen a slasher film, obviously, or he wouldn’t have made this mistake.
7. Needs a second life
Okay, so Gandalf shows up again in the woods, and when asked how he can be alive, he tells the boys that he fought the Balrog for days and finally beat him, possibly through the use of a combo move. Then, he himself died, and went all Dave Bowman on us. Then “they” sent him back to put right what once went wrong, until he finally makes the leap home. Or something like that.
But, and this is just a theory, what if, he made all that crap up? What if he died when he fell, and then “they” rolled their eyes and shook their heads, and upped his power level, and threw him back in the game, hoping he’d be better. Really we only have Gandalf’s word as to what happened.
And better he was. Gandalf the White is able to take on Sauruman for the control of mind of the King of Rohan. Ha! Take that! Fool me twice, shame on me, but the third time I’ll probably win!
After that he pisses off again to rally some horsemen to arrive in time, or rather, a little bit late at Helm’s Deep. But, okay, he “saves the day”, for those still alive. After a bit of celebration, it’s back to get the hobbits at Isengard.
8. Leaves Ultra-Powerful Crystal Ball lying around
After Merry and Pippin find the Palantir in the wreckage of Isengard, Gandalf scoops it up in his cloak, in the fashion that one would use to say, clean a bowling ball. Then it’s back to Rohan for a night of drinking then off to bed for everyone. But does Gandalf put a protecty-type spell on the magic 8 ball? Nope. Tucks it to his chest, and goes to sleep with his eyes open (SUPER creepy, btw). A young hobbit is emotionally scarred due to this carelessness. As punishment, he is forced to continue to travel with Gandalf to Minas Tirith, where he tries to convince the Steward to raise his armies. The Steward is not impressed, but eventually does so.
9. Beats down a grieving father
When Denethor, steward of Gondor discovers his son is dead, Gandalf’s response is to cold-cock him, and assume control of the army. Now, aside questioning the generals of the Gondor army, who don’t seem to have any problem with this at all, we have to question this sort of behavior. We already know that Gandalf is kind of a dick to everyone except Frodo, but this one might be crossing the line a little. Later, when Denethor thinks his second son is also dead, and erroneously attempts to burn him on a funeral pyre at the top of Minas Tirith (and don’t even get me started on the design of this city!), Gandalf’s response is to trample the guy with his super-horse and “accidentally” knock him on to the funeral pyre, not bothering to pull him out in time to save his life. Poor Faramir. Wake up from huge injuries to see your dad, then realize he’s burning to death in front of you. To make matters worse, Denethor then runs off and falls to his death. That run covers a HUGE distance, the sort of distance a guy on a super horse could easily cover in time to stop him.
10. Total lack of Wizard Type actions in battle
Okay, so through the battle of Minas Tirith, and the following battle at the gates of Mordor, Gandalf does chop up some orcs with his sword. But where is the magic? Dude, you’re a White Wizard now. Give us a snowstorm, or a rolling lighting storm, etc. Hell, even a butterfly would be better than nothing. But that’s what we get. Nothing. This is the guy who fought a Balrog to death (allegedly), but he can’t even step up during the battle that can’t be won (oops, sorry that would be every battle in the film). He’s able to convince the giant eagles to fetch Frodo later, but not during the battle to mess with the Orcs? Where’s the shiny staff of a million lumens to take out the Nazgul? No, we’ll leave that for Eowyn, who is “no man” (insert eye roll here). Btw, the Witch King of Angmar has something in common with Rock Iv’s Ivan Drago. They both utter the line “I will break him” (give or take) with a straight face.
So there you have it. Gandalf starts out horribly, redeems himself a bit in the Two Towers, and sits most of the battle out in Return of the King. I’d recommend to our readers, if you’re attempting to re-watch the movies, you’d be well served to try the following: After the Fellowship is broken at the end of the first film, skip over any scene with Frodo, Sam and Gollum in it. The movies become MUCH better.
What say you? Defend your girly-man “wizard” below!