Warning: Contains SPOILERS for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 1The Rings of Power may have finally explained one mystery surrounding the wizards of Lord of the Rings. The introduction of The Stranger as an Istari opens up a world of possibilities regarding The Lord of the Rings’ mysterious wizards. Traditionally, the wizards — or Istari — of Lord of the Rings use staves to channel their magic; however, The Rings of Power’s stranger is able to harness his magical ability without one. The rules of the magical Istari in the original Tolkien lore are minimal at best, but The Rings of Power may help to fill in the gaps.
While a wizard’s staff possesses great power, it is evident that they do not need them to conjure their magical abilities. Gandalf did defeat the Balrog in Khazad-dum without his, and the mysterious Stranger of Rings of Power is able to perform magic without one. Rings of Power does give a glimpse into the staves’ importance, however; without them, the magic of the Istari can be volatile and uncontrollable. By channeling their magic through these conduits, the Istari are able to control and wield their magic as they see fit. The magic conjured by The Stranger so far in Rings of Power shows that he is an incredibly powerful Istari, but his magic is wildly unpredictable. This gives evidence to the theory that wizard staves are simply tools to refine and wield magic, and not the source of it nor a requirement for it.
Why Tolkien Never Explained Why A Wizard Needs Their Staff
While the world and history of Middle-earth were extensively developed by J.R.R. Tolkien, the rules of magic were much less defined. Tolkien’s works focused more on building the visual world and tapping into his readers’ imaginations and didn’t spend much time being bogged down by the rules of the fantastical. The Lord of the Rings was written at a time before it was fashionable to break down the rules and mechanics of magic. The trend of developing magical rules and providing gritty details is more of a modern phenomenon, and as The Lord of the Rings was a pioneer of epic high fantasy, the literature genre was still developing into its own identity at the time. As Lord of the Rings’ Middle-earth is a massive world filled with centuries of history, hundreds of characters, and fantastic beasts, it is no surprise that a minor detail like the mechanics of a wizard’s staff escaped Tolkien’s writing.
Everything Known About Wizards’ Staffs In Lord Of The Rings
Very little is explicitly known about the workings of the wizard staves in The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf goes through several variations of his staff over the years, having broken some and lost others. Wizards do possess the capability to use the staves of others, but it’s possible that this is tricky to do, as Gandalf struggled to use Radagast the Brown’s when his fellow Istari lent it to him. Each staff seems to be catered to each Istari’s magical inclinations and personality, as Radagast’s possessed a blue stone that aided in healing and rejuvenating magic, Saruman’s contained a white stone that allowed him to conjure fire, and Gandalf’s staff featured a place to store his smoking pipe.
On top of being a magical conduit, an Istari’s staff serves as a symbol of their status. Because there were only five Istari, there were only five wizard staves at any one time, and their presence easily signified the station of an Istari in the service of the Valar. Gandalf’s, frequently bearing Elven designs, also signified his status as a friend of Elves. The upgrade in Gandalf’s staff with his evolution from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White supports this theory, as his staff evolved with his marked increase in status. The breaking and removal of Saruman’s staff served not only to reduce his powers, but stood as a symbol of his treachery and betrayal against the forces of good. As a disgraced Istari, Saruman was stripped of his status symbol.
While the original writings may leave some gaps in the lore that the modern fan wishes to have explained, The Rings of Power has the chance to fill in these missing pieces. The chaotic nature of The Stranger’s magic already helps to build the lore around The Lord of the Rings’ Istari. As The Rings of Power season 2 moves into the lands of Rhûn and follows the tale of The Stranger out east, there is much more that can be explored regarding the Istari and how their magic works.
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