BoLS logo Tabletop, RPGs & Pop Culture

LoTR: Who are the Istari, the Blue, Brown, Grey, and White Wizards

4 Minute Read
Apr 2 2024
Hot story icon

In Tolkien’s fantasy universe, nothing happens without a wizard. But who are the Istari? This is your guide to the magical wizards of Middle-Earth.

Magic takes many varied forms in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy series Lord of the Rings. But no magic is more powerful than that of the Maiar, the wizards of Middle-Earth. You’ve heard of Gandalf and Saruman, maybe even Radagast the Brown. But who are these magic-wielding characters? Where do they come from? Here’s your go-to guide to the Istari.

History of the Istari

When the Valar first shaped the world, they created primordial spirits known as the Maiar. In the beginning, there were a lot of them. These Maiar would often serve as heralds to the Valar and served to help their masters shape the sea, the sun, the moon, and more.

When Sauron created the One Ring, the Valar got together to decide which of the Maiar to send to Middle-Earth to combat the rising evil. These spirits were sent to Middle-Earth disguised as the Istari, a powerful race of wizards whose job was to unite the peoples of Middle-Earth for the coming battle.

The Wisest of the Istari: Gandalf the Grey

Of course, the most famous and beloved of the Istari is Gandalf the Grey. His original name is Olóin, and as a Maia, he served Manwë, Varda, Irmo, and Nienna. He’s also called Mithrandir by the Elves and Tharkûn in the Dwarven tongue. He’s the wisest of the Istari and a skilled wielder of light and fire. Many stories of his life before the events of The Hobbit see him as the literal and symbolic light in the dark through his skills and ability to give empathetic advice. And we love to see that masculine sensitivity!

His reputation grew as a wandering sage. He helped guide Thorin Oakensheild‘s party to retake the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug. Later, he helped Frodo and the Fellowship make much of the journey to Mordor. After valiantly taking on a Balrog to allow the party to escape, Gandalf went toe-to-toe with the gigantic, fiery beast. The fierce battle resulted in both of them dying, but Eru sent Olóin back to the mortal world to finish his task. With more concentrated power at his disposal than before, Gandalf goes on to become a key figure in the War of the Ring.

He’s also got the best fireworks and some of the best songs.

Saruman the White


Curumo, a Maia of Aulë who would become known as Saruman, was the first of the order of the Istari. Though not as wise as Gandalf, and he was pretty bent out of shape about it. Nevertheless, he was made the leader of the wizards of Middle-Earth.

He was also the head of the White Council, the group of leaders who unified to oppose Sauron. Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel were also members.

When it was decided to send the Maiar to Middle-Earth as the Istari, it was ruled that these heralds should be mighty, but not equal or greater to Sauron in power. Soon-to-be-Saruman volunteered to go and was commanded to take Alatar and Pallando (the Blue Wizards) along with him.

We’re not really sure what happened to those dudes. After they arrived in Middle-earth the Blue Wizards headed into the East, so that’s all you’ll really hear about them here.

The Saltiest of the Istari

Meanwhile, Olórin, later to be known as Gandalf, was chosen by the Valar to go. This planted the seed of jealousy in Curumo’s heart—one that would bloom during their time spent in Middle-Earth. Gandalf was immediately identified by the Elves as the wisest, despite Saruman’s status as the leader. Later, Gandalf would turn down the position as leader of the White Council, so Saruman was given the job.


Ol’ Saruman wasn’t happy with the silver medal, and his jealousy fueled his explorations into dark magic. As such, Saruman is best known for being a big traitor. In the War of the Rings, he did a double-cross and turned his home Isengard into a weapons factory for Sauron.

Once Gandalf discovered his true intentions, the Ents eventually demolished Isengard and Saruman’s army. Gandalf the White expelled Saruman from the order of the Istari. He spent the remainder of his life as a small-town crime boss in Hobbiton. In the end, he was deposed and eventually murdered by Grima Wormtongue.

The moral of the story: if you’re thinking about decorating with a palantír because the Dark Lord is dead, just don’t. He is not.

Radagast the Brown

Also sent to Middle-Earth was a Maia named Aiwendil. He was sent along to appease the Valar Yavanna, who nurtures all plant and animal life. Curumo begrudgingly agreed to bring Aiwendil with them on their mission. Aiwendil would be dubbed Radagast by the Ñoldorin Elves, and like the Valar he served, he was mainly concerned with living his best Disney Princess life in the woods.

While he didn’t contribute much to the goings-on of the War of the Ring, he did battle to keep the darkness of Dol Guldur at bay. We don’t actually know what happened to Radagast after the War of the Ring. We can only hope he’s enjoying a thriving career as a cottagecore influencer on TikTok.

Who’s your favorite Istari and why is it Radagast?


Author: Danni Danger
  • 'Pirates of the Caribbean' Reboot, Plus Jean-Claude Van Damme Returns in This Week's Pop News & Trailers