In the second part of our Blue Wizard series we dig into where the Blue Wizards came from, what their names are, and the important role they may have played as some of the Guardians early in Middle-earth history.Support the show
Hi, welcome to “The Halfling.” I’m your host, Jaron Pak, and this is Episode 20: Blue Wizard Origins.
Last time, we started to dig into the background of two of the most mysterious characters in all of Tolkien’s writings: the Blue Wizards. This perplexing duo is barely mentioned in the primary stories and there are only bits and pieces of information to describe them even in the most obscure sources. Even so, there’s enough out there to create a coherent story — or at least the outline of one — and we started last time by going over who wizards are in the first place.
Remember, Middle-earth Wizards aren’t magicians or conjurers in the traditional sense. They’re a select group of angelic beings called Maiar who are sent to Middle-earth in the Third and possibly Second Ages to help resist Sauron. They are put into fleshly old-man bodies that are full of youthful energy and slowly age over time. This also means their minds and memories are fuzzy and they need to relearn a lot of things. They can’t access their full powers and are not allowed to fight Sauron directly with their inherent spiritual capabilities. Instead, they need to help and encourage others to do so. There are five named wizards (and possibly more) including Saruman, Gandalf, Radagast, and the two Blue Wizards.
This week, we’re going to start piecing together the scraps and details available to create a better picture of who the Blue Wizards are, in particular. Ready? Let’s do this thing.
When you first hear about the Wizards, they all arrive in the Third Age. This is an important point, and we’ll break down timing (especially in relation to the “Rings of Power” show, which is set in the Second Age) later on. Originally Saruman arrives first, Gandalf travels to Middle-earth last, and the Blue Wizards and Radagast come somewhere in between. Even when the Wizard’s activities are broken down in more detail, though, the Blue Wizards stubbornly remain just a passing mention. They’re initially referred to briefly in “Unfinished Tales” via the line “Others there were also: two clad in sea-blue, and one in earthen brown…” obviously the earthen brown one is Radagast, and the others are in sea-blue, which at least gives us the tiniest bit of extra color-palette-related details about them. So, like, if you were picturing more of a sky blue, stop. Stop it now. Swap those airy blue robes out for a more majestic sea blue, please.
If you dig further through the disjointed and short sections of information out there, there are other little pieces of data that slowly come out about who the Blue Wizards are.
First off, the Blue Wizards are technically called the Ithryn Luin in Elvish. And if you’re wondering, that translates as, well, Blue Wizards. If you noticed in the intro, I also mentioned that all of the Five Wizards have names. Well, it turns out that Tolkien initially resisted naming these blue fellas, probably because he hadn’t figured out just who they were and how they would impact his world yet. He literally says in “The Peoples of Middle Earth” book that there isn’t a single name for these guys that’s ever been recorded — a unique event for the name-happy Wizarding crew.
But eventually, they do actually get names in some of Tolkien’s pieced-together notes — and in a cool way, too. When assembling the texts for “Unfinished Tales,” Christopher Tolkien found a little blurb about how each of the Wizards is chosen by the Valar. Remember, these guys are Maiar, that is angelic spirits living in the Blessed Realm. The word Maiar refers to the entire population of these spirits, kind of like when we talk about Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Hobbits. The Maiar are led by the Valar, 14 of the most powerful Maiar of the bunch, and this baker's dozen plus one collectively hold a council about how they can help Middle-earth away over the seas when it begins to be threatened by Sauron. They settle on the idea of sending the Istari over to help and then go about picking their wise, flesh-bound emissaries. In the conversation, certain Valar choose different Maiar to support for the job, with each candidate lining up with various features and inclinations that are unique to their own interests. For instance, a Valar named Aule, who is known for creating the Dwarves and operating as a smith, chooses the skilled and crafty Saruman as his wizarding candidate — see the connection?
Another Maiar, called Alatar, is suggested by a Valar named Oromë. Now, I know I’m throwing a lot of names out there all at once, so let’s break this down one at a time. Let’s start with Oromë. This guy is a wild dude, known for riding horses and functioning like a hunter. He rides all over Middle-earth early in its history and tracks down and kills many monstrous creatures while doing so. He’s generally associated with the stronger, more war-like Valar, and he picks this Maiar named Alatar to be one of the wizards. While it isn’t explicitly stated, Christopher Tolkien notes that his choice of Alatar connects the two Blue Wizards with Oromë’s association with far-flung traveling — and the Eastern portions of Middle-earth, which the huntsman knows better than anyone else.
Alright, that’s Oromë. What about Alatar? …and the other Blue Wizard, too? First off, I kind of misled you by saying that Oromë “picks” Alatar. What the text actually says is that Alatar volunteers for the gig — in fact, he and Saruman are the only ones who willingly sign up to have their senses dimmed and their abilities capped in Wizard bodies. And yes, the fact that Alatar and Saruman are the only people in this ambitious category hints at some potentially dark issues ahead for the Blue Wizards. In the beginning, though, they’re heroes and Oromë supports Alatar after he volunteers to stick his neck out for all of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth. Then, at the very end of the description, we also get a quick mention that another Maiar named Pallando goes along with Alatar as a friend. Hence the buddy-buddy attitude of the Blue Wizards, plural.
So, Alatar and Pallando. There are the names we’ve been circling for a while now. In a note later on it also adds that the meaning of these names is vague. However, Pallando could be related to the word palan, which means “afar.” Again, if this hasn’t been made painfully clear by now, these guys travel really far across Middle-earth. So, while there isn’t much to work with in this section, we do get the little connections hinting at the fact that they’re associated with the most widely traveled Valar, and they, themselves, end up with a reputation for traveling and their intimate connections with the Eastern regions of the continent.
So, Saruman, Gandalf, Radagast, Alatar, and Pallando. These are the five wizards that we know about. In most versions of the story, they’re sent to Middle-earth in waves, with a staggered arrival time that varies depending on the source. In all but one version, they arrive exclusively in the Third Age. But the order of their arrival changes, particularly when it comes to who arrives with whom. The Istari also aren’t working with a grand “master plan” or anything like that. Tolkien deliberately points out that they’re sent to enhance the defense of others against Sauron, but that doesn’t mean they come in with this grand Valar-backed, hyper-detailed strategy. In fact, quite the opposite. The author explains that they “were free each to do what they could in this mission; that they were not commanded or supposed to act together as a small central body of power and wisdom; and that each had different powers and inclinations and were chosen by the Valar with this in mind.”
Okay, so, that covers the basic origin story out there as far as the Wizards — including the Blue Wizards — are concerned. But there’s one more really juicy part about the Blue Wizard’s early backstory that I need to cover before we dive into their actual careers as wizards. And this last bit actually goes back to way before they are ever considered to be part of the Third Age Valar Middle-earth rescue mission.
Now, the book “The Nature of Middle-earth” was recently released. In fact, as of this recording, it’s one of the most recent additions to Tolkien’s canon writings. This book includes a collection of Tolkien’s notes edited not by the late Christopher Tolkien, but by one Carl F. Hostetter. And, to be honest, we’re getting to the point where the information included in these later publications is really, really disjointed. We’re talking jumbles of scraps with scattered notes scribbled on them in different colors of ink. That kind of thing.
Even so, there is a fascinating little timeline in the book that Hostetter was able to assemble from a random jumble of Tolkien’s notes that he was given. Part of this timeline addresses one of the earliest points in the story — when the Elves first meet the Valar. It’s a story that’s given in detail in “The Silmarillion,” but as we know well on this show, it’s the little retellings and rewritings that give us some of the best narrative-changing tidbits.
In this case, there are a couple of key things to point out. For one thing, when the Elves come into the world, they do so by “waking up” — and that really is how it’s talked about. We don’t really know where they come from. Illúvatar just tells the Valar that his “children” — that is, Elves and Men — will be coming into the world at some undisclosed point. The spiritual guardians of the world prepare as well as they can, and then, at a random time, the Elves, who arrive first, just wake up.
Eventually, they’re found and greeted by Oromë — and that’s our first important point. Remember, he’s the one who ends up being associated with the Blue Wizards later on. Even better, though? Throughout this episode of Elvish discovery, we see the hints of a group of beings that Tolkien was in the process of creating as part of this early drama. I’m talking about The Guardians. Yes, The Guardians. That’s their name in the text. These are six powerful Maiar who are sent to guard the newly awakened Elves while the rest of the Valar head off to deal with the upstart Dark Lord Morgoth who’s threatening all of their plans. This group of Guardians includes several familiar faces. How familiar? Well, we start with the awe-inspiring female character Melian who is a major persona in “The Silmarillion.” She has this crazy spiritual power and literally hides an entire Elvish woodland realm for a really long time later on. She’s also an ancestor of some pretty famous people, like Elrond and Aragorn. This really important personality leads a group of her fellow Maiar, which includes entities that will later be known as, get this, Saruman, Gandalf, and Radagast. Yep, The Guardians are a slightly altered proto-version of the Istari. Now here’s the important part as far as the Blue Wizards go. The last two Guardians are called Palacendo and Haimenar and from what I can tell, it’s never clarified if they’re the Blue Wizards or not. Remember, we’re working with fragments of notes here, not comprehensive documentation.
Still, based on the makeup of the group, I’d be willing to bet that it’s here, super-duper early in Middle-earth’s very long history, that we see the Blue Wizards first stretching their legs as “guardians” in Middle-earth.
Now, just to make sure we’re all on the same page here, we shouldn’t be picturing old men — or an old woman, in this case too, when we think of these Guardians. They aren’t wizards. They’re actual Maiar. Like, they’re spiritual beings. Sure, they can take on physical form, but they aren’t bound to incarnate bodies, like the Istari will be later. So, the Guardians aren’t a replica of the Wizards. They’re more of an alternate version of the superhero crew that’s sent during the Third Age to resist Sauron.
Unfortunately, I’ve never seen anything else about these Guardians. I’m pretty sure they were a germ of an idea when Tolkien died, which is super unfortunate because, well, the whole concept is really cool.
So, to recap, the Blue Wizards are two fellas named Alatar and Pallando. Early in their history as Maiar in Middle-earth, they may have been two members of the elite Guardians who help protect the Elves from the original Dark Lord Morgoth. Much later, when Sauron is the new big baddie on the block, Alatar volunteers to be a wizard, is backed by the adventurous Valar Oromë, and takes his good friend Pallando with him.
Eventually — either in the Second or Third Age (more on that next time) the Valar package them up as old men and ship them off to Middle-earth to help resist Sauron in whatever way they see fit. While Gandalf and Radagast stick around in the West, the Blue Wizards …and Saruman for a while there… head into the East. And that, friends, is where we’re going to pick things up again when we come back. Until next time.