Wizard Staves and
by Primula with responses
This is something that came up as a side-track
to the discussion about the inconsistencies of the movie staves that
Gandalf bore.... Going back to the books:
What happened to Gandalf's staff during his imprisonment is not
mentioned, but in Frodo's dream he still had it with him on the
tower-top, a light flashing from it. Would Saruman-the-White (sort
of...) normally have had the power or authority to wrest Gandalf's
staff from him, even temporarily, by the virtue of being the "Head" of
that order, and was it only his being crippled by his compromises that
kept it from happening?
So what is the staff? Perhaps it could be likened to taking away a
sword or tool; The Rohirrim certainly thought so. He manages to keep it
at Edoras, to Grima's dismay, but if the "I'm old and need my walking
stick" line hadn't worked, I was always sure he would have come up with
something else. I always had the impression that he 'never left home
Or was it almost symbolically 'grafted to his hand' by authority and
position, like a King's crown, or a badge sewn on clothing, in which
case he theoretically should have been able to do whatever he needed to
even without it physically in
his hand, same as a King need not run and slap on his crown every time
he has to give an order.
We know later in the tale when Gandalf was the White, and thus more
powerful in the acknowledged heirarchy of Maia that it was an act of
power and authority on Gandalf's part to remove the staff from Saruman
and break it, 'ripping off his badge' so to speak.
If the staff is a symbol of authority and power, wouldn't one of
greater authority be able to "demote" his juniors? Or was it only by
direct order of the Higher Up that this happened - hence Gandalf acting
as Messenger Boy from his recent visit with them rather than by his own
authority no matter what his 'color'? This is my thought, though it is
possible Gandalf was working on his own initiative.
(As a side-note, this is why I wince so badly at PJ allowing the
Witch-King to snap Gandalf's staff - bad form! To me it showed a
complete lack of understanding for what the staff symbolized - it
included authority, not just plain brute power.)
Response by Doctor
I only have conjecture. I think you have hit the nail square on the
I feel that the staff was part and parcel for the wizard. Not so much
for 'walking' as let's face it, these folks did quite a lot of
sword-fighting, so they had to have some balance -- the need for a Cane
is rather absurd when in Moria, surrounded by Orcs, he can wield
I have always thought it was part of the 'Druidic' ritual -- a
connection to the Earth -- perhaps even to Valinor. It obviously had
some use as a weapon (magically -- beyond the "beat him with a stick"
type). My reason for this is that Wormtongue seemed to be angry at the
fact that the stick made it in to see the king. If Gandalf could have
set fire to him without the staff (as he did the pinecones in Mirkwood
when he had it), then leaving it outside would not have insured his
safety. The Staff must be some sort of trigger or connection to his
power. That was why Gandalf took the staff from Saruman, and why
Saruman was only able to do "some small mischief" once he had been
deprived of it in the Shire and not just level it with magical fire.
And I agree -- PJ was WRONG to break the staff. Shameful, really.
I've always thought that the staff worked as a focus, that it was used
to concentrate power. That each wizard would be powerful without his
staff, but with it he would be able to perform much greater feats.
When Gandalf broke Saruman's staff and cast him from the order and from
the Council, I feel that he was working on orders from the Valar. I
don't think Gandalf could have cast Saruman from the order (of Istari)
or have broken his staff without the authority of those who sent them
to Middle-Earth. The breaking of Saruman's staff removed his power
focus and being removed from the order would remove (I think) more
power, leaving just what was native to him as a Maia. To cast him from
the Council would only have meant that the majority of those in the
White Council (especially Elrond and Galadriel) were in concurrence
with the removal.
And I agree that PJ really goofed when he had the Witch-King break
Gandalf's staff. Another thing I wince at is the appearance of his
staff after he becomes 'the White'! According to the book it is a
'rough staff' (see The White Rider) made of ash wood (see The King of
the Golden Hall), not the fancy white thing PJ has him carrying. Grrr!!
PJ probably didn't realize the
an ASH staff. Ash has special significance in lore.
Don't forget the added significance of the
wood, at least in the movie context; Gandalf needed to kick some
serious ash with his staff. ;-)