Wizard Staves and Authority

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 without it.'

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 Gamgee:

I only have conjecture. I think you have hit the nail square on the head.

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 Glamdring.

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.

Response from Ashlyn:

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!!

Response from Ladyhawk:

PJ probably didn't realize the significance of an ASH staff. Ash has special significance in lore.

Response from Eärrámë
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.  ;-)