J.R.R. Tolkien cemented himself as one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time with his epic high fantasy masterpiece The Lord of the Rings. Packed full of legendary battles mythological beasts, and even an invented language, the novel set the benchmark for so many fantasy writers, and continues to influence and inspire future generations.
Among the most interesting characters in The Lord of the Rings are the Istari, supreme beings sent to Middle Earth by the Valar to assist in the battles and wars to come. The took the guise of wizards, and Saruman and Gandalf rank as the most well-known and powerful of the order. Many have wondered who the stronger wizard is, and there is a case to be made for both, so let’s take a look.
In the world of Middle Earth, a wizard’s status is generally displayed by the color of his cloak. Gandalf is known variously as Gandalf the Grey, as his cloak is gray, and goes by other names, such as the Grey Pilgrim. At the beginning of the story, Gandalf is less powerful than Saruman, who appears to be the head of their order. This is well illustrated in the battle the two have when Saruman is revealed to be in league with Sauron.
Gandalf is shown to have strong magical capabilities, but is also an accomplished fighter, as seen when he fights and slays a Balrog in the Mines of Moria. After this, Gandalf dies and ascends to another plane, becoming Gandalf the White. He then displays more power and wisdom than when he was the Grey, and he appears to be more powerful than Saruman at this point. He draws the spirit of Saruman from King Theoden, and is able to break Saruman’s staff verbally, and expels him from the White Council.
Saruman begins the events of the story as leader, and most powerful member, of the White Council. Saruman is portrayed as wise, and powerful, but he is also seduced by the power of Sauron, and sides with the Dark Lord. As a result of this, it is definitely hinted that Saruman receives extra power from Sauron. During a confrontation in the Fellowship of the Ring, Saruman easily beats Gandalf, imprisoning him atop Orthanc, until the Grey Pilgrim was rescued by the Eagles.
Saruman also manages to hold control over other beings in Middle Earth, such as Wormtongue, through manipulation, and Theoden, through magic. This shows him to be incredibly powerful and proficient with magic. However, after he turns to evil, the Valar replace him with Gandalf the White, and thus his position as head of the Istari was over.
It’s tight. Saruman the White is more powerful than Gandalf the Grey, for he was the leader. However, it could be argued that Gandalf was powerful enough to resist turning evil and that he also possesses one of the Rings of Power, which only the most powerful would have. Gandalf’s experience and knowledge of the world from his travels would likely give him an advantage too. The Grey Pilgrim edges it for us.