In search of Gandalf

I’m after a bit of input from Tolkien readers to help me with a blog/text I’m writing on Gandalf. So if you’ve read either the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings please spare five minutes to answer a couple of questions…

Please either email your answers to graeme(at) or leave a comment below 😉
Did you read about Gandalf before seeing an image of him (either as an illustration or on screen)?

If you read about Gandalf first did the image of him created by someone else match what you had in mind when reading?

If you saw an image of Gandalf first did that influence what you saw in your mind when you read about him (ie did your mind automatically call up the image you had seen whenever you saw his name)?

These questions could easily be applied to other characters, if you have a specific recollection of a character matching or not matching what you expected please let me know.


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9 Thoughts to “In search of Gandalf”

  1. Hi,

    Received any replies yet?



  2. Not yet 😉 Well, one but it was a link to a site that had little to do with my question. I’m curious as to the influence illustration has on how we interpret the written word. I’m sure folk are just letting their thoughts percolate.

  3. Tobi

    a) Yes, at least I`d like to think so. The illustrations in my childhood edition of the Hobbit are, hm, underwhelming, very comical and hardly realistic. I didn`t really have a connotion of “That is how Gandalf looks”. Even later on, when I chanced upon illustrations, poster artwork and stuff like that, I either didn`t make the connection to the character in the book, or found them just plain “wrong”.

    b) Yes. Actually, I saw the painting and thought, “Ah, _that_ must be Gandalf. So that`s how he really looks”, even before verifying that this was, indeed, an illustration of Gandalf and not one of the many generic-wizards-with-pointy-hats-and-long-white-beard you see all over the place in fantasy products of varying quality. At that point, I didn`t even bother to find out who the artist was, I was just satisfied that there is someone out there who got it “right”.

    c) No, in this case it was definitely the other way `round. I had a certain sense of how he should look like (and most certainly how he shouldn`t), and found the “right” picture later on.

    hope this helps.


  4. Thanks Tobi, just what I needed 😉

  5. I had missed this entry for some reason. Maybe because I had a certain holiday planned at one point 😉

    I honestly can’t remember about Gandalf specifically. I discovered the character when I was 10 in the animated Bakshi movie. Then I only read the LOTR when I was 18.

    What I can say is that I yet have to see a representation of Aragorn or even Théoden that matches my own vision of these characters.

    I’m not sure I can really answer the question but I think that even though I am sometimes influenced by images, I usually move away from them while I read if I feel differently about a character. Eventually I am not always paying attention to detail that much, sometimes I am not even sure what colour the eyes of a character are or even if he has a beard. But I am like that in real life too. I pay more attention to the personality of someone rather than their physical looks.

    Hm, now you’ve triggered a reflection of my own here.

  6. Thanks Dragonlady, it’s good to see others views.

  7. CaroB

    I knew Gandalf long before I saw any illustration. But the first time I saw JHF’s Gandal I just recognised him. It was him. I never recognised any other Tolkien’s character in illustration or film. I like the vision of the character of the film but I have to confess that even if I’m influenced by them, the ones that come up in my mind are always the one I imagined the first time I read the book. I’m very sure of that because I’m just reading the books again after having seen the films just before…
    Hope that helps!

  8. Thanks Caro it does indeed help.

  9. moff

    I read the books long before I saw any illustrations so Gandalf and the others already existed in my head and I judged the illustrations I saw later against my own ideas – I remember a drawing of the fellowhip on a poster which furstrated me because I couldn’t tell which hobbit was meant to be which.

    Illustrations started to influence me later, I think – some of Alan Lee’s drawings in ‘Faeries’ had a superb Pre-Raphaelite elegance which felt just right for Tolkien’s elves and his illustrations for the Centenary edition have influenced the way I see some characters. But Gandalf is such a strong image in Tolkien’s writing that I think illustration has less effect – essentially I reckon we all see him the same way and would recognise one another’s versions of him. It’s with other characters that the difference is more marked (my Legolas still has dark hair and my Frodo is fair, tho’ I’m happy to accept the film versions while I’m watching).

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