He has been on Middle-earth since the Second Age and was a key player in the events surrounding Sauron and the Ring Of Power. He was sent from across the sea to guide and assist the world of Middle-earth under the guise of an old man. Without his leadership, the quest of the Fellowship surely would have failed before it even began. He is a friend to great Kings and Elven Lords, and is but one member of his order, the Istari. And of course, he has the best fireworks in all the land. He is Olórin, Mithrandir, the Grey Pilgrim, and Gandalf, and he is one of the most beloved characters in Lord of the Rings.
Gandalf is a Maia spirit, who are the subjects of greater spirits known as Valar, and was born well before the conflict of the Ring. He hails from Valinor, the land across the Western sea. In wizard form, Gandalf is not fully aware of his true strength, but it emerges when the time is right. Yet, despite his magnificent abilities, Gandalf is still low on the totem pole of powerful beings in Tolkien’s lore.
This might be surprising to a lot of characters, as he's often regarded as one of the strongest people in that universe. He may be a great hero in The Lord Of The Rings, but his deeds pale in comparison to some. Here’s a look at the beings in Middle-earth and beyond that outrank Mithrandir in even his strongest form.
20 Saruman (In His Prime)
Saruman the White fashioned himself as Saruman of Many Colours when he betrayed his Order to Sauron, and dreamed of becoming a Lord Of The Ring. Such an act diminished him, and put him on a ruinous path.
When he first arrived on Middle-earth, however, things were different.
Saruman was the leader of the Istari, and its most prominent member . He was the first to appear in Middle-earth from across the sea, was noble in voice and bearing, and an accomplished craftsman. Had he attempted to subdue Gandalf at this time he may well have won, for his abilities were great, and were only lessened by his jealously and lust for power.
19 Shelob And Ungoliant, Spiders Of The Void
Few know Shelob’s true nature. She is a spider born of darkness and void, and is the spawn of Ungoliant, a dark primordial being. Alone, Shelob would have little chance against the angelic light of Mithrandir. But if she and her siblings teamed up with Ungoliant, things might play out differently.
Ungoliant descended from the void beyond the world, and took the form of a spider.
She ate light and spewed webs of darkness in return. She was forever hungry, and devoured all things good and pure to feed her emptiness. Against such a fearsome creature Gandalf would have little power, and it's fortunate she ate herself in famished desperation long before Gandalf’s tale began.
18 Nienna, The Sorrowful
Nienna is a member of the Valier, and is acquainted mostly with grief and mourning. When the great Music unfolded, Melkor the Mighty sought to oppose it with a song of his own, and became antagonistic to all his siblings. This act turned Nienna’s song to lamentation, and sorrow was woven into the fabric of the world before it even began.
She lives in the Hall of Mandos, where spirits go to await the end of days. Her power lies in her ability to bring wisdom, empathy, and strength through sorrow. Though she is seldom seen, she is remarkably powerful, and Gandalf would be utterly crushed by the weight of her mournful song.
17 The Balrog Captain, Gothmog
One of Gandalf’s greatest tests was against the Balrog of Moria. Balrogs are also Maiar spirits, twisted and corrupted by Melkor into demons of fire and terror. One such creature came to dwell in Moria, where it was awakened, and confronted by Gandalf. After a mighty contest both were slain, and Gandalf was sent back to Middle-earth in even greater might, his task unfinished.
Gandalf only just defeated a regular Balrog, and would be in serious trouble if he ever faced off against Gothmog, their High Captain in the First Age.
Gothmog was a terrible creature, and the most powerful Balrog that ever lived. He slew many Elven heroes, and led the siege on Gondolin, the fabled city of Turgon The Wise. Even in truest form, Gandalf would likely fall before him, though it would be an epic battle to behold.
16 Melkor, The Great Enemy
Melkor, commonly known as Morgoth, is the Dark Enemy of the World. He was present during the Ainulindalë, and attempted to overcome its melody with a song of his own. He is the mightiest of the Valar, and seeks to hold dominion over all others. He squanders his strength in violence and tyranny, and is contemptuous to all things save himself.
Melkor was exiled from Valinor and took residence in the dread fortress of Angband. From there he wrought generations of torment and strive upon the people of the Middle-earth, and could quell the spirit of Gandalf with the slightest touch. In the end, it took the combined might of all the Valar to cast him into the Void.
15 Manwë, The Eldar King
As Ulmo is akin to Poseidon, Manwë is akin to Zeus. He is the chief of the Valar, and Lord of the wind, clouds, and sky. He is an ally to all things that go on wings, and the eagle lord Gwahir is his messenger.
In might he is equal to Melkor, and knows best the will of Eru.
Gandalf is a Maiar of Manwë, and was sent to Middle-earth under his command. An uprising from Gandalf toward Manwë would be unthinkable, and would only end in tragedy for the misguided wizard. Luckily the two remain in friendship and confidence, and were able to overthrow Sauron as a result.
14 Tom Bombadil, The Joyful
Tom Bombadil is Tolkien’s greatest enigma, and surely the oldest being in on Middle-earth. He proclaims that he was present before the coming of the Elves, though no precise origin story is given for him. Instead, we can only speculate, and imagine that he was a part of the land the moment it was conceived.
He is a joyful soul, and this hides an immense well of power. No earthly strife seems to trouble him, and he is immune to the power of the Ring. Such propensity aligns Tom with the Valar or perhaps something greater, and Gandalf would never be able to overpower him.
13 Smaug, The Magnificent
Smaug is the descendent of wyrms and fire drakes that once haunted the halls of Angband. His forefathers include Glaurung, who tormented Túrin Turamber to his demise, and Ancalagon The Black, the most powerful dragon that ever lived.
In a direct confrontation, it’s unlikely that Gandalf would be able to stand for long against the fearsome power of Smaug. His physical strength alone would be enough to overpower the wizard, and his flames would put Gandalf’s magical abilities to the test. Such a contest would be great indeed, and the world of Middle-earth is lucky it never came to pass.
12 Sauron, The Deceiver
Sauron was a Maiar spirit, and Melkor’s greatest servant. He was only less evil than his master in that once he served another Valar, and not himself. He became known as The Great Deceiver, and wrought generations of terror and woe upon the free peoples of Middle-earth.
Gandalf truly feared Sauron.
The Valar forbade Gandalf from using the full extent of his power against Sauron. But even if he did, it may have been futile. Sauron’s spirit was immense and terrible, and would have capitalized on any shred of doubt he found within his opponent. Without the Ring, Sauron might be a fair match for Gandalf, but with it there would be no hope.
11 Estë, The Gentle
The Valar were present during the Ainulindalë, the great song sung by the all-powerful Eru that brought about the beginning of the world. The Valar took part in the song, and thus have great power while on Arda, the world that Eru devised.
One of their female members, or Valier, is Estë, and she is a goddess of healing and rest. She walks only by night, and dwells in the garden of Lórien with he husband, Irmo. Though she is known as The Gentle, her restful powers alone would be enough to still and dominate Gandalf, even if he was in a fit of rage.
10 Tulkas, The Heroic
Tulkas was the last Valar to arrive in Arda. He was an essential player in the struggle against Melkor, and is a valiant hero . His hair and beard are golden, he can outrun anything that goes on feet, and takes immense delight in feats of strength and wrestling. He performed many great deeds during his time on Arda, and laughs in the face of evil and terror.
It goes without saying that Tulkas could rend Gandalf apart if he desired, for Tulkas had the strength to resist Melkor himself. But thankfully Tulkas' reputation is one of friendliness, and it’s likely that he and Gandalf have nothing but good rapport.
9 Vairë, The Weaver
Vairë is a member of the Valier, and is spouse to Mandos, the keeper of the Hall where spirits of the slain go to rest. Vairë is a great weaver, and sews all stories and deeds that ever occurred in the history of Arda into tapestries, and decorates the Hall Of Mandos with them.
Though her power is subtle, Vairë was present before the world began. Any sort of dominion that Gandalf would hope to have over her is utterly foolish, and if they came to mortal disagreement, she would only weave the story of his demise into another tapestry.
8 Irmo, The Master Of Desire
Irmo is the husband of Estë, and is the master of dreams and vision. He lives in Lórien, the most beautiful garden to ever exist, and keeps it as a place of peace and merriment.
Irmo’s power is subtle and unassuming, but great beyond measure.
He has the ability to influence the mind of any creature that crosses his path, and would do the same to Gandalf, even in his exalted form. Thankfully Irmo loves beauty and peace above all else, and maintains these things in his garden for all to enjoy.
7 Mandos, The Judge
Mandos is the Seer of the Valar, and is the keeper of the Hall Of Mandos. He can see all that has been determined by Eru, and any doom Mandos proclaims is certain to come true. Those in his Hall wait for the Dagor Dagorath, the final battle that will bring about the end of days.
Gandalf would have no chance against the solemn might of Mandos. Mandos would see any insurrection coming instinctively, and would have the innate power to stop it. Mandos would only fall to an enemy if it was part of Eru’s design, and then he would do so willingly.
6 Yavanna, The Giver Of Fruits
Yavanna is the Tolkien equivalent of Mother Nature. She is connected with all things that grow, from the tallest tree to the lowest moss, and often appears as a woman in green dress. She created the Ents to shepherd her forests, and sang Laurelin and Telperion into existence, the Two Trees that brought light back into the world.
Like all Valar and Valier, Yavanna can takes different shapes, and her abilities are well beyond anything Gandalf could achieve. She would bend all plant life against him in a quarrel, and would be able to take the shape of the fields or forest floor itself to escape any attack.
5 Oromë, The Hunter
Oromë is a Lord of the Valar, and takes delight in hunting. He pursues all fell things brought forth by Melkor, and elicits hound and horses in his cause. His horn strikes terror into his enemies when heard, and inspires all others to take arms against evil and tyranny.
A charge of Oromë’s cavalry would be impossible for any to stop, even one as powerful as Gandalf the White. If Gandalf ever fell to the dark and became Oromë’s quarry, he would have much to fear, and would never be able to escape the Lord’s hunt.
4 Varda, The Exalted
Varda is the Queen of the Valar, and holds dominion over stars and light. Her beauty is beyond telling. She strikes fear into the heart of Melkor, and everlasting love in all others.
The Elves hold her in the highest reverence, and sing countless songs and poems in her honour.
The mere sight of Varda would be enough to still any aggression towards her, especially from a Maiar. Her power hearkens back to the very beginning of all things, to the song and light of Eru, and she is a channel for all things good and beautiful in the world.
3 Aulë, The Craftsman
Aulë shaped much of the Earth with his bare hands, and is a great smith and craftsman. Aulë is the ruler of the land and mountains, and all gold, metal, and gems are under his dominion. He created the Dwarves in secret before the coming of the Elves, and is a friend to any who wish to learn his crafts.
Even a powerful Maiar such as Gandalf would be helpless against the wrath of Aulë. The very mountains would crash down upon him, and the Earth would rend into hungry chasms to swallow him up. Aulë was often the first line of defence against Melkor's assaults, and was steadfast in this mighty cause.
2 Ulmo, The Lord Of Waters
Ulmo is the lord of the seas and water, and is akin to Poseidon in Greek mythology. He lives alone and does not take pleasure in walking upon the land. Every creek, stream, and underground pond is part of his great network, and through it he keeps a close eye on all that goes on within Arda.
The wrath of Ulmo was known to be a terrifying thing, much like the unruly sea itself.
He can descend on foes with force greater than the most fearsome hurricane, and has a voice as deep and foreboding as the chasms of the sea. Few would be able to stand against such a force, least of all the Grey Pilgrim.
1 Eru Ilúvatar, The Creator
Eru is Tolkien’s perception of God. He created the the Valar, and then with their contributions, created the world with the Ainulindalë. His benevolent will set all in motion, and he resides beyond the stars, watching everything that unfolds in his creation.
No being that exists could stand up to Eru, least of all a Maiar spirit.
He made the world and everyone within it, and could unmake it with a twist of his thoughts. Eru holds the Imperishable Flame of Being within him, and through it can create life. He is omniscient, just, and firm, and wishes only for joy and beauty within all his creations.