J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series and the setting of Middle-Earth helped create the modern fantasy genre as it is known today, with an in-depth history, numerous races with their own languages and colorful characters. But aside from Tolkien’s more well-known works such as The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion, there were also numerous other short stories, notes and ideas that were adapted into films or further elaborated on by Tolkien. Two characters stand out in particular for the scant information available about them despite the apparent important attached to them by Tolkien; these are the Blue Wizards.
According to the lore created by Tolkien, there was a race called the Valar, who were essentially the gods or angels of Middle-Earth. These Valar sent five wizards (also referred to as “Istari”) to Middle-Earth in the year T.A. 1000 (referring to the Third Age of Tolkien’s fictional calendar) in order to help combat the evil forces of Sauron. These five wizards were given the appearance of old men and wore old clothes to help them interact with the beings of Middle-Earth, and were to help through advising and encouraging people. At the same time, these wizards had their powers lessened by the Valar to prevent them from becoming corrupt and evil as Sauron had.
Because of the films series The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, most people have come to know three of the wizards. Gandalf the Grey, Saruman the White, and Radagast the Brown, each of whom had their own areas of Middle-Earth to monitor and specific duties to fulfill. Each character played huge roles in the books and films: Saruman fell to evil and led Isengard on behalf of Sauron, Radagast assisted Gandalf in defeating the Necromancer (an incarnation of Sauron), and Gandalf went on to help the peoples of Middle-Earth defeat the armies of Sauron in the War of the Ring. So why do two wizards that are never actually seen in the books or films even matter?
Thus far, the Blue Wizards have only officially appeared in in the films as a single mention by Gandalf in the film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey when he is describing the number of wizards and states that he has forgotten the Blue Wizards’ names. In the books, the Blue Wizards were only mentioned once by Saruman who claimed that there were five wizards. Aside from that, the only information fans of Tolkien have to go on are notes and letters regarding the characters.
Initially, Tolkien wrote in an index to The Return of the King that there were five wizards, two of whom wore sea-blue robes. Their individual names were not known in the West, but people referred to them collectively as the “Blue Wizards.” At some point, the Blue Wizards traveled to the East with Saruman but only Saruman returned, leaving their exact fates a mystery. Many suggested that the Blue Wizards were corrupted by evil and became Sauron’s servants, much like Saruman would later on. In a letter written in 1958, Tolkien suggests that the Blue Wizards were sent as missionaries to the East and the South, which he refers to as “enemy-occupied lands.” However, Tolkien suggests that the Blue Wizards failed and became the “founders or beginners of secret cults and ‘magic’ traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron.”
Tolkien did give some insight to the origins of the Blue Wizards, and in the collection Unfinished Tales they are named Alatar and Pallando. One of the Valar named Oromë apparently charged Alatar with combating the evil of Sauron, and Alatar decided to bring his friend Pallando with him. It is also suggested that Oromë had the most knowledge of the furthest regions of Middle-Earth out of all the Valar, which is why Alatar and Pallando were sent to the East and South.
Later on in his life, Tolkien again returned to the Blue Wizards and provided much more detailed information regarding them, although some elements were changed.This time, instead of Alatar and Pallando, the Blue Wizards were named Morinehtar and Rómestámo, respectively meaning “Darkness-slayer” and “East-helper.” According to Tolkien, the Blue Wizards did not arrive in Middle-Earth in T.A. 1000 with the other wizards as was previously assumed, but had arrived in the much earlier Second Age, possibly in S.A. 1600. This year was referred to as the Year of Dread, as it was the year when Sauron first forged the One Ring and completed his fortress of Barad-dûr.
The Blue Wizards’ mission remained largely the same, as they journeyed to the East in order to assist Men who had turned away from “Melkor-worship” (Melkor, also known as Morgoth, being the equivalent to Satan, in that he is the cause of all evil and the master of Sauron), to cause rebellion and disrupt Sauron’s plans in the East. It is stated that the Blue Wizards were active in both the Second Age and the Third Age, and greatly contributed to Sauron’s defeats in both the War of the Last Alliance and the War of the Ring.
This represents the most significant change Tolkien made in regards to the Blue Wizards, as he originally made vague claims that they failed and started evil cults. However, the Blue Wizards are now stated to have definitively succeeded in their mission, and that their efforts prevented the evil Men of the East from vastly outnumbering the forces of the West in both major wars involving Sauron. One aspect of the Blue Wizards’ mission though was to find Sauron’s hiding place after his defeat in the War of the Last Alliance, which they failed.
Most fans of Tolkien’s work have since become keenly interested in the Blue Wizards, and it is unknown why Tolkien decided to return to them at all. Initially Tolkien almost made the Blue Wizards the equivalent of a throw-away line, as they contributed very little to the story or the universe at all and yet Tolkien would return to them, build upon the characters and decided that their mission was successful enough to be just as important (if not more so) than anything Gandalf or Saruman did in the West.
However, it is not known what ultimately happened to the Blue Wizards after the War of the Ring. It is stated that Gandalf was the only wizard who returned to Valinor, the realm of the Valar, after completing his mission. Saruman was killed by his servant Wormtongue (both in the books and in a deleted scene from the films), the Blue Wizards were left open-ended, and even Radagast was described as not being seen during or after the War of the Ring; eventually elven scouts went looking for him, but found nothing at his former home or elsewhere.
Some fans suggest that perhaps Tolkien decided to return to the Blue Wizards because he intended to write more stories or to explore the regions to the East and South of Middle-Earth, areas that are not really covered in either the books or in the films. The East, itself based vaguely on the Middle East and Africa, is home to many evil factions such as the Haradrim and men of Rhun, as well as some references to “wicked dwarves,” or dwarves of the “far eastern mansions” who fought on behalf of Melkor, highly unusual considering dwarves are described as being highly resistant to evil and corruption. And as can be seen in the map below, the nations of Rhun and Harad are very large in size compared to the other nations of Middle-Earth, so the numerous groups and the sheer size of the East certainly speaks to the difficulty and importance of the Blue Wizards’ mission.
However, it may also be that Tolkien never intended to explore the East or the stories of the Blue Wizards at all, as the focus of The Lord of the Rings was on the West of Middle-Earth, which was (at least originally) somewhat based on Western Europe. That could be why Tolkien purposefully kept the East vague compared to the West, as it was not the focus of the story.
It is possible that future media based on Tolkien’s work could involve the Blue Wizards. The Lord of the Rings: War in the North and Battle for Middle-Earth II both elaborated on the northern theater of the War of the Ring, which was not heavily described in the books. The videogame Shadows of Mordor even manages to tell a totally original story set within Middle-Earth without being based on any particular story. If not, fans will be left to wonder what battles the Blue Wizards may have been involved in and what their final fate was.
The cover photo is entitled The Blue Wizards Journeying East by Ted Nasmith, his page with other Tolkien-inspired art can be viewed here.