The universe that Tolkien crafted is one of the densest and most intricate in all of fiction. Every being, place, and object has an origin; the history of the world dates back tens of thousands of years.
Of the characters in the Fellowship of the Ring and The Hobbit adventures, Bilbo, Frodo, and Gandalf are the most widely known among the general audience.
The films, directed by Peter Jackson, brought these characters and their vibrant world to more people than the books ever could have, making them and the ring of power (you know which one) cultural fixtures.
What the films failed to convey, despite being many, many hours long, is how deep the lore runs; they would have been six hours each.
Throughout the Lord of the Rings series, Gandalf the Grey, later Gandalf the White, provides enigmatic guidance through wisdom, inspiration, and power.
The nature of this mysterious figure, plus his magic, makes him the target of people’s interest. There’s so much we don’t learn about this being from the films.
Gandalf’s Age, Origins, and Rebirth
It’s obvious that Gandalf is no simple wizard. He carries an air of strength and wisdom far beyond a regular man.
Gandalf the Grey is, in fact, not human at all; this is a detail you might not be aware of if you’ve only seen the films.
The wizened human form is a physical avatar of one of the immortal divine spirits called the Maiar. Each Maia spirit was created by Eru Iluvatar to aid in shaping the world.
As a Maia, Gandalf’s true name is Olorin.
He only went by Gandalf for the brief time he walked in Middle Earth; this explains why he does not remember his name when he first returns as Gandalf the White in The Two Towers.
The wizard Gandalf was incarnated into Middle Earth, along with four others, to help the Free Peoples (mortal species of Middle Earth) oppose Sauron in his bloody rampage.
Gandalf’s status as one of the Maiar means that his actual age is entirely unknowable; rather, it makes more sense to say it does not exist.
The entity known as Olorin existed before time was sung into existence.
We think it’s best to look at the time Gandalf walked Middle Earth, the age of the wizard incarnation.
P.S. We barely scraped the relevant lore. Consider picking up the books or the Silmarillion for a better explanation of the metaphysics and ontology. (Whew…)
How Old Is Gandalf?
Gandalf has dwelled in Middle Earth for a long time by mortal standards, arriving long before Bilbo or Frodo’s births.
Gandalf the Grey existed for much longer than his White counterpart, but the gap between them is only a month or so in mortal time, so it does not impact his age for the purposes of this article.
Gandalf of either color walked among the Free Peoples for over two millennia. Even though Olorin the Maia is timeless, Gandalf is over 2,021 years old.
This is how long his physical body lived in Endor (Middle Earth). These years are marked from the time Gandalf arrived on the continent to when he returned to Valinor, where he would no longer age in the mortal sense.
Are Gandalf the Grey and White the Same Person?
The movies aren’t very straightforward about this fact, so the confusion is understandable.
Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White are both incarnations of the Maia spirit Olorin. Gandalf the Grey and Gandalf the White are the same person, in that they are bodies of the same single entity.
When Gandalf the Grey is killed by the Balrog, he returns to the Valar (other divine spirits.)
The Valar send Olorin back to Middle Earth to finish his work (in the Two Towers and Return of the King) and oppose Sauron and Saruman.
He returns as Gandalf the White a month after his death in Moria.