Who would win in a face-off: Gandalf or Dumbledore?
- Happy birthday, Harry! The title character of J.K. Rowling’s hit book series Harry Potter was born on this day: July 31, 1980.
- J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) was an Oxford professor, English scholar, and author best known for books The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1955-1957), both later adapted into a multi-billion-dollar film franchise by New Zealand director Peter Jackson.
- Warner Brothers Studios adapted Harry Potter into an eight-film multi-billion-dollar franchise, splitting the seventh book into two separate films. This provided precedent for other studios to do the same with book-to-film adaptations, such as The Twilight Saga, The Hunger Games, and later Peter Jackson adapting Tolkien’s single book The Hobbit into three films.
- Other famous wizards and witches in literature include Merlin from King Arthur mythology, The Wizard of Oz’s Glinda the Good Witch (along with The Wicked Witch of the West), The Chronicles of Narnia’s White Witch, The Lord of the Rings’ Saruman the White, and of course, Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort.
It is the age-old question of the fantasy world, or rather, of the past 20 years: Dumbledore or Gandalf? Both are renowned wizards with young protégées who are fighting to save their world. But who wins?
Dumbledore is a planner. All throughout the series, he carefully plans how to protect Harry and the rest of Hogwarts' students. The most elaborate revealed in The Half-Blood Prince, where he orchestrates a double agent plot with Snape, accounting for every detail [SPOILER] even down to his own death. Gandalf's plans seem rarely that far-reaching, as he reacts to and takes care of immediate problems without thinking through the next steps. Dumbledore would out plan Gandalf any day.
His life may have been shorter than Gandalf's, but it was eventful, equipping him with vast knowledge and practical skills, from his childhood with Grindelwald to his involvement in the two wizarding wars and the events with Newt Scamander. Even when he was killed, it was only because he allowed himself to be, ultimately protecting Draco and Harry. Yet, in death, he wasn't entirely gone. His spirit returned to advise Harry when Harry faced death. Dumbledore's life was a series of trial-by-fire moments that makes him the greatest wizard in history.
Dumbledore also successfully managed a school of teenagers for 50 years while Gandalf partially leads the Fellowship. As the headmaster of a magical school, there is nothing Dumbledore hasn't seen. Students like Fred and George Weasley have given him an education, unlike anything Gandalf could prepare for. Spells, curses, and pranks from hormonal teenagers have given him an edge in the creative, absurd, and unexpected. Though Gandalf is a formidable opponent, he ultimately loses to Dumbledore's planning, unusual experience, and creative mind.
Magic or no, Harry Potter’s Dumbledore is no match for Lord of the Rings’ Gandalf the Grey. Dumbledore is merely human, albeit a magical one, whereas Gandalf belongs to an entirely higher race that would blow Dumbledore’s mind faster than Snape’s uttering of Avada Kedavra. As Tolkien’s Silmarillion details, Gandalf is an ancient spirit-turned-wizard (in nerd speak, Maia-turned-Istari) created by the Valar (or heavenly beings) who created everything—including Middle Earth. He starts there. At the beginning of time. Next to gods. He serves under the most omnipotent/omniscient and wisest creator god, Ilúvatar, until he’s sent to Middle Earth where he consistently aids in countless adventures long before being instrumental in ending the One Ring war. Talk about epic.
Gandalf resists power when both men (like Isildur and Boromir) and Maia (notably Saruman) fall for it. He’s unwilling to control others beyond their will using magic (contrasting the Dark Lord Sauron’s “one ring to rule them all” goal) even when he has the chance. This strength in character and leadership to resist ultimate control shows deep self-control, goodness, and wisdom. He allows characters to make their decisions (and mistakes), knowing, in his infinite wisdom, that evil will be defeated. At other times (such as with King Théoden), he utilizes his special powers of encouragement to literally transform characters and lead them right where they need to go. Dumbledore, in contrast, seems to instill more doubt and confusion in those around him, manipulating characters into actions without providing clear-cut answers needed to defeat Voldemort.