Sir Ian McKellen on Gandalf vs. God

Last week, actor Sir Ian McKellen took control of the Twitter account of The Hobbit and was pretty straight-forward about his thoughts on religion:

Well put, sir.

(Side Note: Anyone else re-reading The Hobbit?  Anyone else super-excited?  Just me?  Cool, man!)

(via Buzzfeed)

About Jessica Bluemke

Jessica Bluemke grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and graduated from Ball State University in 2008 with a BA in Literature. She currently works as a writer and resides on the North side of Chicago.

  • DBergy65

    Gandalf was not a god. The Silmarillion  gives more insight into what Gandalf actually was. He would most likely be equal to an angel. A minor one though. Gandalf Saruman and Radagast were sent to Middle Earth to fight against Sauron. I guess that once they came to Middle Earth then they also became more human/elfish like. Saruman wanted power, Radagast chose to ignore everything but nature and only Gandalf remembered what he was there to do.

  • Glasofruix

     I think you’ve missed the point here.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    Gandalf died for the sins of frodo. 

  • Mike De Fleuriot

    I remember being really pissed at Saruman, when I read that he was destroying the trees. And I hate nature things, strange that.

  • Gideon

    Gandalf exists? Well, Frodo Lives.

  • Rabid

    Actually it was that fool of a Took.

  • houndies

    I’m glad to hear this, and I have to say I always loved the Hobbit and the “Rings” Trilogy long before they were mainstream (70′s and 80′s). But somehow, when the movies came out,  the fundies had to get ahold of them and make it all about themselves. I knew of churches that had classes on the parallels of the bible and the “Lord of the Rings”. They made it into a complete allegory and I don’t think it was meant to be anything but a fantastical, entertaining tale.  I remember seeing one installment w/ some over-the-top-fundies who actually shouted and clapped when Gandalf showed up with his army to save his friends from the evil forces of Sauron. “Thats how it will be when jeezuz comes back”.  I just…I can’t go on describing it…..ick! it really ruined those stories for me. My mom actually referred to satan as Sauron once. I know biblical figures have multiple names ( jeezuz as lion of judah, rose of sharon etc..) but I don’t remember any of them being from Tolkien.  

  • sandburg

    I couldn’t watch the LOTR movies.  After rereading the trilogy at least 30 times, the way they turned everyone into idiots was just disgusting.  Seriously, Gandalf challenging Saruman in Saruman’s own tower?  I think not.  I got up and walked out after about an hour.

    With the extremely poor way the books were handled in the movies, I will be staying far away from The Hobbit movie.

  • Nate Frein

    I’m not sure how I feel about the upcoming Hobbit.

    Ultimately, Jackson didn’t have much competition when he made LoTR.  Before him was Bakshi’s miserable experiment at rotoscoping and Rankin and Bass’ flop, which between the two of them couldn’t even tell the whole story.OTOH, Rankin and Bass’ Hobbit was excellent translation of the book to a movie.  They did a great job translating Tolkien’s songs to music, they hit all the key plot points, and they did so in a very reasonable time frame for a movie.

    Jackson, however, showed quite a penchant for masturbating over Gandalf at the expense of other characters.  Theoden, Aragorn, and especially Denethor are all greatly diminished from their roles in the books.  Jackson also didn’t really have much respect for Tolkien’s subtle treatment of magic…

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    True, but I still see Frodo as less of a hero than Sam. 

  • bettsoff

    I doubt I will even see The Hobbit in theaters. I was so disappointed with most of the movie trilogy.

  • wmdkitty

    I’ll wait for it to hit Netflix. Movie theaters aren’t very sensory-friendly, tix are pricey, and why the fuck would I want to pay $10 to get a migraine?

  • Usclat

    I get your point Glasofruix, but DBergy65 makes an incredible point even if by apparent hyper-analysis. And that is, that how he refutes Gandalf not being a god by recounting the excellent myths of The Hobbit is stellar! Just replace Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospels for Gandalf and The Hobbit and you can hear the millions of Christian evangelists citing the NT in favor of the existence of JC, the miracles, the resurrection, and on and on. 


  • ildi

    My brother gave me the Trilogy when I was 12, and I used to reread it first thing every summer until grad school, really, when summers didn’t let out anymore, and I was bummed at how badly I felt Jackson missed the motivation of many of the characters.  Those who bided their time or didn’t crave power were the ones who were better able to resist the power of the Ring (Bombadil being the ultimate example), while those who craved power (e.g. Boromir) fell prey. 

    So, what does Jackson do?  He has Aragorn skulking about the Shire mewling about being afraid that he would be like Isildur and not be able to resist the Ring, whereas the reason he could when Boromir couldn’t was because he didn’t crave the kingship the way Boromir did.  Meh. 

    Otoh, I must admit I liked what Jackson did with Arwen’s character (best scene in Fellowship, at the river:  “Give up the Halfling, She-Elf!”  “If you want him, come and claim him!”)

    There’s a funny story related to this.  I thought Jackson did an ok job with the first movie (certainly captured the way I envisioned Middle Earth), so I waited until Xmas Eve to see the second one with a couple of friends, reviving a childhood family tradition thing.  I was devastated!  I had saved this movie special, and Jackson was ruining everything! Meanwhile, my friends, who had never read the books loved it.  This was MY special family tradition and MY special book tradition, and I was the one being disappointed, while THEY were loving it! 

    Well, it all came to a head and I burst into tears in the lobby on our way out.  My friends start crying because I”m crying and people are streaming by us out into the snow, ho, ho, ho, Merry Xmas Eve.

  • Annie

    I can’t wait for the movie! I first read The Hobbit as a child, but have enjoyed it several times since.  I’m trying to talk my husband into celebrating his 50th in New Zealand, so we can visit Hobbit world.  It’s an incredibly well written book… I just hope the movie will be equally exciting.

  • Karen

    I have a paperback 4-book set of LOTR plus TH that is so dog-eared and spine-broken that I’m ready to consign it to the recycle bin.  The replacement set arrived yesterday.  No household should be without such a set.

  • Rockyabq

    When my daughter was small, The Hobbit was one of the books I read to her at bed-time.  She’s 41 now and were eager to see the movie together!

  • Rockyabq


  • Octoberfurst

    Given some of the comments here I am glad I never read any of the LOTR trilogy  because if the movies devianted so much from the books I would have been very upset. But since I never read the books I ended up loving the LOTR movies and have watched them several times.  I never read The Hobbit either so I assume I will love the movie.

  • Artor

    Your mom’s a bit off on her theology. Satan is Morgoth, not Sauron.

  • Coyotenose

     I read TLotR several times and wasn’t disappointed with the changes made in the movies. I was disappointed that they felt the need to keep shoehorning Liv Tyler back in (I like her, but the scenes were superfluous) and that they had an issue with scale (the cave troll was too big, so to be scary the balrog had to be even bigger, so to look threatening the oliphants had to be even bigger…)  But I think most of the changes were positive for a self-contained trilogy that was going to be hideously long even with unnecessary portions cut out. For instance, I was a little annoyed that there were no barrow-wights in the first movie (grrr!) but they’d have muddied the Nazgul encounters, and thus the entire plot, unless another hour or two was tacked on to the film to explain how these were DIFFERENT undead and provide narrative distance.

  • Coyotenose

     Fundamentalists being too stupid to know the difference between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis? I wouldn’t have thought of it, but it isn’t at all surprising, is it?

  • Coyotenose

     Oh yeah, Samwise is easily the best pony Hobbit.

  • Rob U

    Loved the books, read them a few times.
    Loved the movies, watched them a few times.

    Then again I went in to both understanding the most basic of facts:
    1) The movie always cuts something from the book.
    2) The book is often better than the movie because of #1.

    I always find it a little humorous how people expect a 3 hour movie to a be a one to one translation of a book – which takes well over 20+ hours to read and where your imagination usually makes the pictures in your head better than any movie can – will then express shock, dismay or outrage that this or that character, or this or that situation, or this or that interaction, or this or that event, or this or that motivation was cut from the film.

    Its almost like they can’t fathom a film has a short time in which to tell a complex story and that in order to hit all the major points, lots of minor ones need to be cut.

    Did Jackson cut a lot of stuff?  Most certainly – not going to argue that.  Did it impact the overall story?  Not really, all the big stuff was there.  Granted it wasn’t the exact way it happened in the book, but the general story was there and it was consistent enough with the books that it still felt like the same story.

    Best anyone can do is try to enjoy the books for the books and the movies for the movies and judge them separately on their own merits.

  • Kevin Hare

    I also have a dog-eared collection, and a friend and I are having a LOTR movie marathon this weekend before seeing TH next weekend.

  • JoFro

    Since the writer of The Hobbit and LOTR was a devout Catholic, he viewed the Gospels as “True Myth” and even created a whole new word for it – the EUCHATASTROPHE – calling the Incarnation of Christ as the eucahtastrophe of human history and the Resurrection the euchatastrophe of the Incarnation.

  • Octoberfurst

     Thanks for the info into what was changed. I was told that if the movies wanted to depict ALL that was in the LOTR that each movie would have been something like 6+ hours long.  Of course having never read the books  I have no idea what a “barrow-wight” is.  Now I’m curious.  Google time!

  • amycas

     That’s generally what I do when I watch a movie that came from a book.

  • Nate Frein

    Oh, coyote’s talking about the “superficial” changes.

    Aragorn is much more decisive and powerful.  He proudly carries the shards of Narsil (his sword) with him at all times until it’s reforged into Anduril just before SETTING OUT FROM RIVENDELL.  About the only major mistake he makes is not seeing through Boromir.  When it’s time to go through the Paths of the Dead, he and Gandalf are about the only two people NOT worried.
    Theoden shakes off Saruman’s influence with his own willpower in the books.  There is no magic from Gandalf, just advice.  Theoden never doubts Gandalf after this, and gladly rides to Gondor’s aide without any silly “oh, why should I do this?” nonsense.

    Denethor was much stronger and prouder.  He wore a chain hauberk and sword constantly.  Even when he fully succumbed to madness, he died proud and stern in the pyre he built for himself and Faramir.  He was not a fat glutton who died screaming.

    Even Saruman suffers.  The movies completely remove his most powerful ability, his voice.  The voice that charms even Treebeard and allows him to escape captivity, go east, and corrupt the Shire, leading to what is arguable the WHOLE POINT of the books, the Scouring of the Shire.

    These are not minor changes.  These are fundamental changes that ultimately make Gandalf MUCH more powerful than he was in the books, pretty much at the cost of EVERY other heroic character involved.

  • Nate Frein

    I’m basically going to call bullshit on this.  Because I quite clearly argued that Rankin and Bass’ Hobbit was an excellent translation of book to movie, and it cuts plenty of the book out.

    My problem with LoTR wasn’t what was CUT (except possibly Scouring, which was kind of the whole point of the books because it was the only problem the Hobbits took care of completely by themselves).  My problem, as I pointed out above, was the fundamental neutering of many characters in order to give Gandalf even more fun stuff.  It was the abuse of Tolkien’s concept of magic to get more shiny special effects.

  • Dats3

    To add to the discussion of Peter Jackson movies vs Tolkien’s books I have to say that I loved the LOTR books and movies.  Yes Peter Jackson took some license with the character development and left out my favorite in fellowship, bombadil.  But I have ask, who could have done better?  I mean, Peter Jackson loves the books and his movies are his interpretation.  Also, he is a director and part of his job is creating a movie that the public will go see.  Tolkien’s LOTR has too much for decent character and moral developement.  Plus, does anyone think the public would get it? IMHO, it seems that most attend movies for entertainment and shun movies that question or make them think.  But I digress.  I probably won’t see the hobbit. That’s one of my cherished childhood books and I don’t want to spoil the memories and feelings I had the first few times I read it in 6th grade.

    Regarding Gandalf as god.  I can see DBergy65′s point.  I took a lit course in college and we read LOTR, all three in on semester it was great.  One question that kept coming up was Gandalf as a christ figure?  There are some parallels. The most obvious being both christ and gandalf died and were resurrrected. 

  • Tainda

    I took Friday off and a group of us are going.  We were going to go to the midnight showing but we all agreed we’re too old now hahaha

    We all love the books and the movies.  Movies will never be as good as books no matter how you do it.  I love the movies for what they are.  You can pick them apart all you want but I just enjoy them and don’t feel the need to nitpick. 

  • Octoberfurst

     Wow I didn’t know there were so many major changes. I can see why some of the lovers of the original story were pissed.

  • Baal

     I thought Tolkein was  contemporary of C.S.Lewis in a group called the “inkblots” or somesuch.  CSLewis, memory serving, used to place bets or push other members of the group to write Christian stories but to leave off the Christian idioms.  This was 1)to show that Christian Truth is universal and the only thing that can be right in the world 2) sneaky proselytizing.

  • Coyotenose

     Hmm. Yeah, some of those were sucky changes, come to think of it. I was particularly unfond of magicking Theoden well again. And Saruman’s movie defeat was waaaaay more dignified than he deserved.

  • Baal

     Samwise is a shade of a Russian peasant ala Tolstoy.

  • Volunteer_dc

    But Gandelf doesn’t exist either. I must be missing something

  • Nate Frein

    I do recall that Lewis’ science fiction trilogy was written as a bet after Lewis converted from atheism and wrote only Christian stuff.  I’m not sure that was common behavior amongst the group, however.

  • Nate Frein

    More dignified?  We’re talking about the guy who goes back and corrupts the Shire on the power of his voice alone.  The movies didn’t do him justice.

  • Mike

     Gandalf avoided meddling in mortal affairs so that they could be free. Still, he was a pragmatist and would occasionally get his hands dirty. His motivations and methods are so different from Jesus. He is a very dynamic character best compared with Norse or Indian mythology. Really Jesus is not a very complex or compelling character and if you strip away the miracles he is actually kind of boring.

  • chicago dyke

    heh, you geeks are so sad. ;-)

    i read all of them, including the Sil, as a child. which is the right time to do so. let’s start with the author’s inability to create female characters who actually resemble real women. it’s less of a problem when one hasn’t hit puberty. after that, well. meanwhile: actual literature! give it a try!

  • Nate Frein

    Real literature?

    Like James Joyce?  Alan Paton?  Josef Conrad?  Willa Cather?  Sylvia Plath?  Boris Pasternak?  Kafka?
    I’m sorry that sometimes I enjoy something lighter.  I didn’t realise it was a crime to enjoy the author who literally defined modern fantasy.

  • Tom

    In addition to your points, some things that work in books just don’t work in film.  If I recall correctly, the barrow sequence, much like the original Cirith Ungol sequence, takes place in absolute darkness.  It’s bloody difficult to translate something like that into film at all, let alone do it well.

    I take the view that, if one wants an experience that feels just like reading the book, then nothing will do except actually reading the book.  Yes, the films are far from rigidly faithful adaptations but, really, I think they’re as good as anyone could reasonably have hoped for them to be, and much better, at least, than many expected, especially given the movie industry’s prior, generally dire record. 

    (It helps considerably if you get the extended cuts, too, although that seems to have marked the start of a frustrating trend in the industry.  I fear that it will soon become the norm that cinematic releases will routinely be grossly stripped-down, simple-minded popcorn-munching affairs, and people will only get to see the “real” version of the film at home on DVD, and never on the big screen where it belongs.  Ridley Scott films in particular seem to be quite prone to this of late.)

    For an example from the far other end of the spectrum of adaptation fidelity, have you seen the truly ghastly treatment they gave to “I, Robot,” even under quite an accomplished director?  Nary a trace of respect for the source material or even the author’s general style, and Asimov is easily as big a name in sci-fi as Tolkien is in high fantasy.  When the bar can often be set so pitifully low as that, I’m just grateful the LOTR films turned out as well as they did.

    I’m still worried they’ll muck-up The Hobbit, though.  As Electronic Arts notoriously demonstrated recently, consistently excellent performance to date is no guarantee whatsoever that a wildly popular and successful narrative franchise won’t suddenly crash and burn within sight of its finish line.

  • Tom

    Are we talking about Saruman’s fate in the cinematic cut, or the extended cut here?

    Interesting fact: Christopher Lee is a big, big fan of the books, and the only member of the cast to have actually met Tolkien.  So even if they didn’t get Saruman quite right, it may be of some solace to know that he was probably trying really hard to do so.

  • Michigancolt

    Twenty seven animals were killed in the making of The Hobbit. I’m not excited, I’m appalled.

  • Blacksheep

    Both lewis and Tolkien would agree that the stories resonate *because* they are based on universal truth, not to “show” that it is. Writing stories that are based on universal truths are neither sneaky nor proselytizing.

  • Blacksheep

    I agree – the books felt even more magical – as printed word – than the films.

  • Deven Kale

     I never read I, Robot, but I would have to say it’s probably not the worst book adaptation ever made. The prize for that would have to be Eragon. They made so many huge changes to the characters and plot in that movie that, in order to make a sequel, they’re going to have to completely make up a new story which has nothing to do with Eldest, the next book in the series. To use the original story, even loosely, would require so much time introducing the new concepts that it would take more than half of the movie to get into the original plot of the book.

  • Coyotenose

     Citation needed that “universal truths” exist.

    See also: Begging The Question.

  • Coyotenose

     I wasn’t aware that anyone here was defending Tolkien’s writing skills, ability to portray realistic characters, or general lack of female involvement in The Most Important Thing Happening On Middle-Earth. We’re well aware that Jackson had to shoehorn in characters where they weren’t even seen in the novels in a vain attempt to narrow the gender gap.

    Funny enough, despite her heel turn, Eowyn is my favorite Tolkien character, and has been since before I hit puberty and my mean penis started really growing in and making me a patriarchal man-child who obviously doesn’t read anything else.

  • WoodyTanaka

     And they would be wrong.  Their resonated the same way the Jesus stories do (and the other religions, too) not because the Jesus stories demonstrate any supposed “truth” but because they all tap into the same wellspring from which human drama takes shape. 

  • WoodyTanaka

    If I recall, I, Robot wasn’t actually an adaptation.  The producer was able to get the rights to use the name and rewrote an existing robot movie to include Asimov window dressing.

  • Silo Mowbray

    Loved the books. Loved the movies. I’ll probably love Jackson’s treatment of the Hobbit. I understand he’s injected a few bits from The Silmarillion. Will find out on Friday.

    Nate Frein’s points elsewhere in this thread about the changes from books to movies are right on. While I loved the movies (especially Andy Serkis’ Gollum) I was disappointed that the Scouring of the Shire was excluded. As Nate pointed out, the Scouring was arguably the point of the entire saga, the event that threw into sharp relief how horrific war is, and no matter if you win or lose, the costs are ghastly. Ghastly, and far outstrip the benefits of “victory.”

    LotR and The Hobbit heavily fueled my imagination when I was a youngster. Tolkien was a master world-builder.

  • WoodyTanaka

    I never read the books.  The Lord of the Rings movies were okay, nothing special.  I didn’t think they were all that special.  Some very nice visuals, but the entire mythos of the story seemed rather silly and ad hoc to me.  (I suspect that it made more sense in the books, given that film is a visual medium, based on action; unlike television, which is an auditory medium, based on dialogue.)

    So I doubt I’ll see the Hobbit, (although I may if I can find a theater showing it in 48fps; I don’t care about trolls and goblins and whatnot, but the technology is interesing to me) but I am happy to see Mr. McKellen is in his right mind on this God character.

  • Nate Frein

    The whole Hobbit society was representative of “Merry Olde England”.

  • ildi

     Exactly.  The story pretty much stayed the same, but the characters were changed, which has nothing to do with having to abbreviate from one medium to another.  Another good counterexample is Gone With The Wind:  the story is essentially the same, but maybe in some ways more importantly, Scarlett, Rhett, Melanie and Ashley were recognizable as the same characters with the same flaws/issues/motivations as they had in the book.  It’s not that Jackson didn’t have room for improvement; he could have fleshed out Aragorn’s character (which I found the most flat in the books) instead of changing it so dramatically.

    Actually, I take it back about the story pretty much staying the same:  I’ve heard that many people got bogged down in The Two Towers and never finished reading the trilogy; Jackson fixed the thread there and added some exciting wolf fighting/river drowning to keep the plot going.  It pains me, though, that he wasn’t able to resist gratuitous references to dwarf-tossing.

    I’m looking forward to The Hobbit, with the full expectation that the children’s fantasy Tolkien wrote will merely serve as a scaffolding for a movie trilogy aimed at adults.  I’ve also been watching the production videos on youtube, so I can hardly wait for a 3D immersion into Middle Earth!  Woo hoo!

  • Anon

    When I asked to go and see the first film (it being rated 12a and me being all of about eight) my mother handed me the complete LOTR books and said I had to read them first.

    I was a precocious child so I promptly did.

    I only had one problem with the movie adaptation of FOTR when I saw it. And that was the lack of Glorfindel, to whom I had become rather attached.