February 22, 2015

Hobbit Origins: The Gandalf Postcard

As a few of you reading this already know, this semester at our homeschool co-op I am teaching a class on The Hobbit for middle-schoolers.  That, along with a number of other distractions and priorities, is why I have been unable to post very often lately.  Unfortunately, this mild "post-drought" will probably have to continue until the end of the school-year.  However, as our class journeys with Bilbo through Wilderland I'd like to share some of the things we discover with you, my blog audience.  So, without further ado, here is an interesting piece we looked at a few weeks ago, the origin of Gandalf:

You may be scratching your head a bit now.  Indeed, one of the students remarked that it looked more like Radagast from An Unexpected Journey than Gandalf.  But it was Tolkien himself who named this postcard as the inspiration for the Grey Pilgrim...

Titled, Der Beggeist ("The Mountain-spirit"), the piece was painted by a German artist by the name of Josef Madlener in the latter half of the 1920s.  German folklore and mythology was a favorite subject of his illustrations during this time and it is possible that this piece was inspired by similar tales.  A few years later during the 20s it was reproduced as a postcard.  Tolkien then apparently acquired it shortly thereafter (just before starting The Hobbit) and later wrote on the paper cover in which he kept it, "Origin of Gandalf."  

Gandalf the Grey by John Howe
At a first glance there are several differences to note between this old man and Mithrandir.  The most glaring discrepancy that catches the eye is this old man's red cloak.  Gandalf the Grey isn't named "the Grey" for no particular reason.  Furthermore, this character dons a white beard (instead of grey) and a green hat instead of a blue one.  However, the word "origin" in Tolkien's descriptive title may provide the key.  Perhaps Tolkien imagined the the character of Gandalf (named Bladorthin in the earliest drafts) as appearing more like this.  Or, perhaps the original Bladorthin was more like this old man in temperament.  Maybe the first Gandalf had much stronger relationships with wild beasts and nature, qualities that later appear in the eccentric character of Radagast.  I suppose we'll never fully know, but it is interesting to think about nevertheless.       

1 comment:

  1. That's interesting! Origins are always interesting...as a writer myself, I understand the rather winding journey the identity of character can take, and I'm always curious what inspired characters I love in other stories. Gandalf will always be a major hero.