Editor’s Note: The following was written by Keith Feltenstein.
In our next “Versus” round up, we have a throw-down between two magic-using scions of swords-and-sorcery fantasy fiction – with heavy emphasis on the sorcery part. It’s a no-spells-barred duel of epic wizards! In one corner, we have Merlin, and in the other corner we have Gandalf! Today’s battle we see who is the stronger wizard. Who would win, and who would lose? We will let you decide! Here is a little something about each wizard:
Merlin is a legendary figure best known as the wizard featured in Arthurian legend. The standard depiction of the character first appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, written c. 1136, and is based on an amalgamation of previous historical and legendary figures. Geoffrey combined existing stories of Myrddin Wyllt (Merlinus Caledonensis), a North Brythonic prophet and madman with no connection to King Arthur, with tales of the Romano-British war leader Ambrosius Aurelianus to form the composite figure he called Merlin Ambrosius (Welsh: Myrddin Emrys). He is allegedly buried in the Broceliande forest, near Paimpont in Brittany.
Geoffrey’s rendering of the character was immediately popular, especially in Wales. Later writers expanded the account to produce a fuller image of the wizard. Merlin’s traditional biography casts him as a cambion: born of a mortal woman, sired by an incubus, the non-human from whom he inherits his supernatural powers and abilities. The name of Merlin’s mother is not usually stated but is given as Adhan in the oldest version of the Prose Brut. Merlin matures to an ascendant sagehood and engineers the birth of Arthur through magic and intrigue. Later authors have Merlin serve as the king’s advisor until he is bewitched and imprisoned by the Lady of the Lake.
Merlin is empowered by the manipulation of the forces of magic. He has the ability to manipulate the forces of magic for a variety of effects including concussive bolts of mystical energy, protective shields of mystical energy, transmutation of matter, mesmerism, thought-casting, illusion-casting, astral projection, and many others. As Merlin grew elderly his physical frailty limited his stamina when manipulating great amounts of magical energy.
Merlin has a genius intellect and is extensively self-taught in mystical lore.
Merlin remains one of the most powerful and renowned sorcerers of all time, having tutored the powerful Morgan le Fay.
However, it is shown that the Camelot Merlin has clear limits to his power, especially in his old age. For example, the Darkhold’s power is so vast it took the combined strength and will of both Merlin and Brendan to contain it.
Gandalf is a character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He is a wizard, member of the Istari order, as well as leader of the Fellowship of the Ring and the Army of the West. In The Lord of the Rings, he is initially known as Gandalf the Grey, but returns from death as Gandalf the White.
Tolkien discusses Gandalf in his essay on the Istari, which appears in the work Unfinished Tales. He describes Gandalf as the last of the wizards to appear in Middle-earth, one who: “seemed the least, less tall than the others, and in looks more aged, grey-haired and grey-clad, and leaning on a staff”. Yet the Elf Círdan who met him on arrival nevertheless considered him “the greatest spirit and the wisest” and gave him the elven Ring of power called Narya, the Ring of Fire, containing a “red” stone for his aid and comfort. Tolkien explicitly links Gandalf to the element Fire later in the same essay.
Warm and eager was his spirit (and it was enhanced by the ring Narya), for he was the Enemy of Sauron, opposing the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles, and succours in wanhope and distress; but his joy, and his swift wrath, were veiled in garments grey as ash, so that only those that knew him well glimpsed the flame that was within. Merry he could be, and kindly to the young and simple, yet quick at times to sharp speech and the rebuking of folly; but he was not proud, and sought neither power nor praise… Mostly he journeyed tirelessly on foot, leaning on a staff, and so he was called among Men of the North Gandalf ‘the Elf of the Wand’. For they deemed him (though in error) to be of Elven-kind, since he would at times work wonders among them, loving especially the beauty of fire; and yet such marvels he wrought mostly for mirth and delight, and desired not that any should hold him in awe or take his counsels out of fear. … Yet it is said that in the ending of the task for which he came he suffered greatly, and was slain, and being sent back from death for a brief while was clothed then in white, and became a radiant flame (yet veiled still save in great need).
Gandalf demonstrated extensive knowledge of the land and an assortment of magical abilities from trivial to essential. For example he would use his powers for entertainment, by blowing glowing smoke rings that moved around a room at his direction, and Bilbo Baggins remembered him for his fantastic fireworks displays. He created blinding flashes and other pyrotechnics to distract the goblins of the Misty Mountains, aiding the dwarves in their escape from Goblin-town. On the eastern slopes, he turned pine cones into flaming projectiles that threw hot sparks and started fires that would not easily go out. He was also able to come and go from the presence of Thorin and Company without being noticed.
He again displayed his proficiency with pyrotechnics at Bilbo’s Farewell Party. When the Fellowship is attacked by Wargs in Hollin Gandalf speaks words of power to inflame the trees on the hillock where the company had camped. He was also able to start fires under blizzard conditions, create light of varying intensity for the journey through Moria, magically secure doors, and break the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. When angered or aroused for battle, he seemed to grow in height and assume a terrifying aspect. He fought the Balrog of Moria and killed his opponent, although he did not himself survive the battle.
Sent back to Middle-earth as Gandalf the White, he possessed greater charisma and a limited degree of clairvoyance, although he was unable to peer into the land of Mordor to see the progress of Frodo and Sam. His power and authority had increased so that he could break Saruman’s staff with a spoken command, showing his authority to throw the treacherous wizard out of the order.
Gandalf was the bearer of Narya, the Ring of Fire, and described himself as the “servant of the Secret Fire” and “wielder of the flame of Anor”. Most times Gandalf displayed his power, this had to do with fire. It is not known whether his possession of Narya had any merit to his abilities.
With all that said, who do you think would win in this fury of magic and mystical powers? Would it be Merlin, or Gandalf. Vote now! Your opinion matters!
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