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Topic: Staff of the Istari

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Thorin Oakenshield - Rank 6
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Staff of the Istari

Did the Istari like Gandalf use the staffs simply as an output for their magical abilities or did the staffs themselves contain any power? I say this firstly becuase Gandalf seems to lose his actual magic abilities after he breaks his staff on the bridge of Khazad-dum and Saruman also loses his power after Gandalf breaks his staff in Isengard.
This would seem to indicate the Staff does seem to contain hidden power but then would it be able to do anything in the hands of one of the peoples of Middle-earth?



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Witchking of Angmar - Rank 10
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To say the truth...we don't know much

On this matter, I usually stand on the "staff with magical powers" part of the debate.

Even if Tolkien never states in the LotR if the staff has (or hasn't) magical powers, there are hints in other works:
Gandalf struck a blue light on the end of his magic staff, and in its firework glare the poor little hobbit could be seen kneeling on the hearth-rug, shaking like a jelly that was melting.counterargument: magic is used rather lightly in the Hobbit

and so he was called among Men of the North Gandalf, "the Elf of the Wand"a wand is pretty much different, phisically speaking, from a staff - yet it is similar, in characteristics, to a magic staff; the wand refference appears several times in the Hobbit and LotR;

Here's a quote from an earlier variant of LotR:
"They followed in amazement, and as they stumbled behind he gasped out some information. 'I have lost my staff, part of my beard, and an inch of eyebrows,' he said. 'But I have blasted the door and felled the roof against it, and if the Chamber of Mazarbul is not a heap of ruins behind it, then I am no wizard. All the power of my staff was expended, it was shattered to bits."
this refference doesn't appear in future variants of the story, which would dimminish its validity

another point: his staff isn't affected by fire (when he lights the fire for the fellowship) - but the staff itself could be protected by Gandalf.

So all in all, I believe that the staffs were firstly, symbols of rank and power for the Istari, as Gandalf dismisses Saruman from the Order by breaking his staff, showing him he has no more power, no more rank.
But it could be they also are used to channel the wizards' energy.

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Chief Maiar
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Perhaps something to channel the wizards' powers in Middle-Earth/Human form indeed (we know Melian could do "magic" without a staff, right? If so then in real form the maiar dont need one?)? Would seem logical.

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Tom Bombadil
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In the Olden days, staffs were used for walking instead of canes like today an older person used a staff. Gandalf portrayed an older man, hence the staff. But I assume that it might also be a sign of authority or rank.

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Anarion, Son of Elendil - rank 8
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Could Gandalf or any of the wizards still do magic without there staff I wonder. When Gandalf has to try and retain the Balrog behind the stone door in Moria he 'speaks a word of command'. This seems to indicate that this spell at least has nothing to do with the staff but with the power of his voice. Alsdo note how much power Saruman's power had over those who heard it. Saruman's voice was strong enough to command the Witchking when he came to Orthanc in search of the Shire.

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Tom Bombadil
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"...note how much power Saruman's power had over those who heard it. Saruman's voice was strong enough to command the Witchking when he came to Orthanc in search of the Shire."
Glorfindel where is that information from?
Maybe it might be a good idea to post the sources from which we quote. It would help us New and less well-studied Tokien Scholars to put it in context and study the things surrounding it.

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Anarion, Son of Elendil - rank 8
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"Such was still the power of the voice of Saruman that even the Lord of the Nazgûl did not question what it said, whether it was false or short of the full truth; but straightway he rode from the Gate and began to hunt for Gandalf in Rohan." UT

I refer to the part where the Witchking, being sent by Sauron to find the location of the Shire asks Saruman about it. Saruman's voice is strong enough to disuade the WK from any further questioning.


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Witchking of Angmar - Rank 10
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Of course they were still powerfull even without staffs, I do not question that.
Perhaps they were a kind of accesory to their image of old men when they arrived to Middle-earth, but weren't just simple normal staffs, but could be used to "channel" their powers as well. We see Gandalf's staff could do some interesting stuff, of course because of Gandalf's power, but still it was a useful tool.

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Tom Bombadil
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I like the scene in Orthanc where Saruman and Gandalf use their Staffs to attack each other. Maybe that"s the reason so many people think the staffs were magical.

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Thorin Oakenshield - Rank 6
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That is just a scene from the films however. I wonder how Gandalf, after his death on Silvertine and his reincarnation managed to get another staff. I know he arrived back in Lorien. Could the Elves have fashioned such a staff? Would it then have been magical?

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Perhaps he got it from the Lord of the Eagles? We know he arrived in Lorien naked, but it never said he didnt have a staff...It even seems to me that i remember it saying somewhere they clothed him in white because they knew (or smth like that) of his enw rank etc etc etc.

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Witchking of Angmar - Rank 10
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I think he got it in Lorien

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Orc Warrior - Rank 2
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There are many items in Middle Earthg that are magical and enchanted.  But I dont think they need a magic item or staff.  The Witch King used magic, and became a powerful sorcerer, yet he had no staff.

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Rohirrim of Edoras - Rank 4
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I was going to ask why no one thought the staffs were magical and I think instead I've found that maybe they aren't.

Hama, the doorward for Theoden says to Gandalf, "The staff in the hand of a wizard may be more than a prop for age." Seemingly the idea would be that the staff in the hand of any other old man would be just a staff but it in a wizards hand could hold importance. TTT-The King of the Golden Hall

On the other hand, at Orthanc, Gandalf casts Saruman from the order of wizards and the council, because he had no color and his staff was broken. Afterwards, Saruman fell back with a cry and he crawled away. This makes me think he was diminished in power because of the breaking of the staff. TTT-The Voice of Saruman

So, all I've managed to do is confuse myself on the matter. What do you all make of this?

P.s.
Upon talking things over with my Hubby, he has pointed out that in TRotK-The Scouring of the Shire, Frodo tells the other hobbits that Saruman has lost all his power except his voice. Also, there is no mention of him having a staff. When Gandalf fell on the bridge and returned he had a different staff. HMMM.

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Lord Elrond of Rivendell - Rank 9
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lomoduin,
As I read your posting I found myself encouraged to look at the way Tolkien uses elves, dwarves, ainur, and humans as vehicles for "magical technology." This, for me, was a good thing. It is leading me to look for literary contraptions through out his works. But especially the Silmarils and the Rings of Power. I am looking at some of these elements as a form of "divine technology."
I think "the staffs of the Istari" as a great place to start.
"I was going to ask why no one thought the staffs were magical and I think instead I've found that maybe they aren't.
Hama, the doorward for Theoden says to Gandalf, "The staff in the hand of a wizard may be more than a prop for age." Seemingly the idea would be that the staff in the hand of any other old man would be just a staff but it in a wizards hand could hold importance. TTT-The King of the Golden Hall
On the other hand, at Orthanc, Gandalf casts Saruman from the order of wizards and the council, because he had no color and his staff was broken. Afterwards, Saruman fell back with a cry and he crawled away. This makes me think he was diminished in power because of the breaking of the staff. TTT-The Voice of Saruman
So, all I've managed to do is confuse myself on the matter. What do you all make of this?
P.S.
Upon talking things over with my Hubby, he has pointed out that in TRotK-The Scouring of the Shire, Frodo tells the other hobbits that Saruman has lost all his power except his voice. Also, there is no mention of him having a staff. When Gandalf fell on the bridge and returned he had a different staff. HMMM."
(Tolkien Forums > General Lore discussion (standard) > Staff of the Istari > lomoduin, August 4th, 2008)

I thought of the staffs of the Istari as a "symbol of office". I also thought that the power of the Istari was in their knowledge. In The Hobbit Gandalf mainly uses a wand. The staff really becomes important in Lord of the Rings. As you can read above and as you yourself have pointed out the staffs of the Istari are strong elements which are directly connected to their powers.
   Still,Tolkien seems to be very green. Magic is definitely preferred over smoke and destruction of the ash piles of Mordor. The dwarf Kingdom of Khazad-dum is lost because they delved too deep for mithril and awoke the monster of the Balrog. And still there is a reverence for weapons technology. The blades; Sting, Glamdring, Anduril, Narsil are special by "handcraft" rather than "magic". Elven cloaks, Rings of Power, Palantir, lembas, miruvor-the cordial of Imladris, the boats of Lothlorien, and many other marvels are introduced to us.
    Yet I think when characters spoke of magic, like the hobbits did of Gandalfs fireworks, it was because they didnt understand the technology.
An example is Sam at Galadriels Mirror looking to see a little elf magic and then hurt and alarmed by what he saw wanted to abandon the Fellowship and head back to the Shire. Galadriel rebukes him; warning him that the technology showed many things that had not come to pass;
Remember that the Mirror shows many things, and not all have come to pass. Some never come to be , unless those that behold the visions turn aside from their path to prevent them. The Mirror is dangerous as a guide of deeds.
Sam sat on the ground and put his head in his hands. I wish I had never come here, and I dont want to see no more magic, he said and fell silent. After a moment he spoke again thickly, as if struggling with tears. No, Ill go home by the long road with Mr. Frodo, or not at all, he said, But I hope I do get back some day. If what Ive seen turns out true, somebodys going to catch it hot!
(Lord of the Rings; Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 7; The Mirror of Galadriel, pg. 428)
The Mirror seems to have a power similar (but not exactly) like the Palantir of the Numenordefinitely technology and with limits.
The staff of the Istari seems to have simple technological functions too.
On the trip up the mountain of Caradhras Gandalf uses his staff like a giant lighter
At last reluctantly Gandalf himself took a hand. Picking up a faggot he held it aloft for a moment, and then with a word of command, naur an edraith ammen!, he thrust the end of his staff into the midst of it. At once a great spout of green and blue flame sprang out, and the wood flared and sputtered. if there are any to see, then I at least am revealed to them, he said. I have written Gandalf is here in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the Mouths of Anduin. (Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 3; The Ring Goes South, pg. 347)
As the Fellowship enters the darkness of Moria Gandalf tells the company;
Follow my staff! As the wizard passed on ahead up the great steps, he held his staff aloft, and from its tip there came a faint radiance. (Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 4; Journey in the Dark. pg. 369)
But later on Gandalf reveals that the power of the staff is not inherent in the length of wood.
Gandalf begins his encounter with the Balrog in Moriahe tells the Fellowship to go on without him. When Aragorn protests this abandonment Gandalf replies fiercely warning that swords are no more use here. Go!
The Company flees and shortly Gandalf rejoins them.
" Gandalf came flying down the steps and fell to the ground in the midst of the Company.
Well, well! Thats over! said the wizard struggling to his feet. I have done all that I could. But I have met my match, and have nearly been destroyed. But dont stand here! Go on! You will have to do without light for a while: I am rather shaken
(Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 5; The Bridge of Khazad-dum, pg. 387)
The Company continues to flee Moria. They arrive at the Second Hall of Moria which is defended by a narrow one passage bridge. As they are about to pass over it the Balrog confronts them.
Over the bridge! cried Gandalf, recalling his strength. Fly! This is a foe beyond any of you. I must held the narrow way. Fly!

At first the men in the Company refuse to leave. But soon it doesnt make any difference. The narrow bridge will only hold one. And Gandalf (with his staff) holds it while he and the Balrog confront each other in the center of it. Aragorn and Boromir rush to Gandalfs aid, but before they get near Gandalf destroys the bridge under the Balrog.
At that moment Gandalf lifted his staff, and crying aloud he smote the bridge before him. The staff broke asunder and fell from his hand. A blinding sheet of white flame sprang up. The bridge cracked. Right at the Balrogs feet it broke, and the stone upon which it stood crashed into the gulf, while the rest remained, poised, quivering like a tongue of rock thrust out into the emptiness.
With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizards knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered, and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. Fly, you fools! he cried, and he was gone.
(Lord of the Rings, Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 5; The Bridge of Khazad-dum, pg. 391-393)

My gut feeling is that the staffs have a technological functions like light but also are channels of the spiritual - magical qualities of the Istari. There is a fading of power once they are broken.
I think that the Istari resemble their staffs as having a human technological function and a divine powerfor good or evil.


-- Edited by Bear at 20:50, 2008-08-05

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Witchking of Angmar - Rank 10
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Well, as said, in at least one older version of the story (see my post from long ago for the quote) staffs were attributed magical powers. Own powers, independent from the Istari.

The question here actually isn't are they or are they not magical? - because this has been esaily answered by Bear. Of course they are, for us, because we cannot understand how they work, this is why we call it magic as the Hobbits reffered to Galadriel's Mirror. For Istari and probably also Elves this was no magic, just high-tech stuff.

No the question is, do the staffs have an own power? So could anyone else (if having the knwoledge) also use the staff to make light or could only Gandalf do this (because it was actually HIS power behind it).

I will go with the first assumption, even though Bear makes a good case against it. Think about it. Why would Gandalf need a new staff? Why could he not just get a stick. That would probably channel his powers just as good, in the end it would not be such a big difference. Why could Saruman not get some piece of wood from the forest on the way to the Shire? Well, it's because as it seems staffs did have an own power, independent from that of the wizards wielding them. It just seems that they were also wise enough to know how to exactly use these objects.

So my conclusion is that staffs were magic, simply as high-tech Valinorian gadgetes, and would be regarded as magic by simple people.

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You make an interesting point, Bear. Also in the encounter between Sam and Galadriel she says that she doesn't understand what his folk mean by magic or why they use the same word to describe deceits of the enemy. She calls the mirror the magic of Galadriel. I am assuming then that the basin would only show a reflection without her influence on it. Also, I can't find the word staff or wand mentioned in my concordances. The Sceptre of Annuminas is defined but that was the closest I could get to that sort of thing.

Perhaps the ideas are both right. As TM has said, these sort of things would be considered magic by simpler people while being something mundane to the one producing the "magic". Gandalf does say that there are many magic things in this world though he doesn't elaborate. For them to be considered magic by Gandalf is pretty impressive. Of course, he could have been just talking down to Bilbo since the Hobbits do fall under the simpler peoples heading. Tolkien did, after all, call them the rings of "power" not the rings of "magic".

Once again we are left to ponder the works of the Master as good disciples should.

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Lord Elrond of Rivendell - Rank 9
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Amen!

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Hobbit from Hobbiton - Rank 4
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Okay, so it's more than a year ago...but here goes.

Sauron has a ring
Morgoth had his silmarils
Galadriel had he mirror and ring

I've got a car...it makes me go far....without me it is useless

It is the person...not the thing that matters

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Anarion, Son of Elendil - rank 8
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Thats certainly food for thought Filli....

However without a car, you still have your trusty legs. Without the staff, can a Wizard do magic? Does the staff have the advantage in this scenario?

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Lord Elrond of Rivendell - Rank 9
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Filli,
I agree it is the person; elf,dwarf, hobbit, human, ent, orc, even Valar.
But there is a thought...absolute power corrupts absolutely!
Technology has no automatic ethical base assigned to it.
And technology without a person's control can do damage...your car is an excellent example.
But so is a sword...its purpose is to maim and/or kill.
And the real question is not what, but as Glorfindel implies, WHO!!!


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Anarion, Son of Elendil - rank 8
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To quote Herne the Hunter's words from 'Robin of Sherwood': "Nothing we make is good or evil, until we use it."

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Hobbit from Hobbiton - Rank 4
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Hi All

Bear I.

I hear you loud and clear

So the Istari..well at least Gandalf and Sauraman have staffs.....I guess they made their own. To make their life easier they both made tools.

I see further with a telescope
I see smaller with a microscope

What Gandalf done was to impose his authority over Saruman by forcing him back to the window and breaking his staff. A traditional symbol of power.

I honestly don't think the power of these Maiar dwelt in tools.
Although, like Sauron they could impart their essence into a thing, a tool to serve purpose


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Lord Elrond of Rivendell - Rank 9
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Filli,
Yep!  I think you have it right on.
Wisdom and power are not always linked.
I think Gandalf could break the staff of Saruman because after battling the Balrog of Moria and being sent back from death he was reborn as the "white wizard' and Saruman was cast from the order.
But he still has some power.
Speaking of Saruman;
'What's the danger?' asked Pippin. 'Will he shoot at us, and pour fire out of the windows; or can he put a spell on us from a distance?'
'The last is most likely, if you ride to his door with a light heart,' said Gandalf. 'But there is no knowing what he can do, or may choose to try.  A wild beast cornered is not safe to approach.  And Saruman has powers you do not quess.  Beware of his voice!'
(The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Book Three, Chapter X - "The Voice of Saruman", pg 577)
At the end of the Ring Quest, as the Hobbits put The Shire to rights, Saruman tries to assassinate Frodo but fails.  Sam draws his sword but Frodo intervenes; 'No, Sam!' said Frodo. 'Do not kill him even now.  For he has not hurt me.  And in any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood.  He was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against.  He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it.' ( The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter VIII - "The Scouring of the Shire", pg 1019)
But Saruman cannot curb the evil of his tongue and in a cruel diatribe accuses his servant  Grima of murder and cannibalism.  His servant snaps and slits Saruman's throat.
And it is at this point where we see where the "magic and wisdom" has its' source.
'To the dismay of those that stood by, about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill.  For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing.
Frodo looked down at the body with pity and horror, for as he looked it seemed that long years of death were suddenly revealed in it, and it shrank, and the shriveled face became rags of skin upon a hideous skull.  Lifting up the skirt of the dirty cloak that sprawled beside it, he covered it over, and turned away.'
( The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter VIII -"The Scouring of the Shire", pg 1020)
As Maiar the Wizards were sent to Middle-Earth to battle the influence and evil deeds of Sauron.  Saruman was corrupted and became an ally and rival of Sauron.  Therefore rejecting the will of the Ainur and his mission he in turn is rejected by Eru and banished to oblivion.


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Samwise Gamgee - rank 9
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Rejected by the Valar, certainly (hence the wind from the West). But not Iluvatar, in my opinion.

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Lord Elrond of Rivendell - Rank 9
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mouth of sauron,
conceded...not by Iluvatar...not enough evidence,
Bear


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Rohirrim of Edoras - Rank 4
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Still, if the staffs are powerless then why would Grima insist on the staff being left on the stoop with his guards? Do you think that the men were just under the wrong impression about the power of the staff? Also, if the staff is just a tool and Gandalf is just as powerful without the staff then why did he insist on keeping the staff with him?

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Thorin Oakenshield - Rank 6
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I think that when the Five Wizards were sent to Middle-earth in a bound and phisical form, i.e. they could no longer do all of the cool stuff they could as 'free Maiar', the staves were their 'link' to their powers. The staves symbolise their importance and are necessary for using most of their magical abilities. Do we have a list of what 'magic' is used by the Istari without their staves?

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Do we have a list of what 'magic' is used by the Istari without their staves?


Yes, or so to speak. Much of the Istari's ability without their staves is implied. The only direct examples are Gandalf defeating the Balrog (in my opinion) and Saruman's voice.

 

Saruman is the perfect case study for this topic. While Saruman clearly has no power other than his voice when he's in the Shire, Gandalf hints that he still has magical abilities while in Orthanc.

 

"He has power still, I think, while in Orthanc, to resist the Nine Riders. He may try to do so. He may try to trap the Nazgul, or at least to slay the thing on which it now rides the air." TTT - The Palantir

 

 That certainly sounds like Saruman is still capable of performing some feats of magic while still in Orthanc, but that does not answer many questions. Like the ambiguity of Tolkien's use of the word "power", or how it's implied throughout the book that Saruman lost his power not when his staff was broken, but when Isengard was ruined. Nevertheless, the ability to trap a Nazgul or slay a fell beast (or a Balrog) WITHOUT a staff clearly shows that a Wizard can perform magic regardless. 

However, in all cases a Wizard needs some form of connection to their origins in order to perform. In this case, Gandalf had his ring when he fought the Balrog, while Saruman had his tower (which certainly had magical properties) which both wizards could have drawn power from. When Saruman was in the Shire, he had no connection. At all. Had he elf stones in his pocket when him and Grima were turned out of bag end then maybe he had more than just his voice, but this is just speculation. 

 



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