At one time or another, you’ve felt confused and lost, struggling through life’s labyrinth of snares and pitfalls.
You’ve been searching for that lost part of your soul, that piece of knowledge like an ever-elusive unicorn waiting to be found. You can almost grasp it, but it slides through your fingers like grabbing at early morning fog.
This age-old conundrum has troubled your mind ever since Gandalf announced he wasn’t a conjurer of cheap tricks and we found out Dumbledore was the only wizard to ever make You-Know-Who question his invincibleness. They’re both bad-awesome wizards, but if push came to shove, would the wand or the staff win out?
Okay, let’s break it down, lay it all out on the table, and get to the bottom of this once and for all. Gandalf or Dumbledore?
Note: Our arbitrary categories and corresponding evidences are taken from an intermingling of events and quotes from both the movies and the books. Any mistakes, omissions, or straight up stuff you don’t agree with, take it up with us in the comment section!
Criterion 1: Best Magic
It’s a little unclear what Gandalf can do with his magic. We see him make light, create a barrier around himself to protect from the Balrog’s fire-sword, revive Pippin after he gazes into the Palantir, call the eagles, hurtle Saruman across the room, and a few other things. But, when he gets into battle, he relies on his sword and beating people on the head with his staff. If he can throw Saruman across the room, why doesn’t he start chucking orcs? Anyone?
With Dumbledore, the rules of magic are much more clearly defined. He can perform the Cruciatus, Imperius, and Killing Curses any time he wants. He can apparate, create barriers, move any object he wants, create a wall of fire, bind people in place, and about a thousand other wicked-cool hexes. In his battle with Voldemort, he demonstrates a deep understanding of magic, so he even transcends what most magicians can do.
Criterion 2: Better Fighter Without Magic
I’ve never even seen Dumbledore with a sword, let alone fight with one. But for Gandalf…. Remember the first skirmish with the orcs and the cave troll? Or whirling his staff and sword while protecting Minas Tirith? This one’s not even close. Hit the gym, Dumbledore.
Criterion 3: Faster Traveler
Shadowfax may be one of the more handy creatures to have at your beck and call (or a very shrill whistle, in Gandalf’s case). But, despite being the Lord of all horses and being faster than the wind, the ability to apparate kinda beats traveling by horse (although you do run the risk of being splinched).
Criterion 4: Better Army General
From initiating the Order of the Phoenix (twice!), to the unfailing loyalty Hogwart’s professors demonstrate by fighting for him, Dumbledore led his forces against evil as well as anyone could. Even the students raised up arms as members of the Harry-led Dumbledore’s Army and heroically fought in the last battle against the Death Eaters. In life and death, Dumbledore inspired armies to dominate in his name.
However great a leader Dumbledore was, I’m not sure anything he did quite compares to leading the Rohirrim down that impossibly steep mountainside (what if just one horse slipped?) in the rescue of Helm’s Deep. Or, when the men of Minas Tirith were on the point of deserting because of the attacking Nazgul, Gandalf whacks Denethor in the face, and yells, “Prepare for battle!”
Criterion 5: Better Puppet Master
Dumbledore may not have stood literally at the head of armies, but he directed his chess pieces better than most. He plotted out his own death with Snape, and even groomed and counseled young Potter just so Harry could die at the right time. Despite his affectionate demeanor, Dumbledore was labeled by his own brother Aberforth as a natural with secrecy and lies.
Gandalf had his own way of directing events as well. With little effort, he pressured Samwise into being Frodo’s companion. He worked with Pippin to light the beacon behind Denethor’s back. He even helped give back control of Rohan to Theoden and convinced Aragorn to rouse the dead army in a cave so creepy the mine-dwelling Gimli didn’t want to enter.
While Gandalf had his way of controlling events, Dumbledore resorted to trickery, withholding information, and even flat-out lying. This comes to a head when he explains his plans to Snape about how Harry has to die, after years of withholding this information from everyone. Snape responds with accusations that Dumbledore has raised Harry like a “pig for slaughter.”
RIP Dumbledore, you sneaky, beautiful devil you.
Criterion 6: Most Kick-Butt Moment
Dumbledore, for all his aged wisdom and critical thinking ability, was generally considered the greatest wizard of his world, possibly of all time. Three moments especially stand out for Dumbledore: when he easily binds all the Death Eaters with an Anti-Apparition Jinx, his epic fight with Voldemort (eventually forcing the Dark Lord to flee), or, our favorite, when he escapes Cornelius Fudge.
“Well – it’s just that you seem to be laboring under the delusion that I am going to – what is the phrase – ‘Come quietly.’ I am afraid I am not going to come quietly at all, Cornelius. I have absolutely no intention of being sent to Azkaban. I could break out, of course – but what a waste of time, and frankly, I can think of a whole host of things I would rather be doing.”
His unabashed honesty about escaping Azkaban with ease, along with his dismissal of Cornelius and the crew he brought to apprehend Dumbledore make this a lasting memory of Dumbledore’s saga. Oh yeah, he then escapes all of them in mere seconds with hardly any effort.
Of course, Gandalf held his own as well. He fought the Balrog on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum before eventually succumbing. He also saved the riders returning to Minas Tirith in the indelible scene of white light incapacitating the Nazgul. Other moments, such as riding to the rescue at Helm’s Deep and leading the forces at Minas Tirith come to mind.
Sorry, Gandalf, but I think Dumbledore ekes this one out because he seems to dominate with breathtaking ease and supreme confidence, while tossing in a little style. Plus, the Witch-King totally shattered your staff. What was that all about?
Criterion 7: Deeper Well of Knowledge
Quotes by Dumbledore:
1. “Welcome! Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak! Thank You!”
2. “It is important to fight and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then can evil be kept at bay though never quite eradicated.”
3. “And now Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”
4. “For future reference, Harry, it is raspberry… although of course, if I were a Death Eater, I would have been sure to research my own jam preferences before impersonating myself.”
5. “In fact, being – forgive me – rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.”
6. “From this point forth, we shall be leaving the firm foundation of fact and journeying together through the murky marshes of memory into thickets of wildest guesswork.”
7. “Scars come in handy. I have one myself above my left knee that is a perfect map of the London Underground.”
8. “I would assume that you were going to offer me refreshment, but the evidence so far suggests that would be optimistic to the point of foolishness.”
Quotes by Gandalf:
1. “A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”
2. “It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.”
3. “Fly, you fools!”
4. “You cannot pass! I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, Flame of Udun! Go back to the shadow. You shall not pass!”
5. “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment.”
6. “Be silent. Keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I did not pass through fire to bandy crooked words with a witless worm.”
7. “Fool of a Took! Throw yourself in next time and rid us of your stupidity!”
8. “I suppose you think that was terribly clever.”
While both are clever and witty, Gandalf’s thorough tongue lashings, though short, are the stuff of legends. Who hasn’t said “Fly, you fools” to someone at least once since that movie?
Criterion 8: Better Hair
While they both have long white hair and beards, Dumbledore has the endearing habit of tucking his beard into his pants. ‘Nuff said.
Criterion 9: Biggest Moment of Weakness
Since Dumbledore allowed for Malfoy to disarm him and Snape to kill him, that’s out. It has to be when he drinks the cursed liquid on the island in order to obtain the horcrux. He looks helpless, incoherent, and relies totally on Harry for safety.
For Gandalf, it can’t be when the Balrog pulls him down from the broken bridge because Gandalf stayed behind to protect the Fellowship. If anything, it was triumphant that he sacrificed himself for the greater good.
However, Gandalf receives an utter beat down at the hands of the Witch-King of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgul. He breaks Gandalf’s staff and has him completely at his mercy, until the horns announcing Rohan’s arrival draws away the Nazgul’s attention.
While both moments are pretty pathetic for these superior wizards, Gandalf is only saved by sheer luck, and his staff is ruined. Dumbledore plotted ahead, and brought someone that would protect him.
Criterion 10: Best Departure
When Gandalf succumbs after he “smote [the Balrog’s] ruin upon the mountainside,” he then cheats by coming back. We won’t count that as his departure. When he finally does leave Middle-Earth, it’s boring and sappy.
Dumbledore’s demise had all the necessary Hollywood elements: unexpected, intense, and, of course, a dramatic fall. For extra bonus points, we find out that he did it to protect Malfoy from having to commit murder as well as cement Snape’s status among the Death Eaters. Climactic and for a greater cause! Can’t beat that.
And the Winner is…
Neither is the main protagonist, yet both are the wizened leaders and most powerful allies for good. They both use magic, are beloved by readers and movie-goers across the world, and have memorable hair.
So, according to our made-up, completely arbitrary parameters, Dumbledore beats down Gandalf in decisive fashion, winning 7 to 3!
Gandalf vs Dumbledore – What did we forget? Do you agree with us, or are we full of it? Tell us below!
Score both contenders
How would you score each wizard?