Radagast – More than Just Gandalf’s Brown Cousin (But Not Much More)

Though Radagast the Brown was hardly mentioned at all by Tolkien in any of his writings, he’s taken on a somewhat mythical role as a fan favorite. And why not? Though he’s possibly the “lowest” of the wizards, there’s something about him. Radagast was simultaneously out of touch and far ahead of this time. It takes a special kind of wizard to pull that off, so maybe he deserves a closer look.

We’re first introduced to Radagast in The Hobbit, though only in passing. “Perhaps you have heard of my good cousin Radagast who lives near the borders of Mirkwood?” asked Gandalf in that story. Even Beorn confesses that he was “not a bad fellow as wizards go.”

But really, as readers of Lord of the Rings, this is all we knew about him. He was Gandalf’s cousin (whatever that might mean) and a wizard who lived near Mirkwood. It’s pretty heavily implied that Gandalf met up with Radagast to deal with the Necromancer during The Hobbit, but nothing more was said, and he didn’t show up at the Battle of Five Armies.

We are now reintroduced to him. It was just this past June, and Gandalf was in the Shire. He had “a foreboding of some danger, still hidden from me but drawing near,” and he wanted to make sure Frodo was safe. As he rode near Bree, he came across a man grazing his horse.

“It was Radagast the Brown, who at one time dwelt at Rosgobel, near the borders of Mirkwood. He is one of my order, but I had not seen him for many a year.”

Since The Hobbit, Radagast must have moved away from Mirkwood. But he must not have moved east as he admitted to being “a stranger in these parts.” He was looking for Gandalf and heard that he “might be found in a wild region with the uncouth name of Shire.”

It’s curious that Radagast is so unfamiliar with the Shire that he simply calls it “Shire,” as if that is its name. I don’t want to get too much into early drafts of this writing just yet, but originally, Tolkien had Radagast get it right, calling it “the Shire,” but purposely changed it to simply “Shire,” having the wizard make a mistake.

A few lines later, he said it again: “I have been told that wherever they [the Nazgul] go, the Riders ask for news of a land called Shire.” Gandalf corrected him, “The Shire, but now was hardly the time for pedantry. This was the first time that Gandalf learned of the Nazgul.

This doesn’t quite make sense. We learn that it was Saruman the White “the greatest of my order,” who sent Radagast to find Gandalf. Saruman definitely knew the land was called the Shire, as we’ll find out, because he had dealings with certain hobbits.

It’s possible that Radagast was simply relaying information gathered from those who had come into contact with the Black Riders. They were searching only for “Shire” and “Baggins” (not the Shire and Baggins). That, really, is the only explanation.

It’s also possible that Saruman purposely got it wrong to throw Radagast and Gandalf off of the idea that Saruman knew about and even had dealings with the Shire. But whatever the reason, it’s clear that Tolkien had something specific in mind.

Let’s take a look at the chronology here. In early April, Sauron learned that Gollum had been captured, and he ordered the Nazgul to move over the Anduin one by one to see what was going on. They were searching for “Shire” and “Baggins,” but could find nothing at all. But, according to a manuscript in which Tolkien tried to figure all of this out, it was then that Radagast learned they were searching for “Shire” and “Baggins,” and not from Saruman, whom he did not visit until June.

Gandalf met Radagast earlier the same day that he left Frodo the note in Bree. This was Mid-year’s Day, the day between June and July, so it was important to Tolkien that Radagast knew of the Nazgul before going to Saruman. In fact, that’s specifically why he visited him.

But let’s get back to the published version. Radagast explains to Gandalf that Saruman the White told him (Radagast) to tell him (Gandalf) “that if you feel the need, he will help; but you must seek his aid at once, or it will be too late.”

To Gandalf this seemed like a pretty good idea, though it’s hard to understand why. In this post, I wrote all about how the White Council began to suspect Saruman of treachery. For at least 100 years, Gandalf had been suspicious of Saruman, and rightly so. But after this talk with Radagast, his fears seemed to vanish.

“And that message brought me hope,” Gandalf told the Council of Elrond. While Radagast was a “worthy Wizard,” he was no Saruman, who had “long studied the arts of the Enemy himself, and thus we have often been able to forestall him [the Enemy] .”

While readers “in the know” certainly shake their heads and pull at their beards in wonderment over how daft Gandalf seemed to be, Gandalf justified his trust in Saruman. “It was by the devices of Saruman that we drove him [Sauron] from Dol Guldur. It might be that he had found some weapons that would drive back the Nine.”

Gandalf wasn’t thinking about the Ring or about defeating Sauron. He was only thinking of a relatively small task of driving back the Nazgul. And so both Gandalf and Radagast set off on separate ways. Gandalf rode to Bree to leave a message for Frodo, and then went straight for Saruman’s headquarters in Orthanc, while Radagast rode with a bit of an unsuspected mission.

Radagast seemingly wanted no part at all in this quest, telling Gandalf that he was going to “turn back at once.” But Gandalf had another idea.

“We shall need your help, and the help of all things that will give it. Send our messages to all the beasts and birds that are your friends. Tell them to bring news of anything that bears on his matter to Saruman and Gandalf. Let messages be sent to Orthanc.”

As we’ll see, it was incredibly fortuitous that Gandalf had his mail forwarded to Saruman’s place.

A Few Notes

  • In the early draft, Gandalf again calls Radagast his “cousin,” but that too was changed.
  • The whole Shire vs. the Shire thing is basically explained in Unfinished Tales, so we’ll get to that in a bit, probably. Or maybe not. Either way, the mistake was most likely received from the Nazgul. So there.
  • There’s quite a bit more to the whole Saruman and Nazgul thing, and I’ll definitely get into that in week or so (you know, something like that).
Camera: Holga 120N Film: Fujichrome Provia 100F x-pro as C-41

Camera: Holga 120N
Film: Fujichrome Provia 100F x-pro as C-41

About the Photo
Things are looking dark along the Greenway! I assume that the Greenway is pretty green, but I don’t really have photos of green things. Weird, huh? You’d think that living in the Evergreen State would make it so that I’m filthy in green photos. But not so!

  • Day 145
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 716 (262 from Rivendell)
  • 78 miles to the Doors of Moria
  • 205 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,063 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Marching south along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. 17th night out from Rivendell. January 9-10, 3019 TA. (map)


5 thoughts on “Radagast – More than Just Gandalf’s Brown Cousin (But Not Much More)

    • Thank you so much! I live for minutia! Seriously, I’ll totally fixate on something that nobody (even me, really) cares about. I’ll do this with songs, ghost towns, small Civil War battles, cameras, and old alignments of major highways. Why? I’m not really sure, but I have a ton of fun with it.

        • Oh I’m sure there is! I used to do a personal blog that would go into some detail with it (mostly for Washington state roads), but that’s long gone now. Mostly, it’s personal research with old maps. You take a map from, say, 1915 or 1930 and overlay it with googlemaps.

          Here’s a site that has tons of such maps. This is an overlay of a part of Douglas County that includes the now-extinct town of Spencer. There’s really nothing left there, just a huge canyon bottom of sage brush. But thanks to overlaying maps, I was able to follow the old roadbed and locate where the town should be. I went there and presto! Found the old townsite. There was quite a bit of debris like old china, pieces of iron stoves, a license plate, stuff like that.

          (The site isn’t working right this minute, but it usually is, and if you’re one to incredibly geek out over maps, I’ve just made your day.)

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