The Radagast that Almost Was (but Also Sort of Was Anyway)

Though Radagast was mentioned in The Hobbit and clearly Tolkien wanted to use him in Lord of the Rings, he was at first not quite sure how to go about it. Today, we’ll take a look at the drafts that led up to the Radagast we all know and wonder about.

The first mention of this brown wizard in Lord of the Rings didn’t come as part of the narrative, but in a note written after Tolkien penned his way to Rivendell for a second time. This was after the so-called Third Phase of writing, probably finished up in December, 1938, about a year after starting. He wrote up to the conclusion of the Rivendell chapters and then tried to figure out what to do next.

Over the next several months, Tolkien took many notes. Sometimes these were outlines, other times they were full on narration with dialog. In (or just after) August of 1939, Tolkien wrote:

Island in sea. Take Frodo there in end.
Radagast?
Battle is raging far off between armies of Elves and Men v Lord.
Adventures.. Stone-Men

What this meant to him is unknowable, and exactly how he planned to use Radagast can’t even be guessed. But there he is – Gandalf’s cousin, coming in even before Tolkien dreamed up the character of Saruman.

Then, sometime in the autumn of 1939 (probably), Tolkien began to rewrite the Rivendell chapters. In a section dealing with the other Rings of Power, someone asked Elrond what would become of them once the One Ring was destroyed. He explained that they would lose their power, or course, but destroying the Ruling Ring was worth it.

The idea of sending it to the West was kicked around, but Elrond said it was too late. “But now the power of the Lord [Sauron] is grown too great, and he is fully awake. It would be too perilous – and his war would come over the Shire and destroy the Havens.”

In the margin closest to this passage, Tolkien wrote “Radagast.” This too went completely unexplained, and he was mentioned no where else in this manuscript.

From the autumn of 1939 to, perhaps, August of 1940, Tolkien added very little to the Lord of the Rings. He later returned to what would become the “Knife in the Dark” chapter. What he wrote was fairly different from what was eventually published, but here is where Gandalf first learns of the Black Riders. It is not, however, told to him by Radagast (he was informed by Trotter/proto-Strider, who learned it from Saramund/proto-Saruman).

Later in the manuscript, Tolkien writes about Gandalf being captured by Saruman only to be rescued by an Eagle. Radagast is again unmentioned, but the stage is set! In notes that followed shortly after, he names Radagast to fill the role.

Tolkien wrote (at least) five versions of “The Council of Elrond” chapter – not including those into which he dabbled the year before. It was in the fourth draft that he finally inserted Radagast, having left him out in the three previous. This draft should feel very familiar to you, as it’s nearly identical to what was published, save for the details that we love to examine so much.

Just as in the final version, it was the end of June and Gandalf wanted to go to The Shire due to some foreboding. “I passed down the Baranduin as far as Sarn Ford, and there I met a messenger. I found I knew him well, for he leapt from his horse when he saw me and hailed me: it was Radagast who dwelt once upon a time near the southern borders of Mirkwood.”

We don’t learn much more about Radagast from this, as it’s just a regurgitation of his background from The Hobbit. But of note – Radagast here is not feeding his horse, but riding. This was immediately rewritten so that Gandalf was riding along the Greenway and was not far from Bree. “I came upon a man sitting by the roadside. His dappled grey horse was standing by. When he saw me he leaped to his feet and hailed me. It was Radagast my cousin, who dwelt once upon a time near the southern borders of Mirkwood. I had lost sight of him for many years.”

One thing that should jump out is that Gandalf calls him his “cousin,” just as he did in The Hobbit. Radagast’s mission was identical to that later published, but there are some curious details that were abandoned by Tolkien.

As an aside, Gandalf says, after being told that the “Wraiths” have “taken the guise of horsemen clad in black as of old,” that “the Chief of the Nine was of old the greatest of all the wizards of Men, and I have no power to withstand the Nine Riders when he leads them.”

Tolkien was also working out the colors for the wizards. Radagast told Gandalf that it was Saruman the Grey who had sent him. The word “Grey” was immediately struck out and “White” written in its place. For a minute or so, Radagast because Radagast the Grey, but just as swiftly, he was renamed Radagast the Brown.

Quickly in the narrative, they part ways and Gandalf winds up before Saruman, who says something incredibly curious: “He [Radagast] must have plaed his part well nontheless. For here you are.”

It’s been proposed that Tolkien might have first considered Radagast to be a willing participant with Saruman to deceive Gandalf. It’s possible, as Tolkien took out anything that might make Gandalf seem suspicious of Radagast when he got around to arranging the Eagles to rescue him from Orthanc.

In the fifth draft, much is the same, though Gandalf drops the “cousin” bit, and calls Radagast his “kinsman.”

As in the published version, Radagast’s story is basically complete. But Tolkien tried here and there to add him. For example, after Saruman is ousted from Isengard, he debates giving it to the Dwarves, “or to Radagast.” But in the end, he did neither, giving it to the Ents instead.

Tolkien wrote a boat load of essays later in his life, expounding on all sorts of things. Radagast is mentioned twice (as far as I can tell). The first was during a description of Saruman’s state of mind during the Lord of the Rings:

“Gandalf he [Saruman] did not understand. But certainly he [Saruman] had already become evil, and therefore stupid, enough to imagine that his [Gandalf’s] different behaviour was due simply to weaker intelligence and lack of firm masterful purpose. He [Gandalf] was only a rather cleverer Radagast – cleverer, because it is more profitable (more productive of power) to become absorbed in the study of people than of animals.” – From Morgoth’s Ring

The second was written late in his life and compares Gandalf to Saruman and Radagast. It’s a longish piece, but here’s the relevant passage:

Radgast was fond of beasts and birds, and found them easier to deal with; he did not become proud and domineering, but neglectful and easygoing, and he had very little to do with Elves or Men although obviously resistance to Sauron had to be sought chiefly in their cooperation. But since he remained of good will (though he had not much courage), his work in fact helped Gandalf at crucial moments.

Tolken, however, went on to say that “it is clear that Gandalf (with greater insight and compassion) had in fact more knowledge of birds and beasts than Radagast, and was regarded by them with more respect and affection.”

Poor Radagast! In the end, he was mostly forgotten, even by Tolkien (hell, even by Radagast!). But we’ll not forget you, you weird little wizard!

A Few Notes

  • Gandalf tells Radagast that “if I ever see the innkeeper again there will be no Butter left in Butterbur. I will melt the fat from him fingers and all.” (Get it? Butter fingers?) Oh and yes, this means that Gandalf had already left a message for Frodo in Bree, rather than the other way around as it is in the published version.
  • Through these drafts, there are tons of changes to things like the name of Gandalf’s horse and how many rivers the Black Riders must cross. It’s mind-boggling how he kept track of them all.
  • I guess that’s all we’ve got for Radagast. Tomorrow we’ll move on to Saruman. Stupid, evil Saruman.
Camera: Imperial Satellite II 127 Film: Fuji Velvia 100F xpro

Camera: Imperial Satellite II 127
Film: Fuji Velvia 100F xpro

About the Photo
Yeah, look, I have no idea which photo to pick for Radagast the Brown. So since he was found along a roadway and he’s brown, how about a brown roadway? Makes sense to me. Look, it’s some sort of river or something!


  • Day 147
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 726 (272 from Rivendell)
  • 68 miles to the Doors of Moria
  • 195 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,053 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Encamped along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. 18th night out from Rivendell. January 10-11, 3019 TA. (map)

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