This has now become the typical image of a fantasy wizard. The idea of powerful men and women who can perform magic dates back to ancient times, but it was in the medieval period that the wizard as we know him became established. In High Medieval romance, wizards would often appear as wise mentor figures who aided the hero on his quest, just as Gandalf does in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The word ‘wizard’ itself derives from the Middle English ‘wisard’ – wise + -ard, and today the word is often used for a very clever or skilled person, e.g. a computer wizard. As age is often associated with wisdom, the archetype of the wizard as ‘wise old man’ was established, marked by his long white beard. From Merlin to Dumbledore, wizards are very popular figures in myth, legend and fantasy fiction.
The robes, tall pointed hat and staff (or sometimes wand) are also typical wizard features. It is possible that these may have been influenced by descriptions of the Germanic god Woden/Wotan (Norse Odin). In his guise as Wanderer, Odin wears a long robe, wide-brimmed hat, long grey beard, and carries a staff. Tolkien has stated that the image of the Odinic wanderer did influence him when creating the character of Gandalf.
The name Gandalf means ‘wand elf’ or ‘magic elf’ in Old Norse, and can be found in the Völuspá, a poem in the Poetic Edda (a collection of Old Norse poetry).