It’s fairly common knowledge among people who enjoy fantasy that most authors have pulled some ideas from mythology. J.R.R. Tolkein and J.K. Rowling are no exceptions to this rule. There are many examples of this throughout both The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the Harry Potter series, but since I was doing research on the Norse God Odin for a newsletter article, I was struck by the similarities that Gandalf and Dumbledore shared with him. These two famous wizards embody the best and worst aspects of the powerful God of Wisdom. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both wizards look a lot like how Odin is described-a tall old man with long gray or white hair and beard.
Albus Dumbledore is considered by all in the Harry Potter universe to be one of the most powerful and wisest wizards who ever lived. He is the only wizard Lord Voldemort was ever afraid of, and that alone was enough to gain him the utmost respect of his followers. Of course, that support is withdrawn when the Minister of Magic as well as many members of the wizarding community do not want to believe that Voldemort has returned, but that doesn’t change his character, just his perception. We also learn towards the end of the series that he wasn’t always so wise and good. In fact, he was greedy for knowledge and wisdom, the way Odin is in much of the mythology surrounding him. In the stories, Odin steals knowledge from a giant and has to sacrifice his eye in order to keep it. Dumbledore’s story is more tragic. His thirst for knowledge led to a conflict with his friend (and most likely, love interest) Gellert Grindlewald, that led to the death of his sister, Ariana. Through this, Dumbledore acquired wisdom by learning that he wasn’t someone who should be trusted with power. Dumbledore sometimes comes across as a meek elderly man, but proves he can fight as well as any deity, and that he is willing to sacrifice himself so the hero he is supporting can succeed.
Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings embodies many of these same qualities, although when we meet Gandalf, it’s almost immediately stated that he knows he shouldn’t be trusted with dark power is tempted as The One Ring. He is wise and appears to be a gentle soul, but is a bad ass in battle. Also like Dumbledore, he isn’t afraid of self sacrifice. He falls and battles the Balrog so Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship can escape. Gandalf doesn’t seem to have been as greedy for power and knowledge as Dumbledore was a teenager. If he was, I don’t remember it from either the films or the books. If anyone else does, please tell me!
Although, interestingly enough, there is another wizard in The Lord of the Rings who does embody this idea and that’s Saruman. He wants all the power, and knowledge, and wisdom, and exhibits more of the negative qualities of Odin, such as his love for war and destruction. It was a very interesting choice on Tolkein’s part to have two wizards who each embody different qualities of the Norse God. Neither Gandalf nor Dumbledore were lovers of war, although they were always willing to stand up and fight for what was right. They just didn’t take as much pleasure in it as Saruman, and Odin.