Radagast the Brown is one of those mysteries left to us by Tolkien; but unlike many other unresolved issues, we do get hints of his character here and there. Perhaps, it’s one of the reasons why I find him so alluring and why I’ve avoided writing a “Character Profile” post on his character, since he technically isn’t in The Hobbit.
Nevertheless, Sylvester McCoy’s performance in Peter Jackson’s films have reasserted my interest in this most unique character and here’s hoping I’ll provide all the little information we have about him.
Who was Radagast the Brown?
A member of the Order of wizards, Radagast was a Maia sent to Middle-earth to help aid its inhabitants against the growing threat of Sauron. It is said that he loved animals more than anything else. Furthermore, during the Council of Elrond, Gandalf says of him:
“Radagast is, of course, a worthy Wizard, a master of shapes and changes of hue; and he has much lore of herbs and beasts, and birds are especially his friends.”
It seems that Radagast was a powerful Maia in his own way. Being able to communicate with animals and have the ability to change shapes and create illusions are certainly essential qualities.
He also dwelt in Rhosgobel, “near the Southern borders of Mirkwood” (The Hobbit – Chapter 7, “Queer Lodgings”).
Don’t be fooled by his foolishness …
Radagast’s only scene in Tolkien’s world appears in The Lord of the Rings in the shape of a flashback. During the Council of Elrond, Gandalf relates the story of how he went to Orthanc and was there betrayed by Saruman.
On his way to Isengard, he encounters Radagast who delivers him a message. It was Radagast who informs him of the Nazgûl’s reappearance as riders in black, searching for “The Shire”; and he who delivers Saruman’s message for assistance.
Of course, Radagast had no knowledge of Saruman’s betrayal and was simply acting as a messenger between friends.
The Brown wizard may come across as slightly absent-minded and definitely not interested anymore in his original purpose – unlike Gandalf. He is even called “a fool” by a mocking Saruman. Yet, there’s more to Radagast than meets the eye.
We’ve already established that he’s a master of birds and animals and indeed, in his meeting with Gandalf, he was ordered to: “Send out messages to all the beasts and birds that are your friends. Tell them to bring news of anything that bears on this matter to Saruman and Gandalf” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II: Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”).
Clearly Radagast was an important element in the gathering of information through the natural world; and he still was a Maia after all.
Furthermore, Gandalf says once more about him that: “he rode away towards Mirkwood where he had many friends of old. And the Eagles of the Mountains went far and wide, and they saw many things”(The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II: Chapter 2, “The Council of Elrond”).
It is therefore a strong possibility that thanks to Radagast, Gwaihir came to the rescue of Gandalf in Orthanc; and may have also contributed to the arrival of the Eagles during the Battle of the Morannon at the Black Gates of Mordor.
Radagast, it seems, was indispensable after all.
We also learn that Radagast was not much of a wanderer: “You were never a traveller, unless driven by great need.”
Radagast in The Two Towers? The most fascinating mystery …
Undoubtedly, what makes Radagast such a fantastic character (apart from everything else) is his apparent appearance early-on in The Two Towers.
In one of the most ambiguous scenes from The Lord of the Rings, a tired trio of hunters (Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli) find themselves resting for the night beside the eaves of Fangorn:
“Suddenly Gimli looked up, and there just on the edge of the fire-light stood an old bent man, leaning on a staff, and wrapped in a great cloak; his wide-brimmed hat was pulled down over his eyes”
(The Two Towers, Book III: Chapter 2 – “The Riders of Rohan”)
Gimli is quick to state that it is Saruman, but as Aragorn says “this old man had a hat not a hood” – unlike Saruman’s usual hooded appearance.
In the following chapters, when the three meet Gandalf (returned now as the White), Gimli asks him the question we have all been wanting to ask.
“Was it you, Gandalf, or Saruman that we saw last night?’
‘You certainly did not see me,’ answered Gandalf, ‘therefore I must guess that you saw Saruman. “
(The Two Towers, Book III: Chapter 5 – “The White Wizard”)
The answer seems pretty straight forward but we can’t deny the element of the “hat” compared to the “hood” – which Aragorn made reference to. Furthermore, why would Saruman be interested in three members of the Fellowship, who had nothing to do with the One Ring directly – unlike hobbits?
This leads me to believe (and it’s not just me who thinks so), that this was Radagast. If not himself, some sort of apparition of his. A rare glimpse of this character leaving Rosgobel and taking part in the events of the War of the Ring – perhaps watching over the characters. A figure who remains hidden in the shadows, but is always present.
A silent guardian …
As to the horses running away, we learn that they meet Shadowfax later on, but in re-reading the scene from “The Riders of Rohan” chapter, the horses ‘run away’ at the sight of the old man. Perhaps they recognized Radagast and being who he is, ran to meet him as their friend (and were later on joined by Shadowfax himself).
A tantalizing moment that may shed light on this most mysterious character.
“Perhaps you have heard of my good cousin Radagast” – but was he really?
But what’s curious here is the use of the word “cousin”. For many years, I always thought it was merely a way for Gandalf to refer to a friend … but why say “cousin” when you could have used any other term: “friend”, “companion”, “buddy” … anything.
Okay perhaps not “buddy”, but you get my meaning.
Whether “cousin” should be taken literally or not, is up to you to decide. After all, in The Silmarillion, the Valar had spouses and a Maia (Melian) wedded an elf king (Thingol), from whom the descendants of Eärendil stemmed from.
Relatives among Maia, may therefore have been quite possible …
The Cinematic Radagast
Sylvester McCoy did a brilliant job in bringing to life the character of Radagast. It’s great to see so many characteristics and a personality which remains altogether unknown in the books.
In the two films so far, his character has already displayed impressive strength (braving the ruins of Dol Guldur and deflecting the Witch-king’s attacks), as well as his ability to communicate and attune himself with nature.
Radagast has much to offer and let us hope we will see more of him in There and Back Again.