J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, best known from The Lord of The Rings, is populated by some of the most powerful characters in fantasy. Most of the ones Tolkien wrote about, or at least the ones with which audiences are most familiar, walked Middle-earth in the so-called “Third Age” and are featured or mentioned in The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit.
The brave hobbits themselves, especially Frodo, are some of the truest, most tenacious, most strong-willed characters in the saga. Yet Frodo was chosen as Ring Bearer precisely because he was not conventionally “powerful,” so that even if the Ring corrupted him, he would not be able to cause much harm. In fact, most of the Fellowship’s members don’t stand among the most powerful Lord of the Rings characters, even though their importance to the tale is undisputed. Furthermore, many of the most powerful beings in Middle-earth aren’t included in Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptations at all.
Updated August 19th, 2022 by George Chrysostomou The Lord Of The Rings franchise is becoming more popular than ever thanks to the upcoming, highly anticipated Prime Video series from Amazon. With so many new characters yet to be introduced, it’s important for viewers to remind themselves of who currently stands as the most powerful beings in Middle-earth.
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Gandalf calls Treebeard the “oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun upon this Middle-earth.” With such advanced age comes experience and wisdom. Treebeard, also known as Fangorn, was the oldest of the Ents left in Middle-earth. With bark-like skin and leaves for their hair and beard, Ents are ancient tree-like beings who are the “shepherds of trees.”
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When he learned that Saruman was cutting down the forest he protected to power his war effort, a furious Treebeard called all the Ents together and (eventually) decided to attack Isengard, in an event known as the Last March of the Ents. Leading the attack, Treebeard helps to destroy Isengard’s walls, breaks the dam, and makes the fields green and growing again. Even though Saruman eventually escapes, Treebeard and his friends ruin his war effort and he never fully recovers proving they are some of the most powerful beings in middle-earth.
19 Gwaihir (Giant Eagle)
Without the timely assistance of the Giant Eagles of Manwë, the Fellowship might not have succeeded in their quest. The Eagles were birds that served as messengers of Manwë and at times assisted Men and Elves in the fight against evil. Among the Eagles were the Great Eagles, who were sentient and capable of speech. By the end of the Third Age, a colony of the Great Eagles lived in the northern parts of the Misty Mountains.
Gwaihir the Windlord is the greatest of the Eagles in the Third Age. At some point in his life, Gandalf the Grey saved him from a poisoned arrow, and in turn Gwaihir rescued Gandalf from his imprisonment at the hands of Saruman. The swiftest of the Great Eagles, with keen eyesight and strength due to his huge size, Gwaihir led an army of Great Eagles to the Battle of the Black Gate and helped to carry Frodo and Sam away from Mount Doom to safety.
A gigantic spider, who even feeds on her own children, Shelob is on no side but her own. Her lair in the Mountains of Shadow, near Cirith Ungol in the passes above Minas Morgul, was known by Sauron but he allowed her to stay there as she made a fitting guard for the pass. Sauron would sometimes give her food in the form of prisoners, although she would eat Orc as much as Man or Elves. Shelob would spin a labyrinth of webs within a network of caves to indiscriminately trap her prey. Many unsuspecting victims fell into her deadly net.
Shelob, the greatest offspring of Ungoliant, the primordial spider, catches Frodo in her web as he quests to Mordor. Sam rescues him, stabbing Shelob with Sting and wounding her. It is not known whether she recovered from her injuries, but Middle-earth would certainly sleep easier without her.
Beorn’s screen time in The Hobbit is limited, but this reflects his solitary nature. He is a Skin-changer and a Beorning chieftain and one of the most powerful beings in middle-earth. During the last centuries of the Third Age, his kin inhabited the North of the Anduin valley between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood. Although gruff at first, he takes in the Dwarven Party and gives them horses to continue their Quest of Erebor.
Beorn can take the form of a great black bear and has the great strength and durability expected in that form. He also has a miraculous effect on his animals, who seem to be more intelligent and strong than other animals when around him. He is somewhat mysterious, keeping bee pastures and spending his nights patrolling the woods and mountains in the form of a bear, protecting the creatures he encounters. Except for Goblins. He hates Goblins.
Aragorn deserves a place among the most powerful beings in Middle-earth not only for his skill at arms but for his importance as the First High King of the reunited Kingdoms after the fall of Sauron. Aragorn is the son of Arathorn, known as Elessar, the Elfstone, Dúnadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil’s son of Gondor. He is fostered by Elrond at Rivendell in secret until he is ready to take on this heavy destiny. He served as the sixteenth Chieftain of the Dúnedain and the Rangers of the North, living in the wild and, at Gandalf’s bequest, acting as a guard outside the Shire’s borders as Strider.
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An unsurpassed warrior, he is also unfailingly loyal and protects Frodo and the Ring, refusing to give in to the temptation of the Ring’s corruption. When the Fellowship disbands, he strives to keep the remains of it in one piece and leads the fight to the Black Gate. After the hard-fought victory over Sauron, he is crowned King Elessar, twenty-sixth King of Arnor, and thirty-fifth King of Gondor. He is a powerful man in peacetime as well as war and a symbol of good ultimately triumphing over evil.
Smaug was the last great dragon to exist in Middle-earth and the most powerful left in the Third Age. Other more tremendous beasts had gone before him. Glaurung, the first fire-breathing Dragon in Middle-earth, known as the Father of Dragons, or Ancalagon the Black, the largest dragon to ever walk Middle-earth, both leap to mind.
Yet Smaug the Golden, aka Smaug the Impenetrable, is not to be underestimated. He hoarded the Lonely Mountain’s treasures under the mountain, drove out the Dwarves who had lived there, and ravaged the countryside and the nearby town for centuries. Or at least until a certain band of dwarves and their burglar came to call. Perhaps not the most powerful Dragon to ever live, he was certainly the most greedy and foul “worm” left in Middle-earth at the time of his death.
14 Radagast The Brown
Radagast the Brown is one of the five Istari (wizards), along with Gandalf, Saruman, and the two Blue Wizards,0- given physical form and sent by the Valar to aid those in Middle-earth who opposed Sauron. A friend of Gandalf thought to be a fool by Saruman, Radagast is more knowledgeable about plants, birds, and animals than he is about Men and Elves.
He takes very little part in the War of the Ring and his eccentric attitude leads many to underestimate him. Yet as one of the five chosen to oppose Sauron, he must have possessed impressive powers. Originally named Aiwendil, meaning “bird-friend”, he was renamed Radagast, meaning “tender of beasts”, when he came to Middle-earth. He was chosen to protect the great forests and have powers over the birds and beasts.
13 Durin’s Bane (Balrog)
Balrogs are Maiar who were corrupted by Melkor, the original dark lord, and turned to his dark service. Most were thought to have been killed after the War of Wrath but one awoke in the Third Age in Moria when the Dwarves mined too deep into the Earth for Mithril. This particular creature drove the Dwarves out of their home and slew King Durin VI, leading to the Balrog’s name “Durin’s Bane.”
A gigantic horned figure wielding a flaming sword and whip, the Balrog is a literal creature of flame and shadow. It contended with Gandalf, albeit when he was still Gandalf the Grey, and the pair shattering the side of a mountain during their titanic struggle. Gandalf ultimately slew the Balrog but he himself died in the attempt. Although Gandalf is resurrected, this does not diminish the terrifying power shown by Durin’s Bane in the fight.
12 Witch-King of Angmar
The Witch-King of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgûl, the Black Captain, is one of the creepiest villains in the Lord of the Rings. A cunning warrior, a strategist who is almost indestructible, the Witch-King was once a man. One of the nine Kings of Men given Rings of Power by Sauron, they achieved wealth and power but succumbed to the tragic will of Sauron and faded to exist only as Ringwraiths.
As the most powerful of the Nazgûl, the Witch-King became their chief and the most feared servant of his master. The Nazgûl’s distasteful ability to appear when least expected and injure the Fellowship was due in part to the cunning strategies of their Captain. Far from a mindless killing machine, the Witch-King had been meticulously waging war against Elves and Men in the name of his Dark Lord for a long time. He is eventually stopped despite being one of the most powerful beings in Middle-earth, but, as prophesied, no man could kill him and he was taken down by a woman and a hobbit.
Glorfindel is one of the mightiest Elves left out of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Wanting to elevate the position of Arwen and her romantic subplot with Aragorn, Arwen was brought in to perform certain scenes originally played out by Glorfindel in the novel.
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A capable fighter with golden hair, Glorfindel’s “angelic presence” caused the Nazgûl to flee from him multiple times. His healing abilities saved Frodo’s life after he was stabbed by those same Black Riders. He guided them to Rivendell and sat in a position of honor with Elrond during the discussion over what to do with the One Ring. Glorfindel was also the major reason the Witch-King of Angmar was defeated. He took part in the Battle of Fornost to drive off the Witch King and, after the battle was over, told them not to pursue, predicting that no mortal man would ever destroy the Witch-king and prophesying his death.
10 The Blue Wizards
The least well-known of the five Istari sent to Middle-earth by the Valar to assist in the fight against evil, the Blue Wizards are notoriously mysterious. Alatar and Pallando became known as the Blue Wizards due to their sea-blue robes. In Middle-earth, it is thought they were known as Morinehtar and Rómestámo but very little is known of their time there.
Their task was to travel far to the East and stir up rebellion against those serving Sauron. They must have been successful in this, or else by the Third Age the armies of the East would have outnumbered the West, but nothing is known of their fate afterward. As two of the five Istari, there is no doubt of their incredible power and the major importance of the quiet influence they had over the history of Middle-earth in their quest East.
The Lord of the Grey Havens, Círdan is one of the three oldest living elves in Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age. He was born in the Years of the Trees, along with Galadriel and Celeborn. Círdan is the Shipwright, a Telerin Elf, and a great mariner. He served as lieutenant of Gil-galad, the last High King of the Ñoldor of Middle-earth, and along with Elrond, was one of only two elves who stood with Gil-galad at his last battle against Sauron.
Originally, in possession of one of the Elven Rings of Power, Círdan gives it to Gandalf when he recognizes his skill, proving himself wise and humble as well as powerful. Once again, Círdan is a strong character mostly left out of the movies due, no doubt, to there just being too many characters to include. He worked most often behind the scenes and so his exclusion from the movies is not surprising. He does appear briefly at the end as the elves prepare to leave Middle-earth. As Lord of the Grey Havens, Círdan would sail on the last ship into the West.
Saruman the White is one of the Istari (wizards), originally a Maia of Aulë the Smith named Curumo, meaning “skillful one”. He was one of the five wizards sent by the Valar to aid those in Middle-earth who opposed Sauron. Originally, he was the chief of the wizards and of the White Council, the most knowledgeable and skillful among them. However, his extensive studies of dark magic slowly led him down a dark path and he desired the One Ring for himself.
When he revealed to Gandalf his plan to join Sauron, the Grey Wizard refused and ultimately fought to have Saruman thrown out of the Order of Wizards and the White Council. Eventually, after many setbacks, he was ignominiously stabbed by Wormtongue after the Scourging of the Shire. Saruman, being a Maia, did not truly die. His spirit separated from his body to be sent to the Halls of Mandos, but he was not allowed to return. Tolkien reveals that his spirit was left naked, powerless, and wandering, never to return to Middle-earth.
Elrond, Half-Elven, is a warrior, healer, and counselor. Long before he became Lord of Rivendell, Elrond’s fate was uncertain. The son of Eärendil and Elwing (a man and an elf-maiden), and a descendant of Lúthien, Elrond was born in the refuge in Beleriand during the First Age. His home was sacked by the Sons of Fëanor and he and his twin were captured and raised in that ill-fated family.
At the end of the First Age, Elrond and his twin Elros were given the choice to be counted among Men or Elves. Elros chose Men and became the first King of Númenor, while Elrond chose to be counted among the Elves. He served Gil-Galad, the High King of the Ñoldor, and fought in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. He founded Rivendell as one of the last strongholds against Sauron and protected the heirs of Isildur, including Aragorn until he was ready to accept his destiny. Elrond was, of course, also instrumental in the founding of the Fellowship of the Ring. In sum, one of the most incorruptible and truest leaders of Middle-earth.
Lord of Lothlórien, Celeborn is the husband of Galadriel. Although only briefly featured in the movies and eclipsed by the power of the Lady of the Wood, in his own right Celeborn is one of the wisest Elves in Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age. Celeborn and Galadriel met during the First Age and fell in love. After the War of Wrath, they opted to stay in Middle-earth, keeping largely separate from the schisms affecting the Elves at this time. Instead, they sensed the growing evil in Middle-earth and strove to oppose it.
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In the Third Age, when the King of Lothlórien died, they stayed to protect it as Lord and Lady, not taking on a royal title as they saw themselves only as guardians of the wood. Celeborn defended Lothlórien throughout the War of the Ring and helped keep the evil out of the Golden Wood.
One of the Elves born in the First Age, Gil-galad only appears fleetingly in the Lord of the Rings movie. His death scene was cut and so he only appears for a brief glimpse in battle and as one of the original ring-bearers. It is a disservice to a character bearing titles such as High King of the Elves of the West, King of the Eldar, and Lord of the High Elves.
Gil-galad was the last High King of the Ñoldor in Middle-earth. He held the highest authority among the Elves he ruled and was respected by both the Ñoldor and the Sindar. He led the undivided Elves to war against Sauron in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men with Elendil. During their struggle with Sauron, Gil-galad inflicted enough mortal wounds on the Dark Lord to destroy his body but in return, he received terrible wounds. His death marked the end of the Ñoldor Kingdoms in Middle-earth.
Though not the main character of the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is the principal puppet master. A wizard, wise man, and warrior, when all around him seems lost, Gandalf is often the only one who can foresee the best course of action. Gandalf has many names: Elf-friend, Ring Bearer, Grey Pilgrim, White Rider, Fool. Originally named Olórin, Gandalf is a Maia sent by the Valar to counsel and help those in Middle-earth who oppose Sauron. At first, he describes himself as weak, fearing Sauron, but he spends years wandering Middle-earth, learning from as well as teaching the people he meets, and becomes known as the wisest and most powerful of the Istari.
Although fellow Istari Saruman is at first more powerful than Gandalf, his jealousy of Gandalf’s growing strength in part leads to his betrayal. After Gandalf’s resurrection as the White Wizard, he banishes Saruman from the Order of Wizards, taking his place. As Ring Bearer of the Ring of Fire, Narya, Gandalf’s powers are often linked to fire and light. The exact extent of his powers is not known but, as those who took part in the Battle of Pelennor Fields know, Gandalf is definitely one you want on your side in a fight.
Sauron is the Lord of the Rings. He has many names, known as Gorthaur the Cruel by the other Maiar, the Necromancer, the Lord of Wolves. Originally a fallen Maia and a skillful craftsman who prizes order, he is corrupted to become the most loyal servant of Melkor, the original Dark Lord. After Melkor’s defeat in the First Age, Sauron becomes the second Dark Lord and creates the Rings of Power to suppress and conquer Arda.
There’s no question that Sauron is among the most beings in Middle-earth, so powerful that even when defeated, he lay dormant and gathered strength in non-corporeal form, he poured his power and will into the One Ring so as long as it existed, he could never be truly defeated. Although ultimately vanquished, it takes the combined powers of the entire Third Age to finally destroy the Ring and permanently rob him of his form and his powers.
Of all the elves in Middle-earth, Galadriel is one of the most knowledgeable and powerful. Galadriel was born before the First Age even began, in Valinor during the Years of the Trees. Her lineage is impressive. She was the only daughter and youngest child of Finarfin, prince of the Ñoldor, and of Eärwen, whose cousin was Lúthien. She was also a niece of Fëanor, one of the most important elves of the First Age.
In Middle-earth, she serves as Lady of Lórien, hosting the Fellowship during their journey to Mordor. Her wisdom is vast and her powers are only touched on in the Lord of the Rings. She learned her magic from the Ainur, Yavanna, Queen of the Earth, and Aulë the Smith (who for context, literally created the race of Dwarves). She was also the bearer of Nenya, Ring of Water, one of the three Elven rings of power, which can protect, preserve, and conceal from evil. With her incredible raw power, it is thought she could become a tyrant even stronger and more terrifying than Sauron. Knowing this, she only uses her power for good, acting only when necessary to protect Middle-earth. Galadriel proves hereself one of The Lords of the Rings’ most powerful characters when she destroys Sauron’s stronghold and heals Gandalf with a kiss.
1 Tom Bombadil (and Goldberry)
Tom Bombadil is something of an enigma. Living throughout the history of Arda, in the depths of the Old Forest with his beloved wife Goldberry, he seemed to possess unequaled power in the land around his dwelling. The extent of his powers is not known. His true power and the respect shown to him are hinted at during the Council of Rivendell when it’s suggested that the One Ring should be either sent to Tom Bombadil or cast into the depths of the Sea.
Yet he takes no stance for or against the Dark Lords, seemingly above such trivial struggles. It is stated that he existed before the First Dark Lord, implying he existed before the Valar. On the surface, he is merry and benevolent, meeting the Hobbits at the beginning of their journey. Nothing happened when he puts on the One Ring and he can still see Frodo when he wears it. Tom does assist the Hobbits, saving them from Barrow-wights and giving them the Daggers of Westernesse ultimately used to help kill the Witch-King. However, he largely leaves the world to its own devices, living happily with his wife, Goldberry. Tom Bombadil’s omission from Jackson’s Lord of the Rings caused consternation among fans but it is easy to see why he was left out. Some characters are just too powerful to introduce lightly.
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