Why doesn't Gandalf kick some ass?

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Lisa and I are watching Return of the King, and I wanted to mention the one thing that's bugged me throughout the whole series. Gandalf is portrayed as an amazingly powerful wizard yet pretty much the only way you ever see him fight is with his staff or sword. Wouldn't a sorcerous attack be far more effective?

UPDATE: Nick Weaver notes in the comments thread that the extended edition has some magic-on-magic conflict, but that actually makes things even more puzzling. Wouldn't some sort of magical cluster bomb have a pretty devastating effect on your average orc army? Andrew McGregor observes that Gandalf's main powers were in people magic. Still, those fireworks he made for Bilbo's birthday looked pretty destructive (you can tell I haven't read the books in years and years).

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I have seen various analyses point out that Gandalf's main powers were in people magic; motivation, developing capabilities, and so on, rather than in destructive magic. This is one of the themes less developed in the films (the books having such a scope that much simply had to be left out). Several times (in the books at least) Gandalf turns Orc armies by dissolving their morale.

Silly Eric -- it's because magic isn't real.

Happy New Year. :-)

Also, there is a fair bit more magic in the Extra Tedious Version: the staff breaking of saruman, and also (shockingly enough, and NOT in the books), the staff breaking of gandalf by the witch king: direct magic-on-magic conflict.

Gandalf seems pretty limited in battle in _The Hobbit_, where he could set fire to a few wolves, but wasn't going to do much about an army of goblins coming to burn them out. Having also read the Wheel of Time books, I kept thinking that a strong Ashaman or Aes Sedai would have been a lot more effective....


Well, gandalf's magic was in many ways spent countering Sauron's magic: The @#)$(*@#$() Nazgul's effect.

Sometimes it is best to analyze a story from the outside. Gandalf is an angel. He is on a mission, and we only see indirect evidences of what precisely that mission is. He is NOT into calling-down-the-fire class magic. Live with it.

I guess you missed the part where Gandalf and Shadowfax lead the Rohirrim cavalry into the Orc army outside Helm's Deep and you end up with this wedge-shaped gap where orcs used to be.

But I think the reason he's not going around doing that every time is because he's trying to get the stupid humans to understand that the age of man is arriving, and they need to bloody well take care of themselves for a change.

Yep, the angel analogy is apt. He's a messenger, advocate, assistant, but his goal is to gather mankind together to fight on the side of good. If he blew holes in things all the time, they'd get lazy and expect him to handle all their problems. Plus, there's the sense that overuse of power leads to abuse of it. Saruman became proud from his powers (which were greater than Gandalf's) and that turned him to evil.

If you delve into the Silmarillion, a lot more becomes clear. Gandalf is Olorin, one of the Maiar, an immortal demi-god or angel.

The Maiar sent five of their number to try to help things out in this modest way, hiding their true nature and power, because they had previously thrown their weight around in an earlier age of the world, and it hadn't worked. Everyone got pissed off with them. Saruman fell to the temptation to become a great leader, but Gandalf resisted it.

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