Literary Mixtape: Gandalf


If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite literary characters might be listening to while they save the world/contemplate existence/get into trouble, or hallucinated a soundtrack to go along with your favorite novels, well, us too. But wonder no more! Here, we sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters. What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennett, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: Tolkien’s master wizard, Gandalf the Grey.

Gandalf is one of the most complex wizards in the enormous lexicon of magician-related fiction. As author Mary Hoffman said of him, he is “not morally ambiguous or neutral like Merlin, but not infallible either.” He is a protector, a mentor, a wise father figure, a warrior for good, to be trusted completely, even when he fails. He is, to be sure, an imposing figure. In some ways it’s difficult to think of a character like Gandalf doing something so human as listening to music in anything but an incidental way. Doesn’t he have something more important to think about, like preventing the destruction of Middle Earth? Maybe, but everyone needs some downtime, and maybe something to listen to on the long road to Lórien. Here’s what we think he would advise Frodo, gallop on Shadowfax, and send the Balrog back to the abyss to.

Stream the full mixtape here.

“Your Protector” — Fleet Foxes

This first pensive, then empowering track might give a modern Gandalf just a moment to close his eyes before a long journey.

“Sorrow” — The National

The National is like every other rock band you know, except something like five times more intense. Basically like Gandalf. Plus, forgive us, but Matt Berninger’s baritone is a close approximation to what we imagine Gandalf’s own singing voice would sound like, and everyone loves the sound of their own crooning.

“Kashmir” — Led Zeppelin

This is music for getting ready for an epic magical battle if we’ve ever heard it. Trust us.

“Grapefruit Juice Blues” — Michael Hurley

Gandalf’s not always into sweeping melodies and climactic chord progressions. He’s also just kind of this hip older gent trying to sit down for a minute, and like all hip older gents (and ladies), he would have to be into the uber-lax Michael Hurley.

“Tryst with Mephistopheles” — Owen Pallett

A disjointed, epic adventure song for an enigmatic, epic adventurer.

“Little Japan” — Los Lobos

Can’t you just see Gandalf doing a little lazy two step shuffle to this track after he’s had a little ale and pipeweed? Well, we can.

“Glass Jungle” — The Octopus Project

This is exactly the kind of bizarre, incomprehensible track that a modern Gandalf would quietly dissect while everyone else had no idea what was going on.

“Oh, Maker” — Janelle Monáe

We think Janelle Monáe’s creative aesthetic and tendency to morph into whatever she pleases would appeal to Gandalf on a basic level, even if the music isn’t exactly his cup of tea. Maybe he has a little crush? Just a theory!

“Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie” — Joanna Newsom

Gandalf would totally dig the weird, magical songs of Joanna Newsom. Plus, she’s basically an elf with a harp, right? She’d fit right in with the old crowd.

“White Wilderness” — John Vanderslice

Because even Gandalf gets lost in the woods sometimes.