Who were the Istari?
From: The Tolkien FAQ by William D.B. Loos
The Wizards were Maiar (spiritual beings of lower "rank" than the Valar) sent to Middle-earth by the Valar in human form as Messengers to help in the struggle against Sauron: the term "incarnate angel" is approximately correct. Being incarnated limited their power, and intentionally so, because their mission was to organise the resistance and to inspire the peoples of Middle-earth to help themselves, not to do the job for them. Their main temptation, then, was to try to speed up the process by dominating other free wills - a principle reason for their mission was to prevent such actions by Sauron.
It was said that there were Five Wizards in the Order, but only three came into the story:
Gandalf was the only one who remained true to his mission, and in the end succeeded in bringing about Sauron's defeat. He was also the keeper of the Elven Ring Narya, the Red Ring (the Ring of Fire).
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