The Five Wizards, of the Maiar race and part of the order of the Istari, were five beings whom the Valar sent to Middle-earth during the early part of the Third Age to aid the Free Peoples in their struggle against the rising power of Sauron. According to The Silmarillion, Maiar were angelic beings "of the same order as the Valar but of less degree."
In TA 1000, Manwë summoned a council of the Valar, proposing that they send three messengers to Middle-earth. Aulë sent Curumo (Saruman), while Oromë sent Morinehtar (Alatar). Manwë asked Olórin (Gandalf) to go as the third messenger, to which he replied that he was too weak and too fearful of Sauron to do so. Manwë commanded that Olórin go, and Yavanna begged Curumo to take Aiwendil (Radagast) with him.
Alatar the Blue – Little is known about him. Also known as Morinehtar, he was a huntsman who travelled with Saruman and Pallando; but where Saruman eventually returned to the Westlands, Alatar and Pallando remained in the east, and their fates are unknown.
Gandalf the Grey (later known as Gandalf the White) – Also known as Olórin, Tharkun, and Mithrandir, Gandalf was sent by Manwë to Middle-earth. When he arrived at the Grey Havens, Círdan recognized his power and entrusted him with Narya, the Red Ring (the Ring of Fire), to aid in the resistance against Sauron. Unlike Saruman and Radagast, Gandalf wandered throughout Middle-earth, learning of its people and creatures, and never settled down in a single place. He battled a Balrog of Morgoth during the War of the Ring, and while he came out victorious, his spirit left his body, but was sent back to Middle-earth in order to complete his task. In TA 3021, he finally left Middle-earth, departing over the Sea with the Ringbearers. In Peter Jackson's film adaptations of "The Lord of the Rings," Gandalf was played by Sir Ian McKellen.
Pallando the Blue – The last of the Five Wizards chosen by the Valar, Pallando (also known as Rómestámo, “Helper of the East”) was a friend of Alatar, and accompanied him across the Sea to Middle-earth. The two remained there together, both of them known as the Blue Wizards. They journeyed with Saruman into the eastern lands, but while Saruman eventually returned, Alatar and Pallando did not.
Saruman the White – Saruman (also known as Curunir or Curumo) was the first of the Five Wizards to arrive in Middle-earth, and therefore was regarded as the leader of the Order. After voyaging into the east with the Blue Wizards, Saruman settled into the Tower of Orthanc, and his desire for control over others led him to betray the White Council. The Five Wizards had been instructed not to dominate the people of Middle-earth or match Sauron’s power with power; in disobeying this order, Saruman was cast out of the order and banished from Valinor. He died at the hand of his own servant, Gríma Wormtongue. In Peter Jackson's film adaptations of "The Lord of the Rings," Saruman was played by Sir Christopher Lee.