LotR: Why Did Gandalf Let Go at Khazad-dûm? As Explained by Tolkien Himself

gandalf fall

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The storyline of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is deep and vast due to how the history of Middle-earth spans thousands of years. However, the War of the Ring was the most eventful out of all of the different events in Middle-earth, and we know that Gandalf guided the Fellowship of the Ring through the mines of Moria so that they could help Frodo get to Mordor to destroy the Ring. But in Moria, they ran into trouble when the Balrog called Durin’s Bane attacked them and forced Gandalf to fall down the ruined bridge of Khazad-dûm. So, why did Gandalf let go at Khazad-dûm?

  • Article Breakdown:
  • Gandalf let go at Khazad-dûm because he had to in order for him to fight and defeat the Balrog of Moria.
  • According to JRR Tolkien’s letter, Gandalf needed to pass a series of moral tests, and choosing to sacrifice himself was one of the tests that he passed.
  • Gandalf needed to defeat Durin’s Bane because leaving it alone would have been dangerous to Middle-earth. 

Why did Gandalf let go?

One of the things that we were able to see in ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ both in the books and the movies, was that Gandalf was the “angel” that the Fellowship of the Ring and the rest of Middle-earth needed to fight the growing threat of Sauron’s darkness. While there were five of the Istari (Wizards) sent to Middle-earth to help guide the people against the darkness, Gandalf was the only one who did his job.

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Of course, we know that Gandalf was instrumental in guiding the Fellowship of the Ring during the initial phase of the mission to destroy the One Ring. But things turned south when they had to go through the Mines of Moria because they attracted the attention of the Balrog of Moria called Durin’s Bane.

When Gandalf sensed the Balrog was approaching, he told the rest of the Fellowship that this foe was beyond them. What he meant by that was that this beast was so much more powerful than all of the members of the Fellowship except Gandalf. As such, he wanted to keep his allies safe from this monster so they could continue their quest to guide Frodo to Mordor.


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Then again, the Balrog caught up with them, and that was when Gandalf destroyed the Bridge of Khazad-dûm to prevent the Balrog from reaching the Fellowship. Nevertheless, the Balrog’s whip was able to reach Gandalf as the creature was falling down. In effect, Gandalf found himself clinging to the edge of the ruined bridge as the Goblins in the mines were peppering the Fellowship with arrows.

Frodo tried to get Gandalf to save him, but the Wizard simply told him to run as he let go. Essentially, he let go on purpose even though he had the option of holding on long enough for his allies to rescue him. But why did Gandalf let go at Khazad-dûm?

In one of the letters (Letter 156) penned by J.R.R. Tolkien, he explained Gandalf’s sacrifice well. Here is an excerpt of the summary of the letter:

“Why the Istari took physical form is bound up with the “mythology.” At the time of the War of the Ring their purpose was to limit and hinder any exhibition of their “power” in Middle-earth and instead to train, advise, instruct, and arose hearts and minds of others to oppose Sauron, and not do the job for them. Thus, they came as “old” sages. However, in his “mythology” all “angels” were capable of many degrees of error, especially the incarnated ones. Gandalf alone passed all moral tests while sometimes committing mistakes of judgment. When he fell, it was both less of a sacrifice than for a Man or a Hobbit (since he had greater inner power) and more because he was humbling himself in conformity to “the Rules” (giving up hope for personal success).

What Gandalf did was what the Authority wished. The “wizards” were failures as they had been and needed enhancement to match the gravity of the crisis. Gandalf’s sacrifice was accepted, so he was returned in an enhanced state (more power and wisdom). The old Gandalf could not have dealt with Théoden or Saruman as he was able after his enhancement. He still concealed his power except when the Enemy’s power was too great.”

Basically speaking, Tolkien explained that Gandalf and the Wizards were sent to Middle-Earth limited in terms of their power because the “Authority,” Eru Ilúvatar, needed to find out if they were ready and willing to commit to their roles of guiding the people of Middle-earth. Gandalf, the only one committed to his role, was the only one who passed all of the “moral tests” that Ilúvatar had for the Istari. Still, he thought that Gandalf sometimes committed mistakes of judgment even though he was always pure in his desire to help out the people of Middle-earth.

gandalf khazad dum

So, by sacrificing himself in Khazad-dûm, Gandalf showed that he was humbling himself. Other than Frodo, he was arguably the most important member of the Fellowship because he was more powerful than any of them. But by choosing to sacrifice himself instead of allowing any of his allies to help him, he showed the humility that Ilúvatar was looking for.

As such, Gandalf’s sacrifice and eventual death at the hands of the Balrog of Moria was able to enhance his powers and wisdom


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But he wasn’t even aware that this was going to happen because the only thing he cared about was to keep his allies safe from the Balrog. Gandalf only sacrificed himself because he knew that this was the right thing to do. As a result, Ilúvatar saw how humble and worthy Gandalf was of greater power. He used his enhanced power and wisdom to help end Sauron by guiding the people of Middle-earth during the War of the Ring.

Why did Gandalf fight Durin’s Bane?

We all know that Gandalf survived the fall when he let go at Khazad-dûm. But instead of actually rejoining the Fellowship, he decided to pursue and fight Durin’s Bane. And there’s a good reason for that.

gandalf vs balrog

As mentioned, Gandalf said that Durin’s Bane was beyond any of the members of the Fellowship because this was the truth. Like Gandalf, Balrogs were one of the Maiar, who are angelic spirits serving the Valar over at Valinor. However, the Balrogs became corrupt after joining Gothmog thousands of years ago. Durin’s Bane was the last of the Balrogs as he ran away from the War of Wrath at the end of the First Age and spent thousands of years sleeping in Moria.

Because Durin’s Bane was a Maia, it had no business on Middle-earth as it needed to be sent back to Valinor to face justice. That was why Gandalf needed to pursue the beast and defeat it. He understood what kind of danger this posed to Middle-earth, and allowing it to wreak havoc or even join up with Sauron would prove catastrophic.


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Gandalf had no choice but to end this monster because that was the right thing to do. As mentioned by Tolkien in Letter 156, Gandalf and the Istari were limited in what they could do and the powers they could use unless they were up against a foe that required them to use their powers. In this case, Gandalf saw Durin’s Bane as the one enemy he could use his full power on because they were both Maiar. And slaying the foe and dying in the process proved to be a sacrifice worth Ilúvatar’s attention.

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