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Gandalf was promoted to a White wizard after his body was destroyed in the battle with the Balrog.

This was done mainly to replace Saruman as he had joined Sauron (or at least swayed significantly from his path as protector of Middle Earth) so it had already become a necessity to find a replacement by this time.

It is shown (in the movie at least, I am not sure about the book) that it was chance that they even met the Balrog, who just happened to be there, and it might even have been possible for them to out run it.

So if they had been able to outrun it, or had not stuck around long enough to meet him there in the first place, so that Gandalf did not have to get his body destroyed by fighting him, would he still have been promoted to the Head of the White Council?

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No, because he'd still be alive and be Gandalf the Grey. –  Meat Trademark Mar 16 at 7:29

3 Answers 3

up vote 35 down vote accepted

Probably not.

Tolkien's description of the outcome is most fully described in Letter 156, where we read:

For in his condition it was for him a sacrifice to perish on the Bridge in defence of his companions, less perhaps than for a mortal Man or Hobbit, since he had a far greater inner power than they; but also more, since it was a humbling and abnegation of himself in conformity to 'the Rules': for all he could know at that moment he was the only person who could direct the resistance to Sauron successfully, and all his mission was vain. He was handing over to the Authority that ordained the Rules, and giving up personal hope of success.

That I should say is what the Authority wished, as a set-off to Saruman. The 'wizards', as such, had failed; or if you like: the crisis had become too grave and needed an enhancement of power. So Gandalf sacrificed himself, was accepted, and enhanced, and returned.

So from this you can see that the promotion was a direct result of the sacrifice, and the sacrifice was necessary so that the "Authority" (i.e Eru) could intervene.

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Heck, them encountering the Balrog might even be part of Eru's plans. –  Terry Chia Mar 16 at 12:42
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Only problem with that idea (meeting the Balrog was part of Eru's plan) indicates a bit of predestination and abdication of free will. I am not certain Tolkien would have meant to imply that. –  Thaddeus Mar 17 at 0:47
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@Thaddeus: If you look at how he wrote the 'song' origin myth, and how he would talk about the powers retaining foreknowledge, I don't think a little predestination would have been a problem. –  Michael Shaw Mar 17 at 5:58
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"And some have said that the vision ceased ere the fulfilment of the Dominion of Men and the fading of the Firstborn" - so even if it was pre-destined, Gandalf wouldn't have known (Eru would have, of course). –  Jimmy Shelter Mar 17 at 14:48

As a fan of Tolkien and particularly of the LOTR saga, I always felt that the transformation of Gandalf the Grey into the White Wizard were influenced by Saruman's deviation from his role in the White Council.

When he abandoned the very nature of his power trying to rise to the highest levels of magic and created the need of a new figure as "The White Wizard".

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yes. Though he might have been less inclined to take on the title rather than (just) the responsibilities. –  jwenting Mar 17 at 9:09

I think a Doylist answer is more useful here...Tolkien wanted someone like Gandalf the White, he had Gandalf the Grey, but Gandalf the Grey from the Hobbit was too little, too limited. Not the strong and wise Maia he wanted, so he needed a scene to justify promoting him to something more powerful.

Plotwise, it was also necessary for Aragorn to take full responsibility for the Fellowship for a time, seemingly killing Gandalf accomplished that.

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It also kept Gandalf from having to decide himself which way to go on at the falls. It would have been a lot more questionable for Gandalf to not go with Frodo to Mordor. –  Oldcat Mar 17 at 18:29

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