As depicted in the film, Gandalf appeared to be shaken and in fear of the Balrog of Morgoth, even just as Saruman mentioned it. Why was this so? Did they have any previous encounters?

  • 18
    Gandalf should have feared; it did kill him, after all. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 0:29
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    Wouldn't you have feared that thing? 0.o
    – Kevin
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 15:21
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    I genuinely don't understand this question. Why wouldn't he, or anyone else, be afraid of an enormous demon who is more or less immortal?
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 20:29
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    Why is Superman afraid of Zod? Why is a Samurai afraid of another Samurai? Why is Batman afraid of... wait, Batman's not afraid of anything... Because he's BATMAN!
    – Möoz
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 22:29
  • As others have stated Gandalf's grand status as a Maia was irrelevant as the Balrog was also one, and all other indicators would suggest that the Balrog was more powerful (and these were very obvious indicators). Do you mean to ask "Why would Gandalf be afraid when he knows he's going to be resurrected"? Or "Did Gandalf think that the Balrog could annihilate his soul?" Perhaps you should ask "Why didn't Gandalf know he was going to be resurrected?"
    – Caston
    Commented May 31, 2023 at 20:53

8 Answers 8


Why would Gandalf be afraid of the Balrog? Well, it's a Balrog. It's a fearful thing. :)

More seriously, though, the Balrogs were terrifying beings, even for Gandalf and others of his level of power. The Balrogs are Maia as well, just as Gandalf and the rest of the Istari are. See here from the Valaquenta, the second book of the Silmarillion:

For of the Maiar many were drawn to his splendour in the days of his greatness, and remained in that allegiance down into his darkness; and others he corrupted afterwards to his service with lies and treacherous gifts. Dreadful among these spirits were the Valaraukar, the scourges of fire that in Middle-earth were called the Balrogs, demons of terror.

Not only are Balrogs on the same scale as Gandalf, they were beings of terror and fire to begin with, while Gandalf, for all his power, wasn't a warrior. He is described as "Wisest of the Maiar", and as a servant of Manwë, and of Nienna, and of Lórien, the Valar of wisdom and judgement and mercy and dreams, and not of Tulkas or Oromë, the more warlike Valar.

Additionally, you have to remember that in Tolkien's cosmology, older is always better. The world is always in a state of decay. The wonders of the Valar when the world was new could never be exceeded even by the greatest works of the elves in the First Age. Even Feanor's Silmarils were but an echo of the light of the trees. Likewise, the hands of Man of the Third Age could never produce works as fine as the Smiths of Eregion in the Second Age, and certainly not of the works of Feanor himself.

So keeping that in mind, we remember that the Balrogs were the Captains of Morgoth during the wars of the First Age. It took all the might of Ecthelion, Lord of the Fountain and one of the greatest captains of Gondolin and elvendom to defeat Gothmog, lord of the Balrogs, and he took him with him to his death.

So when Gandalf heard that a Balrog still lurks in the depth of Moria, of course he would be afraid. A Balrog is a terror of the First Age. And something that was a threat in the First Age would be an unstoppable terror in the Third.

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    Older? Yes, since he was a Maia, and presumably was born, or was created, alongside the rest of them. But not all Ainur were created equal. Olórin, as Gandalf was known in Valinor, was a servant of Manwë and Nienna, Valar known for their wisdom and mercy, not for their brawn. His Wikipedia page claims that he begged not to be sent among the Istari, for he lacked the power to resist Sauron, but I don't know where that is sourced. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 13:17
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    "But Olorin declared that he was too weak for such a task, and that he feared Sauron." -- from "The Istari", published in "Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth".
    – MLP
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 15:34
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    I love this answer. Much better than a simple "Balrogs are Maia".
    – Plutor
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 17:05
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    I generally agree, but things older are not always more powerful. Sauron's power, for example, waxed and waned under various circumstances: at certain times it grew tremendously. So the Balrog's power could have grown over the years, fed by who knows what, or just due to brooding in the dark—Tolkien is often vague about how power grows. As to their ranks, it's not Stratego: sometimes a lower rank can defeat a higher rank, e.g., mortals killed the Witch King. Even so, I agree with your main point that Balrogs were old and always extremely powerful beings, more than enough to terrorize Gandalf.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 18:15
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    Actually, they had a previous encounter in the burial chamber in Moria. Gandalf ties to bar the door with a spell and the states quite clearly that he was nearly destroyed when the Balrog countered it. This scene is completely missing from the movie, though Gandalf does lag after them and catch up.
    – horatio
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 14:47

Something that Avner's answer doesn't mention:

While Balrog and Gandalf are both Maiar, they are different ones:

  • Balrog still has a full power of a Maiar

  • Gandalf is in a mortal form, very deliberately stripped of most of his power, as his role was not to fight Sauron but to advise Men and Elves on the fight.

    Gandalf < Olorin - independently of how Olorin the Maia compares to Balrog the Maia.

  • 1
    I added it later, after the comments, but +1 for you anyway. :) Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 16:43
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    @AvnerShahar-Kashtan - your answer has a slightly different angle. You're saying he's less powerful as a Maia (quite rightly so), I'm saying that on top of that, Gandalf is not as powerful as Olorin the Maia, by design. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 16:51
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    Something else that seems pretty obvious but no-one has said it. Gandalf was simply afraid the Balrog would kill the Fellowship and capture the Ring. He wasn't concerned about his own personal safety, just that the quest would fail. Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 13:52
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    Aside from Gandalf < Balrog, the fact that they are both Maiar means that Gandalf knows exactly how powerful the Balrog is; he may have even known the particular Maia since before the world was created (they may have even been partial to a mug or 5 of Illuvatar's Ale down the local brewery). So the reason why he's afraid is because he's well aware of just what the Fellowship have just come up against.
    – user8719
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 23:48

I have no reference handy, but in the movie at least it was implied that Gandalf knew we would die if he went to Moria. Having foreseen his death, the Balrog surely seemed to be the cause. It reflects his great courage that he went to Moria anyway, and that he stood against the Balrog to buy the others time, though he knew it was suicide.

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    That's just an addition by the movie.
    – dlanod
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 23:26
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    @dlanod There is some level of foreshadowing about the fall of Gandalf in the books also, just not as explicit and direct. Before deciding to got through moria Aragorn says "It is not of the Ring, nor of us others that I am thinking now, but of you, Gandalf. And I say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware!" and after the fall "Did I not say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware? Alas that I spoke true!" although no mention of a balrog is made until they are in front of them. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 23:09
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    I personally read that as flagging Moria as a dangerous and hazardous route rather than as a hazard for Gandalf.
    – dlanod
    Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 0:02
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    @dlanod Yes I have to agree with you, that Aragorn wasn't telling a death omen, a vague warning only, but directed at Gandalf. That's why I said foreshadowing. But then again although Peter Jackson Gandalf looks afraid I never read any form of fear in the real Gandalf. I failed to find a fast quote of the scene at the moment, But I always read that Gandalf simply complains something like "A Balrog... now that I am tired?" when he sees the Balrog. Considering the power of a Balrog, and that Gandalf is in mortal form, that is Totally awesome and a powerfull attitude not a fearfull suicidal one. Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 12:34
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    The book makes it absolutely crystal clear that Gandalf did NOT know there was a Balrog in Moria. He didn't even realise it was a Balrog after feeling its terrible power overcoming his closing spell on a door. It was only when they were at the bridge when it finally emerged that he recognised it. "'A Balrog,' muttered Gandalf. 'Now I understand.'" Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 13:48

We don't know the entire history of Gandalf. But he does know how powerful and dangerous Balrogs are - probably more so than most other beings in ME. I suspect it was nothing more than a realisation that here was a foe worthy of him.

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    @haylem - "We don't know the entire history of Gandalf." is not just not well researched, it's wrong Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 16:26
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    But we don't. We know a lot of the history, but there are definately portions of his life that are not documented. During which he may well have encountered Balrogs. Or information about them. Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 17:30
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    @DVK: no. Without even being aware of the whole "universe", I really doubt all the books and additional supports cover every minute of Gandalf apparently very long life. That's just pedantic.
    – haylem
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 18:01
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    So somewhere within his reasearches, there was a good chance that he encountered what balrogs were, and so knew the danger they presented. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 10:56
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    He wasnt called the wisest of the maia for his lore on hobbits of course he knew exactly what a balrog was
    – turinsbane
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 5:57

He would have known of the Balrog's presence as it was "Durin's Bane": the Dwarves delved too deep and awoke the Balrog that drove them from Moria in the first place. Also I think it's said somewhere that Manwë forbade the Istari to go to Middle-earth clothed in power to fight against Sauron, but rather to inspire the peoples of Middle-earth to unite.

  • 2
    That some powerful thing destroyed Moria and drove out the Dwarves of Moria was known. That this thing was a Balrog of Morgoth was not known to anyone until Gandalf met him and put 2 and 2 together.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 22:20
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    @Oldcat - Technically, it was Legolas who put two and two together. He was the first person to recognize Durin's Bane for what it was: "Ai! ai! A Balrog! A Balrog is come!"
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 20:32

Not all Maiar are created equally (and even less so than all Valar)... for instance, Gandalf was not keen on his mission to contest the will of Sauron, because he was afraid of him (sorry, can't remember the page I am referencing), and he (Olórin ... one who dreams alone) took the assignment reluctantly... much like the other reluctant heroes in the book: Frodo (a pacifist who does not seek heroism, Aragorn, who second-guesses his choices, Sam, who is armed only with his loyalty... Tolkien's message seems to be that the meek shall inherit (or at least save) the Earth.

Gandalf is probably an older primordial spirit than is the balrog, but his role is to encourage rather than to fight...he sacrificed himself for the company, because he had faith in the plan of Ilúvatar to not reject his creation. For that faith, he was returned and exalted.


Gandalf would probably have known about the Balrog, however, he had forgotten things before In the course of the story. He didn't remember Isildurs writings about the inscription until years after he knew of the Ring. Remember that, in the book at least, he even helped Bilbo on his way by adding a flash to his disappearance at the long expected party? So how do we know that he didn't just forget this as well? After all, I can't remember my homework from yesterday if I tried, imagine how much harder it would be at his age!

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    So he probably would have known about the Balrog, but had forgotten about it - and that's why he was afraid of it?
    – phantom42
    Commented Jul 19, 2013 at 14:51

Gandalf had seen a vision that we would die at the hands (hooves?) of a balrog. The warning that he would meet his end at Moria became an obvious intersection when he realized a balrog was coming.

  • I assume this is from the movie. Where does that happen? I don't remember it.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 19:59
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    Can you cite your references, please?
    – brain56
    Commented Jan 15, 2013 at 6:23
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    -1, movie nonsense, not relevant to the real story.
    – user8719
    Commented Mar 28, 2013 at 23:45

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