We know Frodo was meant to have the Ring, but did Tolkien ever discuss Gandalf traveling through Moria and having his confrontation with the Balrog?

We know he initially pushed the Fellowship to go through Moria but this was voted against by the group and they first attempted the mountain passes. We also know Gandalf was unaware of what specifically the threat was that existed in Moria but did know there was something.

Did Gandalf want to discover the source of the threat in Moria, or was it divine intervention that led him there, or was it a coincidence that they happened upon the Balrog and he managed to destroy possibly the greatest threat other than Sauron to Middle-earth?

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    Was the Balrog really the greatest threat to Middle Earth other than Sauron? I don't think the Balrog could do basic take-over-the-earth things like raise an army or amass resources and powerful artifacts. He doesn't seem anywhere near the level of Smaug or Saruman. Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 20:58
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    You may want to clarify that you're asking about the books, since in the movie Gandalf was the one specifically against Moria whereas Gimli wanted to go that way and see his cousin. I know both, but it took me a minute to remember that difference.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 17:44
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    @Po-ta-toe - sorry, i know you lead by mentioning Tolkien, but was just trying to help.
    – Omegacron
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 18:04
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    @Xalorous Tolkien writes the ring was only destroyed because Eru stepped in, and that Gandalf was also sent back by him (avoiding a long rehabilitation in the halls of mandos)
    – user46509
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 15:38
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    @Xalorous According to lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Durin's_Bane, the balrog was a Maiar, and was corrupted by Melkor and entered his service. You seem to describe the balrog differently from Gandalf but the wiki makes it seem like they are quite similar in essence despite being so physically different. How is the balrog different from other maiar? Having been corrupted by Melkor, surely the balrog is evil. No?
    – Jeff
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 19:55

8 Answers 8


It was known that there was something dangerous in Moria. Glóin tells the Council of Elrond:

Glóin sighed. ‘Moria! Moria! Wonder of the Northern world! Too deep we delved there, and woke the nameless fear. Long have its vast mansions lain empty since the children of Durin fled. But now we spoke of it again with longing, and yet with dread; for no dwarf has dared to pass the doors of Khazad-dum for many lives of kings, save Thrór only, and he perished.

The Lord of the Rings Book Two, Chapter 2: The Council of Elrond
Page 240 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Single Volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

I don't believe that anyone in Middle Earth was aware that Durin's bane was, in fact a Balrog. In Letter 144, Tolkien writes

The Balrog is a survivor from the Silmarillion and the legends of the First Age. So is Shelob. The Balrogs, of whom the whips were the chief weapons, were primeval spirits of destroying fire, chief servants of the primeval Dark Power of the First Age. They were supposed to have been all destroyed in the overthrow of Thangorodrim, his fortress in the North. But it is here found (there is usually a hang-over especially of evil from one age to another) that one had escaped and taken refuge under the mountains of Hithaeglin (the Misty Mountains). It is observable that only the Elf knows what the thing is – and doubtless Gandalf.

The Letters of JRR Tolkien: Letter 144

We know that Aragorn foresaw that Gandalf would be in danger if he entered Moria. When Gandalf asks who will follow him into Moria, Aragorn warns him

‘I will,’ said Aragorn heavily. ‘You followed my lead almost to disaster in the snow, and have said no word of blame. I will follow your lead now – if this last warning does not move you. 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!’

The Lord of the Rings Book Two, Chapter 4: A Journey in the Dark
Page 297 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Single Volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

The fact that Gandalf enters Moria despite the warning doesn't mean he disbelieves it. Celeborn and Galadriel discuss this

‘Alas!’ said Celeborn. ‘We long have feared that under Caradhras a terror slept. But had I known that the Dwarves had stirred up this evil in Moria again, I would have forbidden you to pass the northern borders, you and all that went with you. And if it were possible, one would say that at the last Gandalf fell from wisdom into folly, going needlessly into the net of Moria.’

‘He would be rash indeed that said that thing,’ said Galadriel gravely. ‘Needless were none of the deeds of Gandalf in life. Those that followed him knew not his mind and cannot report his full purpose. But however it may be with the guide, the followers are blameless.

The Lord of the Rings Book Two, Chapter 7: The Mirror of Galadriel
Page 356 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Single Volume 50th Anniversary Edition)

So we have evidence that Gandalf and Aragorn knew that Gandalf would be in danger in Moria some time before he entered. I haven't found any writing of Tolkien's that confirms that this was meant to happen, but that would be in line with the way major events like this work. In other words, I believe Gandalf was always meant to sacrifice himself, although the details (like the Balrog) may have changed if things had gone otherwise.

While Tolkien dislikes allegory, we can certainly see the parallel between Gandalf's sacrifice and the Christian belief in the (always planned) death and resurrection of Jesus. And it is unlikely that this is accidental.

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    Why do we have evidence that he would die, if "die" is even the right word for an immortal spirit. All I see here is suggestions that something bad would happen, not that he'd die. Aragorn did not foresee his death, he just says a pretty vague "beware" and neither of the quoted elves even mentions death.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 9:21
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    @terdon Good point, I may have overstated it. However, considering the seriousness of the situation, Aragorn's warning has to be about something very important (the kind of thing we might loosely refer to as "as matter of life or death").
    – Blackwood
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 11:57
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    @terdon he died.
    – user46509
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 17:55
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    @Po-ta-toe I didn't say he didn't (although you could argue that death doesn't really have any meaning for anyone but the children of Illuvatar, 'death' means something completely different for elves, something else again for dwarves), my point was that none of the quotes in this answer in any way suggest death. Only some nameless danger.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 8:21
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    @terdon they suggest it to me. They're on a quest to mount doom, the land of Sauron, battling wolves, witch-kings, orcs, trolls etc so Gandalf is in mortal danger the whole journey. That the walk through Moria is worthy of a specific warning premonition says an awful, awful lot.
    – user46509
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 8:33

In the films, but perhaps not the book. It makes it clear that both Saruman and Gandalf know what lies in Moria. Saruman cuts off the other routes around the mountains to try and drive Gandalf before it.

"The Dwarves delved too greedily and too deep. You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dûm: Shadow and Flame!" -- Saruman

It is Gimli who wants to go through the mines initially, not Gandalf.

Gimli: "If anyone was to ask for my opinion, which I note they're not, I'd say we were taking the long way round. Gandalf, we could pass through the Mines of Moria. My cousin, Balin, would give us a royal welcome."

Gandalf: "No Gimli, I would not take the road through Moria unless I had no other choice."

I also think Gandalf is thinking about the Balrog as he says while they are approaching Moria

There are many powers in this world, for Good or for Evil. Some are greater than I am. And against some I have not yet been tested.

So the encounter with the Balrog is not a 'random' occurrence like Bilbo finding the ring, but a deliberate move in the chess game between Saruman and Gandalf.

So yes it was meant to happen but not in the same way that Bilbo was 'meant' to find the ring.

It could be this does not match what happens in the books, it has been a while, too long, since I read them.

I have asked this asking when Gandalf would have found out about the Balrog, it seems in the books he does not know.

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    Been a while since I read the books - that quote implies that Gimli didn't know Moria was abandoned. Is that the case? How? Hadn't it been abandoned for centuries?
    – Tin Wizard
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 17:30
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    Bilbo finding the ring random? :)
    – rogerdpack
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 17:44
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    In the books, Balin attempted to re-colonize Moria in 2989, but was killed by Orcs in 2994. His fate was unknown, though, and it was partly to discover what may have happened that Gloin and Gimli had travelled to Rivendell in 3018.
    – chepner
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 17:50
  • @Jeremy French "Saruman cuts off the other routes around the mountains to try and drive Gandalf before it". Another dumb decision by Saruman. Perhaps the underlying problem was that the Istari were meant to advice and encourage, not to act. Everything Saruman does ends badly for him. Gandalf, OTOH, avoids this trap. He doesn't heal Eowyn, Faramir, and Merry: he leaves it to Aragorn. OK, he kills orcs, but who doesn't? He only fights the Balrog because it as above Aragorn's pay grade. Commented Feb 4, 2023 at 23:07

There's no hint that the Balrog is any kind of wider threat. It has been resident in Moria for over a thousand years by this point, but no-one outside is even aware of its presence. Gandalf certainly never mentions addressing the threat as part or his reasoning for going through Moria.

This is contrary to Smaug, who was specifically called out as such in appendix A when Gandalf explains the back-story to the events of The Hobbit; he muses "The Dragon Sauron might use with terrible effect".

However I think you're mistaken in thinking that only certain things are "meant" to happen. The point of providence in Tolkien's Catholic belief is that it is behind everything that happens, good or bad.

For example, it is clear that Gandalf was "meant" to die. He needed to do so in order to be reborn as Gandalf The White. So whether or not he or a higher power intended to address the Balrog specifically, divine providence was certainly behind the events.

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    People are certainly aware something very powerful is in Moria, they just don't know the specifics.
    – user46509
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 9:21
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    The idea that everything was "meant" by Eru is in direct contradiction to the very fundamental Catholic idea that humans enjoy free will and can always choose to follow divine guidance or abandon it.
    – Buzz
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 21:39
  • @Buzz: Exactly! Divine Providence means something very different to Catholics and Calvinists. Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 1:25
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    @Buzz: In Tolkien's legendarium, the Eldar and the Ainur are bound by destiny, and only Men are truly free from it. This is not fatally estranged from Christian doctrine. While men have free will in Christian dogma, that dogma is silent on whether angels (whether fallen or not) have free will.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 4:34

Almost certainly. Just about everything in Arda is fated, bound to the theme of Ilúvatar in the music of the Ainur. A notable exception is the coming of Men. A few large events like that Ilúvatar kept to himself when he made the world, but the rest comes from the music.

"The Ainur know much of what was, and is, and is to come, and few things are unseen by them. Yet some things there are that they cannot see, neither alone nor taking counsel together; for to none but himself has Ilúvatar revealed all that he has in store, and in every age there come forth things that are new and have no foretelling, for they do not proceed from the past."

Which is to say, the music is pretty much everything except for a few aces up his sleeve Ilúvatar is holding. The rest is fated. So most likely Gandalf was fated to meet the Balrog.


In the books, it is during the Council of Elrond that Moria is discussed first:

Glóin sighed. "Moria! Moria! Wonder of the Northern world! Too deep we delved there, and woke the nameless fear."

If you remember, the name who nobody likes/wants/dares to say is Sauron, so this is a hint towards what kind of enemies could await them in Moria.

Further, before attempting the pass over the mountains, under the peak of Caradhras this discussion is going on:

Gandalf snuffed the air and looked back.

"Winter deepens behind us," he said quietly to Aragorn. "The heights away north are whiter than they were; snow is lying far down their shoulders. Tonight we shall be on our way high up towards the Redhorn Gate. We may well be seen by watchers on that narrow path, and waylaid by some evil; but the weather may prove a more deadly enemy than any. What do you think of your course now, Aragorn?"


"I think no good of our course from beginning to end, as you know well, Gandalf," answered Aragorn. "And perils known and unknown will grow as we go on. But we must go on; and it is no good our delaying the passage of the mountains. Further south there are no passes, till one comes to the Gap of Rohan. I do not trust that way since your news of Saruman. Who knows which side now the marshals of the Horse-lords serve?"

"Who knows indeed!" said Gandalf. "But there is another way, and not by the pass of Caradhras: the dark and secret way that we have spoken of."

"But let us not speak of it again! Not yet. Say nothing to the others I beg, not until it is plain that there is no other way."

So, one can conclude that Aragorn's plan was to go over the mountains, while Gandalf's plan was from the beginning to go under the mountains, being afraid to be seen by the enemies if they went above.

Later, after the unsuccessful attempt at the high pass near Caradhras, he is the one who proposes that they went to Moria, a road feared by all.

"The road that I speak of leads to the Mines of Moria," said Gandalf. Only Gimli lifted up his head; a smouldering fire was in his eyes. On all the others a dread fell at the mention of that name.

He also discussed that once he passed through Moria and can lead them and asked for everyone to agree to lead them there. There is a discussion that most of the orcs were already destroyed and scattered.

I can conclude that:

  • Gandalf planned to go through Moria from the beginning, hoping it will come out better then the other alternatives and they will manage to sneak out quietly.
  • He might have known or expected (due to recent discussions) that something had happened to Balin and his company and that it might have been due to a confrontation by some "nameless fear", and that it can be that they might be dead, but he still hoped to find a quiet pass and travel unseen.
  • So the confrontation with the Balrog was not part of the plan.
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    Certainly Gandalf didn't want to face the Balrog, I guess the question is was he fated to?
    – rogerdpack
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 17:48
  • Well, my point was that a series of planned, deliberate choices led them from Rivendell in Moria. They have been followed by many spies in the surroundings arround the entrance to Moria, from wolves, to the Watcher in the lake. So whatever was inside was aware they are near and waited. And they were also aware that there are spies and that at some point an ambush will await them. His fate was decided by the choice among the three passages and the stone that Pipin dropped down the well - as far as I recall these were the only random unplanned events, that could have changed his fate. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 22:18
  • @VangelAjanovski There's no way the Fellowship could know that the masters of the spies were in touch with the nameless fear within Moria. The reader has every reason to believe that they're reporting to Sauron, and later we learn that some of them are working on their own (Sméagol) and some are reporting to Saruman (the wolves). We have no reason at all to believe that Sauron is aware of, much less in contact with, the Balrog. The Balrog is a primeval spirit, and probably does not recognize any entity in the Third Age as worthy of respect or fear, and thus would not treat with Sauron.
    – Xalorous
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 15:35

As an addition to Blackwood's accepted answer, I want to remind you that all the trilogy heroes were on paths of their destiny. Just as it was said by Samwise The Stouthearted:

'[...] Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that's a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it — and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We've got — you've got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on. Don't the great tales never end?'

It's just like Aragorn's fate to fight for good or bitter end, hand in hand with Kings and Greatest of Middle-earth and to cross Path of Dead. He couldn't just ride to Minas Tirith and said "Hi I'm King".

In this sense of story it's obvious that Gandalf was meant to fight the Balrog and become Gandalf the White. Aragorn's passing of Path of Dead would easily turn to useless without Gandalf the White standing at the gate of Minas Tirith, impossible to pass by Lord of the Nazgûl and bringing light and hope in the morning which seemed to be the beginning of the day of doom.

Then suddenly Merry felt it at last, beyond doubt: a change. Wind was in his face! Light was glimmering. Far, far away, in the South the clouds could be dimly seen as remote grey shapes, rolling up, drifting: morning lay beyond them. But at that same moment there was a flash, as if lightning had sprung from the earth beneath the City. For a searing second it stood dazzling far off in black and white, its topmost tower like a glittering needle: and then as the darkness closed again there came rolling over the fields a great boom. At that sound the bent shape of the king sprang suddenly erect. Tall and proud he seemed again;

In fact the King of Angmar seems to me just a little doggy comparing to Gandalf the White, who in fact was direct enemy of Sauron.

Warm and eager was his spirit (and it was enhanced by the ring Narya), for he was the Enemy of Sauron, opposing the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles, and succours in wanhope and distress

Could you compare this to Gandalf the Gray, that runs before wolves in The Hobbit and threatened to flee from Weathertop by Nazgûl?

  • I agree that without his reforging in the fires of the balrog in the depths of Moria, Mithrandir would have remained Gandalf the Grey, and the story would not have ended well, but you are reverse engineering destiny into a sequence of events which were built by the author to put the characters where they needed to be. What I mean is that, "in universe" events unwound and we ended up with the ending we got, while "in the real world" Tolkein needed Gandalf to transform, so he shaped the story to include events in Moria where the transformation was placed.
    – Xalorous
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 15:20
  • Where are those quotes from? I do not remember them from The Lord of the Rings!
    – PJTraill
    Commented Jun 6, 2023 at 20:00
  • As far as i can remember it's from Unfinished Tales.
    – mmprog
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 9:07

If we accept the fact that Gandalf/Mithrandir/Olórin is a Maia (from When did Gandalf become a Maia?) and is a "secret enemy of the secret evils of Melkor", of which Balrogs were a significant part, then I think the argument could be made that yes, he was meant to face the Balrog. I think, this is partly responsible for his suggestion to take the path through Moria in the first place and I tend to disagree with @Blackwood, as significant evidence suggests that Tolkien thought of the the wizards as angelic beings. Which again, supports the idea of direct opposition to an ancient, existing evil.

  • I think that Gandalf wanted to cross the mountains by the quickest route possible, but allowed himself to be convinced to take the high mountain pass, due to Aragorn's arguments, and Gandalf's own suspicions of the true identity of Durin's Bane. Sort of, "I know you think something bad will happen to me, and I think Durin's Bane is a Really Bad Thing, and encountering it during passage through Moria could be disastrous, so we'll try it Aragorn's way." But then they end up without an acceptable option after trying to go over the pass, so they take the risk.
    – Xalorous
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 15:29

Depends if Saruman was also involved with the event meant to be happening. Was Gandalf meant to take over the role of the White Wizard or did that just happen as a result of the circumstances. If you look at the differences of how Bilbo was meant to have the ring and how Gandalf met the Balrog you can see that it wasn't the same. Bilbo found the ring by happenstance whilst hiding from the goblins. Gandalf, how knew that something ancient dwelled within the depths of Moria, was hounded there by Saruman since Gandalf was desperate to move the party forward over the mountain (presumably to the eagles) but when Saruman awakened the mountain and brought it down on them he was out-voted to go into Moria.

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    Saruman weakening he mountain is a movie invention
    – user46509
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 14:54
  • Thank you for the correction, we can therefore assume that the mountain itself didn't want them to pass.
    – Ormr Void
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 15:04
  • @Po-ta-toe True but there is mention of voices on the wind in the book that can be interpreted to be Saruman making the weather worse, and irritating the Giants.
    – Xalorous
    Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 15:39

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