When the Fellowship are on the side of the mountain and arguing about which direction to take- continue on or turn back, Gandalf says:

"Let the ring bearer decide."

Why does Gandalf say that?

He knows that Frodo has enough on his plate, what with taking the ring all the way to Mordor, so why add to his problems by making Frodo decide the way to go?

This link says that Gandalf the Grey is the leader of the fellowship because he is the wisest, most powerful, and bravest. A leader must decide where to go and what to do next. Now the question is: why Gandalf the Grey let Frodo Baggins to decide where to go?

Frodo is not the leader of the Fellowship. He is just the Ring-Bearer who volunteered to destroy the ring. But if Frodo is the leader then he must choose the way the Fellowship must go and what course of action needs to be taken.

  • 2
    He says it's because he's the ring bearer...
    – Edlothiad
    Apr 25, 2017 at 16:16
  • 1
    He did it for the lulz.
    – void_ptr
    Apr 25, 2017 at 16:17
  • 4
    In the novel it was Gandalf's idea, after several days of travel attempting to get through the pass. My guess is that Boyens/Jackson wanted to short-cut that scene by making it Frodo's decision
    – Valorum
    Apr 25, 2017 at 16:33
  • 2
    With all seriousness, yes, the novel has Gandalf utilizing rational reasoning about the corridors' angle of inclination, temperature of air coming out of there, and such. It's not the only scene that got butchered in the movie, and replaced with something nonsensical.
    – void_ptr
    Apr 25, 2017 at 16:37
  • 1
    I thought it was suggested several times that Frodo is the leader of the Fellowship, and that Gandalf is really only there to advise him. Several times we see everyone from Elrond to Galadriel defer to his decisions. "I will take the Ring though I know not the way." I think this was largely because no one wanted to carry thing to Mordor and they probably felt some guilt over leaving that burden to Frodo to bear. Everyone at the Council of Elrond avoided it, and Galadriel also refused Frodo's offer of the Ring.
    – J Doe
    Apr 25, 2017 at 17:24

4 Answers 4

      We must get off the mountain! Make for
      the gap of Rohan and take the West road
      to my city.
      The Gap of Rohan takes us too close to
      We cannot pass over the mountain. Let us
      go under it. Let us go through the mines
      of Moria. Gandalf has a concerned look on
      his face.         
      Let the ringbearer decide.** 

From the film Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (script) http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Lord-of-the-Rings-Fellowship-of-the-Ring,-The.html

This scene is not inside the books.

A likely but speculated answer would be:

Peter Jackson added it to emphasise on the importance of Frodo as the ringbearer. Essentially, wherever Frodo goes, the Company would follow him, as he is the one destined to carry the ring and deliver it to Mordor. Elrond defines the roles of the other 8 here:

The others go with him as free companions, to help him on his way.

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring - The Ring goes South

This is supported in a QnA session:

Question: When the Fellowship are on the side of the mountain and arguing about which direction to take, Gandalf says "Let the ring bearer choose". Why does Gandalf say that? He knows that Frodo has enough on his plate, what with taking the ring all the way to Mordor, so why add to his problems by making Frodo decide the way to go?

Answer: Because, like it or not, he's the leader of this quest. Gandalf is only a guide; Aragorn,Boromir,Legolas, and Gimli are Frodo's guardians, while the other three Hobbits are simply companions. Besides, Frodo's the one carrying the increasingly burdensome ring. If he thinks one path easier than another then that's his call.

Source: https://www.moviemistakes.com/entry160709

In the book however, it is a different matter. On the pass of Caradhras, the Company is assailed by the bad weather: biting winds and lots of snow.

he heard Bilbo's voice speaking. I don't think much of your diary, he said. Snowstorms on January the twelfth: there was no need to come back and report that!

Later on in the day (night-time then) when dawn came, they made the decision.

Gimli looked up and shook his head. 'Carahras has not forgiven us,' he said. 'He has more snow yet to fling at us, if we go on. The sooner we go back and down the better.' To this all agreed, but their retreat was now difficult. It might well prove impossible.

In the book, the decision to retreat back down Caradhras was made by the whole Company, and not solely by Frodo or Gandalf.

  • 1
    +1 for the book-related aspects of your answer. But can you provide any evidence for your statement: Peter Jackson added [the moment of decision] to emphasise on the importance of Frodo as the ringbearer.? Did Jackson say that in a commentary, for example? May 9, 2017 at 10:31
  • Did a bit of digging, and I managed to find it. I've edited it in my answer. :)
    – Voronwé
    May 9, 2017 at 11:31
  • 1
    I'm not sure if the moviemistakes Q&A is an authoritative source, @Voronwe - it looks as if it works a bit like StackExchange, with people putting up there own speculations as answers? May 9, 2017 at 11:57
  • 1
    Hmmm, it does seem that way. Unfortunately I can't find any replies by Peter Jackson and crew on that question. I'll edit in the fact that this is a speculative answer
    – Voronwé
    May 9, 2017 at 12:00
  • Voronwe,So Boromir is also Frodo's guardian? May 10, 2017 at 19:04

Gandalf is afraid; he gives the decision to Frodo as an act of surrender to his fate

The movie portrays Gandalf trying at all costs to avoid entering the Mines of Moria, instead opting for the dangerous pass of Cahadras.

Meanwhile Saruman is interfering directly in the Fellowship's mission, using his magic to stir up violent weather and rockfalls on Cahadras.

Saruman: "So, Gandalf, you try to lead them over Caradhras. And if that fails, where then will you go?"

The Fellowship become aware that powerful forces are working against them. Gandalf tries to use magic to calm the spiritual forces at work, but Saruman's magic is overpowering on this occasion. The party begin to consider entering the Mines of Moria. Saruman knows that Gandalf knows what will likely happen if they take this route.

[In Gandalf's eyes there is a shadow of doubt, of fear that lies unsaid. He is conflicted.]

Saruman (voiceover): "Moria… You fear to go into those mines."

[Saruman sits in his study in Orthanc, reading a page in a book of lore written in a strange tongue.]

Saruman: "The Dwarves delved too greedily and too deep."

[On Caradhras, Gandalf's eyes glint, fearful.]

Saruman: "You know what they awoke in the darkness of Khazad-dûm:"

[Saruman turns to another page, revealing a mysterious form drawn as blackness and deep fire, with two sparks in the midst of the flame and dark, like eyes.]

Saruman: "Shadow and Flame!"

[On the mountain, Gandalf speaks.]

Gandalf (grimly): "Let the Ring bearer decide."

Gandalf knows in his heart that the path through Moria is the only one left open. He has risked the whole party life and limb to avoid a confrontation with the Balrog. However, he cannot quite bring himself to choose that dread confrontation freely. Instead, he offers the choice to Frodo as a way of (in effect) surrendering the decision. Bound by his allegiance to the Ring Bearer, Gandalf can then find the courage to enter Moria and meet his fate.

NB: Script/reconstruction above from www.tk421.net.


Overall in the Tolkien universe to its important to note that Gandalf is a Maiar, a lesser god/angel/etc so often you will see Gandalf 'pass' along choices to those whom have more at stake in an effort to allow the peoples of middle earth to explore their own fates and destinies with a free will and of their own volition.

  • I think that you have a point here, but there are other pressures involved in this particular decision (i.e. the imminent fatal confrontation with the Balrog) that your answer ignores. May 9, 2017 at 9:06

Gandalf wasn't asking Frodo, he was asking the One Ring.

At that point of the story, the Fellowship faced two options of equally unknown danger: (a) Travel through the freezing mountains or (b) travel through the baelrog and orc-infested mines. Gandalf legitimately didn't know which would be more dangerous, and he knew more than anyone else in the party, except maybe one other. The only person who wanted to get to Mount Doom more than Gandalf did, was the One Ring that Frodo had.
The Ring wanted to go to Mt. Doom and be reunited with Sauron, and Gandalf also knew that Frodo would be at least somewhat susceptible to the Ring's influence. So Gandalf wasn't relying on the wisdom of a Hobbit who had never left the Shire, Gandalf was relying on the motivation of the One Ring to go to Mt. Doom. The Fellowship ending up frozen in the mountains would have made it almost impossible for the Ring to be reunited with it's master (Who the hell goes up to the frozen mountains?), so the only way the Ring would choose the mountains is if it thought the Fellowship was likely to succeed through there. The Ring picked the Mines because it either worried that the Fellowship was going to die in the mountains, or because it hoped that they would get captured in the Mines. It was a coin-toss for Gandalf because he honestly didn't know which would be more dangerous.

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