As was discussed previously, it is known that Istari were meant to inspire and guide the mortals of Middle Earth in the fight against Sauron.

Does the fight against Balrog in Moria violate that "rule"/"guideline"?

If so, why did Eru restore Gandalf back to life after?

If not, is there a canon confirmation that it was NOT against the rules (aside from circumstantial evidence I noted, namely that Gandalf was restored, promoted and given seemingly greater powers; instead of being punished/demoted)?

I'm guessing it was within the rules since Balrog was a servant of Melkor, not Sauron; and Istari's limitations were on fighting Sauron directly, but at the moment it's a guess not backed up by canon sources.

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    I think the "rule" is that they can't directly use their powers against Sauron, akin to knocking on his door and wiping him out. They are allowed to fight though, and suffice it to say I am sure the guideline made room for them being able to defend themselves.
    – NominSim
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 17:37
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    @NominSim - this is my impression of it as well, but I want actual canon lines where it's spelled out to confirm that my impression is correct Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 18:27

2 Answers 2


No, but not directly because of the power of the Balrog but rather because of the threat the Balrog posed to the successful destruction of the Ring.

In Letter 156, Tolkien wrote about Gandalf:

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.

Gandalf's ultimate mission was the resistance of Sauron. In this particular case, the only option for Gandalf to ensure there was any hope of resisting Sauron was to not allow the Ring to fall into his hands, or that of other evil beings. And so he sacrificed his life to ensure that was not the case.

The term 'sacrifice' is key here, I feel. If Gandalf had merely defeated the Balrog without dying himself, it meant that Gandalf had exerted his own power unnecessarily and/or excessively and so be viewed as his failure. But because Gandalf and the Balrog were evenly matched, it was by definition a foe that only Gandalf could face and a threat to the Fellowship that he was willing to sacrifice himself to, so that the mission and the overall quest to defeat Sauron could go on. Even though, as Tolkien points out, Gandalf could very well have believed that only he could have ensured Sauron's defeat and used that as a justification for not facing the Balrog and instead escaping his fate.

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    That's the impression I get too whenever I read that letter (I've read it more than once): sacrifice. It is what allowed him to return as Gandalf the White, too, if memory serves me right.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Dec 26, 2017 at 22:36

No. This would not have been a violation of that rule, since by definition, the Balrog was a weapon from an earlier time and completely beyond the scope of his initial instruction set of "inspire men to their own greatness." This was clearly a threat Men were not sufficient to handle. Given the state of Middle Earth at this point, there were few forces who could have had any chance at all against the creature.

According to The Silmarillion, the Valaraukar (which were called Balrogs in Middle-Earth) were a type of Maiar that were "scourges of fire". They were seduced by the evil Vala Melkor, who corrupted them to his service in the days of his splendour before the making of Arda.

Since this creature was a Maiar, it was at least in the same class of entity as Gandalf and on Middle-Earth would have been considered a Power just below Sauron, himself, who was also a Maiar.

Balrogs are described as tall and menacing with the ability to shroud themselves in fire, darkness, and shadow. They frequently appeared armed with fiery whips "of many thongs", and occasionally used long swords. In Tolkien's later conception, they could not be casually destroyed; significant power was required. Only dragons rivalled their capacity for ferocity and destruction, and during the First Age of Middle-earth, they were among the most feared of Morgoth's forces.

This justified the use of Gandalf's full capability to dispatch this weapon of destruction at up to and including the cost of his life. For such a being to find its way to Sauron would have certainly given him a potent and incomparably powerful weapon. No, it wasn't the One Ring, but it would have certainly made a lethal lieutenant leading Sauron's war machine.

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