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In The Two Towers, when Gandalf meets Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli for the first time since the Balrog encounter, he briefly gives some details of the encounter which to me are (perhaps intentionally) vague. In particular though when Gwaihir finds him, Gandalf tells of this exchange of words

Gandalf: '"Do not let me fall!" I gasped, for I felt life in me again. "Bear me to Lothlorien!"'

Gwaihir: "That indeed is the command of the Lady Galadriel who sent me to look for you."

The text implies that Gandalf had indeed died but had been returned to Middle-earth, possibly by the Valar (this at least is how I read it but I am happy to be corrected). My question is how does Galadriel know of this to send Gwaihir looking for him? Does she suspect that he has survived the encounter or does she somehow know that he will be returned? Is it to do with the fact that they both bear one of the three rings, or something to do with Galadriel's mirror or something else entirely? Is any explanation for this given for this outside of the LOTR trilogy?

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    Good question. I hadn't noticed that before. Gandalf definitely did die, and was sent back by the intervention of Eru himself. – dlanod Jul 25 '12 at 8:02
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    Just to correct you on one point. Gandalf did die, but was sent back not by the Valar but by Eru himself. Gandalf says, when he describes what happened with the Balrog to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli: "Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell." Since he strayed out of time, this means (and Tolkien clarifies this in letter 156) that he went outside of the domain of the Valar - who, since they went down into Arda, are bound to time until the end of the world. This means that only Eru could have been responsible for sending bac – Daniel Roseman Jul 25 '12 at 8:29
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    Yes, there's a published collection of Tolkien's letters, edited by Humphrey Carpenter who also wrote a very good biography of Tolkien. Both are well worth reading - several of the letters go into great detail about some of the concepts in his writings. – Daniel Roseman Jul 25 '12 at 21:43
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    Is it possible that Gwaihir was sent to retrieve Gandalf's body? The exchange would make sense in that context as well. – Gieron Jul 26 '12 at 7:09
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    A fax. A Shadowfax, to be precise. – Chris B. Behrens Aug 7 '14 at 21:58
68

We have to extrapolate here as it isn't explicitly explained. One incident in the Fellowship of the Ring may have prompted Galadriel to ask Gwaihir to look for Gandalf:

At once the mirror cleared and he saw a twilit land. Mountains loomed dark in the distance against a pale sky. A long grey road wound back out of sight. Far away a figure came slowly down the road, faint and small at first, but growing larger and clearer as it approached. Suddenly Frodo realised that it reminded him of Gandalf. He almost called out the Wizard's name, and then saw that the figure was clothed not in grey but in white, in a white that shone faintly in the dusk; and in it's hand there was a white staff. The head was so bowed that he could not see the face, and presently the figure turned aside round a bend in the road and went out of the mirror's view. Doubt came into Frodo's mind: was this a vision of Gandalf on one of his many lonely journeys long ago, or was it Saruman?

Frodo saw that in the Mirror of Galadriel while she was also present. She may have identified Gandalf explicitly (unlike Frodo who was uncertain) and, knowing he had not worn white in the past, assumed it may show the future and hence heralded his return as Gandalf the White. Given that, Gwaihir was sent to look for him.

That is the only incident in the book that would provide even a partial explanation. Other potential reasons include communications/knowledge via the Elven Rings (as you mention), some other vision in the Mirror, some communication from the Valar somehow, or even just hope.

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    Good answer. The subtle link between "the Wise" is never explained (sensibly). – WOPR Jul 25 '12 at 13:42
  • Thanks, that makes a little more sense now. I had forgotten that part of Frodos vision in the mirror. – bazz Jul 25 '12 at 18:45
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    Galadriel to Legolas: "Needless were none of the deeds of Gandalf in life. We do not yet know his full purpose". This was spoken well before Frodo had chance to look into the Mirror of Galadriel. – user23715 May 10 '14 at 23:22
  • ...And yeah, I know in the book it was Galadriel to Celeborn, but the intent and apparent insight by Galadriel are there in both accounts (book and movie). – user23715 May 10 '14 at 23:28
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Another possible explanation would be that the owners of the Three Rings are aware of eachother. Both Galadriel and Gandalf bore one of the Three.

  • I think you are correct. It isn't a flashy answer, but I know that each wearer of the Three were known to each other, just by virtue of wearing one of the Three Rings. I don't have anything to cite as to whether each would be aware if the other had died, unfortunately. – Ellie Kesselman Dec 9 '12 at 10:44
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I have always read it the same way - that he died but was returned (or not permitted to die). If this was the case, I am not surprised that the most senior Elven leader in Middle-Earth was made aware of this, as it would be an unusual occurrence.

Having said that, we are not told, AFAIR, the life-cycle of the Istari - whether they are elven-like or man-like, what happens to them when they die, etc.

It is also possible that "I felt life in me again" was just that he had fallen and recovered eventually - life more in the sense of animation than actual life, meaning he did not die. I suspect that Galadriel was watching the events with interest anyway, and would have seen - either with the Mirror, through the ring connection, or with other abilities - some of the events. She may even have been able to see Gandalf's fall and known that, whatever the result, his body needed to come to Lothlorien.

So I don't believe there is a clear answer given, but I do know that the powers of the Elven lords were far greater than we see in the trilogy. They did keep a track of significant events across Middle-Earth for, if nothing else, their own protection.

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    On the life-cyle of the Istari, we do see Saruman die in quite an emphatic manner, and Gandalf was definitely a special case. – dlanod Jul 25 '12 at 8:15
  • @dlanod An even better example of Maiar death would be the Balrog. – Richard Jul 25 '12 at 8:28
  • @dlanod - I think it is clear that all beings can die. It is more a case of what happens then, and whether they can be returned. The whole death/immortality both as gifts theme is one that fascinates me, because it is very well thought out, IMO. And Luthien and Beren were returned to the world after death, so JRRT does include re-incarnation in his world-view. – Schroedingers Cat Jul 25 '12 at 13:18
  • @Richard And even better example of Maiar death would be Sauron. :) – Lexible May 20 '15 at 5:20
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Just as Gil-Galad was aware of both Sauron's ring and his intentions, I don't think it's too far of a stretch to for Galadriel to be aware of Gandalf's travails and move quickly to his aid when he returned to life. Having been born in Valinor, it's likely that she also knew that Gandalf was Maiar and that his physical body contained an even mightier spirit.

1

Galadriel definitely knew exactly what Gandalf was, as is noted in Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age:

Even as the first shadows were felt in Mirkwood there appeared in the west of Middle-earth the Istari, whom Men called the Wizards. None knew at that time whence they were, save Círdan of the Havens, and only to Elrond and to Galadriel did he reveal that they came over the Sea.

Even without this knowledge, Gandalf wasn't exactly shy about revealing his true name and origin; for example, Faramir knew it:

'Mithrandir we called him in elf-fashion,' said Faramir, 'and he was content. Many are my names in many countries, he said. Mithrandir among the Elves; Tharkun to the Dwarves; Olórin I was in my youth in the West that is forgotten, in the South Incanus; in the North Gandalf; to the East I go not.'

So having dwelled in Valinor, having known that Gandalf was a Maia (and known which Maia he was), it doesn't seem too unreasonable to conclude that she could deduce that he wouldn't have been quite dead.

  • What do you mean by "wouldn't have been quite dead"? – The Fallen Aug 8 '14 at 1:22
  • @SSumner Just like in Monty Python and the Holy Grail! – peyre Sep 16 '15 at 2:18
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May be everything was much simplier than other answers suggest. Galadriel had sent her men to retrieve Gandalf's body and artefacts he was carrying before they fall in the hands of the orcs and that's all.

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