From the Fellowship of the Ring:

From LotrWikia:

Neither he nor the Balrog was killed by the fall, and Gandalf pursued the creature for eight days until they climbed to the peak of Zirakzigil. Here they fought for two days and nights. In the end, the Balrog was cast down and it broke the mountain-side as it fell.

And from the Two Towers:

at last he fled into dark tunnels. They were not made by Durin's folk...Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things.

This sounds to me like the Balrog was fleeing from Gandalf. Why did Gandalf chase him for such a lengthy time to the top of Zirakzigil and risk his life?

Didn't he think that maybe it was more important to ensure the safety of the Fellowship and to make plans with Galadriel in Lorien? The Balrog was already awakened by the Dwarves many years ago but never cared to leave Moria. I think that the Fellowship's encounter with Durin's Bane did not alter Sauron's knowledge of the Balrog either, so I don't think Gandalf chased it down only because he didn't want Sauron to make use of the Balrog..

3 Answers 3


Simply, to find the way out. The Balrog knew it, and Gandalf didn't. From the same paragraph you quote:

In that despair my enemy was my only hope, and I pursued him, clutching at his heel. Thus he brought me back at last to the secret ways of Khazad-dûm: too well he knew them all.

  • 10
    But nevertheless - at the top of Zirakzigil, they fought for two days. Gandalf could have left at that point.
    – mort
    Commented Jan 27, 2013 at 12:22
  • 24
    @mort - It's like Hotel California there. Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 18:22
  • 16
    So Gandalf was lost and had to follow. By the time he was led out into the open he probably decided, "What the hell, it's been a week and I'm in no position to help the Ring bearer right now so I might as well kill this thing while I'm here."
    – Morgan
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 16:32
  • 25
    @Morgan well, he might of course have had no option but to fight. If you've a big flaming evil demon like creature with a massively long whip near you, who can outrun you, and you're stuck on a ledge on the top of a mountain, there's really no easy way to get away from it...
    – jwenting
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 7:07
  • 2
    The Balrog and Gandalf were the same type of being - both Maia, I think. Gandalf has no guarantee that he is faster than the Balrog.
    – Jack
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 16:20

To weaken Sauron.

Gandalf was in the business of depriving Sauron of evil allies as part of his mission to defeat him. Smaug was such a threat. The Balrog surely was another such threat, and needed to be taken care of.

The Silmarillion has this to say about when Sauron first wore the Ring.

But he ruled rather by force and fear, if they might avail; and those who perceived his shadow spreading over the world called him the Dark Lord and named him the Enemy; and he gathered again under his government all the evil things of the days of Morgoth that remained on earth or beneath it, and the Orcs were at his command and multiplied like flies. Thus the Black Years began, which the Elves call the Days of Flight.

And from the The Quest of Erebor, in the Unfinished Tales.

Gandalf knew that Smaug the Dragon could pose a serious threat if used by Sauron, then dwelling in Dol Guldur in Mirkwood. He was thinking about the matter when he met Thorin Oakenshield at Bree. Thorin also was concerned about Smaug, but had the different motive of revenge and the reclaiming of the Dwarves' treasure in the Lonely Mountain. Gandalf agreed to help Thorin.

See: Why was Gandalf involved with the Dwarves' quest to rob Smaug?


As a narrative device to separate Gandalf from the Fellowship so that the latter could begin to weaken and ultimately break up. It also enabled Tolkien to frame Gandalf in a far more interesting way than a wizened old man with some neat party tricks - he becomes a semi-immortal figure of enhanced mystique and an allegory of spiritual paternity.

  • 1
    This answer could use some citations / quotes that outline the above points, otherwise
    – Alith
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 9:42
  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 9:43
  • The question isn't asking about authorial intent but the character's own internal motivations. They want to know what Gandalf is thinking, not what Tolkien was thinking. They want an in-universe, Watsonian answer, rather than an out-of-universe, Doylist answer.
    – J Doe
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 17:48
  • @JDoe Sorry I'm not familiar with this Stack Exchange. Is there a rule that answers must be 'Watsonian' rather than 'Doylist'?
    – geotheory
    Commented May 21, 2023 at 21:38
  • @geotheory If there is any rule it is that answers should try to be on-topic, and the question is asking about what Gandalf was thinking, not what Tolkien was thinking. "Why did Gandalf chase him for such a lengthy time to the top of Zirakzigil and risk his life? Didn't he think that maybe it was more important to ensure the safety of the Fellowship and to make plans with Galadriel in Lorien?" Hence I referenced Watsonian vs Doylist to help get my point across.
    – J Doe
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 4:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.