In The Fellowship of the Ring film, why did Gandalf willingly drop down after the Balrog? He had a really firm grip on the rocks, and it looked like he could easily hold on.

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    How it was represented in the movie doesn't entirely mesh with the book- where Balrog's whip could have been what dragged him off. The whip didn't appear around Gandalf when he finally let go in the movie. Please specify movie or book.
    – Solemnity
    Mar 1, 2013 at 3:34
  • 2
    The movie did not do a good job of portraying that part of the scene, but it's not entirely their fault. As an experienced rock-climber, I can tell you that the ledge to which Gandalf (played by Sir Ian McKellan) clung was more than adequate (for a Maiar). In fact, as a Maiar (as strong and fit as any man in his prime), he could have held such a ledge long enough for Aragorn or Legolas to run down and pull him up. With that being said, however, Gandalf is played by a real actor, who is quite old. Even a rock climber at the age of 65 would have some difficulty if the ledge were easy to fall...
    – TylerH
    Oct 30, 2014 at 1:58
  • 3
    ...from. The difficulty in designing that ledge perfectly lies with the fact that, as a ~60 to 65 year old (I don't know how old Sir Ian was during the filming) non-climber, they had to give him a good enough ledge for him to hang from (even suspended in a green-screen harness as he no doubt was). If they had given him a ledge that was flat or smooth on top, without that lip for his fingers to curl around, he wouldn't have been able to hold himself up for the shot to be made. It's unfortunate, but it's definitely a reasonable trade-off, in my opinion.
    – TylerH
    Oct 30, 2014 at 2:00
  • 24
    He wanted the XP and Loot, obviously.
    – Fhnuzoag
    Oct 26, 2015 at 12:44
  • 6
    @b_jonas well, he did get quite a level up after that fight...
    – kratenko
    Mar 3, 2016 at 16:46

5 Answers 5


He didn't willingly drop down in the books:

With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished. But even as it fell it swung its whip, and the thongs lashed and curled about the wizard's knees, dragging him to the brink. He staggered and fell, grasped vainly at the stone, and slid into the abyss. 'Fly, you fools!' he cried, and was gone.

The fires went out, and blank darkness fell. The Company stood rooted with horror staring into the pit. Even as Aragorn and Boromir came flying back, the rest of the bridge cracked and fell. With a cry Aragorn roused them.

This is the book version of course, but it clearly shows that he "vainly" grasped at the stone and was unable to hold on. He fell into the abyss unwillingly, giving the warning for the company to flee.

In the movie, he seems to have a more firm grip. However it does make the point (as happens in the book) to show how utterly exhausted Gandalf is during this scene. In addition to him frequently leaning on his staff, you can just tell that the man is exhausted. In this sense, it is possible (in the movie) that he decided to let go so as to save the Company from running to his aid only to be shot at by orcs, as he knew he did not have the energy to hold on that long.

If you remember the scene in the movie Aragorn barely skips up the stairs past several arrows from across the abyss, had they gone to Gandalf's aid they would have been closer and under less cover from the archers.

  • 34
    Also...he dropped his nifty elf sword...he had to get that back right?
    – NominSim
    Mar 1, 2013 at 3:52
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    That Gandalf, not a waster.
    – Solemnity
    Mar 1, 2013 at 4:28
  • 13
    I think this was also fairly clear in the movie. It didn't appear to me that he let go willingly. He had an enormous creature hanging from his leg via a whip of fire.
    – BBlake
    Mar 1, 2013 at 15:20
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    By the time he fell, the Balrog was far below, no longer "hanging"
    – The Fallen
    Mar 1, 2013 at 20:18
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    It's surprising Jackson chose to portray it as he did. Having the Balrog drag Gandalf to the edge with this whip, and then having momentum carry the wizard off the edge (a perfectly valid interpretation of the text), with Gandalf yelling his line as he fell, would have been far more dramatic and impactful.
    – Nicholas
    Oct 30, 2014 at 17:35

Gandalf is one of the Maiar...and all of them are charged with overseeing Middle Earth as a safeguard against the power of Melkor. After Melkor's death in the First Age, his agents were still scattered across Middle Earth unaccounted for. That includes Sauron, orcs, Balrogs, Dragons, goblins, etc. Gandalf and the other wizards were there as balance between those forces and the peaceful forces (hobbits, elves, men, dwarves, animals, etc.) of Middle Earth. That being said, Gandalf HAD to confront the Balrog because it was naturally drawn to him; they shared the same level of existence as a Maiar. Even if the Fellowship did not run across the Balrog, the wizards eventually would have to delve after it to get rid of it outright and keep it from being a threat to middle earth. It was the Dwarves that freed the Balrog in the first place. The wizards knew it was there, it just wasn't on the list of priorities at the time; after all-they already were investigating the possibility of Sauron manifesting himself.

So, after Gandalf fell he could have just tried to run away and escape. The problem is one, the Balrog was gonna be drawn to him anyway as a natural enemy and two, he and the other wizards would have to come back and defeat it anyway at a later time. The risk of defeating it at a later time is that the Balrog could have gotten out and caused more destruction, Sauron could have recruited it and used it in the war, or it could have disappeared entirely and caused random destruction all over Middle Earth until they could find it again. The Balrog was not the brutish creature as portrayed in the movie. It had knowledge of itself and its purpose. It recognized Gandalf and his power. It had knowledge of weapons and their uses. This denotes intelligence.

With that being said, Gandalf could NOT take a chance of it getting loose from Moria. That's why he fought it on the way down. Fighting it on the way down was a strategic move; the Balrog couldn't keep up with Gandalf while falling. Gandalf's initial plan though, was to stop it at the bridge; this was because at the time Frodo's mission with the ring was far too important. Can you imagine what could happen if the Balrog ended up with the One Ring?! That's a chance Gandalf couldn't take. He wanted to drop the Balrog and continue on with the Fellowship; because he KNEW that the journey would get even more perilous as they got closer to Mount Doom (especially since Saruman had already turned on them).

I think Gandalf becoming the White Wizard was reward from the Ainur for staying faithful to his purpose while also restoring the balance of power in Middle Earth after Saruman's betrayal to his purpose. Sorry for being long winded. I love talking about these books!

  • 1
    Welcome! This is definitely the place to come if you love talking about these books, this is just the place :) You'll find you probably get a better reception if you help your audience out with some paragraphs, though. Also, it's always always good to add references wherever you can, to the books, the films, interviews that sort of thing. I would replace caps with italics or bold, but I'm being picky now, that's a matter of style. Anyway, enjoy your stay :)
    – Au101
    Oct 21, 2016 at 0:45
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    This is a pretty good answer. It could use some paragraphs, though.
    – Adamant
    Oct 21, 2016 at 0:52

Gandalf dropped because the fellowship were looking like they were coming back into the open on bridge to try to rescue him. They would have been peppered with arrows and the chance of getting to him before he fell or was hit by an arrow himself was very low.

What would have happened if Frodo had come runnning out and been hit by an arrow or other had been hit and Frodo was left to do the quest without combatants to protect him and friends to support him?

  • 3
    Could the dive bomber leave a note to tell me what the problem is?
    – Stefan
    Mar 4, 2013 at 20:11
  • 1
    Could the other dive bomber leave a note to tell me what the problem is?!
    – Stefan
    Mar 9, 2013 at 23:39
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    I'm not your downvoter, but your answer is mostly based in speculation, while NominSim provides a referenced quote directly contradicting your theory.
    – Doresoom
    Jan 28, 2015 at 23:30
  • Ah, I thought that the OP was talking about the film where Frodo had to be forceably restrained and Gandalf seemed to have a steady hold on the bridge. I am not sure how the OP could have stated 'it looked like he could easily hold on' if he had been referring to the book version? When referring to the film NominSim draws the same conclusion as I do.
    – Stefan
    Jan 29, 2015 at 9:27
  • In the book Frodo is hit with an arrow. It bounces of his mithril shirt
    – user46509
    Apr 16, 2016 at 15:44

Well for many reasons. I think one of the most important, was for his transition to become Gandalf the White. Whether he did this knowingly or not ,that's for you to decide. But the way in which Gandalf operates always seems to be premeditated, predestined. Another reason, probably thought by most people, was to allow the others to escape, which they naorly did, in fact I think it is so that they could go on the journey themselves, make mistakes because that's what makes this such a great story. They all have their own demons to deal with, and if Gandalf was with them at all times, They would never be able to complete their task.


Ii think he did it to kill the balrog so Sauron could not use him in the war. Had he did not kill the Balrog, more people may have died and Sauron may have won the war.

  • 4
    Hello and welcome to Scifi.SE! Do you have source for this statement ? This site is not a good fit for speculations.
    – Kalissar
    Aug 25, 2013 at 7:22
  • Kalissar, why have you picked out this coment to ridicule? Look at the others about recycling. You are being selective to boost your ratings.
    – Stevetech
    Aug 25, 2013 at 11:16
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    @Stevetech there is a difference between comments (the joke about the elf sword) and answers (The larger font sections with more than a filled in carrot for up and down-voting. A reference here would be nice, since as it stands, it is pure speculation. Speculation with at least some info to support why the speculation makes sense is much better so even a little elaboration with supporting content would be better. Dec 22, 2013 at 15:21
  • 3
    @Stevetech: plus I don’t think Kalissar is ridiculing this answer. Oct 26, 2015 at 13:02

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