One of the recurring themes of Lord of the Rings is that of major events being precipitated by tiny actions by relatively insignificant people - Bilbo finding the ring, Merry killing the Witch-King, etc.

One example that's hinted at but never followed up is whether Pippin's actions are responsible for Gandalf's death in Moria. Pippin throws the stone down the well, which is almost immediately followed by the noise of hammers far away. And Gandalf says: "Probably something has been disturbed that would have been better left quiet."

So, was it this stone that alerted the Orcs - and through them, the Balrog - to the presence of the Fellowship in Moria? When they do meet several pages later, nothing is mentioned of the stone or anything else having disturbed them. But can we conclude that Pippin was to blame?

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    Personally, I was more wondering, how on earth could whatever-it-is-down-there even tell the difference between the rock that Pippin dropped, and all the other rocks and gravel that cave vermin, erosion, the movements of the rest of the party, and collapses of decaying dwarf structures would cause. Jan 7, 2014 at 2:46
  • Did Merry kill the Witch King?
    – Möoz
    Apr 2, 2014 at 21:18
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    If a pebble down a well alerts the Orcs to their presence how did the Watcher in the Water smashing the Hollin Gate escape notice? Jul 18, 2016 at 15:40

2 Answers 2


Not really.

At least a day passed between the dropping of the stone and the first Orc attack in the Chamber of Mazarbul, and while Gandalf is certainly uneasy after the stone, the Fellowship are still able to have two nights' sleep afterwards - one immediately after, and one following an 8 hour march and in an open hall. That's not a sign of a company that's overly concerned about an immediate threat.

Furthermore, Gandalf's "death" in Moria was foreseen for a while, notice Aragorn's remark when the topic came up:

'You followed my lead almost to disaster in the snow, and have said no word of blame. I will follow your lead now - if this last warning does not move you. It is not of the Ring, nor of us others that I am thinking now, but of you, Gandalf. And I say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware!'

And also after the Fellowship leave:

Did I not say to you: if you pass the doors of Moria, beware? Alas that I spoke true!

Gandalf himself takes responsibility for the fact that the Fellowship were trapped by Orcs:

'Trapped!' cried Gandalf. 'Why did I delay?'

While Pippin was certainly a "fool of a Took", one gets the sense from reading the relevant passages that Gandalf's fall in Moria was something that was fated, and both Celeborn and Galadriel also seem to think the same; as Galadriel notes:

Those that followed him knew not his mind and cannot report his full purpose. But however it may be with the guide, the followers are blameless.

There's finally the fact that if we do assign blame to Pipping for "killing" Gandalf, we must also give him credit for setting-up the situation that allowed Iluvatar to step in and create Gandalf the White, without which many things would have gone worse.

  • Certainly an interesting thought in that last sentence, paving the way for Gandalf the White.
    – Kevin
    Jan 6, 2014 at 19:54
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    I think this a good answer, but perhaps overlooks the role of sub-creation a bit. As in, yes, Illuvatar is the sovereign power, but created beings can sub-create (standard Roman Catholic theological point going back to at least Thomas Aquinas). It's not either / or, Pippin could have alerted the orcs to their presence which caused a (delayed) chain reaction, and Illuvatar could still be the greater power putting things in motion. But good answer still.
    – FoxMan2099
    Jan 6, 2014 at 19:55
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    The fact that Gandalf's death was 'foretold' does not necessarily mean that Marry wasn't responsible. For great events that were foretold or even pre-ordained there is often someone whose actions brought the event about, often unconsciously. It's one of the paradoxes of foretelling. Jan 7, 2014 at 4:09
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    In support of @FoxMan2099, I always interpreted that the Orcs were indeed alerted by the Pippin's stone, it's just that it took them long to react. But they would have been alerted sooner or later anyway, so we should not blame Pippin too much :)
    – Andres F.
    Jan 7, 2014 at 17:08
  • Merry is the evil one! If he hadn't decoded the door, then none of this would have happened. Wait...Pippin was throwing rocks in the pool and they all would have died from the Watcher.
    – Oldcat
    Mar 6, 2014 at 15:58

Yes and No.

First, I think it's obvious that Pippin's mistake was an integral part of what led to Gandalf dying from battle with the Balrog. Very little elaboration is needed here.

Second, however, there is an ongoing hint at divine providence in LOTR. Frodo was "meant" to have the ring, going back to Gollum finding it, Bilbo falling into darkness at the exact right time and place to find it, etc. There are a handful of places in the book where the Hobbits sort of speak in tongues by crying out in elvish language and stuff like that (and the point is made that some other force/power was working in them, as when Frodo is on the Tower of Seeing or whatever it's called just after Boromir has betrayed him). The best reading of providence in LOTR I've read is Fleming Rutledge's book, The Battle for Middle Earth, if you're curious about it.

So, yes, in the details actions and free choices led to his demise; however, providence was simultaneously at work in/with/alongside these free choices and actions. If that seems irreconcilable, welcome to the grownup's business of biblical theology at a deeper level!!!! Since at least Augustine of Hippo, but especially in the wake of Thomas Aquinas's work (as well as post-Luther, Calvin, and the Reformers), the relationship between freedom and sovereignty has been an important and fascinating focus in Roman Catholic theology, and I say this even as a protestant.

From my own reading of Tolkien and works about Tolkien, I've come to regard him as one of the most important Christian Theologians of the 20th century, not just an important author of fiction.

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    Downvoter, care to explain? Jan 6, 2014 at 19:26
  • Indeed, someone can disagree with me, that's fine, but it sort of misses the point of this website to just downvote with no discussion. Isn't this a . . . forum?
    – FoxMan2099
    Jan 6, 2014 at 23:17
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    @FoxMan2099 No, it's explicitly stated as not being a forum. Comments are second class for a reason; the point is to provide answers to questions, not to have endless debates. Jan 6, 2014 at 23:56
  • I think we see the "answers" and "comments" differently, and that's fine. And I'm ok with anyone disagreeing or downvoting me, I just don't see the purpose if no reason is given.
    – FoxMan2099
    Jan 7, 2014 at 3:41
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    +1 Well, you have my upvote. It is pretty clear in Tolkien's work that providence plays a huge part. And I say this as an atheist.
    – Andres F.
    Jan 7, 2014 at 17:11

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