Why does Gandalf, during the siege of Gondor, imply that he cannot defeat the Black Captain because "not by the hand of man will he fall" ?

Isn't Gandalf not of mankind and thus not a man? Or does his incarnation qualify him as one?

Also, after the battle, Gandalf says that "The Captain of our foes is gone, but not without loss and bitter woe that I might have been able to prevent".

In summary: 1) Is Mithrandir a man? 2) Does Gandalf think that he can defeat the Black Captain, or not?

EDIT: clarification - part 2 is asking if Gandalf believes the prophecy applies to him, not if he actually can defeat the Witch-king.

  • @FirstCape - part (2), yes, but part (1), a definite no: not a duplicate.
    – user8719
    Jul 16, 2014 at 14:47
  • 5
    This question should not have been closed. None of the answers to the proposed dupe get the "Gandalf is actually physically a Man" part correct, and only the accepted answer gets the "Gandalf believes that he can fight the Witch King" part (which is not even needed to satisfy this question because - as I point out below - Gandalf could have taken a defensive role).
    – user8719
    Jul 16, 2014 at 19:23

3 Answers 3


Physically Gandalf is a Man. From the Istari material in Unfinished Tales:

For with the consent of Eru they sent members of their own high order, but clad in bodies as of Men, real and not feigned...

Spiritually of course he's a Maia, but his physical incarnation in Middle-earth satisifes the prophecy.

His prevention of loss and woe does not necessarily need to equate to him defeating the Witch-king. He could, for example, have defended people and so prevented them from having been injured or killed. Such defensive action would also be more in keeping with his role as an Istar.

  • 2
    Jimmy - good answer. You deserve upvotes, but I can't give you any yet :( I didn't consider the defensive idea.
    – Jack
    Jul 16, 2014 at 14:56
  • Also Gandalf and the other Istari were supposed not to directly interfere on Middle Earth, but to guide its people (although Saruman, being corrupt, skips this rule, and Gandalf is very elastic in his "subtle" influence).
    – Flamma
    Jul 16, 2014 at 16:33

Mithrandir is a Maia, certainly not a Man; but he is physically in the form of a Man. And he may or may not be stronger than the Witch-king:

"There are many powers in the world, for good and for evil. Some are greater than I am. Against some I have not yet been measured."

(Gandalf, Lord of the Rings, Book II, Chapter 1, "Many Meetings")

But he does not wish to be measured against all of them; he knows that it is not in an exercise of power against power that the Shadow will be defeated:

"Such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere."

Nor does it follow that simply because the Witch-king will not fall by the hand of man, he therefore can be defeated by any (sufficiently powerful) non-man. Galadriel would arguably have been powerful enough, should she have so chosen, to defeat the Witch-king; but it doesn't follow that she would have. Prophecies can be odd that way.

  • I understand that "it does not follow that simply because the Witch-king will not fall by the hand of man, he therefore can be defeated by any (sufficiently powerful) non-man." What I don't understand is why Gandalf advances "not by man..." as a reason why he does not go to fight the head of the RingWraiths.
    – Jack
    Jul 16, 2014 at 14:41
  • Probably because he believes that the prophecy doesn't apply to him; he may be interpreting it to mean "man" as "human"; and though he isn't a human, he's certainly in the form of one corporeally. Jul 16, 2014 at 14:47

I would argue that in pure power Gandalf is probably stronger then the Black captain, But Gandalf puts alot of faith in prophecies And therefore did not attempt to fight the black captain 1v1. While Gandalf is not truly a man as he is a Maiar which is also what Sauron is he is for all purposes Male. So he must have believed the prophecy counted him out as well. So i would argue that without the prophecy yes Gandalf can and would have beaten the black captain, but since the prophecy existed and Gandalf Knew it her therefor never put it to the test.

This is not to say that should the opportunity or need have arisen that Gandalf had to fight the Black Captain that he wouldn't fight, Gandalf most assuredly would have fought if confrontation happened as he shows when he stands up to the black captain and tells him he cannot enter the city.

  • Gandalf's gender is inconsequential -- the prophecy does not, as the movies try so hard to play on, state that a "man" may not kill the Witch King, but rather Man, as in human. As is abundantly clear in the book, Eowyn is able to slay the Witch King because Merry stabs him with an ancient Numenorean blade that was said to aid specifically against Sauron's magic -- and that the Riders feared these blades particularly and more so than any other blade. See also this answer.
    – Vegard
    Apr 26, 2016 at 6:33

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