When he falls on the bridge of Khazad Dum, why didn't the fellowship know he was a maia and immortal and therefore return?

  • 2
    First, I think that Gandalf never introduced himself as such, so other members ignored his "supernatural" origin, even if they could tell there was more than meet the eye. Second, he had a pretty tough fight with a Balrog in front of him, just after falling from a bottomless pit...
    – Kreann
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 2:42
  • 3
    Related: scifi.stackexchange.com/q/46411/1027
    – user1027
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 3:06
  • 4
    Who knew anything about Maia by the Third Age except some of the longest-lived Elves who MIGHT have seen one some time at the end of the Second Age and that probably wasn't all that likely. By the Third Age so much time had past things like Balrogs were hoary legends few even knew let alone consider to be REAL. Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 8:19
  • 18
    There are many religions which believe in immortal souls, yet believers grieve when somebody close to them dies. Similarly Gandalf's earthly form can be killed even if his maia form may persist without that body. His return to middle-earth wasn't a necessary consequence of Gandalf being a maia. Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 12:34
  • 4
    I'm trying to imagine how Tolkien would have put that in words if it were so: "Don't worry friends" said Aragorn, "he's immortal. Sure that fiery beast tore him in half, but he'll be back soon, don't grieve for him" Commented Sep 15, 2014 at 10:48

3 Answers 3

  1. None among the fellowship knew:

    "...they belonged solely to the Third Age and then departed, and none save maybe Elrond, Círdan and Galadriel discovered of what kind they were or whence they came" - "Unfinished Tales", Part II "The Istari"

    This is discussed in deeper detail here: "Who in Middle-earth knows the Istari's origin?"

  2. "why"? Because you don't reveal important military secrets unless there's a need to know. And nobody needed to know. If they don't know, they can't tell Sauron (who didn't know, and who Gandalf was very cautious about NOT letting know, including refusing to touch the Palantir for that reason),

  3. Leaving aside speculating of whether they knew he was a Maia or not, even if they DID know, it'd be a useless knowledge in terms of predicting Gandalf's return.

    This is because Gandalf did not return due to his Maia-ness - but due to Eru Iluvatar's personal decision to return him (otherwise, he'd simply have reverted to being a Maia).

    This is discussed in detail in the following answers, with relevant quotes:

  • 6
    +1 for the last point especially. Gandalf's return was not due to him being a Maia. Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 8:42
  • 8
    Nor was it due to him being immortal. Immortality doesn't necessarily mean you can survive a Balrog attack; an elf wouldn't.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 9:34
  • @MrLister: though nor might the Balrog. Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 10:40
  • 3
    Re your second point, surely Saruman knew Gandalf's nature, and wouldn't Saruman have revealed this either as part of his scheming with Sauron, or inadvertently through Palantír use?
    – jl6
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 16:59
  • 3
    Sauron almost certainly did know, judging by Tolkien's descriptions of Sauron's thought processes and some dialog with the Ringwraiths.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 17:49

I've never read any indication that anybody knew what Gandalf really was. Well, maybe Treebeard had some idea:

Book III, Ch. 4 Treebeard:

‘Then I can answer your other questions,’ said Treebeard. ‘I am not going to do anything with you: not if you mean by that “do something to you” without your leave. We might do some things together. I don’t know about sides. I go my own way; but your way may go along with mine for a while. But you speak of Master Gandalf, as if he was in a story that had come to an end.’

‘Yes, we do,’ said Pippin sadly. ‘The story seems to be going on, but I am afraid Gandalf has fallen out of it.’

‘Hoo, come now!’ said Treebeard. ‘Hoom, hm, ah well’ He paused, looking long at the hobbits. ‘Hoom, ah, well I do not know what to say. Come now!’

Book III, Ch. 9 Ftotsam and Jetsam:

‘Treebeard heard his voice and came out of the shadows at once; and there was a strange meeting. I was surprised, because neither of them seemed surprised at all. Gandalf obviously expected to find Treebeard here; and Treebeard might almost have been loitering about near the gates on purpose to meet him. Yet we had told the old Ent all about Moria. But then I remembered a queer look he gave us at the time. I can only suppose that he had seen Gandalf or had some news of him, but would not say anything in a hurry. “Don’t be hasty” is his motto; but nobody, not even Elves, will say much about Gandalf’s movements when he is not there.

Of course this is open to interpretation - did Treebeard know that Gandalf wasn't the kind of being that could die, or did he know G. was alive because they'd been meeting in private? Then again, Treebeard also said this:

Book III, Ch. 4 Treebeard:

‘Saru­man is a Wiz­ard,’ an­swered Tree­beard. ‘More than that I can­not say. I do not know the his­tory of Wiz­ards. They ap­peared first after the Great Ships came over the Sea; but if they came with the Ships I never can tell.

So, maybe Gandalf was a mystery to Treebeard, too.

I would guess, though I don't have a cite, that Tom Bombadil probably knew, and a few of the High Elves (Galadriel, Celeborn, Cirdan) had their guesses. Even if they did know the sort of being G. was, they knew what the Balrog was, too, and figured the Balrog could kill G.

But for 99.999% of the people in Middle Earth Gandalf was just this guy.

Book V, Ch. 1 Minas Tirith:

Yet by a sense other than sight Pip­pin per­ceived that Gan­dalf had the greater power and the deeper wis­dom, and a majesty that was veiled. And he was older, far older. ‘How much older?’ he won­dered, and then he thought how odd it was that he had never thought about it be­fore. Tree­beard had said some­thing about wiz­ards, but even then he had not thought of Gan­dalf as one of them. What was Gan­dalf? In what far time and place did he come into the world, and when would he leave it?

That was how most everyone thought about Gandalf.

  • 1
    I think it's safe to say many people suspected, or had a pretty good idea, like Aragorn and Treebeard, but only Cirdan, Galadriel, and Elrond knew - because Cirdan met them at the dock, roughly knew their missions, and told Galadriel and Elrond.
    – Shamshiel
    Commented Sep 13, 2014 at 17:46
  • Why wouldn't Saruman know? If he didn't know Gandalf was also Istari, why would he consult with him, collaborate with him, etc?
    – Fatbird3
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 17:40
  • I think it goes without saying that the wizards know who and what the wizards are. Just sayin'.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 20:40
  • If you meant Sauron, as a Maia-type being himself I'm sure he knew as well. I'm taking the OP's question to mean the more-or-less mundane inhabitants of Middle Earth, since the question specifically refers to the Fellowship.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 20:45
  • I was mostly responding to your first sentence (and I did mean Saruman). I didn't think "anybody" excluded any beings of Middle Earth, especially since you included Treebeard in that "anybody". It makes sense otherwise; the meaning of that sentence just isn't very clear.
    – Fatbird3
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 22:12

They didn't know because he didn't want them to. That knowledge would have changed everything they did.

If his true identity/nature were known it would have been too great of a temptation for people to take his words as 'orders' and not as 'counsel'. Gandalf came to Middle Earth to counsel the people, not to rule them or to confront Sauron by force. His mere presence in a room would have been too disruptive for others to conduct business and make decisions on their own if they knew his true nature. The world was to be left to the dominion of men so they had to learn to discover the correct path without undue influence.

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