Both were Maiar: one with highly capped powers, sent to help people against Sauron but only indirectly, and one persuaded and formed into a war and fear bringing monster by one of the most powerful beings that ever walked Middle-earth. I always thought of Gandalf as a wise advisor (not weak at all, but no warrior) and of Balrogs as one of the most dangerous parts of Morgoth's army.

So how was Gandalf able to defeat the Balrog without intervention (which didn't happen until after his sacrifice)? I know Gandalf died in the process, but I am still wondering.

  • 2
    he did have ring of fire, captainplanet.wikia.com/wiki/Wheeler
    – Himarm
    Jul 6, 2015 at 14:21
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    Ecthelion (an elf) killed a Balrog, as did Glorfindel. They were powerful, but not all consuming.
    – user46509
    Jul 6, 2015 at 15:28
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    I always assumed that while fighting the balrog Gandalf shed his human body (or the balrog killed it) and went full ainur on his ass. Without a body gandalf was forced back to Aman, there they deemed his job was not done yet and he was given a new body (or his old body was restored) and sent back to Middle-earth. That is all my interpretation though.
    – Hoffmann
    Jul 6, 2015 at 16:01
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    Thematically speaking, killing a Balrog always involved self-sacrifice. Gandalf, Glorfinel and Ecthelion all gave their lives defeating a Balrog to help others.
    – TGnat
    Jul 6, 2015 at 17:04
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    @Hoffmann Gandalf was sent back by Eru, not the Valar.
    – user46509
    Jul 6, 2015 at 17:31

3 Answers 3


Gandalf's limits on his powers appear to be largely self-imposed. As we learn in this question, Gandalf did operate under a "rules of engagement", but there were times when he went outside the lines of those rules and operated more openly. His battle with the Balrog was one of those times where he drew on more of his real power than he was generally supposed to do.

  • Oh, I was just about to answer with that link as well as a second one that was closed as a dupe. Especially Darth Satan's answer (rather than mine). Jul 6, 2015 at 14:34
  • 1
    "supposed to" => "allowed himself"?
    – Aaron Hall
    Jul 6, 2015 at 17:27

Gandalf the Grey was not supposed to be a mystic powerhouse but a wise counselor, that is true. However that is in line with the stipulations laid down by Valar so that he could even go to middle earth. Just because he wasn't supposed to be a mystic powerhouse doesn't mean that he wasn't. It's just that he wasn't allowed to use his magic to snap his fingers and make the Sauron problem go away.

That being said, you're right. According to the wiki http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Balrog

Balrogs were supposedly the most powerful of morgoth's servants.

The only real support for Gandalf's victory, (besides the fact that he is AWESOME) is that he is the secret wielder of Narya http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Narya Which in addition to being a ring of power (re: massive Power booster for magical beings capable of using it)

Is explicitly titled, "The Ring of Fire" implying control over the Balrog's most potent element.

Also, according to its wiki page http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Durin%27s_Bane when the Balrog fell into the lake after being knocked off the bridge

The water quenched the Balrog's fire, reducing it to "a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake". In this relatively weak state, Durin's Bane fled

Granted once they emerged from the lake, The Balrog was able to reignite it's fires returning most of its strength through it. I have to believe, not all of its strength.

  • 2
    The op doesn't say the balrog was sent to help people against sauron. They're (correctly) saying gandalf was. Jul 6, 2015 at 16:14
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    The ring Gandalf held was only capable of enflaming and encouraging, it was not a magic boosting fire controlling rpg weapon.
    – user46509
    Jul 6, 2015 at 17:42
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    @CarlSixsmith true it was never explicitly stated to have power over fire, but none of Tolkein's Magic was ever explicitly detailed. I figured the ring just made him better at dealing with fire than he usually is without it. Jul 6, 2015 at 17:46
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    @jokeSlayer94 the rings of power didn't do general enhancements, they specialised. The three were not weapons of war but of maintaining and nurturing. The one ring was for domination. The seven inflamed a love of gold and help wealth hoarding, the nine are never explored. Gandalf uses lighting magic against both the ringwraiths and the Balrog. The only time we seem him manipulate fire are through his staff on he mountain pass and with the tree branch in the fight against the orcs before Moria, rather strange if he had a level 7 ring of fire.
    – user46509
    Jul 6, 2015 at 18:02
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    @CarlSixsmith - Don't forget the pinecones he threw at the wolves when in the tree with Bilbo and the dwarves (in The Hobbit). And the fireworks in the Shire for Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday.
    – Rex Kerr
    Jul 8, 2015 at 20:51

Gandalf seemed to be allowed to use his power only in measure of the foe he faced.

Remember that, were it not for the danger to Faramir, he was about to face down the Witch King and mentions that it was possible that he be tested against Sauron.

If I am right this allows him to raise his power level to match that of the Balrog. Maybe this limitation was placed on his order to prevent exactly that which happened to Saruman and Sauron, craving power.

He also mentions, under threat of a dint from Gimli's axe, that none of the Fellowship have any weapon capable of hurting him (when white admittedly).

  • 1
    In Tolkien's notes it states that Sauron is of a "far higher order" than that of the Istari where order means within the Ainur/Maiar. I'd say even a weakened Sauron (without the ring), is too much for Gandalf to handle, even more so since Gandlaf is purposefully bound to a mortal body with limited power. His purpose to guide the children of Iluvatar with wisdom rather than through might and authority. The valar elected him as one to go because through his wisdom he expressed fear of Sauron, which made him useful because he was aware of the implications in the event of Sauron being successful.
    – John Bell
    Aug 28, 2015 at 15:48
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    Indeed and Gandalf pretty much states that it is a power that he will not be a match for BUT my point is that Galdalf DOES square up to the Witch Kind with the intention of beating him. This is far above the power level we have seen previous to this (unless you count the fight with the Balrog and the use of words of command)
    – user001
    Aug 28, 2015 at 15:59
  • @user 2399216 Not really,he took on the Nazgul at Weather top,by himself,which I think included the Witch king,having said that the Witch king was infused with extra power by Sauron for the battle of Minas Tirith.
    – turinsbane
    Aug 30, 2015 at 9:26
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    Sauron is the power he can not match. His battle was to be against The Witch King, fully released for battle, at the gates of Minas Tirith. At Weathertop it's also alluded to that Gandalf uses powers greater than he is seen to use normally, again making me believe that at times he is allowed to match power with that of foes. He can only advise and, through wisdom, guide the actions of others however. He is not allowed dominate through power
    – user001
    Aug 30, 2015 at 9:41

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