Are there any notes from Tolkien hinting at the possibility that Gandalf the Grey being killed was in fact the end of Gandalf, but was brought back out of regret (or even necessity)? I'm particularly interested in any discussion from Tolkien hinting that he had originally intended to continue the story without Gandalf playing much of a role beyond sacrificing his life to the Balrog.

Given the character of Gandalf the Grey, it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibilities that Tolkien simply missed him, and thought it worth it to come up with some way to bring him back into the story in some meaningful way.

  • 4
    Probability zero.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 10, 2015 at 20:43
  • 31
    It's probably worth noting that Tolkien wrote the entire work before beginning to publish (it was one book published in three), surely if he regretted killing him he could have just ... Gone back and not killed him :P
    – Mac Cooper
    Jul 10, 2015 at 20:43
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    Grey not Gray. Tolkien was English.
    – user46509
    Jul 10, 2015 at 20:50
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    Tolkien could have easily changed "Gandalf the Grey dies fighting the Balrog and becomes Gandalf the White and meets up with everyone later" to "Gandalf the Grey pwns fire demon because fire is his thing and meets up with everyone later". It really wouldn't require a lot of rewriting.
    – Ellesedil
    Jul 10, 2015 at 21:20
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    Tolkien was always rewriting. And yes, it's almost unheard of for him to not go back after the first draft was done and change literally almost everything. Jul 10, 2015 at 22:03

2 Answers 2


On the contrary, both Gandalf's return and his "promotion" came before the notion of his death and resurrection.

Tolkien's first draft of Fellowship of the Ring ended at Balin's tomb, at which point he stopped for a long while before continuing. However, a sketch of the plot of the chapter (dated by Christopher Tolkien to late 1939, and written immediately before starting on the draft itself) strongly implies that Gandalf's fall was never meant to be permanent:

Gandalf turns back and holds off [?enemy], they cross the bridge but the B[lack] R[ider] leaps forward and wrestles with Gandalf. The bridge cracks under them and the last they see is Gandalf falling into the pit with the B[lack] R[ider]. There is a flash of fire and blue light up from abyss.

Their grief. Trotter now guides party.

(Of course Gandalf must reappear later - probably fall is not as deep as it seemed. Gandalf thrusts Balrog under him and so..... and eventually following the subterranean stream in the gulf he found a way out - but he does not turn up until they have had many adventures: not indeed until they are on the [?borders] of Mordor and the King of Ond is being beaten in battle)

History of Middle-earth VI The Return of the Shadow Part 4: "The Story Continued" Chapter XXV "The Mines of Moria"

The first mention of "Gandalf the White" is probably in an isolated note of uncertain date (though possibly around 1940ish):

Gandalf to reappear again. How did he escape? This might never be fully explained. He passed through fire - and became the White Wizard.

History of Middle-earth VII The Treason of Isengard Chapter XXIII: "Notes on Various Topics"

When Gandalf's death entered the narrative is also difficult to determine. It's clearly not present in the earliest draft of Gandalf's account of his battle with the Balrog:

On the way they ask Gandalf how he escaped. He refuses the full tale - but tells how he passed through fire (and water?) and came to the 'bottom of the world', and there finally overthrew the Balrog, who fled. Gandalf followed up a secret way to Durin's Tower on the summit of the mountains (?of Caradras). There they had a battle - those who beheld it afar thought it was a thunderstorm with lightning. A great rain came down. The Balrog was destroyed, and the tower crumbled and stones blocked the door of the secret way. Gandalf was left on the mountain-top. The eagle Gwaihir rescued him. He went then to Lothlorien. Galadriel arrayed him in white garments before he left. While Gandalf was on mountain top he saw many things - a vision of Mordor etc.

History of Middle-earth VII The Treason of Isengard Chapter XXIV: "The White Rider"

There's no mention of when Gandalf's death entered the narrative, but it was likely not until closer to a final draft, some time after the above notes.

  • 9
    While it predates Gandalf actually dying, it's clear that the party believes Gandalf to be dead. What happens between him leaving and coming back could be penciled in with just about anything and the story changes very little. "Gandalf with the fabulous mani-pedi" seems a bit less impressive than "Gandalf who wrestled a Balrog to mutual death and was resurrected by the lifeforce of the universe" but they do basically the same thing at the end of the day.
    – corsiKa
    Jul 11, 2015 at 6:07
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    "Trotter" ? Yike. Jul 11, 2015 at 14:42
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    Trotter was Strider's name through many drafts, and he and the Rangers were initially Hobbits: hedgepickle.blogspot.com/2013/02/…
    – Plutor
    Jul 11, 2015 at 15:53
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    And here I thought Del Boy was originally a key member of the Fellowship before being co-opted for comedy years later by John Sullivan! Jul 12, 2015 at 14:00
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    King of Ond? Never saw that one before… obvious much? Glad he decided to change that! Jan 15, 2016 at 2:32

I think the question reflects a misunderstanding of Tolkien's writing process. Most people tend to think of The Lord of the Rings as three separate, distinct books in a series. However, this is not how they were created.

Tolkien had been working on the story for many years before it was finally published, and the only system by which they were separated from one another is by the six "books" into which Tolkien himself split them up. The publisher insisted on publishing the story in three volumes, which became the three books we know as The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. Tolkien was less than enthusiastic about this idea, and even the titles of each book were not the ones he initially suggested (his recommendation was The Shadow Returns, The Treason of Isengard, and The War of the Ring).

The important thing is that he didn't send each volume off to the publisher as it was completed. He wrote the entire story, then sent the whole thing off to the publisher, who then published the volumes one by one, with a gap of a year or so between each volume.

Before he ever sent the manuscripts to the publisher, however, he had been writing, editing, rewriting, revising, and altering the text constantly. As he finished each chapter, he would have new ideas that created continuity issues with the previous chapters. He would have to go back and rework those chapters. Then he'd write a new chapter, which created more continuity issues, and he'd go back and revise the previous chapters again, and so on.

The point is that he didn't just write one volume, send it to the publisher, and then start working on the next volume, only then coming to regret something he had written earlier. He had spent over a decade working on this project. Therefore, it doesn't make sense to suggest that he brought Gandalf back to life because he regretted killing him off. If he did regret killing Gandalf, he could have simply removed the reference to his death from the manuscript and rewritten it, like he rewrote everything else in the story (many times).

We have no reason to believe that, after he wrote about Gandalf's death, he wished he hadn't done so. From the time that he conceived of Gandalf's death, he probably already knew that Gandalf would be coming back, even more powerful than before. If he had had second thoughts about killing him, the problem could have been easily solved by revising the manuscripts and erasing any reference to the event. He had all the time he needed to do this, but he didn't. The only plausible explanation for his decision to leave in the death of Gandalf is that he truly wanted, even needed, it to happen.

To get a sense of just how much Tolkien rewrote, revised, and edited the stuff he had already written- and even the stuff he had already published- look as the posthumous works, like Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth. The whole reason these books exist is because Tolkien continued to work on his previous projects for as long as he lived. Almost literally until the day he died, he was rethinking everything he had ever written, sometimes in quite profound ways.

We can see just how much Tolkien reworked his books by considering the fact that, in the first several versions of the first and second volumes, the character we know as Strider/Aragorn was actually a hobbit named Trotter. Tolkien stuck with this idea for quite some time before he ultimately decided to make the character a human named Strider/Aragorn. He made this decision after several chapters had already been written, and the change forced him to go back and rewrite a significant portion of the existing text. This wasn't an exceptional case, though, it was something that he was accustomed to doing as a matter of course. It's just the way he wrote.

He was willing to make such revisions even to account for minor details - in Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull's The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, the first chapter describes the great lengths Tolkien went to in order to ensure that the dates in his story made good chronological sense. He rewrote certain passages to provide enough time for Aragorn and his party to make it to Edoras at the appropriate point, for instance.

So as far as we know, Tolkien never regretted killing off Gandalf, because by the time he wrote that part of the story, he already knew that Gandalf would be coming back sooner than later.

  • 5
    I would take issue with the "we think of the Lord of the rings as three distinct", I personally never have and I cordially dislike people telling me I do.
    – user46509
    Jul 11, 2015 at 6:24
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    @CarlSixsmith - I qualified the statement to address your complaint.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jul 11, 2015 at 19:33
  • 2
    "he'd go back and revise the previous chapters again" - so he was the original George Lucas? Jul 23, 2015 at 21:32

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