This is relating to the movie. Frodo finally relinquishes his desire for the ring, and it melts in the fires of Mount Doom. The next scene shows the eruption of Mount Doom and the destruction of Barad Dur. Gandalf looks up with tears in his eyes.

I have read the books, and can't seem to remember this being explained or described. I'm just wondering why they depicted Gandalf as being so emotional about the event, when throughout the story it depicts Gandalf as having unparalleled wisdom, faith and knowledge. Out of all the Ainur he listened to Eru's song the longest and contemplated it's meaning.

It strikes me that Tolkien portrayed Gandalf as all knowing, and has ultimate faith that Frodo would carry out the task at hand. So why was he so emotionally surprised that it happened? Especially when he had seen far more surprising things happening throughout the War of the Ring and in the movies he was depicted as emotionally immovable, an almost cold hearted awareness of the evil that lurks within the world.

I understand this is probably going to be down-voted as it has alot of opinion based statements. The TL:DR is: Was Gandalf described in the book as being so emotional at Sauron's fall? Or was this simply for effect in the screenplay?

  • 47
    Seriously? Frodo has just saved the world. The war against Sauron has been going on for centuries, it's killed untold thousands of people, and now it's over, thanks to Gandalf's incredibly risky plan. Isn't that reason enough to get a little emotional? Gandalf has faith, but he's not a robot. Jul 17, 2015 at 11:22
  • 34
    He just realized that he was now out of a job!
    – TGnat
    Jul 17, 2015 at 12:12
  • 6
    Frodo has just saved the world. Personally I believe that it was Samwise that ultimately saved the world, but that's a conversation entirely separate to this question. I still believe that Gandalf was portrayed to know more than he let on to his lesser knowledgeable friends.
    – John Bell
    Jul 17, 2015 at 12:13
  • 7
    "All-knowing"?? No. Jul 17, 2015 at 13:05
  • 14
    Frodo finally relinquishes his desire for the ring. I think its more like the ring was bitten off of his finger... Jul 17, 2015 at 18:31

4 Answers 4


Gandalf is certainly very wise, but he is definitely not "all knowing". No one in Tolkien's work, aside from Eru Ilúvatar, is all knowing. Gandalf didn't know what the Palantír of Orthanc was when he first saw it, nor did he know what the Ring was the first couple of times he saw it. He knows a lot, but certainly not everything.

Gandalf hoped Frodo would be successful- and would survive his quest- but he absolutely didn't know for sure that this would be the case. In the first cut, Gandalf realizes that, beyond all hope, Frodo has succeeded, and he is humbled and astonished by it; his first tears are tears of happiness. Keep in mind that this is the reason that the Wizards were sent into Middle-earth in the first place - to defeat Sauron. Gandalf has just accomplished the thing he had been striving towards for thousands of years. He has fulfilled his purpose.

"The realm of Sauron is ended!" said Gandalf. "The Ringbearer has fulfilled his quest."
- The Return of the King, The Field of Cormallen

enter image description here

There is even a hint of a smile on his face, showing his joyful astonishment

When he sees the eruption of Orodruin, he knows that there is a very good chance that Frodo has just been killed. Naturally, he is greatly saddened by this, and these tears are tears of sorrow.

And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky.
- ibid

enter image description here

Why is Gandalf emotional in general? We find out in The Silmarillion:

Wisest of the Maiar was Olórin [i.e., Gandalf]. He too dwelt in Lórien [the garden in Aman, not the place where Frodo meets Galadriel], but his ways took him often to the house of Nienna, and of her he learned pity and patience.
- The Silmarillion, Valaquenta; Of the Maiar

Nienna, whose name means "She who weeps", is essentially a goddess of pity, mercy, mourning, and compassion:

Mightier than Estë is Nienna, sister of the Fëanturi; she dwells alone. She is acquainted with grief, and mourns for every wound that Arda has suffered in the marring of Melkor. So great was her sorrow, as the music unfolded, that her song turned to lamentation long before its end, and the sound of mourning was woven into the themes of the World before it began. But she does not weep for herself; and those who hearken to her learn pity, and endurance in hope... she brings strength to the spirit and turns sorrow to wisdom.
- The Silmarillion, Valaquenta; Of the Valar

  • 3
    While the visual is a nice touch, do we really need 4 separate images of the same thing? Some people use this site on metered data plans, after all. Jul 17, 2015 at 23:38
  • @ChrisHayes I couldn't find two images that conveyed all the information I was trying to provide. One of each supplies the overall emotion, the other supplies a detailed view. If I used one of each, it would be likely that someone could fail to see the difference between them. But I'm willing to try to work with you- which ones do you suggest that I delete?
    – Wad Cheber
    Jul 18, 2015 at 0:18
  • Took me a while to get back, but I like the change you made. Thanks! Jul 18, 2015 at 2:55
  • 1
    Excellent answer! Thank you for clearing that up for me, and even more so that it's quite clearly an answer so embroiled in canon.
    – John Bell
    Jul 20, 2015 at 9:23
  • @JohnBell - My pleasure.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jul 20, 2015 at 9:35

"Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death, and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise can not see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill…

Sauron was a Maiar of a "far higher order" than Gandalf himself, and was not immediately turned to Melkor; he was, in fact, a great apprentice to Aulë the Smith and grew to be a great craftsman in his own right (hence his ability to craft the Rings of Power.)

We know that Olórin (Gandalf) knew Sauron - at least well enough to fear him‡‡, which is what caused the Valar to appoint Curumo (Saruman) as head of the Istari. Given what @wad-cheber already shared about Olórin's time with Nienna, and his conversation with Frodo about the power of pity (quoted above), it's not unusual to imagine that Olórin wept at the loss of Sauron - while he lived, and was a threat, Olórin dared not admit that pity into his heart for fear of not being able to deliver a felling blow should it be required. However, as Sauron was destroyed, he could finally allow himself to weep for the great loss.

‡In "The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien" (Tolkien, J. R. R., Carpenter, H., & Tolkien, C. (1981). The letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.), near the end of the entry "Notes on W. H. Auden’s review of The Return of the King" (Letter no. 183), we find the following phrase:

In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible. He had gone the way of all tyrants: beginning well, at least on the level that while desiring to order all things according to his own wisdom he still at first considered the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth. But he went further than human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination, being in origin an immortal (angelic) spiritfn54.

Following the footnote, we find the following sentence:

fn54: Of the same kind as Gandalf and Saruman, but of a far higher order.

Also, in "Unfinished tales", (Tolkien, J. R. R., & Tolkien, C. (1980). Unfinished tales of Númenor and Middle-earth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.), we find this phrase:

And Curunír, Saruman the White, fell from his high errand, and becoming proud and impatient and enamoured of power sought to have his own will by force, and to oust Sauron; but he was ensnared by that dark spirit, mightier than he.

‡‡ In "Unfinished tales", during the council of the Valar, as they're deciding which Maia should be sent to Middle-Earth "and clothe themselves in flesh so as to treat on equality and win the trust of Elves and Men…," Manwë specificallys commands Olórin to go:

Olórin, who was clad in grey, and having just entered from a journey had seated himself at the edge of the council, asked what Manwë would have of him. Manwë replied that he wished Olórin to go as the third messenger to Middle-earth…But Olórin declared that he was too weak for such a task, and that he feared Sauron.

  • I'm interested in the source for "far higher order" quote. Jul 18, 2015 at 3:04
  • Though the phrase stuck in my brain quite clearly, it took a while to find :)
    – TML
    Jul 18, 2015 at 6:28
  • Hmmmm… I'm not really convinced that Sauron really was of a higher order among the Maiar than Olórin, as such. I think the footnote may rather be saying that Sauron (still fully Maia, albeit without the ability to clothe himself in wondrous raiment) is at that time of a higher order than Gandalf, who is bound to and limited by his human body, and thus not really 100% Maia. Jul 18, 2015 at 16:06
  • I cannot agree with you there; as the footnote is specifically on the phrase "immortal (angelic) spirit," it seems obvious to me it is intended to refer to each of the 3 in their original Maia form. However, without additional sources, I don't know that we can answer it definitively, and I'm out of town on vacation, where I cannot access most of my references. :)
    – TML
    Jul 18, 2015 at 16:27

Gandalf isn't emotional because of the fall of Sauron, he is emotional because he believes Frodo is dead. He knows Frodo is inside Mount Doom when the eruption takes place, and thinks he was swallowed by the flames.

  • That's a good point. However, there are two cuts to Gandalf. This is a faux pas on my part. The first shows Sauron's eye screaming and bursting into flames. This is the point where Gandalf observes whilst welling up. The second is when Mount Doom goes up and he looks surprised and obviously concerned for his friends.
    – John Bell
    Jul 17, 2015 at 10:34
  1. Do not confuse Gandalf with Spock. ;-)

  2. Why do you say that Tolkien portrays Gandalf as all knowing? If that were the case he would have foreseen the risk of being pulled off the bridge by the Balrog and been able to avoid it. If he was omniscient then he would have known about the whole course of his life. He would have been unable to change anything and therefore would have had no free will. Nit having any free will would have made him a pointless character in the book.

  • Gandalf deliberately sacrificed himself to save the Fellowship. Tolkien said as much in his letters.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jul 20, 2015 at 9:34

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