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> Gandalf > Death
There has been debate concerning the death of
While we all agree that Gandalf, being a Maia spirit, was not subject
the same “permanent” death as the Children of Iluvatar (passing beyond
circles of the world to be with Him, or remaining in Aman until the
of the World) we do not all agree as to whether he experienced a
death. Some believe that Gandalf did indeed die a physical death
a result of his battle with the Balrog of Moria. Others, however,
that Gandalf did not die, but merely passed into a coma. The
given in LotR, however, better supports the former point of view than
The first evidence of Gandalf’s death is in his
description of his battle.
“The darkness took me, and I
out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not
“Naked I was sent back-for a brief time, until my
was done. And naked I lay upon the mountain-top.”
“I tarried there in the ageless time of that land
days bring healing not decay. Healing I found, and I was clothed
(Book 3, The Two Towers, "The White Rider")
These passages can be interpreted to support both
According to the “coma” theory, Gandalf meant by the first quote that
passed into a coma. The other two then tell how in the battle,
clothing was burned by the Balrog, and how after he awoke on the peak
was taken to Lothlorien his body was healed and he was given new
The “death” theory says Gandalf did indeed die after he threw down the
His Maia spirit left his body and went to Aman, where he probably stood
the Valar to receive counsel and orders. He was then sent back in
form (the purpose for the first use of “naked”) to re-inhabit his body
lay atop Zirakzigil without clothing (the purpose of the second
Gwaihir found him and bore him to Lothlorien, where his body was healed
he was clothed anew. The dual interpretation ends here.
The second piece of evidence is what Gandalf says to
people. He tells Wormtongue at Theoden’s halls, “I have not
through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a serving-man till
lightning falls.” ("The King of the Golden Hall") He then later tells
at Orthanc, “Behold, I am not Gandalf the Grey, whom you
I am Gandalf the White, who has returned from death.” ("The Voice of
In both of these Gandalf specifically tells those listening that he has
The final evidence in favor of Gandalf’s death comes
from "Appendix B: The Tale of Years" at the end of The Return of
the King. I cite these excerpts:
January 25: He (Gandalf) casts down the
Balrog, and passes away. His body lies on the peak.
February 14: The Mirror of Galadriel.
Gandalf returns to life, and lies in a trance.
November 3: Battle of Bywater, and Passing of
Saruman. End of the War of the Ring.
In the second excerpt, it says Gandalf
to life,” which means that he had to have died. After returning,
“lies in a trance,” in which he sees and hears the goings-on of
Also, the first and third excerpts both speak of “passing away.”
first concerns Gandalf, and the third concerns Saruman. At the
of Return of the King, Saruman dies.
Here has been shown that Gandalf did indeed die
his battle with the Balrog of Moria. He left his physical body,
constitutes death for those in Arda who cannot freely toss away this
(i.e. the Children of Iluvatar could not, and neither could the Istari,
bound by the Valar to those bodies). He specifically says twice
to two different people (one of them Saruman, who is also an Istar, and
would not need things put in “words he can comprehend”) that he passed
death. Finally, the Tale of Years not only says that Gandalf
to life, implying a return from somewhere, but also uses the same
for Gandalf’s death as it does for Saruman’s death at the hands of
It is clear by all these clues that Gandalf did die, and that Tolkien
for his condition after his battle with the Balrog to be considered
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers
The Return of the King
For further information on the Istari, their fate and their nature, see
Unfinished Tales, "The Istari"
The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"
The Valar Guild's Tolkien Encyclopedia, section Maiar,
page maintained by Varda