How Gandalf The Grey Becoming Gandalf The White Actually Changed Lord Of The Rings’ Outcome



  • Gandalf’s transformation into Gandalf the White changes the fate of Middle-earth, as his new form is more powerful and capable than his former self.
  • If Gandalf had remained Gandalf the Grey, Sauron might have won the war against Middle-earth, as Gandalf the White plays a vital role in defeating Saruman and freeing King Theoden.
  • Gandalf’s transformation happens because it serves a greater purpose in the story. He is sent by the deity Eru to save Middle-earth when they need it most, offering hope to the people in their darkest moments.



Gandalf plays a crucial role in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies, just as he does in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, and his transformation into Gandalf the White changes the fate of Middle-earth. The Fellowship of the Ring introduces Gandalf as a kindly and powerful wizard who is a longtime friend of Bilbo Baggins. This is what drags him into the quest to destroy the One Ring, a journey that would have unfolded very differently without his involvement.

At the beginning of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the wizard goes by the name Gandalf the Grey. Following his encounter with a Balrog in the Mines of Moria, he returns with a new robe and a new a title. Gandalf the White guides the Fellowship throughout The Two Towers and The Return of the King. The character’s shift from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White holds symbolic meaning in Tolkien’s work. It also has a massive impact on the events of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Gandalf The Grey Couldn’t Do Everything Gandalf The White Did

Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Although Gandalf the Grey is a powerful ally to have, the tides truly turn in Middle-earth’s favor when he becomes Gandalf the White. Even Tolkien admitted this, as the Lord of the Rings author wrote in his letters (compiled as The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien), “When he speaks he commands attention; the old Gandalf could not have dealt so with Theoden, nor with Saruman.” This is an important revelation, and it highlights the power difference between Gandalf’s two forms.

It’s clear Gandalf the White is more powerful than his grey counterpart in The Lord of the Rings movies, as Gandalf the Grey barely escapes both Saruman and the Balrog on his own. Meanwhile, Gandalf the White confronts such enemies with little concern. He demonstrates greater speed and strength while battling Sauron’s armies. He also possesses more powerful magic, enabling him to break Saruman’s staff and free King Theoden from the other wizard’s spell. Had Gandalf the Grey been able to accomplish such feats, he would have defeated Saruman in The Fellowship of the Ring. However, he’s unable to overpower his old friend until he becomes Gandalf the White.

Sauron Might Have Won If Gandalf Was Still Gandalf The Grey

Sauron in Lord of the Rings and Sauron Eye in The Rings of Power

If Gandalf had remained Gandalf the Grey, Sauron might have won the war against Middle-earth. After all, both events Tolkien references in his letters — Theoden’s liberation and Saruman’s defeat — are necessary pieces of Sauron’s downfall. If Gandalf hadn’t freed King Theoden, Rohan would never have taken up arms against Sauron and his armies. Likewise, Saruman would have presented a major obstacle to the Fellowship. As Saruman is one of the most powerful Lord of the Rings characters, it’s hard to see anyone other than Gandalf the White successfully taking him on.

It’s thanks to Gandalf the White’s interference that Rohan and Gondor win the Battle of Helm’s Deep and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. In releasing Theoden from Saruman’s spell, the wizard plays a central role in mending the two kingdoms’ relationship. Their collaboration is critical to Middle-earth’s eventual success. And while Merry and Pippin corner Saruman with the help of Treebeard and his army of Ents, the wizard would likely have come back from this loss. Gandalf truly puts an end to his reign when he confronts his old friend and destroys his staff.

Gandalf’s Transformation Happened Because It Was Necessary

Lord of the Rings Gandalf Grey and White

Gandalf’s transformation only happens because it’s necessary to the story, and Tolkien wouldn’t have included it in The Lord of the Rings if it didn’t serve a greater purpose. In Tolkien’s lore, the Istari — wizards like Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast — are specifically sent to Middle-earth by beings known as the Valar. The Valar dispatch them to help Middle-earth vanquish Sauron. However, the deity Eru is the one responsible for Gandalf’s resurrection as Gandalf the White. For a god like Eru to interfere, Gandalf’s return must have been critically important — and it’s no mistake his comeback included increased power and an updated title.

Gandalf the White makes his entrance when the people of Middle-earth need him most. This is likely Eru’s plan: to send a more powerful, capable wizard to save Middle-earth. Saruman is initially the leader of the Istari. However, with Saruman turning bad in The Lord of the Rings, Eru offers Middle-earth a new savior: Gandalf the White. It’s exactly what’s needed as The Lord of the Rings trilogy reaches its bleakest point. Gandalf’s arrival at the Battle of Helm’s Deep offers hope to the people of Middle-earth. Without him, they may not have persevered against Sauron’s forces.

Source: The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien