A (Small) Peek into Gandalf’s First Trip Through Moria

Through this short reading – only a paragraph and a half – we learn that while the others had slept in the guardroom in the Mines of Moria, Gandalf had decided which way to go. He had been faced with three passages. He did not like the “feel” of the middle way, or the “smell” of the left (“there is a foul air down there”). And so, it was the right-hand passage which he chose.

This decision was made not by knowing the right way, but by knowing (or deducing) the two wrong ways. It was not based upon Gandalf’s knowledge gained from his previous trip through Moria. And from how little he could recall from that trip, it’s pretty clear that nothing from then helped them now. That doesn’t mean that his prior jaunt through the mines was pointless, though.

Curiously, Tolkien never pinpointed the date that Gandalf made this journey. In the Tale of Years, he noted such seemingly mundane things as Umbar being made into a great fortress (2280 SA) and the year when Brego son of Eorl completes the Golden Hall (2569 TA), but never even mentions Gandalf’s first trip to Moria.

When the Fellowship was looking for the door of Moria, Gandalf quickly said in passing: “Yet it will not be the first time that I have been to Moria. I sought there long for Thrain son of Thror after he was lost. I passed through, and I came out again alive!”

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, Thror was Thorin Oakenshield’s grandfather. He was slain by an Orc in Moria in the year 2790 of the Third Age (it’s now 3019). In 2799, the Dwarves and Orcs battled at the East Gate. In 2802, Thrain and Thorin settle beyond the Shire, where Thorin’s people would stay until the time of The Hobbit.

Thrain, however, left Thorin in 2841 (on April 21st, 100 years, almost to the day, from the start of The Hobbit) to go to Erebor, The Lonely Mountain, but was captured by Sauron and taken to Dol Guldur. Then, in 2850, Gandalf found Thrain in Dol Guldur.

So, since Gandalf went through Moria in search of Thrain, he must have done this between 2841 and 2850. Somewhere across those nine years, Gandalf alone walked the passages of Moria, moving from the East Gate to the West.

If you look at a map, you can see that Dol Guldor, situated in Mirkwood, is east of Moria. Gandalf wouldn’t have hit Dol Guldor first (otherwise, he would have never went through Moria, as he would have already found who he was searching for). This means that Gandalf had to cross the Misty Mountains at least twice. First through the Mines of Moria, and second at some other place.

It should also be kept in mind that Gandalf did not purposely find Thrain in Dol Guldor – he was there looking to see if the Necromancer was indeed Sauron. After passing through Moria, maybe Gandalf gave up on finding Thrain. This would put Gandalf’s trip through Moria perhaps closer to 2841 than to 2850. Let’s say 2845 to be safe. Regardless, by the time of the LotR, it was around 175ish since he had been through the mines.

Aside from a mention or two by Gandalf, there really isn’t anything more about his first trip through Moria. It was obviously uneventful. He didn’t run into Orcs and certainly (as we’ll see) knew nothing about the Balrog.

So where did this come from? And why put it in? It obviously didn’t matter – Gandalf couldn’t remember anything about it and nothing really helped him.

The basic outline for the story was given in The Hobbit, but Gandalf doesn’t mention going through Moria in search of Thrain. In his notes written before he wrote the first draft of this chapter, there’s no mention of Gandalf’s previous trip to Moria. However, in the actual first draft, Gandalf did speak of it (though claimed to be searching for both Thrain and Thror), but nothing more is said.

As the Fellowship, led by Gandalf, continues through the Mines, little things spark his memory, and ultimately, it was a good thing that he had been there before. But the way that Tolkien went about making that all happen seems a bit strange. It’s almost like he wanted to do more with it at first, but couldnโ€™t make it work and left it in anyway (he did this a lot).

And don’t forget about Aragorn! He had also entered Moria through the East Gate, but did not go through. He went in, saw it was evil, and then left. But a more interesting story was hinted at in the first draft.

It was actually in a note made in the margin: “Trotter [proto-Strider, a hobbit] was caught there.” Just what was meant by that could be deduced from a similar idea Tolkien had for Trotter. While searching for Gollum, Trotter went into Mordor where he was “caught and imprisoned by the Dark Lord.”

“‘Ever since I have worn shoes,’ said Trotter with a shudder, and though he said no more Frodo knew that he had been tortured and his feet hurt in some way. But he had been rescued by Gandalf and saved from death.”

Camera: Mamiya C3 Film: FujiChrome Velvia 50 (RVP) expired mid90s

Camera: Mamiya C3
Film: FujiChrome Velvia 50 (RVP) expired mid90s

A Few Notes

  • This reading ends with the sentence: “The passage they chose wound steadily upwards.” Though Gandalf himself and alone had chosen the right-hand way, the word “they,” used by Tolkien, indicates that each of the decisions made by the individual members of the Fellowship effected them all. Their fates were intertwined.
  • This post wanders all over the place. I’m not sorry for that. I’m a little sorry that I don’t have an answer for you, but at this point, you’ve probably forgotten the question. I know I have.

About the Photo
This was taken in the West Virginia Penitentiary. It was somewhat like a mine, but very much like a prison. And since Thrain was imprisoned and Trotter, too, I thought it would work.


  • Day 166
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 819 (365 from Rivendell)
  • 72 miles to Lothlรณrien
  • 960 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s place in the narrative begins with: It was Gandalf who roused them all from sleep. and ends with The passage they had chosen wound steadily upwards. Book II, Chapter 3. Inside the gate of Moria! 21st day out of Rivendell. January 13, 3019 TA. (map)

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