- "Then something came into the chamber - I felt it through the door, and the orcs themselves were afraid and fell silent. It laid hold of the iron ring, and then it perceived me and my spell."
Balrogs were Maiar spirits seduced by Morgoth, and may have taken demon-like form as a result. They are demons of shadow and flame. Morgoth corrupted these Maiar to his service but there were never more than seven according to Tolkien's son. However, in various writings there are references to entire "armies" of Balrogs. Gothmog was their captain during the 1st Age.
The Balrogs were originally Maiar (and therefore also Ainur), of the same order as Sauron and Gandalf, but they became seduced by Morgoth, who corrupted them to his service in the days of his splendour before the creation of Arda. During the Music of the Ainur, Melkor (Morgoth) began introducing themes of his own design into the Theme of Ilúvatar, causing great discord in the music. The Balrogs were among those spirits near Melkor who attuned their own music to Melkor's theme rather than Ilúvatar's. Therefore, they not only existed before the creation of the world, they had a part in its creation.
During the First Age, they were among the most feared of Morgoth's forces. When his fortress of Utumno was destroyed by the Valar, they fled and lurked in the pits of Angband. In the third age the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm awakened a Balrog while mining for Mithril and were forced to flee their ancient dwelling.
The Balrogs were supposed to have been all destroyed at the end of the First Age, but it was later discovered that at least one had escaped and hidden deep beneath the Misty Mountains near Moria -- Durin's Bane, perhaps the best-documented of the Balrogs. In his confrontation with the wizard Gandalf, the Balrog was defeated while the Fellowship of the Ring escaped Moria in The Lord of the Rings (described specifically, in Book II Chapter 5, the second half of The Fellowship of the Ring), both were slain, but Gandalf was "sent back" by the Valar (or possibly by Iluvatar, the equivalent of God).The Balrogs were first encountered by the Elves during the Dagor-nuin-Giliath (Battle-under-Stars) in the First Age. After the great victory of the Ñoldor over Morgoth's orcs, Fëanor pressed on towards Angband, but the Balrogs came against him. He was mortally wounded by Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs (the only Balrog known by name). Though his sons fought off the demons, Fëanor died of his wounds soon after, and his spirit departed for the Halls of Mandos.
AppearanceA Balrog was a tall (possibly some 25 feet high), menacing being in the shape of a Man, having control of both fire and shadow and with a fiery whip of many thongs (Gothmog, the Lord of Balrogs in the First Age used an axe). They induced great terror in friends and foes alike and could shroud themselves in darkness and fire. Many who have faced Balrogs nicknamed them "creatures of fire and shadow" or simply "shadow and flame."
They are humanoid, and very intelligent creatures (being once Ainur, they took part in the creation of the world). Balrogs had a tail that extended back the same distance again.
In the books, Tolkien depicts the Balrog as being barely a shape wreathed in shadow and flame. Possibly man-shape, yet greater. Balrogs seemed to encapsulate and project power and terror.
Do Balrogs Have Wings?The "Do Balrogs have wings?" debate had reached legendary (and to outsiders often comical) proportions. The books are ambiguous on the matter, but the movies follow the interpretation that they did have "wings of shadow". Could they fly? Did they even need wings to fly?
Discussion has occurred as to whether the Balrogs had wings. Nothing has been decided conclusively, although the Balrog in the Peter Jackson film version of The Fellowship of the Ring, released in 2001, was clearly winged, and certainly could not fly.
"His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings." The Lord of the RingsII 5 "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm"
The debate mainly comes from The Bridge of Khazad-dûm, a chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring. There are two references in this chapter.
There is nothing special in this on its own. The Balrog carried with itself a shadow that assumed a winglike form. The next reference is what forms the debate:
"...suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall..." The Lord of the Rings II 5 "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm"
Readers usually make their own interpretations about this and feel it to be quite obvious. However, this can be seen in two possible ways. For some, the Balrog has a shadow-like emanation, that assumes a winglike shape. Later, this winglike shadow is spread from wall to wall. Others, however, think that the Balrog has actual wings that are spread from wall to wall. There is no real conclusion to the debate and it will probably continue as long as Tolkien has readers.
At first, Peter Jackson and his design team couldn't decide whether to give the Balrog wings or not. They ultimately decided to give it wings "just because it looked cool."
Arguments for Balrog wings
The most common argument for those supporting Balrog wings is the second reference in The Bridge of Khazad-dûm. The people supporting Balrog wings believe the sentence to mean that the Balrog had literal wings spreading from wall to wall. There are also other references that may be taken as evidence of Balrog wings. These usually involve discussions about references to speed of travel:
"Swiftly they arose, and they passed with winged speed over Hithlum, and they came to Lammoth as a tempest of fire." The History of Middle-earth Volume X (Morgoth's Ring), The Later Quenta Silmarillion: the Tale of the Silmarils
Here, the Balrogs are said to arrive in "Lammoth as a tempest of fire". This is usually taken as a metaphor for flying.
It should be remembered, however, that as Maia, the Balrogs could assume a wide variety of forms. This could quite easily include wings, though it does not necessarily mean that they can fly.
Arguments against Balrog wings
The first reference to the Balrog is one of the main arguments against wings, as it explicitly refers to the balrog's actual form as being "of man-shape, maybe, but greater;" and clearly, men do not have wings, and thus no mention is made of them. Furthemore, this man-shaped dark form was at the middle of a shadow-like area around it; this is introduced in simile, as "like a shadow--" i.e. it is "shadow-like," in that it was not a real shadow, but only an area of darkness, where the light of the fires in the hall were dimmed by some dark power of the balrog. Hence, no wings are specifically described when the balrog's body is first described; and the shadow about it is separate from its body.
Likewise, the first mention of "wings" is likewise made in simile, and refers to the "shadow," rather than its body: i.e. "the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings."
Here, the simile refers to "wings of shadow" instead of physical wings. However, "wings of shadow" are still wings in the same sense that anything wing-shaped is a wing; but this was clearly not a physical wing.
Another common argument is that Balrogs are never exactly described as flying (implying that a winged Balrog MUST fly and that lack of mention of flight implies Balrogs cannot fly). These arguments have been countered as based on false logic but they still have their proponents.
Some arguments insist a Balrog could have either saved or helped itself by flying (such as when Gandalf smote the bridge and made the Balrog fall into the chasm) but didn't do so.
"Many are the songs that have been sung of the duel of Glorfindel with the Balrog upon a pinnacle of rock in that high place; and both fell to ruin in the abyss." Quenta Silmarillion 23 "Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin"
"I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place, and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin." The Lord of the Rings III 5 "The White Rider"
However, in The Hobbit, when Bard the Bowman slew Smaug the Golden, he fell from a great height and smote the Laketown in his ruin. The argument that the Balrog should have been able to save itself if it had wings capable of flight has been countered by the comparison with the death of Smaug. Ancalagon the Black, the father of flying dragons, also fell to his death "in ruin".
Some arguments attempt to distort the facts by drawing upon passages that Tolkien rejected or replaced. These arguments are disputed on the basis of being irrelevant to the published text in The Lord of the Rings (which is the source of the controversy).
However, in the film, Durin's Bane certainly has wings (which may have atrophied due to an extensive period of hibernation), as seen very clearly in the beginning of The Two Towers. However if Balrogs are capable of flying like dragons, they are certainly never seen to attack from the air, even when it would be most useful; for example in the battle of Zirakzigil, the Balrog would benefit greatly from taking the to the air and striking Gandalf with its whip or other spells; indeed, Morgoth spent many ages breeding the winged dragons in order to attack from the air; but never once does any Balrog do so—even in the attack on Gondolin (where a Balrog indeed falls to its death).
It is reasonable to say that Gandalf and the Balrog were falling for at least 2 days into the Abyss, using the LOTR timeline in Appendix B as a source. It would have taken the two opponents around 3 times that long to then climb all the way up past where the Bridge was located, up to Zirakzigil, outside at the top of Silvertine, where the deathmatch took place. As Gandalf says, "From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak it climbed, ascending in unbroken spiral in many thousand steps", to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in Fangorn, on the 1st of March in the year 3019.
MiscellaneousIn one of Tolkien's pre-Middle-earth stories, Lay of the Children of Húrin, "Lungothrin, Lord of Balrogs" is mentioned. It is not, however, certain if it was another name for Gothmog, or it simply meant "a Balrog lord". According to Christopher Tolkien, the latter is more probable, as the name Gothmog was mentioned in the earliest Middle-earth writings, as well as the final version of Tolkien's mythology.
The Balrogs were originally envisioned as being immense in number:
"The early conception of Balrogs makes them less terrible, and certainly more destructible, than they afterwards became: they existed in 'hundreds' (p. 170), and were slain by Tuor and the Gondothlim in large numbers: "thus five fell before Tuor's great axe Dramborleg, three before Ecthelion's sword, and two score were slain by the warriors of the king's house." The Book of Lost Tales 2, commentary by Christopher Tolkien on The Fall of Gondolin.
"There came wolves and serpents and there came Balrogs one thousand, and there came Glomund the Father of Dragons." The Lost Road, Quenta Silmarillion chapter 16, §15.
When Tolkien developed Middle-earth as the backdrop for The Lord of the Rings, Balrogs became more formidable and terrible, this number was much reduced. In the end Tolkien stated that there were "at most" seven Balrogs:
"In the margin my father wrote: 'There should not be supposed more than say 3 or at most 7 ever existed.'" Morgoth's Ring, Section 2 (AAm*): note 50 (just before section 3).
The number of Balrogs changed to at most 7 at the same time they 'became' Maiar in Tolkien's mind. So this note is the only applicable indication of Balrog numbers that Tolkien wrote.
In the video games The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth, its sequel The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, the Balrog is a power of the goblins and Mordor which cost 25 Power points, with Whip, Sword, Wings, Firebreath and other weapons can cause devastating damage towards enemy units and structures. It is also a Boss character in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Video Game, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers on Game Boy Advance and The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, The Balrog in the third age is fought with Gandalf at the Player's side and becomes a usable hero for the duration of the battle. Though it is referenced in the video games based on the Films. It also appears in The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest.
The Quenya form is Valarauko or Valarauco (Tengwar: full spelling yEjE7.EaY or vowel-abbreviated spelling yj7.aY; IPA: [valaˈraʊko]), and the plural is Valaraukar or Valaraucar (Tengwar: full yEjE7.EaE6 or abbrev. yj7.a6; [valaˈraʊkar]). The Sindarin form was "Demon of Might"; IPA: [ˈbalroɡ]; Sindarin plural Belryg; [ˈbelryɡ] or later [ˈbelriɡ])
- At over 20 feet high, the Balrog is one of the largest characters in the Lord of the Rings franchise. He may very well be the oldest.
- Some fans of the Doom series claim that the Balrog of the movies looks similar to a cross between a D3 Cyberdemon and a D3 Maledict (Cyberdemon with Maledict Wings).
- A demonic monster in the popular 2D side-scrolling game Maplestory bears many similar qualities and characteristics, and thus many believe the monster was represented on behalf of the fictitious one depicted in the Tolkien series.
- A demonic monster in another popular 3D game called Mabinogi.
- Many fans claim that the Balrog inspired Games Workshop's Bloodthirster, which is known as the Greater Daemon of Khorne (the Chaos God of Blood, Battle, War and Rage.)
- The main antagonist of Prince of Persia:Warrior Within, the Dahaka, strongly resembles the Balrog, but has one horn bent downward, and it does NOT have wings.
- The Balor from Dungeons and Dragons is clearly based on the Balrog.
- In early editions of the game, it was referred to as the Balrog. The name was changed due to copyright claims made by Tolkien Estate.
- The hero named Hellbringer from Heroes of Newerth (A game that is based on a popular Warcraft III mod known as Defense of the Ancients. Also known as DOTA.) can summon Malphas which is cleary based on Balrog.
- War, the first horseman and main playable character from the game Darksiders has a chaos form that looks very similar to Durin's Bane.
- Balrog was the name of a boxer from USA who made his debut as the second boss in Street Fighter II. Although he cannot kick, he made up for it with pummeling punches.
- In the manga and anime series Saint Seiya there is a villain named Balrog Rune, a servant of Hades clad in armor modeled after Tolkien's monster.
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|Manwë (Súlimo) • Ulmo (Ulubôz) • Aulë (Návatar) • Oromë (Aldaron) • Námo (Mandos) • Irmo (Lórien) • Tulkas (Astaldo)|
|Varda (Elentári) • Yavanna (Kementári) • Nienna • Estë • Vairë • Vána • Nessa|
|Eönwë • Ilmarë • Ossë • Uinen • Salmar • Melian • Arien • Tilion • Curumo (Saruman) • Olórin (Gandalf) • Aiwendil (Radagast) • Alatar (Morinehtar) • Pallando (Rómestámo)|
|Sauron (Mairon) • Gothmog • Durin's Bane • Ungoliant • Shelob • Curumo (Saruman)|
- The Truth About Balrogs essay series by Conrad Dunkerson.