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Moria (Durin's Bane)
|Average height||twice the height of a man|
|Distinctions||Man-like, surrounded by fire and smoke|
|Members||Gothmog, Durin's Bane|
Balrogs, or Balrogath ("Balrog-kind") were menacing creatures about twice the height of a man consisting of fire and shadow. Balrogs induced great terror in all and were among Morgoth's most feared minions during the First Age. The wizard Gandalf fell fighting a Balrog when the Fellowship escaped Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring. In the First Age notable Elf Lords Ecthelion and Glorfindel each fell fighting separate Balrogs during the sack of Gondolin.
Balrogs were originally Maiar spirits, of the same order as Sauron and Olórin (Gandalf), but they were seduced by Morgoth, who corrupted them to his service before the coming of the Elves. They were originally gathered by him in his ancient fastness of Utumno during the Years of the Lamps. When this fortress was destroyed by the Valar, they fled and lurked in the pits of Angband.
When Melkor and Ungoliant escaped from Valinor many years later with the Silmarils, the Balrogs were still to be found in these pits. Ungoliant trapped Melkor in her webs, demanding the Silmarils for herself, but the Balrogs issued from their hiding-place and rescued their lord.
When Morgoth's fortress of Angband was destroyed by the Valar in the First Age, most Balrogs were destroyed, but some fled and lurked in the pits of Angband or escaped across the Blue Mountains to eastern Middle-earth. In the Third Age the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm unwittingly released a Balrog while mining for mithril and were driven out of Moria by the creature. This is the same Balrog that Gandalf ultimately encountered in The Fellowship of the Ring.
The Balrogs were first encountered by Elves during the Dagor-nuin-Giliath ("Battle under the Stars") in the First Age. After the victory of the Noldorin Elves over Morgoth's Orcs, the Elf Lord Fëanor pressed on towards Angband, but Balrogs came against him. He was surrounded by Balrogs and fought long before being mortally wounded by Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs (the only Balrog known by name). Though Feanor's sons fought off the demons of fire, Fëanor died of his wounds soon after, and his spirit departed for the Halls of Mandos.
Just one Balrog appears after the First Age in Tolkien's writings. If Sauron had any in his service during the Second Age or the War of the Ring, they were never revealed. The sole Balrog described by Tolkien after the War of Wrath was Durin's Bane. It is possible that it was the last Balrog in Middle-earth.
After the last battle of the First Age some Balrogs escaped the Valar's wrath and hid deep underground inaccessible at the roots of the earth.
Of the 'few' that remained only one, 'Durin's Bane,' was revealed in the process. Thus there may be other Balrogs lurking in Middle-Earth.
Other versions of the Legendarium
In one of Tolkien's early Middle-earth writings, Lay of the Children of Húrin, "Lungorthin, 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 warrior's 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 and Other Writings, Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 16, §15
As the legendarium became more formidable and internally consistent, and the Balrogs more terrible, this number was much reduced. In the end Tolkien stated that there were probably "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
It should however be noted that these texts postdate the published The Lord of the Rings, but predate the materials from which the published The Silmarillion was drawn. The exact number of Balrogs is therefore very uncertain, but Tolkien's note above seems to have been his final word. However, the number of 3 would require the rewriting of much of The Silmarillion, and even the number of 7 causes conflicts. At least two Balrogs were killed at Gondolin. Others were destroyed during the War of Wrath, and the Balrog that ultimately became Durin's Bane fled from that battle unnoticed. While "thousands" clearly is not according to the author's intent a more probable number, taking into account the writings, is that there were at least a dozen.
Arguments For Balrog Wings
Portrayal in Adaptations
If adaptations were to be counted as canon, the matter of Balrog wings would be decided.
- The Balrog has wings and appears capable of limited flight. The head resembles a lion but the rest of the body was rendered in matte black, a technique commonly used for shadowy surreal effect in rotoscope animation.
- Durin's Bane has wings, albeit wings that were purely decorative as the Balrog could not fly. Jackson's Demon of Might was indistinct, a real blend of shadow and fire. Only its horned head, cloven feet, and clawed hands could clearly be seen.
- The Balrog has, once again, wings. The fight sequence, in which the player is Gandalf, takes considerably longer: only after a short fight on the bridge odes Gandalf let it collapse.
- The chase up the Endless Stair and the slime Balrog were omitted due to budget constraints.
2003: Sierra's The War of the Ring:
- Balrogs are evil units. They have horns and wings.
2007: The Lord of the Rings Online:
- The Balrog is a red demon with wings and horns.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Valaquenta
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, "Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien, The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, "Of the Flight of the Noldor"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm"
- The Truth About Balrogs, an essay series by Conrad Dunkerson.