BALROG (THE LORD OF THE RINGS)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
- “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.“
- —The Lord of the Rings, “The Bridge of Khazad-dûm”
Balrogs, also known as the Valaraukar, were Maiar that were seduced and corrupted by Melkorinto his service.
Originally, Balrogs were Maiar that were later persuaded by Melkor before the Awakening of the Elves. Their first dwellings had been Utumno, but after their master’s defeat during the War for Sake of the Elves, the Balrogs and other creatures in Melkor’s service escaped and went to Angband.
Balrogs were present as early as the Years of the Trees when Melkor and Ungoliant went to Valinor and destroyed the Two Trees. By then, the Balrogs remained in the pits of Angband. After Morgoth destroyed the Trees with Ungoliant, he came to the ruins of Angband to renew his rule in Middle-earth. A disagreement with Ungoliant led to her attacking him, and Morgoth gave out a great cry that roused the Balrogs from their slumber. In a tempest of fire, the Balrogs drove Ungoliant away and prepared to pursue her. However, they were halted by Morgoth and returned to Angband, which shortly thereafter was constructed anew.
When Noldor managed to win the battle Dagor-nuin-Giliath, Fëanor, still in a great rage, pressed on toward Angband. He came even within sight of Angband, but was ambushed by a force of Balrogs, with few elves about him. Soon he stood alone, but long he fought on with all Balrogs alone, so how was mightiest the strength, valour, and endurance, of all the Children of Iluvatar, though he was wrapped in fire and wounded with many wounds. But at the last Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs, smote him to the ground, inflicting a mortal wound.
Maedhros, Fëanor’s son, persuaded the forces of Morgoth for a feigned treaty, but Morgoth sent his Balrogs. The entire company was slain, except for Maedhros, who was later brought to Angband.
Years later, during the Dagor Bragollach, the Balrogs, along with Glaurung and Orcs, were issued forth from Angband assault the fortresses of the Elves and to kill their allies, the Men.
The Balrogs fought during the Nírnaeth Arnoediad, where Gothmog led the invasion. He threw aside Húrin and Turgon, turned upon Fingon and killed him with the help of another Balrog, securing the field for Morgoth’s forces. He also captured Húrin, after Húrin was buried under a mountain of slain foes. He bound the human warrior and delivered him to Angband, whereupon Morgoth attempted unsuccessfully to pry the location of Gondolinfrom him.
In FA 510, during the Fall of Gondolin, the Balrogs rode upon the backs of dragons to reach the hidden city of Gondolin. The Lord of the House of the Fountain, Ecthelion, managed to kill Gothmog at the cost of his own life. While attempting to escape the burning city, Glorfindel and his companions were blocked by another Balrog. To save Tuor, Idril and their young son Eärendil, Glorfindel fought the Balrog on a cliff and cast it down, but he was pulled down with the Balrog to their deaths.
The last of the Balrogs fought in the War of Wrath and were destroyed, though some managed to escape and hide in the caverns of the earth.
In TA 1980, a Balrog awoke in Moria when the Dwarves had mined too deep for Mithril. It drove the Dwarves out of their home and slew King Durin VI, and the Balrog was thereafter called “Durin’s Bane”.
During the War of the Ring, the Fellowship of the Ring passed through Moria and encountered Durin’s Bane, which pursued them to the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Gandalf the Grey fought the Balrog, allowing the Fellowship to escape Moria. Both fell into the abyss, but the battle continued at the peak of Zirakzigil. Finally, it ended, but both Gandalf and Durin’s Bane were slain in the process. Gandalf was later “sent back” by the Valar, as Gandalf the White.
Balrogs generally took the form of a tall, menacing being roughly in the shape of a Man, though seeming to consist or be surrounded by shadow. They use both a flaming sword, and a many thronged whip. They are constantly burning, and all their weapons appear to be made of lava. Gothmog, the Lord of Balrogs in the First Age, used a black axe as well. They induced great terror in friends and foes alike. Many who faced Balrogs referred to them as monsters consisting purely of shadow and flame.
The issue of Balrog wings has been long-debated in Tolkien circles. The use of “like wings” to describe the shadow around the Balrog is the epicenter of the discussion. It remains somewhat ambiguous whether they had wings, but the description of the shadow as stretching from “wall to wall” does not fit the scale of the Balrog in the book. The use of a simile also suggests that they did not have them. However, there is also a quote that states the Balrog’s wings stretch from wall to wall, causing more confusion, as just a few lines earlier there was the aforementioned use of “like wings”.
Balrogs seemed to encapsulate and project power and terror, perhaps meant to be a dark shadow of the majesty that the Valar radiate. Additionally, Tolkien refers to Balrogs with “streaming fiery manes”.
Additionally, they may have been able to alter their body structures on occasion, as in the battle between Durin’s Bane and Gandalf, when the Balrog fell into a body of water he shifted himself into something slimy. However, it is also possible that this alternate form was simply Gandalf using colorful language to describe what the Balrog was like after having its flame extinguished and being covered in water. It is also possible that, while the Balrog, like all other Ainur, could shift form, this was not a case of that.
Powers and abilities
Balrogs were exceptionally powerful creatures. Only seven Balrogs at most were powerful enough to drive away Ungoliant, a monster powerful enough to devour at the least thousand of star-level fruits, and consume the fruits of Telperion, which produced the light for billions of stars.
A single Balrog, who became known as Durin’s Bane, managed to singlehandedly drive the Dwarves of Moria from their ancient fastness, which was at the time the greatest kingdom of Dwarves that had ever been. He also contended with Gandalf, who shattered the side of a mountain with physical might alone. The Balrogs were considerably bodily agile, such that their passing is once described as a “tempest of fire”.
Gothmog fought against and overcame Fëanor, an elf who was powerful enough to control the light of the two trees. He also spread chaos through the city of Gondolin, filled with elves of similar, though far lower, caliber. He was even thought to be at least somewhat comparable to Sauron during the first age.