Friday, July 23 – The Enemies

12:00 PM The Valaquenta: The Balrogs, Demons of Terror

The Demons – The Text

 “Yet so great was the power of his [Melkor’s] uprising that in ages forgotten he contended with Manwë and all the Valar, and through long years in Arda held dominion over most of the lands of the Earth. But he was not alone. For of the Maiar many were drawn to his splendour in the days of his greatness, and remained in that allegiance down into his darkness; and others he corrupted afterwards to his service with lies and treacherous gifts. Dreadful among these spirits were the Valaraukar, the scourges of fire that in Middle-earth were called the Balrogs, demons of terror.”

The Demons – Discussion

NZ Strider: Oh boy, Balrogs! Just one or two comments as the actual questions by now have been answered:

The inspiration for Balrogs was Surt and the sons of Muspell, the fire-demons who will appear at Ragnarok in Norse mythology.  Tolkien actually wrote two interesting academic articles about a trace which these Germanic fire-demons might have left behind in Old English poetry; so even in his day-job he was worried about just what exactly these creatures were like. 

Then, as Tolkien proceeded with his legendarium, Balrogs got steadily less numerous (thousands attacked Gondolin in The Book of Lost Tales; but Tolkien's final decision was that there had never existed more than seven) as well as more fearsome.  The early Balrogs get killed by the dozen in the battles recounted in The Book of Lost Tales; yet Gandalf, a fellow-Maia, needed to hack away at the Balrog in Moria for several days before he finally killed it.

Spoiler Message: 

"And, incidentally, Balrogs' wings are metaphorical, yet they can fly with them anyway."

A. Did Melkor ever have Maia of his own, as the other Valar do? He seems to have poached them all from the other Valar.

Beren IV: A previously unheard theory on Balrog wings I tend to see Maiar from more of an LotR type prospective, where Maiar would be spirits that are reflections of their respective Valar themselves, although they could be corrupted (Aulë's Maiar seem particularly corruptable). I expect that the Balrogs really are Melkor's own Maiar.

B. When were the “days of his greatness” that would attract Maiar to his splendour? Were those Maiar good?

Beren IV: Presumably before Melkor was truly Evil.

C. How do you corrupt a spirit of Ilúvatar? Aren’t they incorruptible by definition?

Beren IV: If they are incorruptible, then how can they fall from grace voluntarily?

Images of Balrogs

OK, seventh inning stretch. Here are tons of Balrog pictures to enjoy. No questions.

Luthien Rising: The balrogs all look like Yellow cars?

I'll check again after Fiesta :-)

Squire: Can nothing stop this dark curse? Here are the Balrog pictures!

very sorry; end of week; shouldn't have grabbed that drink so early in the day.

Thanks, Luthien!

Luthien Rising: psst... I don't recall your original schedule, but Altaira and the other admins have given me the go-ahead to do a weekend post during the Sil discussion for first-time-reader type questions. I can post the first one (and it will be just one thread, always started on a weekend) either tomorrow morning or late tomorrow night. Do you have a preference that fits your schedule?

Squire: The last rocket... goes up at midnight tonight: Open discussion.

Fisher: In all of those pictures the Balrog has....naaaahh.

Penthe: Balrog images You know, I always pictured more of a simultaneously glowing and inky blot with ember like eyes, shifting and burning as the Balrog moved, like a nearly burnt out fire when the breeze begins to fan the coals back into flame.

The horror of such an unembodied creature wielding whip and sword has always frightened me much more than the notion of a horned, (naaah-ed), creature of muscle and bone and skin.

A creature of both darkness and fire who can hold onto his enemy as if he had arms and claws that cannot be discerned visually.

Those Balrogs in the pictures are certainly frightening, but not nearly frightening enough.

I try to avoid pictures of LOTR. The someone went and made a movie out of it. Selfish!!!! That's all it is, selfishness. *walks off muttering again*

 (In reply to Luthien Rising, Balrogs are well known to use yellow cars to increase their visibility on the roads. Being the epitome of blackness, they had suffered many terrible traffic accidents until Sauron forced them to adopt this simple safety method ;-)

Entwife Wandlimb: Frightening description! Your description of his description creeped me out.

So, are you not a fan of the movi -- naah.

Penthe: movie with ....naaah Actually, I liked the movies a lot. But not as much as you and the others on the movie board! But I love lurking and listening to all you have to say.

I just keep reminding myself that it's Peter Jackson's vision, not mine.

Piled Higher and Deeper

As we have already seen, Tolkien greatly expanded and modified the Valaquenta section of The Silmarillion in the years after Lord of the Rings was written and published. Here is a chart of the evolution of The Enemies.

F. The Balrogs, and Sauron, appear in the 1920s and 1930s drafts of The Silmarillion. Why does Tolkien only add them to the introductory section about The Valar in the 1950s?

Beren IV: Balrogs get a lot more important in later versions of the Sil. In the early versions, yeah they're demons, but nothing like what they are in the later versions, let alone LotR.

Extra Credit

D. Did Balrogs have… naahhhh

Beren IV: They have wing-like appendages, but I'm not sure that those appendages are primarily used for flight. I suspect that their primary function is one of these: (1) they are a weapon, much like the Black Breath of the Naz. (2) They represent something which spreads out darkness, and helps them resist the counterspells of Elves or good Maiar. (3)  They act as a source/amplification organs for the Balrog's own magical powers.

Can they also be used to fly? Well, that evolves from one version of the story to the next. In the early versions, these appendages don't even exist. In Morgoth's Ring, they almost certainly do fly. In LotR, well, if they can be used to fly, then Balrogs do not fly very well, or else one would have expect Durin's Bane to fly right over Gandalf on the bridge and attack the people on the other side. I do not buy the argument that since the thing fell into the chasm that it couldn't fly; it had gotten hit by Gandalf's Maia-breaking banishing spell (which required Gandalf sacrificing his staff to cast). It would not have mattered if the Balrog could normally just teleport.

Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta


      Home        Previous: Morgoth    Next: Sauron