This article deals with J.R.R. Tolkien's Balrogs. For more Balrogs see Balrog (disambiguation)

Balrogs are fictional demon-like creatures from J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium.


Balrogs briefly

A Balrog (Sindarin for "Demon of Might"; the Quenya form is Valarauko or Valarauco') was a tall, menacing creature made equally of fire and shadow and with a fiery whip of many thongs. They induced great terror in friends and foes alike and could shroud themselves in darkness and shadow. Gandalf defeated a Balrog while the Fellowship of the Ring escaped Moria in The Lord of the Rings (specifically, in Book II, the second half of The Fellowship of the Ring).

The Balrogs were originally Maiar, 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 coming of the Elves. During the First Age, they were among the most feared of Morgoth's forces. When his fortress of Utumno was destroyed by the Valar, many 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-dm awakened a Balrog while mining for Mithril and were cast out.

The Balrogs were first encountered by the Elves during the Dagor-nuin-Giliath in the First Age. After the great victory of the oldor over Morgoth's Orcs, Fanor pressed on towards Angband, but the Balrogs came against him. He was mortally wounded by Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs (the only Balrog known by his name). Though his sons fought off the demons of fire, Fanor died of his wounds soon after, and his spirit departed for the Halls of Mandos.

Balrogs have been very elusive since the First Age; if Sauron had any in his service during the Second Age or the War of the Ring, they were never revealed. Tolkien described only one Balrog after the War of Wrath: Durin's Bane. It is believed to have been the last Balrog in Middle-earth and is certainly the best-documented.

Do Balrogs have wings?

Missing image

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, albeit with 'wings of shadow', and certainly could not fly. That, however, proves nothing about the Balrogs Tolkien wrote about.

The debate mainly comes from The Bridge of Khazad-dm, a chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring. There are two references in this chapter.

"His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings." The Lord of the Rings II 5 "The Bridge of Khazad-dm"

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-dm"

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 that assumes a winglike form. Later, this 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.

Arguments for Balrog wings

The most common argument for those supporting Balrog wings is the second reference in The Bridge of Khazad-dm. 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: Of the Rape of the Silmarils

Here, the Balrogs are said to move "with winged speed". This is usually taken as a metaphor for moving very quickly, but there are people who believe this is a strong argument for Balrog wings.

Arguments against Balrog wings

The first reference to the Balrog is one of the main arguments against wings, as it explicitly refers to "wings of shadow" instead of physical wings. Another common argument is that Balrogs are never exactly described as flying, unless one assumes "winged speed" means flying. There are also numerous situations where a Balrog could have either saved or helped itself by flying 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"

In both the duel with Glorfindel and with Gandalf, the Balrog fell from a great height and did not use its wings. Obviously, it is possible that the wings could not be used for flying. This could be due to its size or its current physical condition (injury or exhaustion as a result of combat). However, even the size of Balrogs are a matter of dispute. Tolkien gives a few statements of the Balrog's size.

"[the Balrog] strode to the fissure, no more than man-high yet terror seemed to go before it." The History of Middle-earth Volume VII (The Treason of Isengard), X The Mines of Moria II: The Bridge

This does not appear in the published version of The Lord of the Rings, so it may or may not be taken as a proof. Also, when the Balrog engages the Fellowship, it passes through an entrance.

The entrance is sized so that "...orcs one after another leaped into the chamber." The Lord of the Rings II 5 "The Bridge of Khazad-dm" and "...clustered in the doorway." The Lord of the Rings II 5 "The Bridge of Khazad-dm". Though these statements are open to interpretation, it is conjectured that Balrogs cannot be very large (clearly not as large as portrayed in Peter Jackson's movie) to fit through such an entrance. The Balrog's size matters both because a large size would make it unlikely that its wings were functional, and also because during the confrontation with Gandalf, its wings were said to span the width of the chasm. Physical wings on such a small creature could not possibly do this, thus the belief that they are metaphorical wings of shadow.

Some think the strongest objection is the simplest: that taking references like the second statement seriously mean that all lines must be taken literally. For example, shortly before the Balrog's appearance, "Gandalf came flying down the steps and fell to the ground in the midst of the Company." Few would believe that Gandalf literally flew.


In one of Tolkien's early Middle-earth writings, Lay of the Children of Hrin, "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 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, 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 (just before section 3).

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, part of a group of more. All others save one were destroyed during the War of Wrath, and yet there were still enough there to allow Durin's Bane to flee from the battle unnoticed. While "thousands" clearly is not according to author intent a more probable number, taking into account the writings, is that there were at least a dozen.

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