The Balrog of Moria

Chernobog from the Disney animated movie 'Fantasia'

Chernobog may have served as Tolkien’s inspiration for the Balrog of Moria, although the Balrog’s wings were simply made of the darkness with which the Balrog surrounded itself.

People ask some of the strangest questions (well, they may seem strange in the morning). I get a lot of traffic on Xenite.Org for various topics. When you have that much content, you capture a lot of queries in the search engines.

I used to see the question “Why did the Elves sail west?”(Answer: To get to the other side of the Sea) come up a lot. I suppose such questions were driven by the third “Lord of the Rings” movie, where everyone jumps on board the ship and no one really explains why.

Even in The Lord of the Rings (the book) Tolkien doesn’t do a very good job of explaining why Elrond high-tails it out of Middle-earth after Sauron’s defeat. Everyone says, “The time of the Elves has gone and the Time of Men has come”, but they don’t explain why that is so very well.

The Elves, of course, have really messed up Middle-earth badly. They tried to make Middle-earth as beautiful and timeless as Valinor, but they are not the angelic Valar. The sheer amount of power required to hold back the effects of Time across Middle-earth woud be immense. I can well imagine Tolkien saying to himself, “The Elves are drained and unable to withstand the onslought of time as it catches up with them” in the wake of the destruction of the One Ring.

The Elves had to leave Middle-earth and sail over Sea because they were too closely bound up with the power of the Rings. They felt the effects of Time washing over them while other peoples really felt nothing. The Elves felt suddenly old and weary.

In Valinor, which was essentially Paradise, the Elves would be renewed and rejuvenated. The Valar would heal them and help them recover their strength. The Elves would, in effect, be able to pick up the pieces of their shattered dreams and do new things, great things. They would be able to move forward, whereas in Middle-earth they had become stagnate, unimaginative, and incapable of accomplishing anything new.

That’s the best answer I can muster to the question.

But people have many questions about Balrogs. “Did Gandalf kill the Balrog of Moria”“What were the powers of the balrogs”“do Balrogs have wings?”“what does Gandalf say when he face to face with the balrog of moria?” (I kid you not), “Where did the Balrog come from?”“Why did the Balrog not use wings to fly?”.

And that’s just a sampling.

What is it about Balrogs that so fascinates people? Well, I cannot answer that question, but I can answer some of the others.

Q. Did Gandalf kill the Balrog of Moria?

A. Yes, Gandalf killed the Balrog of Moria. The sequence of events goes something like:

  1. The Balrog approaches the Chamber of Mazarbul and Gandalf catches a glimpse of it
  2. The Balrog enters the Chamber as Gandalf tries to seal the door
  3. Gandalf and the Balrog struggle briefly and the roof collapses on the Balrog
  4. The Balrog takes an alternate route to overtake Gandalf and the Fellowship
  5. The Balrog approaches the Bridge of Khazad-dum
  6. Gandalf breaks the bridge and both he and the Balrog fall into the chasm
  7. The Balrog and Gandalf hit a body of water
  8. Gandalf chases the Balrog through underground passages until they emerge on the peak of Zirak-Zigil
  9. They battle on the peak
  10. Gandalf and the Balrog mortally wound each other
  11. The dying Balrog falls from the mountaintop

People often ask, “If the Balrog had wings, why didn’t it fly out of the chasm and why didn’t it fly off the mountain peak?”

Well, the whole question of the Balrog’s wings has been misunderstood (and badly misrepresented by sites like The Encyclopedia of Arda). The wings were simply extensions of the darkness with which the Balrog surrounded itself. They were “shadow-stuff”, there for show. Think of a Peacock’s feathers expanding outward in a display of beauty (only the Peacock is trying to frighten you, not mate with you).

Don’t know how to explain it any better than that.

But if we assume that Balrogs could fly (and there is no reason why we should assume they could not), then there was still no reason for the Balrog to fly out of the chasm. After all, it survived the long fall. It must have had a pretty good idea that it would be able to do so (Gandalf, too, survived that fall). In fact, I have long speculated that the Balrog used its internal fire and heat to slow its descent. Gandalf was whacking at it with a sword all the way down, so it’s not like it should have been unfettered and free to think, “Hey, I need to fly out of this chasm” (but where could it have flown anyway?).

And, of course, by the time it was falling off the mountainside, it was dead or dying. It would have been no more capable of flight at that point than a dragon who fell from the sky (and both Ancalagon and Smaug fell to their ruins after being mortally wounded).

Q. What were the powers of the Balrogs?
A. This smacks of a gamer-style question. In role-playing games, creatures have specific abilities and powers. In Tolkien, the Balrogs were fallen angelic beings. They were capable of shaping entire worlds. They took physical bodies of their own free will. They had immense power and to try to quantify that power or categorize abilities is naive. The Balrogs didn’t have limitations that could be measured by comparison with an Elf or Man.

When Gandalf confronted the Balrog, he said, “You cannot pass! I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass!”

The Secret Fire, we are told in The Silmarillion, is the Flame Imperishable. Many people equate that with the Holy Spirit.

The “Flame of Anor” is the fire of the sun. Gandalf seems to be saying that he, like the Balrog, was in origin a spirit of fire. Unlike the Balrog, Gandalf (like Arien the Maia who guided the Sun) remained loyal to Iluvatar and the Valar.

The dark fire is the Balrog’s power as wielded by it corrupted fire spirit.

He calls it “flame of Udun” because Udun was the ancient fotress of Morgoth.

People also ask “Did Sauron command the Balrog of Moria?” and there is plenty of speculation there. While Tolkien never explicitly says that Sauron controlled the Balrog, there is circumstantial evidence to show he probably did command the Balrog. Among other things, Tolkien wrote that in the Third Age Sauron claimed to be Morgoth returned to Middle-earth. Since Sauron and the Balrog apparently never came together during the Third Age, and since no other Maia before had been able to reconstitute itself, Sauron probably had a very good chance of fooling the Balrog from a distance.

You see a suggestion in the primary text, in the name of Gothmog (lieutenant of Minas Morgul), of this identification of Sauron. Also, when Aragorn says that Sauron does not allow his servants to use his right name, many people wonder what he is talking about.

Linguists suggest that “Gothmog” could mean something like “voice of (Mor)Goth” — hence, Gothmog might actually be the Mouth of Sauron. Until Aragorn claims the throne of Gondor and openly proclaims Sauron to be the Dark Lord of Mordor, Sauron’s ruse is still in effect. So Sauron’s servants must have believed he was Morgoth right up until the very end. Only when Aragorn revealed the truth did the Mouth of Sauron name himself as “the Mouth of Sauron”.

If Tolkien intended all these points to go together as I have presented them, then it is almost cerain that the Balrog of Moria regarded Sauron to be Morgoth and therefore its lord and commander.

And that’s enough about Balrogs for now….