THE BALROG WINGS FAQ
1) What were Balrogs?
Balrogs were demons. Prior to the writing of THE LORD OF THE RINGS,
Tolkien stated they were bred by Melko and that Gothmog their lord
was his son. During the years in which Tolkien wrote THE LORD OF
THE RINGS and related material (1938-54), Tolkien substantially
revised his conception of the Balrogs so that they became Maiar
corrupted by Melkor (Morgoth).
2) Did Balrogs have wings?
Balrogs in the 1916 story "The Fall of Gondolin" do not appear
to have had wings. The Balrog of Moria in THE LORD OF THE RINGS
did have wings. They stretched from wall to wall. See #3 below.
3) What about the word "like" in THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING? Doesn't
it prove that the wings were just a metaphor?
The wings were seen by the members of the Fellowship. They were
hardly metaphorical (metaphors are used in narrative or to convey
ideas in character-to-character discussions). That Tolkien used
the word "like" in the clause "and the shadow about it reached out
like two vast wings" doesn't itself indicate the wings were not
there. This is only the first indication that there were indeed
wings. If "like" means there were no wings, then it means there
was no shadow to begin with, as the shadow is introduced with
"like": "What it was could not be seen: it was like a great
shadow...." And since the "shadow" is referred to, it must have
existed, just as since the wings were referred to they must have
4) Well, if the Balrog of Moria had wings, why didn't it fly through
the cavern to attack the Fellowship?
Apart from the fact that Tolkien didn't write it that way, if you
consider also that the wings, when fully extended, stretched from
wall to wall of the cavern, and that there were two rows of very
large "pillars" marching down the chamber toward the chasm where
the Balrog confronted the Company of the Ring, it probably seemed
unlikely to Tolkien that the Balrog COULD fly down the length of
the Cavern. We can only second-guess him in this matter, but that
seems to be the most reasonable conclusion.
5) So, why didn't it fly out of the chasm when Gandalf broke the bridge?
Didn't the chasm stretch from wall to wall also?
Yes, the chasm stretched all the way across the cavern, and could
only be crossed by the bridge which Gandalf destroyed. However,
as the story indicates, instead of trying to save itself, the
Balrog chose instead to grapple Gandalf and drag him down with it.
We later find out that Gandalf and the Balrog fought on the way
down, and that Gandalf was burned by being held so closely to
the Balrog. Neither Gandalf nor the Balrog died as a result of
their plunge into the chasm, so the Balrog appears not have been
afraid of dying in the chasm. It had already survived an attack
by Gandalf which would have killed any other creature (Man, Elf,
Hobbit, Dwarf, Orc, or Troll) involved in the Moria encounter.
6) So, why didn't the Balrog go after the Ring?
Nowhere in the story are we told that it even knew about or wanted
the Ring. We ARE told, however, that Gandalf dropped part of the
mountain on the Balrog when it was trying to pursue the Fellowship
after they fled the Chamber of Mazarbul. At the very least, it
may have decided it needed to get rid of Gandalf before it could
deal with the rest of the Fellowship. Or it may simply have been
very angry at having tons of rock dropped on it. The Balrog does
appear to have perceived Gandalf as the most powerful and dangerous
member of the Fellowship.
7) What were the wings made of?
We don't know. Quite probably "shadow-stuff", whatever it was which
the Balrogs used to cloak themselves in darkness. They probably
were not made of flesh and blood, or feathers, and need not have
been membraneous (skin stretched across appendages).
8) Did Balrogs fly?
Not in the 1916 story "The Fall of Gondolin". However, in a passage of
"Quenta Silmarillion" which was not completely included in the
published SILMARILLION, Tolkien wrote the following sentence:
"Swiftly they arose, and they passed with winged speed over Hithlum,
and they came to Lammoth as a tempest of fire."
To date, all attempts to show that this passage can mean something
other than that the Balrogs were flying have been unsuccessful. The
sentence indicates the Balrogs were travelling very fast ("swiftly",
"winged speed"), but their arrival in Lammoth indicates they came
out of the sky (as a "storm of fire"). "Tempest" can mean something
other than "storm", most notably "tumult", but a tumult is a great
noise or confusion, and the sentence makes no sense if you substitute
"tumult" (or great noise) for "tempest".
Since the Balrogs were flying, "winged speed" may be more literal
than figurative. Hence, Tolkien's use of the phrase here is another
indication of the wings on the Balrogs.
9) Did the Balrogs use their wings to fly?
We don't know. As Balrogs were not made of flesh and blood, it's
quite reasonable to suggest the wings were used by them for flight.
But the wings may have just been there for "show", to intimidate
other creatures. The flying Balrogs, being Maiar, were not exactly
constrained to abide by all the laws of "physics" in Middle-earth
which the Men, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Orcs, and Trolls were.
Or, it may simply be that the Balrog bodies were insubstantial
enough that the wings could indeed provide sufficient lift for
them. The Balrog of Moria appears to be made of fire encased by
an envelope or veneer of something which served it as "skin". In
one passage, Tolkien mentions that flames come out of its nostrils,
and in another passage it leaps over a fire and takes no harm, while
in fact its "mane" is kindled by the leaping flames.
10) Why didn't Tolkien just write "the Balrogs were winged creatures" or
"the Balrogs flew across Hithlum"?
We can only second-guess him, but he did prefer to write longer, more
eloquent descriptions of characters and their actions to short
statements of fact. It's a stylistic issue.
11) Why does this issue get debated so often?
Perhaps a lot of people think they are right and want to argue about
Michael Martinez wrote:
> THE BALROG WINGS FAQ
> 2) Did Balrogs have wings?
> Balrogs in the 1916 story "The Fall of Gondolin" do not appear
> to have had wings.
(nr. 144, to N.Mitchison, 25 April 1954):
'[The Balrogs] were supposed to have been all destroyed in the owerthrow of
Thangorodrim, [Morgoth's] fortress in the North. But it is here found (...)
that one had escaped and taken refuge under the mountins of Hithaeglin (the
Misty Mountains). it is observable that only the Elf knows what the thing
is - and doubtless Gandalf.'
According to the FAQs you quated and this letter, if the Balrogs in "The Fall
of Gondolin" didn't have wings then the Moria Balrog as one who had "esescaped
and taken refuge under the mountins of Hithaeglin (the Misty Mountains)" did
not have wings.
Following up to "The Fall of Gondolin" with a letter about THE LORD OF THE
RINGS makes as much sense as offering to go to bat for a goalie in a hockey
>According to the FAQs you quated and this letter, if the Balrogs in "The Fall
>of Gondolin" didn't have wings then the Moria Balrog as one who had "esescaped
>and taken refuge under the mountins of Hithaeglin (the Misty Mountains)" did
>not have wings.
Wrong. Tolkien does not say the Balrogs didn't have wings.
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