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Minas Tirith Forums » Library Council of Minas Tirith » The question of Balrog wings (Page 1)
Author Topic: The question of Balrog wings
White Gold Wielder
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Let's get started with a classic question.

Did Balrogs have wings?

Sometimes I wonder if there is anyone out there who still has questions about this, but there's always newbies. We should be able to knock this one out quickly.


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Roll of Honor Fingolfin of the Noldor
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Yes, but they couldn't fly.
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White Gold Wielder
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Evidence?

This isn't just a list of opinions, you know. The case is very strong for the wings being a figure of speech and just made from darkness. How do you justify your opinion?


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gram
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I say yes, the balrog in LotR had wings. People point to this passage to argue the no wings stance:
quote:
His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings.

In that passage J.R.R. Tolkien is describing the shadow that is around the balrog, not the wings; seemingling trying to give the balrog a more sinister and overpowering appearance. Soon after, J.R.R. Tolkien definitely states that this balrog had wings:
quote:
It stepped forward slowly on to the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall;...

It seems clear that in this instance the wings were a physical attribute of the balrog. Why the balrog did not use the wings to its advantage is never written about by J.R.R. Tolkien in LotR. Perhaps he gave this balrog wings to increase its menace.
I am not sure if he ever addressed this issue in any of his Letters. It seems likely that he would have. But based on the information given at the time on balrogs as written in the books published while J.R.R. Tolkien was still alive, then the LotR balrog had wings. Other books like The Silmarillion were published after his death and thus could not be entirely in the form that J.R.R. Tolkien wanted. Perhaps he would have gone back and rewrote those parts of his history and mythology to bring all of the information in line. Or perhaps after years of being harassed by people on this question he would have just said "Stuff it!" and let the lack of a definitive answer worry them for ever more.


------------------
""Oh, it's the meek! Blessed are the meek! Oh, that's nice, isn't it?
I'm glad they're getting something, 'cause they have a hell of a time."

This message has been edited by gram on 02-28-2001 at


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White Gold Wielder
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Ah, but the No-Wingers say that the second passage is just speaking about the wings of shadow mentioned previously. I have to do some research on the name of this literary technique, but it makes the passage in question sound more elegant, which is why it seems so obvious to those who hold this opinion.
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Warg
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Yes the Balrog has wings but wheather he can use them or not is a mystery. Here's a quote:

"and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall...."

This gives evidence to the fact that it does have wings, not that it can fly. Even if it could fly, it would not be able to in such closed quarters. The quote was obviously from LOTR, Bridge of Khazad-Dum. We all know of the Balrog falling in the abyss under the bridge. There is a nother time that a Balrog falls and doesnt use its wings.

"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" Silmarillion, of Tuor and the fall of Gondolin.

This is twice that a Balrog falls and does not use its wings to stop its decent. This still does not give full proof, but it provides some what of an arguement. There is also a quote from the Silm that doesnt say that the Balrogs were flying, but it sounds like it to me.

"...Balrogs lurked still, awaiting ever the return of their lord; and now swiftly they arose, and passing over Hithlum theu cme to lammoth as a tempest of fire. With their whips of flame they smote asunder the webs of Ungoliant, and she qualed..." Of the flight of the Noldor.

It sounds to me like they were flying.

------------------
Hwæt we Gar-Dena in gear-dagum
peod-cyninga prym gefrunon,
hu oa æpelingas ellen fremedon.


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gram
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[First let me preface this reply with the fact that it does not matter to me one way or another if the balrog had wings or if Legolas had blonde hair, or if the balrog had blonde hair and Legolas had wings (which seems possible. How else could he have run across the top of the snow like he did?)]

Yes, but that first passage is not describing wings of shadow. It it stating what the shadow that is about the balrog looked like. Another argument would be that of course the shadow about the balrog reached out like vast wings because the balrog had wings and they would perforce have shadows that look like wings that would appear vast because of the projection of the shadow on the walls of the cavern caused by the torches and the glowing from the fissure.

------------------
""Oh, it's the meek! Blessed are the meek! Oh, that's nice, isn't it?
I'm glad they're getting something, 'cause they have a hell of a time."


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Roll of Honor Marcho Blackwood - MSS
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I'm not sure whether the Balrog's had wings or not. Both sides of the issue make excellent points, backed up with appropriate references to the main sources. Good tone and a scholarly discussion. A great start to the library, in my humble opinion.

Suggestion -> Balrogs, have wings, but once they reach maturity, their heaviness prevents them from using them for anything other than intimidation.


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Edain the Ranger
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Mog: Maybe so, but we're talking about literary characters here not some derivative sprites from a 'puter game.

Personally I lean towards the opinion that Balrogs have wings. Taking the first quote from the 'Bridge of Khazad Dûm' (kindly reproduced by Gram) I say that Tolkien is using a simile to describe the shadow, and in the second quote announcing the form of the Balrog. Though I welcome other interpretations.

Oh I wish that Tolkien had done a Bestiary...


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Roll of Honor Dernhelm
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Well, I thought I'd offer my two and one half cents……
Yes, it seems proper to examine the use of shadow and shadows in this instance of winged or non-winged balrogs. I hardly need mention the quotes in question, but just in case you need yet one more reference to them , here they are:

quote:
His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings.

and

..suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall..."


What interests me more are the other shadow and darkness references within this same passage of the book: of the appearance of the Balrog and the ensuing battle upon the bridge.
Consider:

quote:
What it was could not be seen: it was like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape, maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and to go before it.

It came to the edge of the fire and the light faded as if a cloud had bent over it.

Go back to the Shadow!
The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew.

With a terrible cry the Balrog fell forward, and its shadow plunged down and vanished.


Ok. Given these pieces of information, what I construct is that the Balrog did not have wings in the conventional, physical webbed-dragon-like-wing sense. It seems to me that all these shadow references refer to the malevolent evil around the creature - like an evil aura if you will. And this isn't such a stretch (to my mind at least) given all of Tolkien's repeated references to Sauron as THE Shadow; the Dark Lord. The Ringwraiths are described as being "shadows under His Great Shadow." These metaphors establish a trend toward shadowy, dark things as questionable or of evil intent, and so I take the shadow around the Balrog to be another manifestation of that.
Note: I don't deny that there is a shadow about the Balrog. I merely deny the "wing = Balrog's had physical wings" theory. That the shadows about it looked like metaphorical wings, sure

The final quote I've selected could be stretching it a bit, but I think it's quite relevant to include considering the already abundant "shadows" in this portion of the text. Disregarding the literal interpretation, I think it more likely that: A. it foreshadows the Balrog's fate (as in Gandalf: I threw down my enemy…….) and/or B. represents a lessening of its power at coming into battle with one of the Istari (as if some spell of terror with which it had enveloped itself had been broken, leaving it vulnerable).

Another issue to consider would be size and scale, of Balrog, the "wings" and the hall itself. And somewhere in my brain I have a problem envisioning a hundreds of feet wingspan being practical in an underground dwarven city, especially if it "…drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall…" Those would be some pretty biiiiig wings to drag around for decoration.

At least, that's how I see it………

This message has been edited by Dernhelm on 03-01-2001 at


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Warg
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The only place i have seen mentioned of a balrog and wings in the same sentince is in LOTR. Could this not be some thing left out intentionally. Many times authors will leave out parts of a creature or place to add to the mystery or to just let the reader have some free space to imagin the text. They will usually just give you enough to get the creative ball rolling.
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The Laurenendôrian
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Now, I may be trying to take too much of a holistic view of everything here, but this is what it looks like to me: The Balrogs were Maiar. They chose their own forms and so presumably could change them. If this is the case, surely they could create wings, whether physical or merely for effect, pretty much at will. Perhaps, though, the wings were the physical embodiment of the shadow aspect of Balrogs. Certainly the Balrog in Moria is shown to have two complementary sides: the fire and the shadow.
The wings could be the way in which the Balrogs chose to manifest this shadowy half of themselves.

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Miturian
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In the Silm it is said that Miar who were ensnared by Morgoth were turned into Balrogs.
I don't think you can use the argument about other balrogs not flying at this topic, because it isn't told anywhere that all Balrogs looked the same, only that they were of great might. We can therefore only discuss the one at the bridge, since it's the only one detailed enough for discussion.

------------------
If you haven't been at the buttom,
and climbed all the way op,
then you don't know what you're standing on.


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Mithrandir
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i say that they have wings, agreeing with the envidence above, but i dont think they could fly, for if it could, both times the balrog would have flown away to safety, but then again....with the one in Moria....if it was such a deep abyss how did it land safely? i can see Gandalf using magic to help himself, but maybe the balrog slowed himself with his wings?

This message has been edited by Mithrandir on 03-03-2001 at


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Miturian
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Or it was just the might and immortality, of the balrog who did it, but good point to ponder.
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Roll of Honor Fingolfin of the Noldor
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Check out the Encyclopedia of Arda comparison of the arguments:
http://www.glyphweb.com/arda/b/balrogs.html

------------------
Morgoth CHEATED!!!!!!!


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Earendilyon
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I had allways the impression Morgoth corrupted certain Maiar into Balrogs (like he is said to have corrupted Elves into Orcs). Like he made various peoples of Orcs he may have made various Balrogs, some with and some without wings.
Another problem: how many Balrogs have ever existed, many or just a couple?

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Roland
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I think that Balrog did have wings because of the text I read during that scene. However, I doubt he was capable of flying because he fell into the depths, if he knew how to use his wings why didn't he just fly back up, instead he plumited.
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Mithrandir
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lots and lots, a guess would be over 500. also, its very clear the Balrogs have wings, but can't fly.
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Roll of Honor Fingolfin of the Noldor
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Morgoth didn't make the Balrogs but they could take any form (kinda like Sauron taking the form of a Werewolf, eye, or "fair form of an ambassador from the Valar")
and so I submit that it was possible for balrogs to have wings but they probably didn't. In the silm during one of the major battles (I don't remember off hand which) there was mention of a troll escort for the Balrogs, now if they could fly then y would they need a troll esscort, and it wouldn't make much since for them to have wings when they couldn't fly.
Also wings on balrogs were only mentioned in lotr and only in the presence of the term used as a simile and so I believe that they term wings was used as both a metaphor and a simile in describing the shadow of darkness which sorrounded the Balrog.

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Mithrandir
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well, i KNOW that they couldn't fly. For in the Silm. (somewhere) it says that "Sauron did not yet have evil creatures in the air" which rules out balrogs flying, and the balrog that died when it fell. and when Gondolin was assaulted by them...why did they break the hard gates and not fly up into the city?
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Roll of Honor Fingolfin of the Noldor
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Do you agree with me that references to wings in lotr where simply metaphors and similes?
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Earendilyon
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If I'm correct, I've read somewhere in HoME, taht JRRT meant there to be only a few Balrogs.

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Roll of Honor Gandalf the White
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lol, i think he meant fly like run really fast although it is an interesting idea

------------------
Three ring for the Elven Kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for the Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne,
In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.
One ring to rule them all,
One ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all,
And in the darkness bind them,
In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.


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Roll of Honor Fingolfin of the Noldor
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But the term wings was clearly used as a simile for the darkness so don't you think it was also used as a metaphor for the same?

Why would tolkien use wings as a metaphor for arms when he had already described the balrog as having arms?


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