- "Then something came into the chamber - I felt it through the door, and the orcs themselves were afraid and fell silent. It laid hold of the iron ring, and then it perceived me and my spell."
- —The Lord of the Rings, "The Bridge of Khazad-dûm"
In unrecorded ancient times, the balrogs were originally fiery Maiar that were persuaded by Melkor's might and splendor to join his cause. Their first dwelling had been in Utumno, but after their master's defeat during the War for Sake of the Elves, the Balrogs and other creatures in Melkor's service escaped and went to Angband.
Years of the Trees
Balrogs were present as early as the Years of the Trees when Melkor and Ungoliant went to Valinor and destroyed the Two Trees. By then, the Balrogs remained in the pits of Angband. After Morgoth destroyed the Trees with Ungoliant, he came to the ruins of Angband to renew his rule in Middle-earth. A disagreement with Ungoliant led to her attacking him, and Morgoth gave out a great cry that roused the Balrogs from their slumber. In a tempest of fire, the Balrogs drove Ungoliant away and prepared to pursue her. However, they were halted by Morgoth and returned to Angband, which shortly thereafter was constructed anew.
When the Noldor won the battle Dagor-nuin-Giliath, Fëanor furiously pressed on toward Angband. He came even within sight of Angband, but was ambushed by a force of Balrogs with few Noldor around him. Soon he stood alone, but long he fought on with all Balrogs alone as mightiest all the Children of Iluvatar even though he was wrapped in fire and wounded with many wounds. But finally Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs, felled and mortally wounded Fëanor.
The Balrogs fought during the Nírnaeth Arnoediad, where Gothmog led the invasion. He threw aside Húrin and Turgon, turned upon Fingon and killed him with the help of another Balrog, securing the field for Morgoth's forces. He also captured Húrin, after Húrin was buried under a mountain of slain foes. He bound the human warrior and delivered him to Angband, whereupon Morgoth attempted unsuccessfully to pry the location of Gondolin from him.
In FA 510, during the Fall of Gondolin, the Balrogs rode upon the backs of dragons to reach the hidden city of Gondolin. The Lord of the House of the Fountain, Ecthelion, managed to kill Gothmog at the cost of his own life. While attempting to escape the burning city, Glorfindel and his companions were blocked by another Balrog. To save Tuor, Idril and their young son Eärendil, Glorfindel fought the Balrog on a cliff and cast it down, but he was pulled down with the Balrog to their deaths.
In TA 1980, a Balrog awoke in Moria when the Dwarves had mined too deep for Mithril. It drove the Dwarves out of their home and slew King Durin VI, and the Balrog was thereafter called "Durin's Bane".
During the War of the Ring, the Fellowship of the Ring passed through Moria and encountered Durin's Bane, which pursued them to the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. Gandalf the Grey fought the Balrog, allowing the Fellowship to escape Moria. Both fell into the abyss, but the battle continued at the peak of Zirakzigil. Finally, it ended, but both Gandalf and Durin's Bane were slain in the process. Gandalf was later "sent back" by the Valar, as Gandalf the White.
AppearanceBalrogs generally took the form of tall, menacing beings roughly in the shape of a Man, though seeming to consist or be surrounded by shadow. They used both a flaming sword, and a many thronged whip; and, were constantly burning, with all their weapons having appeared to be made of lava. Gothmog, the Lord of Balrogs in the First Age, used a black axe as well. Balrogs induced great terror in friend and foe alike; many who faced Balrogs referred to them as monsters consisting purely of shadow and flame.
The issue of Balrogs having wings has been long-debated in Tolkien circles. The use of "like wings" to describe the shadow around the Balrog is the epicenter of the discussion. It remains somewhat ambiguous whether they had wings, but the description of the shadow as stretching from "wall to wall" does not fit the scale of the Balrog in the book. The use of a simile also suggests that they did not have them; however, there is also a quote that states the Balrog's wings stretched from wall to wall, causing more confusion, as just a few lines earlier there was the aforementioned use of "like wings".
Balrogs seemed to encapsulate and project power and terror, perhaps meant to be a dark shadow of the majesty that the Valar radiate. Additionally, Tolkien refers to Balrogs with "streaming fiery manes".
Additionally, they may have been able to alter their body structures on occasion, as in the battle between Durin's Bane and Gandalf, when the Balrog fell into a body of water he shifted himself into something slimy. However, it is also possible that this alternate form was simply Gandalf using colorful language to describe what the Balrog was like after having its flame extinguished and being covered in water. It is also possible that, while the Balrog, like all other Ainur, could shift form, this was not a case of that.
Powers and abilities
Balrogs were exceptionally powerful creatures. Only seven Balrogs were required to drive away Ungoliant, a large monster powerful enough to devour consume the fruits of Telperion, which produced the light for billions of stars.
A single Balrog, who became known as Durin's Bane, alone managed to drive the Dwarves of Moria from their ancient and supremely fortified nation-state, which was at the time the greatest kingdom of Dwarves that had ever been. It also contended with Gandalf, and shattered the side of a mountain with physical might alone. The Balrogs were considerably bodily agile, such that their passing is once described as a “tempest of fire”.
Gothmog fought against and overcame Fëanor, an elf who was powerful enough to control the light of the two trees. He also spread chaos through the city of Gondolin, filled with elves of similar, though far lower, caliber. It was even thought to be at least somewhat comparable to Sauron during the first age.
In Sindarin, the word Balrog means "Demon of Might", from the words bal ("power") and raug, rog ("demon"). Balrogs are called Valarauko or Valaraukar[note 1] in Quenya, from the words vala ("power") and rauco ("demon").
In other writings, Balrog is derived from ñgwalaraukô ("demon").
- Gothmog - the Lord of the Balrogs and High-captain of Angband, slain by Ecthelion during the Fall of Gondolin
- Durin's Bane - awakened in the Third Age, slain by Gandalf at the peak of Zirakzigil
In other versions of the legendarium
In Tolkien's later writings, he made note of the fact that there could not have ever been more than seven Balrogs, yet they were able to drive away Ungoliant in what was described as a "tempest of fire".
In another early writing, the Lord of the Balrogs was named Lungorthin. It is unknown whether it is another name for Gothmog, but Christopher Tolkien thinks it is probable, since the name Gothmog was already mentioned in the earliest writings about Middle-earth.
Initially, the Balrogs were often described to be immense in numbers:
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 warriors of the king's house.
—The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, commentary by Christopher Tolkien on "The Fall of Gondolin"
In later writings, however, Christopher Tolkien notes that:
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
Portrayal in adaptations
- In the video games The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth and The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, the Balrog is a power of the goblins and Mordor which cost 25 Power points, with Whip, Sword, Wings, Firebreath and other weapons can cause devastating damage towards enemy units and structures.
- It is a boss character in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Video Game, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers on Game Boy Advance and The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. In the latter, the Balrog is fought by Gandalf on the Player's side and becomes a usable hero for the duration of the battle. Though it is referenced in the video games based on the Films.
- It appears in The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest, resembling the movie version.
- Two Balrogs also appear in The Lord of the Rings Online: Thaurlach, located deep within the Rift of Nurz Ghashu in Angmar, and Durin's Bane, encountered several times during introductive "quests" to Moria. An illusion of Durin's Bane is encountered in the Ost Dunhoth Instance Raid.
- In LEGO The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game, players can play as Gandalf and fight with, and eventually defeat the Balrog. The Balrog also appears as an enemy in LEGO Dimensions.
- The Balrog is also a playable Hero in The Lord of the Rings: Conquest in Mission 4 - The Mines of Moria and Mission 7- The Shire (Evil Campaign)
- A Balrog by the name of Tar Goroth appears in the game Middle Earth: Shadow of War as a boss. He is fought in multiple stages, and meets his end frozen in a lake by Carnán. Though he is almost resurrected by a Uruk necromancer, Talion and Celebrimbor manage to stop him.
- Balrog (named Firelord Balrog) appears in the game The Legend of the Cryptids as a playable card.
- Almost all the known individuals were vanquished in terms of double suicides or falling together. All the balrogs within their final battles end in falling. Gothmog sunk deep in the fountain, Glorfindel's balrog fell over a cliff, and Durin's Bane actually fell twice (fell with Gandalf from the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and thrown down from the top of Zirakzigil by the final blow of the wizard).
- Seemingly, there had not been dangerous conflicts between balrogs and dragons. It is unclear whether this was achieved because these fiery demons and monsters were indeed compatible and were sensible, or because there were no common interests, and both of them were unconcerned about each other. It is also possible that such situations might have been restricted and controlled by orders of their master to avoid damaging the mightiest members of his forces.
- Some fans of the Doom series claim that the Balrog of the movies looks similar to a cross between the Maledict and Cyberdemon from Doom 3, inheriting similar wings to the former and a similar overall shape to the latter.
- A demonic monster in the popular 2D side-scrolling game Maplestory, bears many similar qualities and characteristics, and thus many believe the monster was represented on behalf of the fictitious one depicted in the Tolkien series.
- A certain antagonist in the MMORPG Wartune, Merloch, is identical exactly to a Balrog, save for an additional two horns.
- A demon in Dungeon Hunter: Alliance called the "Cremator" has the same head and fiery presence as a Balrog, but without wings.
- Many fans claim that the Balrog inspired Games Workshop's Bloodthirster in Warhammer, which is known as the Greater Daemon of Khorne.
- The main antagonist of Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, the Dahaka, strongly resembles the book rendition of Balrog (bigger than man but not a giant; seemingly comprised of shadow), but has one horn bent downward and one upward, and it does not have wings.
- The Balor from Dungeons and Dragons is clearly based on the Balrog.
- In early editions of the game, it was in fact referred to as the Balrog. The name was changed due to copyright claims made by Tolkien Estate.
- The hero named Hellbringer from the MOBA game Heroes of Newerth can summon Malphas, whose appearance is very similar to the cinematic rendering of the Balrog.
- War, the first horseman and main playable character from the game Darksiders, has a chaos form that looks very similar to Durin's Bane.
- "Balrog" was the name of a boxer from the USA who made his debut as the second boss in Street Fighter II. Although he cannot kick, he made up for it with pummeling punches. This name was originally part of a triangle of replacement; the original Japanese game credited him as M. Bison (after boxer Mike Tyson), leaving the character Vega named Balrog.
- In the manga and anime series Saint Seiya, Balrog Rune (or Balron Lune) is a servant of Hades clad in armor modeled after Tolkien's monster.
- The Juggernaut and its upgrade the Ravager in Heroes VI, also resembles the Balrog's looks, especially the head region. Whether this is on purpose or just a coincidence is not known.
- The boss Fyrus from Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess bears a slight resemblance to the Balrog, in its height and black, fiery form.
- The form of the character Chaos in Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy, Feral Chaos ("Desperado Chaos" in the Japanese version), bore a strong resemblance to the Balrog (particularly its depiction in Peter Jackson's films) due to his being massive, demonic, possessing horns, and being constantly wreathed in flame.
- Various characters from the Diablo franchise are visually similar to the Balrog.
Translations around the world
|Foreign Language||Translated name|
|Kazakh||Балрог (Cyrillic) Balrog (Latin)|
|Serbian||Балрог (Cyrillic) Balrog (Latin)|
|Uzbek||Балрог (Cyrillic) Balrog (Latin)|
- ↑ Also spelled Valarauco and Valaraucar
- The Truth About Balrogs essay series by Conrad Dunkerson