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Balrogs

Meaning:
Demons of Power

Other Names:
Quenya: Valarauko (singular), Valaraukar (plural)

Location(s):
Almaren
Aman
Middle-earth

Race/Species: Ainur

Dates:
from the Beginning of Time through the Third Age

Description:

Balrogs are corrupted Maia who clothe themselves in Middle-earth as terrifying demons of shadow and flame:

The Balrogs, of whom the whips were the chief weapons, were primeval spirits of destroying fire, chief servants of the primeval Dark Power of the First Age.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Letter 144 to Naomi Mitchison, 25 April 1954

[Their] hearts were of fire, but they were cloaked in darkness, and terror went before them; they had whips of flame.

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 3, Of The Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor

[They] had whips of flame and claws of steel, and were in stature very great.

The Book of Lost Tales 2, HoME Vol 2, Ch 3, The Fall of Gondolin

[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....

Its streaming mane kindled, and blazed behind it. In its right hand was a blade like a stabbing tongue of fire; in its left it held a whip of many thongs....

[The] shadow about it reached out like two vast wings. It raised the whip, and the thongs whined and cracked. Fire came from its nostrils....

The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew. It stepped foward slowly on to the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall....

The Fellowship of the Ring, LoTR Book 2, Ch 5, The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

They were Maia who followed the Vala Melkor (later known as Morgoth) and became corrupted into evil by him:

For of the Maiar many were drawn to [Melkor's] splendour in the days of his greatness, and remained in that allegiance down into his darkness; and others he corrupted afterwards to his service with lies and treacherous gifts. Dreadful among these spirits were the Valaraukar, the scourges of fire that in Middle-earth were called the Balrogs, demons of terror.

The Silmarillion, Valaquenta: Of the Enemies

And in Utumno [Melkor] gathered his demons about him, those spirits who first adhered to him in the days of his splendour, and became most like him in his corruption.... Balrogs they were named in Middle-earth in later days.

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 3, Of The Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor

Most of the Balrogs were destroyed at the end of the First Age; one notable exception being the Balrog of Moria, also known as Durin's Bane:

The meeting of the hosts of the West and of the North is named... the War of Wrath. There was marshalled the whole power of the Throne of Morgoth, and it had become great beyond count....

But it availed him not. The Balrogs were destroyed, save some few that fled and hid themselves in caverns inaccessible at the roots of the earth....

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 24, Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath

They were supposed to have been all destroyed in the overthrow of Thangorodrim, his fortress in the North. But it is here found (there is usually a hang-over especially of evil from one age to another) that one had escaped and taken refuge under the mountains of Hithaeglir (the Misty Mountains). It is observable that only the Elf knows what the thing is – and doubtless Gandalf.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Letter 144 to Naomi Mitchison, 25 April 1954

The power of Sauron, servant of Morgoth, was then again growing.... The Dwarves delved deep at that time, seeking beneath Barazinbar for mithril.... Thus they roused from sleep a thing of terror that, flying from Thangorodrim, had lain hidden at the foundations of the earth since the coming of the Host of the West: a Balrog of Morgoth. Durin was slain by it, and the year after Náin I, his son; and then the glory of Moria passed, and its people were destroyed or fled far away.

The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: Durin's Folk

As originally conceived, Balrogs were not quite as overwhelmingly powerful as they later became in Tolkien's writings:

The early conception of the Balrogs makes them less terrible, and certainly more destructible, than they afterwards became: they existed in 'hundreds'..., and were slain by Tuor and the Gondothlim in large numbers.... The Balrogs are 'demons of power'...; they are capable of pain and fear...; they are attired in iron armour..., and they have whips of flame (a character they never lost) and claws of steel....

The Book of Lost Tales 2, HoME Vol 2, Ch 3, The Fall of Gondolin: Notes and Commentary

Then said Rog in a great voice: "Who now shall fear the Balrogs for all their terror? See before us the accursed ones who for ages have tormented the children of the Noldoli, and who now set a fire at our backs with their shooting. Come ye of the Hammer of Wrath and we will smite them for their evil." Thereupon he lifted his mace... and he made a way before him by the wrath of his onset even unto the fallen gate: but all the people of the Stricken Anvil ran behind like a wedge, and sparks came from their eyes for the fury of their rage. A great deed was that sally, as the Noldoli sing yet, and many of the Orcs were borne backward into the fires below; but the men of Rog leapt even upon the coils of the serpents and came at those Balrogs and smote them grievously, for all they had whips of flame and claws of steel, and were in stature very great. They battered them into nought, or catching at their whips wielded these against them, that they tore them even as they had aforetime torn the Gnomes; 1 and the number of Balrogs that perished was a marvel and dread to the hosts of Melko, for ere that day never had any of the Balrogs been slain by the hand of Elves or Men.

The Book of Lost Tales 2, HoME Vol 2, Ch 3, The Fall of Gondolin

Now the Orcs again take heart from the coming of the drakes, and they mingle with the Balrogs that pour about the breach, and they assail the Gondothlim grievously.... [By] reason of the great doughtiness of those two lords [Tuor and Ecthelion] came even unto the Balrogs. Of those demons of power Ecthelion slew three, for the brightness of his sword cleft the iron of them and did hurt to their fire, and they writhed; yet of the leap of that axe Dramborleg that was swung by the hand of Tuor were they still more afraid, for it sang like the rush of eagle's wings in the air and took death as it fell, and five of them went down before it.

The Book of Lost Tales 2, HoME Vol 2, Ch 3, The Fall of Gondolin

[In] a late note my father said that only very few ever existed — 'at most seven'.

The Book of Lost Tales 2, HoME Vol 2, Ch 3, The Fall of Gondolin: Notes and Commentary


Etymology
val-  'power' in Valar, Valacirca, Valaquenta, Valaraukar, Val(i)mar, Valinor. The original stem was bal-, preserved in Sindarin Balan, plural Belain, the Valar, and in Balrog.

The Silmarillion, Appendix: Elements in Quenya and Sindarin Names

rauko-  'demon' in Valaraukar; Sindarin raug, rog in Balrog.

The Silmarillion, Appendix: Elements in Quenya and Sindarin Names


Notes
1Gnomes: an early name for the Noldor.

Contributors:
Lyllyn 21Dec02
Elena Tiriel 19Nov05, 7Feb10, 24Jun11

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