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Can Balrog's Fly?

From: Don Dueck

Did Balrogs Fly? While I really have no stake in the issue one way or another, I was intrigued by the question nonetheless and decided to look into it for myself. Please note that I have only read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

From Appendix A, Section III (Durin's Folk) included in the 1995 Harper Collins paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings, the initial discovery of the Balrog in Moria is described:
Thus [the dwarves] 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.
From this passage I believe we can conclude that Balrogs had the ability to fly.

Tolkien describes the darkness around the Balrog as being like 'wings' ("His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings"). This in no way discounts the possibility that the Balrog could have real wings. In fact, a few paragraphs later, the Balrog is described as having physical wings ("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...").

Clearly the second mention of wings cannot be taken to be the same figurative shadow as mentioned the first time. The description of the spreading of wings fits all too well into the context of the Balrog drawing itself to it's fullest height in an intimidating fashion. However, some might argue that, if the Balrog could fly, why could it not simply fly across the bridge of Khazad-Dum? The answer, of course, is obvious from the text: there simply was no room to fly ("... its wings were spread from wall to wall...").

Another point raised against the "flying Balrog" uses text from the Silmarillion which refers to rivers of flame being compared in swiftness to a running Balrog: "Then suddenly Morgoth sent forth great rivers of flame that ran down swifter than Balrogs from Thangorodrim, and poured over all the plain...". Comparing the speed of a river's flow to a creature's top speed is the point of the text, and some erroneously believe that the text states that the Balrogs used in the comparison were running (which implies that Balrogs cannot fly, since flying is faster than running, and a speed comparison against a creature is always made with the assumption that the creature is moving as fast as possible).

An analysis of this statement shows that it was the river itself that was running (as rivers often do), and not necessarily the Balrogs used as a comparison. That's akin to saying "Superman runs faster than the train, so the train must also be running". There is no reason why a river's flow could not be compared, speed wise, to a creature's flight.

Another point used against the Balrog's supposed ability to fly is the fact that some Balrogs were in the train of the Great Worm Glaurang, who was land bound. There is no logical basis for believing that beings following a land bound creature would also have to be land bound. In modern militaries we have flying aircraft in the train of land bound vehicles all the time (called "ground/close support"). Also, there's no reason why the Balrogs would even have to fly while following of Glaurang. It is quite clear that Balrogs can walk comfortably. The fact that Balrogs may have been walking behind Glaurang does not mean Balrogs did not have the ability to fly. That's simply a leap of logic.

From the text I have read, and the text I've refuted, I do not believe there is an airtight case for the "Balrogs cannot fly" camp. I also don't think that the arguments in favor of the Balrogs' ability to fly are 100% perfect, I, personally, lean more toward this conclusion.


Regarding the aforementioned passage, "Thus [the dwarves] 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.", it is possible to argue that the "flight" in this sense means "escaping", and not necessarily aerial movement. I have discounted this possible interpretation on the grounds that, in the context, it seems more natural that the writer would have used the word "fleeing" instead of "flying" if he simply meant escape. I have not read the Silmarillion, so I cannot fully attest to the context of the quote.

When the word "fly" is used to mean "escape", usually the noun "flight" is used. What makes this usage of the word "flying" truly a contentious issue is that Gandalf, before his fall from the bridge of Khazad-Dhum, cries out "Fly, you fools!". This passage shows that Tolkien was comfortable using the word "fly" to mean "escape" in its more archaic sense (which opens up the possibility that the word "flying" in the above quoted passage does, in fact, mean "escaping").

However, even if the writer meant this, it does not, in any way, mean that Balrogs did not have wings nor does it mean that they could not fly (as some may mistakenly deduce through false logic); it simply removes a pillar of support for the argument that they could fly.

Ironically, it would seem that the entire debate hinges on this single word: "flying".

Fear of the Middle-earth, deamons of fire, servants of Melkor... Find out all about Balrogs on this page.
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