Tolkien’s Book of Lost Balrogs (Part Two)

This is Part Two of a two part article. If you like, start with Part One, here.

During the writing of The Hobbit, Tolkien was also working on fleshing out what he was now calling The Silmarillion, in which he took some stories from the Book of Lost Tales and others from the Lays, and added a bunch of other stuff. Though both The Hobbit and The Silmarillion existed in the same world, that wasn’t really the case at first (though it quickly became so).

Around round 1930 the Silmarillion stories came together in a much more familiar way. Balrogs, along with Orcs, we read, “hold sway.” We also learn of the “Terrible or Last Battle,” (later called the War of Wrath), which ended the First Age. None of this was actually named, and Tolkien was merely taking “notes on the mythology.” But, like many of his “notes,” stories and narratives came to life.

“The Balrogs are all destroyed, and the Orcs destroyed or scattered,” he wrote of the Last Battle. “Morgoth himself makes a last sally with all his dragons; but they are destroyed, all save two which escape, by the sons of the Valar, and Morgoth is overthrown and bound and his iron crown is made into a collar for his neck.”

This is a theme that Tolkien will continue for years – that all of the Balrogs were destroyed in the Last Battle. This leaves no room at all for Durin’s Bane. But this will be corrected before we suspect it should be.

These were just notes, and after them came even more notes. During these, more details emerged, such as the death of Feanor by Gothmog: “Feanor refused, but was wounded in the fight by a Balrog chief (Gothmog), and died.”

Finished taking notes, that same year (1930), he began to write the Quenta Noldorinwa. It’s here where we get our first idea of how the Balrogs were created. Sort of. “[W]hile in the North Morgoth built his strength, and gathered his demon broods about him, whom the Gnomes [Noldor] knew after as the Balrogs with whips of flame.” It seems as if they were already created. This doesn’t really tell us much more, though it’s worth a mention. The story is growing. We can almost assume that they were created in the darkness, after the Lamps were destroyed by Morgoth.

During the Darkening of Valinor section, he added a bit about Balrogs – something that he’d cut later, but which is incredibly fun. Basically Ungoliant (the ‘spider’ – Shelob’s mother-ish) had struck a deal with Morgoth to split the spoils of Valinor. When he didn’t fully live up to his side of the bargan, she retaliated:

“So mighty had Ungoliant become that she enmeshed Morgoth in her choking nets, and his awful cry echoed through the shuddering world. To his aid came the Orcs and Balrogs that lived yet in the lowest places of Angband. With their whips of flame the Balrogs smote the webs asunder, but Ungoliant was driven away in to the uttermost South, where she long dwelt.”

Sometime in the early 1930s, Tolkien began to write the Annals of Valinor, a sort of precursor to the Tale of Years. They start with the year “0” – the beginning of creation, and continue until the year 3000. These years have no relevance at all to his later chrologies, as they take place before what we would later know as the First Age.

This is where he nixed the idea of Morgoth having a consort (though some of the other Valar still retained theirs). In these, the Balrogs play the same role as before – there are no changes whatsoever.

Tolkien continued his Annals series by continuing through what would later be known as the First Age, though quite a bit of pre-FA stuff is also included. Much of these annals cover the Children of Hurin story. We learn now of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears:

“But Morgoth now sent forth all the folk of Angband and Hell was emptied. There came afresh a hundred thousand Orcs and a thousand Balrogs, and in the forefront came Glomund the Dragon, and Elves and Men withered before him.”

The number of Balrogs has increased from “hundreds” to “a thousand.” That’s a hell of a lot of Balrogs, no? After writing these annals, Tolkien paused to deal with all things Hobbit, which was published in 1937.

It was in that same year that he began The Fall of Numenor, which took place after the Balrogs were all killed. He also decided to rewrite both the Annals of Valinor and Beleriand. The former wasn’t all that much changed at all, but the latter was much fuller. However, little, if anything, concerning Balrogs was changed.

Tolkien then turned to rewriting the Quenta Silmarillion (probably early 1937), which was an updated version of the Quenta Noldorinwa. While much of this was completed after the Lord of the Rings was written, there’s quite a bit that came before it.

Finally, here we get a tiny bit more about the creation of the Balrogs (again, sort of):

“[A]nd in the North Morgoth built his strength, and gathered his demons about him. These were the first made of his creatures: their hearts were of fire, and they had whips of flame. The Gnomes in later days named them Balrogs. But in that time Morgoth made many monsters of diverse kinds and shapes that long troubled the world….”

It’s clear from this passage that Morgoth actually made the Balrogs – at least according to 1937 Tolkien. This is important to remember, as it’s the same year that he began to write Lord of the Rings, though not the same year that he wrote about Durin’s Bane. That’s important to remember too.

But neither are as important as the ultimate fate of the Balrogs following the War of Wrath (which it was named in this version of the Quenta):

“The Balrogs were destroyed, save some few that fled and hid themselves in caverns inaccessable at the roots of the earth.”

It would be very tempting to say that this bit was written after and because of Durin’s Bane in Moria. But it was not. Tolkien definitely wrote this idea before he arrived at that point the Lord if the Rings story (and probably before he even started LotR. More accurately, it could be said that Durin’s Bane was invented because of this new idea. According to Christopher Tolkien, this addition “preceded by a good while the Balrog of Moria”). His reasoning is that in the first notes concerning Gandalf’s death in Moria, a Balrog was not part of the story.

And this unceremoniously brings us to the end of Tolkien’s history with the Balrogs prior to writing Lord of the Rings. Curiously, the stage is perfectly set for Gandalf’s death in Moria, even before he knew the wizard was going to die.

Next (or when it can happen), we’ll take a look at where Tolkien went with the Balrogs after the publication of the Lord of the Rings.

Camera: Bolsey Jubliee Film: ORWO UN54

Camera: Bolsey Jubliee
Film: ORWO UN54

A Few Notes

  • The Annals of Valinor were also written by Tolkien in Old English because of course they were. Take a look.
  • With the next post, we’ll go back to the narrative to meet Haldir and friends.

About the Photo
Again, as with the last post about Balrogs, I wanted to use a terrifying photo. This depicts the damage from Mount St. Helens three decades after its eruption. It’s a very humbling place.

  • Day 175
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 864 (410 from Rivendell)
  • 28 miles to Lothlórien
  • 915 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 6, Lothlorien. Entering Lothlorien. January 16, 3019 TA. (map)


8 thoughts on “Tolkien’s Book of Lost Balrogs (Part Two)

    • Thanks so much! I had a bunch of fun writing these. I can’t wait to get to the post-LotR Balrogs stuff. First, some other business. Buy soon!

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