The Arrogance and Stupidity of Balin, Lord of Moria

With the Fellowship now blindfolded in the outer bits of Lothlorien, the narrative again turns to the montage and allows us to poke around at other things.

Today, we’ll take a look at Balin, and the curious and sometimes questionable behavior, tactics and bitterness displayed by him and his folk.

We learned the fate of some of the Dwarves from The Hobbit at the dinner in Elrond’s house. Gloin is there and speaks to Frodo a bit about how things at the Lonely Mountain had been going over the past several decades. Aside from himself, Dwalin, Dori, Nori, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur were still living, and as happy as you please. But Balin, Ori and Oin had left, and Gloin would say little about that.

During the Council of Elrond, he told more, describing a “shadow of quiet” that fell over the folk at the Lonely Mountain. Some, like Balin, felt hemmed in, and knew that in Moria there was greater wealth to be had. They figured that after conquering the Lonely Mountain, they had numbers enough to retake Moria.

Moria! Moria! Wonder of the Northern world! Too deep we delved there, and woke the nameless fear. Long have its vast mansions lain empty since the children of Durin fled [1981 Third Age]. But now we spoke of it again with longing, and yet with dread; for no dwarf has dared to pass the doors of Khazad-hum for many lives of kings, save Thror only, and he perished [2790 TA].

So basically, no Dwarves had lived in Moria for over 1,000 years. None had even been there to visit (and lived to tell about it). Yet still, Balin “resolved to go.” Dain Ironfoot, King Under the Mountain since the death of Thorin Oakenshield, wasn’t into this idea at all, and refused to give his blessing.

With him, Balin took Ori and Oin, plus many others. They left the Lonely Mountain and arrived in Moria in the year 2989. Once there, they discovered Orcs, but were able to drive them out of the east gate. It seems that only one Dwarf, named Floi, fell during the battle. He was later buried by the Mirrormere.

Soon after, the Dwarves took the Twenty-first Hall and established it as a dwelling place. Balin, victorious, claimed himself to be Lord of Moria, and set up a throne room in the Chamber of Mazarbul. It’s incredibly unclear where these retreating Orcs went, though it doesn’t seem as if they left Moria altogether.

Over the next few years, Balin’s colony, without any interference, thrived. They mined gold, found old artifacts like Durin’s Axe, and eventually rediscovered mithril. But still, they weren’t satisfied. Oin was sent “to see for the upper armouries of the Third Deep,” and then to go westward to Hollin gate, where the Fellowship would enter Moria three decades later. Oin was apparently successful, but did not (probably) venture outside of the gates themselves too far.

For five years this went on swimmingly. Through this time, there was open communication between Moria and the Lonely Mountain. Then, one day, in the year 2994, Balin went out to visit and look into the Mirrormere. He did not see the Orc standing on a stone behind him, who shot the Dwarf in the back, killing him outright.

The other Dwarves captured the Orc and executed him, but there were many more coming up the Silverload, probably out of Dol Guldur. They had come to retake Moria.

The Dwarves, now leaderless, fell back into the mines and shut the gate. They had provisions enough to outlast the enemy, but the Orcs were not interested in a siege. The gate must have stopped the Orcs long enough for the Dwarves to fashion a stone tomb for Balin. Any idea of escaping out the westward gate was not yet entertained (or at least attempted).

But then the Orcs broke down the gate and captured the Bridge. This bridge had been constructed so that it would be easily destroyed as a defensive measure, placing the chasm it spanned between the enemy and the besieged. For some reason or another, this was not done.

If the Dwarves had time enough to give Balin a proper burial, they had way more than enough time to destroy the bridge and stop the Orcs for a long while – at least long enough to escape out the westward gate.

At any rate, the Orcs advanced across the bridge unopposed and into the Second Hall. It’s never explained why the Dwarves did not see fit to guard either the gate or the bridge, and it wasn’t until the Orcs reached the Second Hall when the Dwarves could be mustered.

It was in the Second Hall that the Dwarves made a stand, but lost three in doing so. They retreated to the Twenty-first Hall, buying themselves some time by (perhaps) obstructing the halls or establishing a sturdy rear guard. Oin was sent with some to escape out the westward gate, but by the time he got there, the water from the lake was up to the door.

How that happened wasn’t said, but the Watcher in the Water was waiting and killed Oin immediately. The others returned to Balin’s chamber/tomb (a distance of about twenty-five miles) in time for the final battle. Immediately before this battle, they heard “drums in the deep.”

It’s unlikely that the drums were banged by the same Orcs that were attacking from a known location (the corridor leading to the Twenty-first Hall). That the Dwarves referred to it as “the deep” seems to indicate that the area wasn’t yet explored by them.

Is it possible that “the deep” was actually occupied by the Orcs that the Dwarves originally drove out of their occupied area of Moria? Nowhere does it indicate that Balin’s forces actually cleansed Moria upon moving in. They cleared it enough to live and mine, but Moria was an unfathomably huge place.

There were now too many Orcs to withstand, and the remaining Dwarves were slaughtered to the last. Moria was now retaken, and the Orcs apparently returned to “the deep.”

This was in the year 2994. The Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain probably suspected something bad had happened as all communication from Balin in Moria has stopped.

From all appearances, the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain took it all in stride. They may have worried about their brethren in Moria, but for some reason didn’t send any scouts to see what was up. This must mean that it was Balin who kept in touch with Dain, and not the other way around. Once Balin stopped communicating, Dain (or at least the Lonely Mountain Dwarves) purposely never bothered to find out why.

It’s not unreasonable to assume that Dain felt slighted over Balin’s leaving and refused to initiate communication. Any communication was probably (at least on Dain’s end) unofficial. Furthermore, any scouting expedition to Moria to see what happened to Balin’s Folk would had to have gone through Dain. If he was bitter, it’s incredibly unlikely that he would have allowed it.

The only reason why Gloin traveled to Rivendell was because the Lonely Mountain had been recently visited by a Black Rider who wanted to know about Hobbits. In exchange, Sauron would give them back the three Dwarven Rings as well as the Mines of Moria. The trip to Rivendell was to figure it all out and warn Bilbo, not really to find out what happened to Balin. That really didn’t seem to matter.

Tolkien never comes out and says most of the conclusions that I’ve come to. But with a bit of thought concerning defenses and military strategy, it becomes painfully clear that Balin had no business at all leading anything resembling an army – even in defense.

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper Film: FujiChrome 400D (expired 08/1994) (xpro as C-41)

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper
Film: FujiChrome 400D (expired 08/1994) (xpro as C-41)

A Few Notes

  • The deeper I read this, the more I discovered just how messed up the Dwarves really were.
  • This doesn’t, of course, mean that Balin was a bad person. He and Bilbo struck up a wonderful friendship, and they even met again in 2949, when he visited the Shire with Gandalf after the Battle of Five Armies.
  • It’s curious then why Tolkien chose Balin to be the Dwarf who defied Dain and lusted to return to Moria. He never really explained it, though Balin was the only Dwarf remaining who had any kind of developed character after the close of The Hobbit.
  • Originally, I planned on exploring how and why Tolkien wrote about this, but really, he doesn’t leave many clues. He came up with it in the third draft of the Council of Elrond, and then finished it in his first draft of the Moria chapters. Everything is almost exactly as it was in the final version, except the drums coming from the deep were not, at first, part of the story. That in itself is telling.

About the Photo
Moria wasn’t just a cave (though it had been) and was much more than simply a mine. It was an underground palace. But to get to it, you had to go through a tunnel (sure), and this could have looked like, for example, the abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike tunnel pictured above. Right? Hell, I have no idea. But I don’t exactly have a slew of underground palace photos.


  • Day 177
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 874 (420 from Rivendell)
  • 18 miles to Lothlórien
  • 905 miles to Mt. Doom

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

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15 thoughts on “The Arrogance and Stupidity of Balin, Lord of Moria

  1. Balin’s quest was not acknowledged in the Lonely Mountains, that’s obvious. But Gimli did not despise him, but rather held him in honour. What personal memories of Balin could Gimli have preserved? He had quite good and clear impressions of Ori, his style of writing “..with Elvish characters”

    • I didn’t say that anyone despised anyone. I said that Dain wasn’t thrilled with Balin and that nobody was looking for him because of it. Many were concerned with Balin and kept up their end of communication (or at least received Balins communications). But once the communications stopped, Dain didn’t approve of any search parties, if any were even proposed.

  2. Peter Jackson actually pays homage to the death of Ori (and probably Oin somewhere) in the films: not sure where I read it, but the dead Dwarven scribe that Gandalf takes the book from is apparently meant to be Ori!

      • I just went and checked the movie and it’s not in there, but somehow I knew that was Ori too. Must be Disney… er… New Line magic!

        The way Jackson did that section of the movie didn’t make sense to me, because at that point Gimli is losing it over Balin’s tomb and completely ignoring the fact that Ori’s dead body is lying in front of him. You’d think they would have had a relationship! He also never (to my knowledge) acknowledges that Oin was in Moria too. But maybe I’m too pedantic.

        http://askmiddlearth.tumblr.com/post/42362046323/oris-death

        • I didn’t remember the movie scene. But I do remember seeing an interview with the guy who plays Ori in The Hobbit. He was recalling the Balin’s Tomb scene from the Fellowship movie and how he was like ‘Oh, that’s me!’ or some such stuff.

          I don’t think Jackson had Ori specifically in mind when he shot the tomb battle scene. He knew it was Ori, of course, but probably wasn’t thinking he’d have to link it up with The Hobbit movie a decade later. So maybe to keep the confusion over the names to a minimum, he didn’t mention the Dwarves so much. I really have no idea though.

          • I haven’t watched the behind the scenes things yet! I have absolutely no idea how I knew it, other than the book. I think I’m getting old.

            He probably didn’t, you’re right. There truly are a lot of dwarves to remember, and the movies are long enough already. It’s just always bugged that little part of my brain that picks apart book to movie adaptations!

            • It’s got to be the book. It’s a pretty big deal when you read it, if you know the Hobbit. I knew neither when I saw the movies.

              I’ve not watched the movies since starting this blog/study. I’m not sure I want to until I’m finished. I did see the second Hobbit movie since starting (I think… Maybe when I was just starting, but I had already been studying Tolkien), and it definitely effected how I viewed it. I didn’t like it as much, and thought that Jackson lost the spirit of Tolkien along the way. I’ll still see the third one, but I’m not super excited about it.

            • It has to be, you’re right!

              I saw the movies before I read the books, I was a bit late to the LOTR game. I’ve made up for it though 😉 I agree, there’s something missing from The Hobbit movies. I still like them a lot, but view them as separate from the books- they’re so changed that they’re easy to detach.

  3. Again, I’ve just been reading through a few of your marvellous entries. I remember reading the LOTR and wondering why Dain didn’t seem bothered by Balin’s demise in Moria. Have to say my fingers are getting itchy in reaching the book to re-read…

  4. Interesting interpretation, but I would say it’s not necessarily that way. Gloin mentions to Frodo and later at the council:

    “‘And what has become of Balin and Ori and Óin?’ asked Frodo.
    A shadow passed over Glóin’s face. ‘We do not know,’ he answered. ‘It is largely on account of Balin that I have come to ask the advice of those that dwell in Rivendell.’ …
    ‘At last, however, Balin listened to the whispers, and resolved to go; and though Dáin did not give leave willingly, he took with him Ori and Óin and many of our folk, and they went away south.
    That was nigh on thirty years ago. For a while we had news and it seemed good: messages reported that Moria had been entered and a great work begun there. Then there was silence, and no word has ever come from Moria since.'”

    The lack of regular contact is actually understandable, two points Erebor and Moria are very remote from each other. Vast distance alone is not the only problem though, the world at large is becoming more and more dangerous. Mirkwood between became a really hostile place, dark power that tainted the forest and roaming monsters, dark creatures of all sorts, growing power of Dol Guldur would be enough to discourage travellers, whole southern and eastern Rhovanion was more or less already falling under power of Mordor.

    After the colony fell silent, Dain must have had bad feelings and he probably forbade trying to send messangers to not risk lives of his people. Besides 30 years is not exactly a long time for Dwarves, they live for hundreds, the average lifespan is 250 years, up to 300 (at age 30 young Dwarves are even considered too tender for really hard work or battle, at age 30 they are not even fully mature by their reckoning), that certainly is reflected in their mentality, as they reckon time it’s probably a short period. It is also said that while Dain “did not give leave willingly” it is clear that he actually DID give it in the end (or at least consented to Balin’s plans if without much approval), he was reluctant when doing so. Dwarven kings seem to have great power and influence, but Balin was not some minor subject of his, but a relative, a member of royal family House of Durin, certainly a respected hero after the quest of Erebor and powerful dwarf-lord in rebuild kingdom, very close to Dain (he is basically king’s cousin and among Dwarves family is everything, closely knit).

    Dain also well remembered that the nameless terror of Moria is still there, he was aware of it’s danger since he fought in Battle of Azanulbizar and killed Azog. He actually looked through eastern gate inside and it is even implied he might have glimpsed something there.

    “Up the steps after him leaped a Dwarf with a red axe. It was Dain Ironfoot, Nain’s son. Right before the doors he caught Azog, and there he slew him, and hewed off his head. That was held a great feat, for Dain was then only a stripling in the reckoning of the Dwarves. But long life and many battles lay before him, until old but unbowed he fell at last in the War of the Ring. Yet hardy and full of wrath as he was, it is said that when he came down from the Gate he looked grey in the face, as one who has felt great fear.”

    “Then Thrain turned to Dain, and said: ‘But surely my own kin will not desert me?’

    ‘No,’ said Dain. ‘You are the father of our Folk, and we have bled for you, and will again. But we will not enter Khazad-dum. You will not enter Khazad-dum. Only I have looked through the shadow of the Gate. Beyond the shadow it waits for you still: Durin’s Bane. The world must change and some other power than ours must come before Durin’s Folk walk again in Moria.'”

    Also on the other hand we don’t know every single thing. Maybe Dain did send someone to investigate, but they would also never return, killed on the road or in Moria itself by Orcs, and maybe Gloin simply does not mention this? It’s not as if Tolkien didn’t mention something it could not happen ever. Another note, Balin had also another secret motive for returning to Moria, he actually hoped to find one of the Seven Rings. Dwarves believed that it may have been lost there with Thrór, or being hidden in “secret tombs of the kings if they had not been discovered and plundered.”

    Also is it really arrogance and stupidity on the part of Balin? I wouldn’t be so harsh in judgment. Quest of Erebor also was audacious and at times felt like stupidity but in the end it worked out, it succeeded. If there is fault in Balin it is perhaps that he listened to those troubled whispers among the people. Dwarves after growing strong again, increasing in numbers, living in plenty like in the old days felt that they should start do something more ambitious, try again to expand, reclaim something of the lost glory. Any leader knows that moods of the people can be dangerous (it may be part of the reason why Dain in the end agreed, not again that it’s not written that Dain forbade, but did not give willingly his consent). Dwarves themselves were always striving to achieve great ends, they were resourceful and productive, active, hardworking and industrious, ever seeking new opportunities. Besides the great set backs, fall of Moria, being driven by dragons from Grey Mountains, sack of Erebor all that would be a great blow for dwarven pride. The new generations would always want to come close to what their ancestors done, rising from the ashes and rebuilding.

    Dain didn’t seem bothered? Heh he was a king with a threat of war on horizon, he had to work for his people, managing and ruling the realm. The death of Balin was a great blow to him I’m sure of it. As Gandalf said:

    “Gandalf raised his head and looked round. `They seem to have made a last stand by both doors,’ he said; ‘but there were not many left by that time. So ended the attempt to retake Moria! It was valiant but foolish. The time is not come yet. Now, I fear, we must say farewell to Balin son of Fundin. Here he must lie in the halls of his fathers. We will take this book, the Book of Mazarbul, and look at it more closely later. You had better keep it, Gimli, and take it back to Dáin, if you get a chance. It will interest him, though it will grieve him deeply.”

    The book of Mazarbul is incomplete, it was a detailed record of at least five years of the colony’s functioning. Many pages were lost and with them many mysteries as well. But it’s a charm of those ‘apocalyptic logs’ records depicting horrible events before the gruesome end of tragedy.

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