How to Tame a Balrog (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p47)

Today we’ll not only take another look at Yavanna and Oromë, but we’ll also check in with Melkor, Sauron and the Balrogs. It’s a bit of rehashing, but that will allow us to gloss over some morsels to dig into Tolkien’s ever-changing philosophy regarding the body and the soul (and even Orcs).

This Again?
In the first chapter, we learned all about Yavanna and Oromë’s trips to Middle-earth. I wrote about it here. The previous mention of this delved into much more detail, but still we learn a few new things (and a few old things worded in slightly different ways).

Prior to Melkor destroying the Two Lamps, it had been Springtime in Arda, and Yavanna’s plants and animals began to grow. After the Lamps were taken out, Yavanna pressed pause and everything went to sleep to wait for the waking of the Children of Ilúvatar, the Elves. Tolkien focused upon a few examples of things that were halted in mid-growth. Specifically, in the plant category, he mentioned seaweed and trees. But when it came to animals, things got darker.

“…and in the valleys of the night-clad hills there were dark creatures old and strong.”
This brings us to Melkor in Atumno, and to the “dark creatures” brought up in the first paragraph. These seem to be relegated to three groupings. First were “the evil things that he had perverted.” We’ve learned in the first chapter that Yavanna’s animals “became monsters of horn and ivory and dyed the earth with blood.” (Silmarillion, p36) Melkor’s drawing near was evidenced by these changes.

His perversions weren’t the only things keeping him company, of course. The second group was labeled as “demons.” They were spirits who had sided with him earlier, and were most likely maiar. Though they certainly could have taken other forms as well, these were Balrogs.

Thirdly, we learn that Melkor bred other “monsters.” We’re given basically zero information about this. Did he mate his perversions with Balrogs? It seems possible that it could happen. Did he create something akin to Aulë’s Dwarves who would be fully-controlled by him? It seems that he had the power to do so (if Aulë had it, Melkor certainly had it, too) . But really, it’s all speculation. All we’re told is that he bred monsters. That leaves Sauron in Angband, near the western shores, standing as a fortress against the Valar to the west.

And Horror They Brought
The idea that demons and monsters flourished in the darkness brought about by Melkor had been there from the start. In the 1919 Book of Lost Tales version, the spirits which came from Melko (as he was then called) were described in much more interesting detail.

“Full of evil and unwholesome were they; luring and restlessness and horror they brought, turning the dark into an ill and fearful thing, which it was not before.”

In these early writings, extra spirits came not only from Melko, but also from Mandos (his were “very gloomy and secret”) and Lórien (they “danced thither with gentle feet exuding evening scents”). (Lost Tales 1, p99)

As his writings evolved, the early strains of this chapter can be noticed. In the 1930 Quenta, chapter two is much like the published Silmarillion‘s third chapter. Here we see the first mention of the “weeds of the sea,” but instead of trees, we get “the dark shade of yew and fir and ivy.”

But we also get not only Morgoth and Balrogs, but Orcs, which Melkor “made of stone, but their hearts of hatred.” (Shaping of Middle-earth, p82)

I described the writing history of the Orcs across a few posts (specifically, here), so I won’t go into too much detail. But when the 1937 Quenta was penned, this chapter only mentioned the Orcs to state that they had not yet been made, and would not be until Melkor “had looked upon the Elves, and he made them in mockery of the Children of Ilúvatar.” (Lost Road, p212)

Mixing It All in a Pot
This brings us to the post-Lord of the Rings era. In 1951-52, he wrote the Annals of Aman, which was basically a long-form “Tale of Years” outline for the Silmarillion material. Then, twice in the 1950s, he rewrote the Quenta again. It’s from these three sources that Christopher Tolkien compiled the published Silmarillion.

With both the Annals and the Quentas in hand, he bounced from one source to the other, plucking what he considered the best parts of each and placing them down as final. For example, much of the first paragraph (about Yavanna) comes from the Annals of Aman, while most of the second (about Melkor) comes from the later Quenta draft. However, in both, a couple sentences were swapped out here and there. The third paragraph (the one about Sauron) was actually written as a later footnote in the Annals.

How to Change a Balrog
During the editing process, Christopher Tolkien cut an interesting line about Balrogs. The published version was lifted directly from the 1950-52 Quenta draft. But the decision not to use the Annals of Aman text from a year or two later had some curious consequences. While that text, like the Quenta’s, stated that some of the evil things were perverted by Melkor, it also declared that “he wrought the race of demons whom the Elves after named the Balrogs.” (Morgoth’s Ring, p70)

Previously, I mentioned that Melkor, like Aulë, was powerful enough to create his own species, though, like the Dwarves prior to Ilúvatar, they would have no will of their own. This seems to be what Tolkien was thinking about in the earlier Annals of Aman version. Melkor wrought the Balrogs.

When Tolkien rewrote the Quenta in 1958-60, for this chapter, he mostly clung to the previous draft, but wandered around a bit about the Balrogs. This version maintained that the Balrogs were spirits who followed him from long ago. However, he used the word “ëalar,” which meant “spirit – not incarnate”. The word he would have used for something with a body was “fëa,” meaning an incarnate spirit. (Morgoth’s Ring, p165)

Why does any of this matter? Because Tolkien never really settled upon what any of this really meant. In some very late writings (collected as “Myths Transformed”), Tolkien argued that Melkor had corrupted many spirits – from the great, like Sauron, to the not-so-great, like Balrogs. But he questioned “would Eru provide fëar [spirits to be incarnated] for such creatures?” Since all spirits ultimately came from Ilúvatar, this was a fine question.

In the end, Melkor’s corruption worked on the “moral or theological level… the fëar dragging down the hröa [body] in its descent into Morgothism: hate and destruction.” This seemed to hold true for both Balrogs and Orcs. (Morgoth’s Ring, p410)

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100 Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100
Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

Really Reeling off Records
Concluding his final ideas about the origins of the Balrogs and Orcs, Tolkien wanders around greatly. He had set up a couple of problems for himself when writing Lord of the Rings. In this case, having the Orcs being able to talk was a huge stumbling block. If they could speak, didn’t that mean they had wills of their own?

To allow for his internal theology, the answer had to be a resounding “no”. But it also had to be explained away. The Orcs, he decided “were beasts of humanized shape.” They were not made by Melkor but altered by him in mockery. These were not like Aulë’s Dwarves in that sense. He did not create them out of whatever, but molded the Orcs from other beasts, apparently using neither Elves nor Men in the process.

As far as the talking went, he fell back upon a throw-away line from Appendix F of Lord of the Rings: “It is said that the Black Speech was devised by Sauron in the Dark Years.” From there, Tolkien reckoned that “their ‘talking’ was really reeling off ‘records’ set in them by Melkor.” Rather the Sauron, it was Melkor who taught them speech “and as they bred they inherited this; and they had just as much independence as have, say, dogs or horses of their human masters.” In this way, they were like Aulë’s Dwarves.

Having Melkor be the source of the Orcs’ wills also allowed them to rebel against Sauron “without losing their own irremediable allegiance to evil.”

The Balrogs, on the other hand, remained the same – “corrupted Maiar.” This indicates that Ilúvatar would indeed make fëar [incarnated souls] that would be able to be corrupted into Balrogs. But still, they were placed on a nearly identical level with the Orcs. “The wills of Orcs and Balrogs, etc. are part of Melkor’s power ‘dispersed’.” (Morgoth’s Ring, p410-411)

So in the case of Orcs, it seems as if their wills had always been tied to Melkor. In Balrogs, however, their original wills as given to them by Ilúvatar seem to have been taken over by Melkor.

Does Any of This Even Make Sense?
I think so. But it’s definitely a subject we’ll delve into again and again – even throughout this chapter. Besides, with the omission of anything having to do with Orcs, all you really have to remember is that Balrogs were corrupted Maiar. If you want extra-credit, just recall that they no longer have wills of their own.

______________________

Some Note:

  • Curiously, Tolkien also concluded that Húan and even the Eagles had no fëar, no incarnated soul.

Pages & Text

  • Page 47
  • Chapter: Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor, Paragraphs 1-3
  • Starting with:
    “Through long ages the Valar dwelt in bliss…”
  • Ending with:
    “…and it was named Angband.”
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6 thoughts on “How to Tame a Balrog (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p47)

    • He really did have a hard time with theology. He needed to keep things basically biblical, but couldn’t really talk theology since he believed that only priests could really impart such things. Since the Bible isn’t super clear on a lot of this stuff, he had to invest quite a lot while still keeping it in line with his own beliefs. That’s got to be incredibly nerve-wracking.

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