One of the terrifying creatures from The Lord of the Rings, the Balrog, was so terrifying that even Gandalf winced at the sight of them.
Gandalf is one of the largest entities in Middle Earth, being one of the five angelic Maiar sent there during the Third Age. Yet even he shuddered in fear at Balrog of Morgoth. In The Lord of the rings, Gandalf faced the Balrog found beneath the Mines or Moria in an epic battle, as the dwarves dug too deep into the earth and unleashed the nightmare being.
While the history of this particular Balrog remained enigmatic, the Balrog eventually known as Durin’s Bane, due to how it killed King Durin VI upon being released beneath the Misty Mountains, is just one of the countless Balrogs that served Morgoth during the First Age. These creatures play a much larger role in JRR Tolkein’s other works, The Silmarillion Y The history of Middle Earth. In a disturbing twist, it turns out that Gandalf had a lot to fear from the Balrog, as he is basically an evil version of Gandalf.
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What are the Balrogs?
It turns out that balrogs are exactly like Gandalf. They are also Maiar, angelic entities that predate Earth. They helped shape the Earth in the First Age. They are masters at manipulating reality and the natural order, although they are neither omnipotent nor omniscient.
The Maiar who would eventually become Balrogs were subordinate to Melkor, one of the most beautiful and charismatic of the Maiar. Melkor corrupted those around him, dragging several of the Maiar into darkness. They fell with Melkor as he descended to Earth, along with some of Melkor’s other servants, such as his henchman, Mairon. Melkor became known in Middle-earth as Morgoth, Mairon became Sauron, and Maiar’s various soldiers took physical form as fierce demons known as Balrogs.
Throughout the First Age, the Balrogs unleashed Hell on Morgoth’s adversaries, leading armies of dark demons. The Balrogs rode on dragons, the smallest of which made Smaug seem tiny in comparison, as they laid siege to the hidden city of Gondolin in a battle known as the Fall of Gondolin. While many Balrogs fell, including Gothmog, the Lord of the Balrogs, they successfully brought the city and its territory to ruin.
Most of the Balrogs were wiped out in the epic War of Wrath, the final battle against the forces of Morgoth that dismantled the Dark Lord’s hold on the world. The surviving Balrogs, left without a master, fled to the darkest reaches of existence, hidden in the corners of the Earth. Sauron, in the wake of this, built his forces from the remnants of Morgoth’s army.
How powerful are balrogs?
As is the case with all races in Middle-earth, the Balrogs display different levels of strength. Gothmog, for example, possessed power that rivaled Sauron’s, demonstrated when Gothmog dueled and destroyed the legendary elf Fëanor. A team of seven Balrogs managed to dominate Ungoliant, a spider monster so titanic and powerful that it could devour the mythical Telperion fruits, which fed billions of stars.
Balrogs are essentially demonic equivalents to wizards. It is difficult to understand the exceptional power of these creatures. With each subsequent era in Tolkein’s Middle-earth, the magic in the world diminished, becoming less large in scale. Gandalf, an entity who was born in the Third Age, possessed far less power in his body than the average Balrog, a being manifested in the First Age. Yes, they are both Maiar who predate the universe, but their physical forms existed in very different times.
When Gandalf confronted the Balrog, he encountered an entity of far greater strength than anything that existed in Middle-earth, except potentially Sauron himself. The War of Wrath is one that dwarfed that of the final battle against Sauron, which saw the end of that Dark Lord in the Second Age.
It’s difficult to fully convey how powerful a Balrog is. The fact that Gandalf could even kill one is a testament to the magician’s immeasurable power and his luck in finding a weaker Balrog to fight.
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