Tag Archives: Mysteries of Arda

The Mysteries of Arda II – Do Balrogs have wings?

Here comes another chapter of the series of several mysteries that Professor Tolkien, all throughout his work, left unexplained. Now we are to discuss whether Balrogs have wings, as lots have done before us.


As always, there’s no definite answer to the question, and that the reason we can discuss about it, isn’t it? One thing is certain: Balrogs look much more scary if the do have wings! Peter Jackson put wings on them, and it looked pretty awesome. But, as we can’t base a conclusion in the scariness of them, further discussion is needed. Let us begin.

First of all, lets take a look at the relevant quotes from The Lord of the Rings that originated all this:

His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings.
(LOTR, Book II, Chapter 5 The Bridge of Khazad-dûm)

Here we clearly see, by the use of the word ‘like’, that the mention of wings is merely figurative. But the problem arises with the following phrase, very close to the previous one in the same chapter:

…suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall…
(LOTR, Book II, Chapter 5 The Bridge of Khazad-dûm)

Similarly, though it is in a non-published draft of the Silmarillion, there is this phrase regarding Morgoth’s Balrogs in Beleriand:

Swiftly they arose, and they passed with winged speed over Hithlum, and they came to Lammoth as a tempest of fire.
(The History of Middle-earth, Vol. X: Morgoth’s Ring, The Later Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Rape of the Silmarils)

In favor of wings

Glorfindel and the BalrogThere’s not much to tell about why so many support the pro-wings theory. ‘Its wings were spread from wall’ and ‘with winged speed’ arguments are the core of it. Simply take the above phrases literally, specially the 2nd and 3rd, and you have your case built.

The good thing of these arguments is their simplicity. Short, concise and clear, with not much complication, and that’s it.

The bad thing, this only works if you previously assume that Balrogs have wings, and are seeking for evidence that supports your assumption. In that case, the two arguments work perfectly. But should we have to assume that? Not necessarily…

In favor of no wings

This side argues that these phrases shouldn’t be taken literally, and that the wings in the 2nd phrase refer to the figurative ones mentioned in the 1st one. They stand over the fact that many other phrases in LOTR can’t be seen literally. For instance, in that very same chapter we read that ‘Gandalf came flying down the steps and fell to the ground in the midst of the Company’, and it is certain that Gandalf does not fly.

Indeed, in the Prophecy of Malbeth, in the Return of the King, we see that the very same word ‘wings’ is used as metaphor:

Over the land there lies a long shadow, westward reaching wings of darkness.

More strong argument is the fact that, if ‘its wings were spread from wall to wall’ is literal, the body of the Balrog would be too big to be true. The room where the bridge of Khazad-dûm is located was between 23 and 30 meters wide, then the wingspan of the Balrog must be near that size, almost as much as a big plane!

To carry such wings, a HUGE body would be needed, near the size of a house! And what’s the issue with that? Well, the fact that the Balrog was able to enter the Chamber of Mazarbul through the same door in which the orcs clustered during the battle there. So this door must be a fairly narrow opening, through which such gigantic Balrog would never be able to pass.

Gandalf and the Balrog Upon Celebdil

Another objection claimed is that its not likely that Balrogs have wings if they don’t fly. Their inability to fly is clear enough. If they did, it wouldn’t have fallen with Gandalf into the abyss nor from the top of Celebdil to its death; nor the one that fell in a fight with Glorfindel from a high pinnacle, as told in the Silmarillion. They don’t even fly in battles when it would be a huge advantage for them. So, if they fly they have wings; but as they probably don’t fly, we cannot say the have.

Remember that the anti-wing theory does not assume the presence of wings, but the contrary: by default, the races of Middle-earth don’t have wings unless specified explicitly. If not, Elves may have had wings, because Tolkien never said ‘they don’t have’.


Much more is talked than what I told you here. But to sum up, nothing is certain. It would seem that anti-wings have a larger number of arguments, but recall that sometimes the smaller army may win the battle. I leave it for you to judge which ones are stronger, and express your opinion in the poll and comments. I’m really interested in what you think of this matter!

‘Pro-wings’ vs. ‘Anti-wings’… let the game begin!

If you wanna read more extensive analysis of both theories, check this article (under the heading ‘… And Whether Balrogs Have Wings’)




Filed under Folklore, History, Inside Middle-Earth, Mystery, Silmarillion, The Lord Of The Rings