Did the Balrog have wings? Fierce debate on J. R. R. Tolkien’s vs Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings vision rages to this day.

The question of whether the Balrog from The Lord of the Rings had wings has been raging online ever since the fiery creature made its first appearance in Peter Jackson’s live-action movie trilogy, but did the legendary director change Tolkien’s text to fit the film?

The balrog faces Gandalf on the bridge
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring/New Line/Wing Nut/Warner Bros. Entertainment YouTube channel

War rages for the interpretation of the winged Balrog

In the 2001 feature film, The Fellowship of the Ring, the Balrog that fights with Gandalf in the Mines of Moria has enormous wings that stretch across the chasm, which is why the vast majority of fans automatically assume that the legendary creature also had wings in Tolkien’s original work.

However, there is a strong argument that Jackson modified the Balrog’s design to include wings for dramatic effect and that there were no direct references to a winged Balrog in the original text – at least nothing more than metaphorical references at best.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s original text of The Fellowship of the Ring, two passages stand out when discussing the Balrog’s appearance. The first passage describes the shadow around the Balrog “reaching out like two vast wings,” employing a simile that hints at a winged figure.

The second reference is more contentious, “It drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall”; with some fans interpreting this as a metaphorical representation of the Balrog’s shadowy form rather than concrete evidence of actual wings.

In fact, arguably the most compelling evidence for the Balrog having wings comes from Appendix A Section Three on Durin’s Folk when Tolkien wrote: “Thus [the Dwarves] roused from sleep a thing of terror that, flying from Thangorodrim, had laid hidden at the foundations of the Earth since the coming of the Host of the West: a Balrog of Morgoth.”

Whilst some fans take the literal meaning of the Balrog taking to the air and flying from Thangorodrim, it’s important to note that Tolkien consistently used similar metaphors throughout both the main text and the additional materials when referring to aspects of ‘flying’.

More often than not, the terms ‘fly’, ‘flight’, or ‘flying’ were actually used as a description for fleeing or retreating (as is the case with Gandalf’s iconic ‘fly you fools’ plea to the Fellowship) rather than directly meaning aerial maneuvres.

To gain further insight into Tolkien’s use of the term ‘fly’ and its derivatives, a detailed breakdown conducted by popular YouTuber Nerd of the Rings reveals intriguing findings. The analysis reveals that, out of the 48 instances of ‘fly,’ ‘flight,’ or ‘flying’ in The Fellowship of the Ring, more than half refer to retreating rather than literal flight:

“Two were purely metaphorical, speaking of hair flying loose and sounds of the elves. Six are referring to flights of stairs in Moria. 15 are referring to traveling by air and more than half, 25 times, it refers to fleeing.”

Such usage patterns suggest that Tolkien often employed these terms metaphorically or symbolically rather than as indications of actual aerial movement.

Going further back through Middle-earth’s history, we also know details of three Balrog deaths throughout the story, and all of these ended with the creature falling from a great height. If these monsters did feature functional wings, it remains extremely suspicious why all three of them perished due to falling instead of simply taking to the air.

Whilst this argument could be several thousand pages long and there are countless arguments from deeper within LOTR lore, HITC would argue that it is more than likely that Tolkien never envisioned the Balrog as having literal wings.

However, their inclusion in Peter Jackson’s live-action adaptation did serve to amplify its threat level for the big screen, so perhaps it all worked out better for each respective medium. That being said, LOTR fans will continue debating this hot topic to the bitter end; unless season 2 of The Rings of Power sheds any more light on this argument.

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