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In an answer to the recent question Why was Gandalf Afraid of the Balrog of Morgoth?, it was stated that

A Balrog is a terror of the First Age. And something that was a threat in the First Age would be an unstoppable terror in the Third.

If this is true (and it seems to be based on the upvotes!), why was the Balrog not involved in the power struggle for Middle Earth?

Other Maia (e.g., Gandalf, Sauron, Saruman) are struggling for control but the Balrog (or Balrogs, if we accept the answers to this question) seem to be uninvolved.

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First of all, the Balrog was trapped until TA 1980, when the Moria dwarves awaken Durin's Bane, a Balrog, which kills Durin VI, king of Khazad-dûm. Granted, that did leave 1000 years for him to struggle for power, but he must have somehow been kept. I would guess that because he was beholden to Morgoth, he would have had to wait to build his own forces (Sauron took a long time to build his forces). Perhaps the Moria goblins were the beginning of his rise to power –  SSumner Mar 29 '13 at 18:05
    
Ok, but doesn't that still leave like 1000 yrs of free-time to get in the fight? –  KennyPeanuts Mar 29 '13 at 18:09
    
My guess is like I said at the end of my comment, he was building his goblin army –  SSumner Mar 29 '13 at 18:11
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This assumes Balrogs actually cared about power. Absent Morgoth's command, the Balrog may not have cared. –  DVK Mar 30 '13 at 1:31
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How do you know the Balrog was unconcerned? In fact he was deeply worried about Middle Earth's decline: the lack of any decent wars, the dying out dragons and other monsters, young Balrogs not showing him any respect and calling him "Grandad", and no more heroes to kill. –  TheMathemagician Mar 30 '13 at 3:28

7 Answers 7

up vote 26 down vote accepted

According to the timeline of events, the Balrog was trapped until 1980 Third Age (TA):

The Moria dwarves awaken Durin's Bane, a Balrog, which kills Durin VI, king of Khazad-dûm

The events of the Lord of the Rings occur primarily in 3018-3019 TA (including the fight and demise of the Balrog). So we have 1,038 years for the Balrog to struggle for power.

As best as I can tell, there is no canonical reasoning, but my guess would be that because he was initially beholden to Morgoth, he would have had to wait to build his own forces, as he would have to start from zero once he was freed. We can look at the timelines of Sauron's rises to power. Sauron was already Morgoth's chief lieutenant, and so he potentially had an easier time of raising forces.

After lying hidden and dormant for 500 years, he began revealing himself once more, and by SA (Second Age) 1000 he gathered his power and established himself in the land of Mordor in eastern Middle-earth and begun building the dreaded Dark Tower of Barad-dûr near Mount Doom. Sauron, like Morgoth, soon began raising massive armies of Orcs, Trolls, and possibly other creatures, as well as corrupting the hearts of Men with delusions of power and wealth, chiefly Easterlings and Southrons (the Haradrim). Although Sauron knew that Men were easier to sway, he sought to bring the Elves into his service, as they were far more powerful. By about SA 1500, Sauron put on a fair visage in the Second Age.

So this first rise to power took somewhere between 500-1000 years. If we look at the time line of events again, Sauron was defeated in 1700 SA and rebuilt, but even by SA 3263 (over 1,500 years later) was not powerful enough to challenge the Numenorians. His final rise to power began in the Third Age:

In the Third Age, Sauron arose again in TA 1000, at first in a stronghold called Dol Guldur, the Hill of Sorcery, in southern Mirkwood TA 1050. There, he was disguised as a dark sorcerer known as the Necromancer, and the Elves did not realize at first that he was actually Sauron returned. The wizard Gandalf went to Dol Guldur in TA 2063 in secret to see who it was that ran Dol Guldur but Sauron, sensing that his secret identity was about to be unveiled, had fled before him and gone into the East to hide; thus began the Watchful Peace. Sauron returned in TA 2460. Gandalf the Grey stole into Dol Guldur in TA 2850 and discovered the truth. Eventually, the White Council put forth their might and drove Sauron out in TA 2941.

So Sauron's rises to power took hundreds or thousands of years, and he at some points had a baseline to start from. The Balrog had nothing to begin with, so perhaps the Moria goblins were the beginning of his rise to power. Who knows what would have happened in the fourth age if he had remained unchallenged and had his powers growing until after the elves and Gandalf had left Middle-earth?

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I like to think the Balrog was something akin to the Dragon in the Hobbit. A very powerful creature, but if you left it alone, generally speaking it left you alone. I haven't seen any evidence that the Balrog was intelligent, which is a requirement for trying to take over the world.

Studying the Wikipedia article, there is evidence to indicate that the Balrogs were captains, and they ruled themselves, but they never seem to be the overall leader. Durin's Bane, the Balrog seen in LotR, seems to be content to control Moria, and doesn't seem to care about the events outside of Moria.

Bottom line, I just don't think the Balrog in Moria had any desire to compete for power. It seemed to be content to control Moria, and didn't seem to care about anything beyond that. There may have been some Balrogs which desired more, but I don't think the one in Moria was one of those.

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There may be hints of an answer in the way Tolkien fitted the balrog into the story.

At one point, he had the Moria balrog under Sauron's direct control; sent from Orodruin to Moria specifically. The way this changed - and the description of the balrog as being a terror of the first age (i.e .ancient times) - serves to distance it from the current tide of events and brings a somewhat deeper shadow into the story, with echoes of Morgoth and ancient evils always resurfacing (in parallel to Sauron rather than in step with Sauron).

The balrog awaits Morgoth's return and Dagor Dagorath. The other thing regarding the balrogs' power is that (like the earlier descriptions of Morgoth) they suffer from the remnants of a simpler storyline.

After The Lord of the Rings had clarified things, Tolkien has to rework the primitive notions of the first age. Melkor must be made a great deal more powerful and the balrogs become primeval fire demons; much more limited in number, but vastly greater in power.

It is this demonic aspect that I feel the film (and most other depictions) miss. They were not supposed to have been beasts: even fiery beasts with horns. They are the kind of thing which should simply not have existed by the time of the third age: great demonic spirits totally removed from the physical plane, save by foul and forbidden rites to summon them forth.

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In many ways it's a shame that the original description of the Balrog (given in HoME 7) didn't survive as it seems to bring out the "Thing That Should Not Be" aspect a little more (although it lacks in other respects). Although it's important to note that "power and terror seemed to... go before it" did survive, and that you're right about it not being a fiery beast - it was fiery because flames from the fissure it jumped over wreathed around it, but when first encountered it's not fiery and most subsequent descriptions focus on the shadow element –  Darth Satan Apr 3 '13 at 1:13
    
Cool answer. Thanks. Welcome to SE –  KennyPeanuts Apr 3 '13 at 1:53

Balrogs are not actually that powerful. In the Morgoth's Ring "Orcs" essay Balrogs are explicitly stated to be less powerful than Sauron. This is borne out by the fact that heroes of the First Age could defeat Balrogs (admittedly dying themselves in the attempt), but Felagund could not overcome Sauron. Even a restricted Olorin was a match for a Balrog.

So the answer to why the Balrog wasn't a power player is simple; it just lacked the intrinsic power to be one.

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Just because they are less powerful than Sauron (a fact I would say is probably accurate) does not mean they could not be a power player. I would say that Galadriel and Elrond were significantly less powerful than Sauron, and probably much less than a Balrog, and they were still players. –  SSumner Mar 31 '13 at 5:03
    
I'd contradict the point about Galadriel and Elrond by referring you to the Istari essay in UT: "In Sauron's final overthrow, Elves were not effectively concerned at the point of action. Legolas probably achieved least of the Nine Walkers". By the Third Age the Eldar were on the wane and the Dominion of Men was beginning - G&E's "power" was more in preserving memories of the Elder Days and establishing safe havens rather than in taking any kind of overt action, so no - they're actually not players which invalidates the argument against. –  Darth Satan Apr 1 '13 at 23:35
    
Yes, but had they been players, their power was less by their very nature, as they are Elves and Sauron was a Maiar –  SSumner Apr 1 '13 at 23:43
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It doesn't fall out that cleanly. Not all Maiar are equally powerful for starters, so you can't just say someone was a Maia. Eonwe was mightiest in arms for example, and that includes the Valar. Galadriel was probably more powerful that the Balrog, based on the reasoning that Glorfindel and Ecthelion could kill Balrogs and Tolkien's statements that Galadriel and Feanor were the most powerful of the Noldor (thus ranking Galadriel well above Glor and Ecth). It's not less power, it's different power. –  Darth Satan Apr 2 '13 at 0:11
    
You may be right. –  SSumner Apr 2 '13 at 4:04

Clearly the Balrog did interfere with Middle Earth to some extent. It destroyed the original Dwarf-kingdom in Moria and then Balin's expedition, it attacked the Fellowship, and it controlled an army of Orcs. However, it was reluctant to reveal itself openly. For example, it did not emerge from Moria and intervene in the final battle of the War of the Dwarves and Orcs; and Balin and his followers were able to live in Moria for several years before the Balrog and its followers killed them.

In general, the Balrog may have been afraid of attack by a stronger being or coalition of beings, so it remained hidden in Moria. This would be consistent with trying to slowly build up its power (as suggested by SSumner) or not caring what happened beyond Moria (as suggested by PearsonArtPhoto). Either way, this degree of caution implies a bit of strategic planning on the Balrog's part. I suppose a more reckless Balrog might not have survived the downfall of Morgoth in the first place.

More specifically, the Balrog might have been afraid of Galadriel; she was very close by and powerful enough to threaten it. It was not likely she would go hunting in Moria to find out what had killed the Dwarves, but a Balrog appearing in broad daylight would be another matter. Probably the Balrog abandoned its usual caution to attack the Fellowship because it sensed the presence of the Ring.

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Is it really in any way implied that the army of orcs was in any way controlled by the Balrog, instead of simply coexisting there? –  Peteris Apr 11 at 23:09

I think the answer is as simple as: it didn't serve the story for it to be a mover/shaker. Its job was to provide a credible way to take out Gandalf, allowing him to be redeemed and reborn, and Tolkien likely never looked beyond that.

It would certainly be cool to have an in-story answer, especially something canonical, but it would all be pure conjecture.

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While true, answering something with "it doesn't fit the story" is kind of a cop-out. I assume the asker knows that, he is looking for an in-canon answer, preferably sourced, but conjectured if no sources exist –  SSumner Mar 30 '13 at 14:55
    
I would agree, in general, but I really think there is no better answer here. –  Joe Casadonte Mar 31 '13 at 12:20
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On the contrary, I think there are at least 3 answers here that are good, plausible attempts at giving a good answer –  SSumner Apr 10 '13 at 0:47

My view is that the Balrog of Moria was afraid to draw attention to itself - it was in hiding, having survived the destruction of Angband only by fleeing and hiding. We'll probably never know Tolkien's true intention :-(.

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