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I've read the relevant passages in the books but can't get a handle on just how tall Balrogs are meant to be. Specifically, how tall is the Balrog that Gandalf faces in Moria? The closest grasp I could get on the Balrog's size was in this excerpt:

What it was could not be seen: it was like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater…
(Book Two, Chapter V, The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm).

I'm not looking for a figure in feet and inches, obviously. But, very roughly, how big is the Balrog? The height of one Gandalf? Two? Three? The size of a troll? Or a small city?

I realise that the language used to describe the Balrog is deliberately rather abstract. Nevertheless, can anyone give me a more quantifiable answer when it comes to Balrog height?

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    Are you looking for height with or without the wings? :) – Daniel Roseman Mar 1 '17 at 14:45
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    I wouldn't put it past a Maiar to be able to change size at will. I seem to recall Gandalf did so when he got angry (though he didn't turn green). – DaaaahWhoosh Mar 1 '17 at 14:59
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    @DanielRoseman Including wings, I suppose. Flying Balrogs can't gain the system, though. Balrogs must be stood on the ground in an upright position during measurement. – The Dark Lord Mar 1 '17 at 15:34
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    @TheDarkLord i think you mean game the system – Steve Cox Mar 1 '17 at 21:09
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    The height of a Balrog is one Balrog. – Yvonne Aburrow Mar 2 '17 at 12:38
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The size of Balrogs changed as Tolkien evolved his stories; in the Lost Tales they have a very specific size, but then when we next get a detailed description of the appearance of a Balrog, in the first draft of the Moria chapters, things are quite different:

A figure strode to the fissure, no more than man-high yet terror seemed to go before it. They could see the furnace-fire of its yellow eyes from afar; its arms were very long; it had a red [?tongue].

At some unspecified later time Tolkien added a note to this description:

Alter description of Balrog. It seemed to be of man's shape, but its form could not be plainly discerned. It felt larger than it looked.

This is obviously leading up to the final description which I'll quote in full:

Something was coming up behind them. What it was could not be seen: it was like a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater; and a power and terror seemed to be in it and to go before it.

As well as a subsequent statement:

It stepped forward slowly on to the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height...

The conclusion is evident: Tolkien is deliberately keeping the description of the Balrog vague and non-specific, so we cannot say anything more: "its form could not be plainly discerned".

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    You've posted two answers from two different accounts on the same day, consider merging your accounts! – Edlothiad Mar 1 '17 at 16:57
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    +1, but it sounds like it's not the description that's vague and non-specific, so much as the Balrog itself. There's shadow stuff around it obscuring its size, and then at the end it gets bigger. – DCShannon Mar 1 '17 at 21:21
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    @Edlothiad - this user has created many accounts to post different answers. They appear to be the same way as M.A.Golding,and don't want to register an account. – user58 Mar 1 '17 at 23:46
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    @TheGreatDuck Dwarves* and Balrogs were Maiar corrupted into Melkors service. The corrupted Maiar took physical form and weren't just "shadow demons". Balrogs are only found deep in the depths in the Third Age because the remaining few had gone into hiding after the fall of Melkor, the First Dark Lord, Sauron's master. This balrog was as ancient as his 6 brothers, although the idea of 7 was changed from having hundreds of Balrogs, however less powerful to the strength of the final 7. – Edlothiad Mar 2 '17 at 7:42
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    Since the bridge can only be crossed single file, surely this gives some upper limit to the size of the Balrog, but I also think that a Balrog like that in the movies would have a really hard time fitting in most of the stairways made for Dwarves (i.e. the Endless Stair), which of course presumes that Dwarves did not make 20 foot ceilings in stairwells carved from living rock for no good reason. – Yorik Mar 2 '17 at 18:22
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About twice the height of an Elf

Depending on you views of the canonicity of the Book of Lost Tales - they are basically the draft notes for the Silmarillion.

(Personally, if they are not contradicted by later canon I tend to take them at face value)

Assuming that Balrogs are the same size the Balrogs at the Fall of Gondolin appeared to be of a consistent double elf height.

Then sprang the Balrog in the torment of his pain and fear full at Glorfindel, who stabbed like a dart of a snake; but he found only a shoulder, and was grappled, and they swayed to a fall upon the crag-top. Then Glorfindel's left hand sought a dirk, and this he thrust up that it pierced the Balrog's belly nigh his own face (for that demon was double his stature)

- The Book of Lost Tales - Part II - Gondolin

Also from the Book of Lost Tales, when talking about the Fall of Gondolin:

Then leapt Ecthelion lord of the Fountain, fairest of the Noldoli, full at Gothmog even as he raised his whip, and his helm that had a spike upon it he drave into that evil breast, and he twined his legs about his foeman's thighs; and the Balrog yelled and fell forward; but those two dropped into the basin of the king's fountain which was very deep. There found that creature his bane; and Ecthelion sank steel-laden into the depths, and so perished the lord of the Fountain after fiery battle in cool waters.

- The Book of Lost Tales - Part II - Gondolin

Gothmog was obviously of a height that a severely injured Ecthelion was able to drive his spiked helm into his chest. Too much bigger than the elf and this wouldn't have been possible. Gothmog was also Lord of Balrogs so it could be expected and assumed that he would be one of, if not the, biggest of the Balrogs.

If the Balrogs were too big one would not expect Elves, nor a man sized Gandalf (though Maiar powers could be at play here), to be able to go toe to toe with them on numerous occasions.

For example, Fëanor was surrounded by Balrogs until he was eventually worn down:

and there issued from Angband Balrogs to aid them. There upon the confines of Dor Daedeloth, the land of Morgoth, Fëanor was surrounded, with few friends about him. Long he fought on, and undismayed, though he was wrapped in fire and wounded with many wounds; but at the last he was smitten to the ground by Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, whom Ecthelion after slew in Gondolin.

- The Silmarillion - Of the Return of the Noldor

The Balrogs were then driven off by Fëanor's sons.

Fingon was holding his own against Gothmog until he was assaulted from behind:

At last Fingon stood alone with his guard dead about him; and he fought with Gothmog, until another Balrog came behind and cast a thong of fire about him. Then Gothmog hewed him with his black axe, and a white flame sprang up from the helm of Fingon as it was cloven.

- The Silmarillion - Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad

Then you have Ecthelion and Glorfindel killing a Balrog each in the defence of Gondolin at the cost of both of their lives.

Admittedly Elves in those days were greater and capable of great feats, look at Fingolfin fighting Morgoth and wounding him several times, but there must still be a close enough difference in size for the combat to be realistic – otherwise the elves would have been overwhelmed by sheer brute force.


Possibly of interest

User Balfrog over at The Lord of The Rings Fanatics Plaza has worked out the Balrog's size based on the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm. I will try to summarise his calculations here in case of link death, however I am in no way trying to take ANY credit for this.

Gandalf stood in the middle of the 50 foot bridge, therefore he is 25 foot from the end of the bridge. The Balrog stops before stepping onto the bridge, putting it 25 foot from Gandalf. The Balrog steps onto the Bridge before swinging his sword at Gandalf (user Balfrog argues that this is just one step).

Therefore, the step had to have been half the bridge span minus the reach of the Balrog and its sword's (the reach was assumed to be the Balrogs height)

This gives the height of 16.7 foot. There would of course be a possibility of error based on size of the Balrog's sword, if they had to do a full stride etc.; adding 20% error either way gives a range between 13.36 foot and 20.04 foot.

Which puts it at somewhere between 2 and 3 times the size of an elf if we assume the elf average height to be around 6 foot.

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    How tall were Elves in The Book of Lost Tales? Weren't they much shorter than they later became in later writings? – Wiles Mar 1 '17 at 18:47
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    Combining these two answers, it kinda seems like the real answer is "Balrogs have no set form and can appear in a variety of sizes". – Tin Man Mar 1 '17 at 21:25
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    Comparing balrog from Lost Tales and LotR isn't good idea, I'm afraid. – Mithoron Mar 1 '17 at 23:05
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    These are very early notes from Tolkien, I agree with Mithoron, we must remember that in the early stages of the writing there were hundreds of Balrogs. – Edlothiad Mar 2 '17 at 7:43
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    I just thought I'd leave a note so other users less aware know of why the two answers may be so different, I didn't mean it as an attack on your answer – Edlothiad Mar 2 '17 at 9:00

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