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J. R. R. Tolkien wrote:

For of the Maiar many were drawn to his splendour in the days of his greatness, and remained in that allegiance down into his darkness; and others he corrupted afterwards to his service with lies and treacherous gifts. Dreadful among these spirits were the Valaraukar, the scourges of fire than in Middle-earth were called the Balrogs, demons of terror.

The Silmarillion: Valaquenta, Of the Enemies

Image of a Balrog

If the Balrogs were corrupted Maiar and the Maiar have magical skills, then what magical abilities did Balrogs have?

Did the Maiar lose and/or gain any magical skills when they were changed into Balrogs?

Please list any magical powers they have.


Please provide answers from Tolkien's writings.

  • 17
    Longevity, spell casting, killing other Maia, flame-inducement, embiggenment, "whip cracking of their cracky tails" and general fear inspiring. – Möoz Aug 31 '18 at 7:02
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    Note that "magic" in Tolkien's world is less MMO-like (clear-cut spells that always do the same thing) and more in fairy tales (general "influence" in the world that can express itself in many ways). – Annatar Aug 31 '18 at 7:18
  • 6
    The idea that Balrogs "gained" or "lost" skills as a result of being corrupted by Melkor seems at odds with how Tolkien generally does things. Their nature changed, and as such the way their nature expressed themselves in the physical world changed, but that's not quite the same thing as getting a +6 permanent bonus to your Fire Whip weapon skill. In earlier revisions Tolkien envisioned Melkor creating the Balrogs; this was later changed to corrupting existing Maiar, which may go some way towards explaining why we don't hear much about what they were like "before". – Jeroen Mostert Aug 31 '18 at 13:32
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    @JeroenMostert Wikipedia says the corrupt Maiar lost abilities. "Tolkien says of the Valar (including the Maiar) that they can change their shape at will, and move unclad in the raiment of the world, meaning invisible and without form. But it seems that Morgoth, Sauron, and their associated Maiar could lose this ability." That's why I asked what magical abilities Maiar lost when they became Balrogs. – RichS Aug 31 '18 at 14:54
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    Typo in the quote: "than in Middle-earth" -> "that in Middle-earth" – TylerH Aug 31 '18 at 15:06
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Magic in Middle-earth is rather different to "conventional" magic.

One must first remember that what one often thinks of as magic as used in other systems (like Harry Potter or D&D) was not prevalent in Tolkien's Middle-earth. As Tolkien himself says in Letter 155, it is a complex matter, and that his works used it far too casually. Stating that it's "largely about motives"

"I am afraid I have been far too casual about 'magic' and especially the use of the word; though Galadriel and others show by the criticism of the 'mortal' use of the word, that the thought about it is not altogether casual. But it is a v. large question, and difficult; and a story which . . . is largely about motives"
Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien - Letter 155 to Naomi Mitchison

Tolkien goes on in the letter to discuss how the evil sides largely use terror and deceit as a form of magic to dominate the wills of others.

The supremely bad motive is (for this tale, since it is specially about it) domination of other 'free' wills. The Enemy's operations are by no means all goetic deceits, but 'magic' that produces real effects in the physical world. But his magia he uses to bulldoze both people and things, and his goeteia to terrify and subjugate.
ibid.

The Balrog's power

So onto the Balrog's power, magics like apparation, conventional spell casting and Potions are certainly not magics that the Balrog would've been capable of (or anyone in Middle-earth, really). As is stated above, the greatest extent of the Balrog's magic would've been in domination of 'free' wills (in this case orcs), however there were other things that the Balrog had in his arsenal.

Some form of spell casting was possible in Middle-earth, however spells were mostly used to affect the real world in ways that would normally be unlikely (such as lighting a wet faggot) or to alter the world (such as locking a door)

It laid hold of the iron ring, and then it perceived me and my spell. What it was I cannot guess, but I have never felt such a challenge. The counter-spell was terrible. It nearly broke me. For an instant the door left my control and began to open! I had to speak a word of Command. That proved too great a strain. The door burst in pieces. Something dark as a cloud was blocking out all the light inside, and I was thrown backwards down the stairs."
The Fellowship of the Ring - Book 2, Chapter V: The Bridge of Khazad-dûm

Balrogs are also capable of some form of physical manipulation, as it is said they took on dark cloaks, man-like but larger:

[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....
ibid.

It is possible that Balrogs had the ability to manipulate fire, being described as "scourges of fire":

Dreadful among these spirits were the Valaraukar, the scourges of fire that in Middle-earth were called the Balrogs, demons of terror.
The Silmarillion - Valaquenta: Of the Enemies

They also covered themselves in fire and carried flame whips. As such it may have been possible that they carried the ability.

0

Balrogs are Maiar, so are well-nigh immortal, highly durable and are resistant to magical harm. As Balrogs, they are large and have great physical strength, have whips of fire ( that the Balrogs seem to create with their own power ), probable fire-manipulation, flight at high speed along with a number of other powers we don’t know about, as there is never much explanation as to the extent of their powers. Also, there are armies of them led well, so that is notable.

  • Do you have any evidence for this that you could edit in? – TheLethalCarrot Jul 17 at 22:46
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    Part of your answer is incorrect. They were never shown to fly at high speeds with great speculation around the idea of if they really had wings or not. Furthermore, there was once armies of them, but Tolkien repeatedly edited that down to around 7 Balrogs. – Edlothiad Jul 17 at 23:44

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