In Moria, when Gandalf confronts the Balrog on the bridge of Khazad-dûm, Gandalf says the following:

I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass! The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass!

I cannot find any reference to "flame of Anor" or "flame of Udûn" anywhere else in The Lord of the Rings, not in the appendices. As Gandalf possesses Narya (the ring of fire) at this point in time, I am wondering if he is referring to this in some way? Is this correct? If not, what is he referring to?

  • 32
    Anor is a name for the Sun in Middle Earth, whereas Udûn (which translates to hell) is the name of **one of the first lairs of Morgoth. I think Gandalf is just distinguishing here that, "I have the power of good on my side, you have the power of evil".
    – NominSim
    Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 18:16

9 Answers 9


Gandalf is making three very specific references as both warning and challenge to the Balrog.

By identifying himself as a servant of the Secret Fire (or Flame Imperishable), Gandalf is identifying himself as a Maia, an embodied angelic servant of the Valar protecting the light of Creation that Eru Ilúvatar (or God) has set to burn at the centre of Arda (Earth).

Wielder of the flame of Anor is a reference to his ability to draw on the power of the sun possibly through the Ring of Fire, Narya, but maybe also through his own divine origins.

Finally as he refers to the Balrog as the Flame of Udûn, he informs the Balrog that he knows it to be a corrupted Maia in the service of Morgoth from the earliest time when he resided as Melkor in his dark fortress of Utumno broken by the Valar at the awakening of the Elves. He orders it to retreat ("go back to the shadows") or face the consequences of divine conflict and final judgement before the Vala Mandos, the fate of all slain creatures.

  • 174
    +1 for Gandalf identifying himself; a translation might be something like: "Yo! Maiar dude. I'm a Maiar dude too. You've had your fun but now you're up against someone your own size. Back off or you might get hurt."
    – user8719
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 21:00
  • 76
    @JimmyShelter Your command of Tolkien's writing style is brilliant.
    – Nerrolken
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 23:14
  • 56
    "You best check yo-self before you wreck yo-self."
    – Rag
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 18:18
  • 14
    now i want to see a rap battle on the bridge
    – IG_42
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 19:00
  • 39
    Quick, someone contact Epic Rap Battles of History and have them do a Gandalf v Balrog.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 16:49

Secret Fire

In The Silmarillion, the creation of the world is described. The Gods sing a vision of the World. Then the One God, Ilúvatar, makes their song reality:

Therefore Ilúvatar gave to their vision Being, and set it amid the Void, and the Secret Fire was sent to burn at the heart of the World; and it was called Eä.

Flame of Anor

"Anor" is the Sindarin name for the Sun. Also seen in the name Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun, which was later renamed to Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard.

Flame of Udûn

Udûn (Sindarin: "hell") was the first fortress of Melkor in the far north of Middle-earth. This marks the Balrog as an ancient foe. As Tolkien's world is in a perpetual state of decline, being ancient makes the Balrog a very powerful foe. And indeed the Balrog turned out to be an equal of Gandalf, a Maia, or a lesser god.

  • 27
    Balrog was ALSO a Maia. Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 20:31
  • 5
    @DVK The sentence structure jars a bit, but I think that's what the answerer meant.
    – Anthony
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 4:50
  • 6
    Good answer, but you shouldn't call the Ainur "Gods". When Tolkien wrote his stories, he wanted them to be "compatible" with his Catholic beliefs, so he tried to avoid creating a "pagan" mythos. There is only one God in Tolkien's legendarium, and that is supposed to be the same one as in the Bible. The Ainur (Valar, Maiar, and those that never entered Eä) are like angels. And the Flame Imperishable (Secret Fire) is similar to the Holy Spirit. Commented Sep 6, 2013 at 21:45
  • 16
    @MathiasOse - actually, when Tolkien wrote his stories he used the word "gods" consistently until quite a late stage; it's even in LotR: "he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the battle of the Valar". Note the lowercase 'g', however.
    – user8719
    Commented Oct 26, 2013 at 20:09
  • 3
    @Jim2B: After his death, Gandalf went beyond the space and time of Arda, see Letters, #156, pp 202–3. He was sent back by the Creator.
    – Andomar
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 12:14

Above answers including explanations for "Secret Fire" and "Flame of Udûn" are satisfactory and correct as far as I know, but the treatment of "Flame of Anor" is massively speculative with no acceptable evidence, and thus woefully lacking. I will attempt to answer what Gandalf quite obviously meant by "Flame of Anor," using a style of exaggerated introduction to an enemy that Tolkien uses when Bilbo met Smaug that everyone seems to have missed.

The Flame of Anor is simply the Sun, and nothing else. More specifically, it is the Dawn. Gandalf meant quite literally that he wields the Sun, and we know this from his history to be true, from The Hobbit:

'Dawn take you all, and be stone to you!' said a voice that sounded like William's. But it wasn't. For just at that moment the light came over the hill, and there was a mighty twitter in the branches. William never spoke for he stood turned to stone as he stooped; and Bert and Tom were stuck like rocks as they looked at him. And there they stand to this day, all alone, unless the birds perch on them; for trolls... must be underground before dawn, or they go back to the stuff of the mountains they are made of, and never move again....

'Excellent!' said Gandalf, as he stepped from behind a tree, and helped Bilbo to climb down out of a thorn-bush. Then Bilbo understood. It was the wizard's voice that had kept the trolls bickering and quarrelling, until the light came and made an end of them.

Gandalf wields the Sun often subsequent to his battle with the Balrog. When reunited with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in Fangorn, he chooses to do so while bathed in the sun, from The Two Towers:

They all gazed at him. His hair was white as snow in the sunshine, and gleaming white was his robe; the eyes under his deep brows were bright, piercing as the rays of the sun; power was in his hand.

Arriving at Helm's Deep with reinforcements, we read the enemy is driven mad by Gandalf's approach from the East at sunrise, from The Two Towers:

There suddenly upon a ridge appeared a rider, clad in white, shining in the rising sun. [...] The White Rider was upon them, and the terror of his coming filled the enemy with madness.

Gandalf's use of sunrise is hardly isolated, and there are quite a few passages with him arriving at his destination at first light, from The Return of the King:

So Gandalf and Peregrin rode to the Great Gate of the Men of Gondor at the rising of the sun, and its iron doors rolled back before them.

In fact, Gandalf never reveals Narya until the very end of the story after Aragorn has been crowned, keeping it secret from the Enemy as instructed by Círdan, so its highly unlikely he would tell the Balrog anything of Narya. What Tolkien didn't reveal to us he never intended, such as Gandalf referring to Narya as "The Sun," which he would never do. Narya has no connection to the Sun other than the coincidence that Gandalf wields the sun, as he says, which is always a white light, and he also happens to secretly posses Narya, the red ring, giving him some influence over fire and the ability to kindle hearts. The Sun and the powers of Narya are not related. Narya is not a weapon nor does Gandalf use it as one, like he uses the Sun.

  • 14
    These are all examples of Gandalf taking advantage of the sun, and the timing of dawn, but I don't see any evidence of him "wielding" it. It's not like he caused the sun to come up and petrify the trolls, he just distracted them until it happened.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 21:27
  • 4
    I'd always thought that "It seemed to Pippin that [Gandalf] raised his hand, and from it a shaft of white light stabbed upwards. The Nazgûl gave a long wailing cry and swerved away… " referred to an effect from Narya, as well as the fireworks on Weathertop, "... such light and flame cannot have been seen on Weathertop since the war beacons of old."
    – Wayne
    Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 14:12
  • @DCShannon I see no evidence of Narya providing his aptitude for fire. The claims made by the users are all as valid as the next
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jul 17, 2017 at 14:01

Tolkien has said that the "secret fire" (when used elsewhere), referred to the Holy Spirit.

Professor Clyde S Kilby spent a summer in 1966 with Tolkien during which he read and provided feedback on the then unpublished Silmarillion. A decade later, he published the book Tolkien and the Silmarillion, with a memoir of his visit, and a few critical essays of his on Tolkien, (e.g. exploring Tolkien as a Christian writer, or as a member of the Inklings).

One of the anecdotes he shares was about the usage of the word "Secret Fire" in the beginning of the Silmarillion.

Professor Tolkien talked to me at some length about the use of the word "holy" in The Silmarillion. Very specifically he told me that the "Secret Fire sent to burn at the heart of the World" in the beginning was the Holy Spirit.
Tolkien and the Silmarillion - "Tolkien as Christian Writer"

The passage being referred to is one from The Silmarillion, not from The Lord of the Rings:

Therefore Ilúvatar gave to their vision Being, and set it amid the Void, and the Secret Fire was sent to burn at the heart of the World; and it was called Eä.
The Silmarillion - "Valaquenta"

However Kilby cites Gandalf's line to the Balrog in a footnote, implying that he had interpreted Tolkien's words as also applying to when Gandalf said it.


Anor or Anar. Eru gave a special light to Varda (Elbereth) (whom the Noldor especially revered) when she entered Eä at the beginning of time. This light she shared with Arien (the Maia of the Sun) and it was to possess this light that Morgoth 'ravished' Arien; thereby burning and diminishing himself irrevocably. I believe that Gandalf is referring to this very special and holy light, given by Eru as something deadly to Morgoth and his servants. Udûn is Sindarin for Utumno, Morgoth's great first underground realm - the underworld.

  • 6
    er - the sun came from the last flower of Laurelin, the golden tree after Morgoth destroyed it, Varda hallowed this flower and gave it to arien to travel through the heavens, Telperion also bore a last flower which was given to Tilion, who was in love with Arien and attempted to get closer to her, thus burning himself. Morgoth Assailed Tilion when he first ascended into the heavens but he was mortally afraid of the sun and hid himself and his servants from it by use of smoke, which is why the servants of evil cannot abide the sun. So you are partly correct but not fully correct I am afraid Commented Dec 9, 2014 at 23:51

Secret Fire and Flame of Anor are two different names for the same thing... the Light of Creation... the power of Eru (God) to bring things into actual existence, to Create. Tolkien wrote in his letters several times about this concept of Creation and Sub-creation (refashioning something new out of what Eru has already Created). Only Eru could truly create, all others could only sub-create. (The Valar accept their limited powers as stewardship; Melkor/Morgoth envies and lusts after Eru's true creative power... but to no avail.) It is very, very closely associated with Life and bringing things "to life." The medieval word for life was "quick"... which was the same as the part of a candle which hosts the flame... now we say the "wick", but quick and wick were once the same word. Back then, the idea of soul or having life was deeply associated with light and flame. Tolkien knew this, and based his mythos on it.

The Flame of Udûn... the "dark fire" is Morgoth's attempt to "Create" his own version of the "light of creation"...an envious perversion of what has already been created.

Anor being in the Sun and yet also at the center of the world explains a lot about Tolkien's fascination with vulcanism. Smaug is essentially a volcano personified, and the One Ring could only be created or destroyed in the heart of a volcano... by tapping into Anor.

  • To add to David Neuschulz's answer, the term 'wick' was used in the show "The Secret Garden" by the Welsh gardener and 'wizard' Dickon. The term was used in one of the songs in the play. Here's a link to the youtube video. youtube.com/watch?v=QUsSh6S4Pvg
    – Harold
    Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 1:43
  • For those reading Harold's comment, but not wanting or having time to watch a video, in "The Secret Garden" 'wick' is used to mean the plants still have life in them (despite being long neglected).
    – hlongmore
    Commented Jun 25, 2020 at 21:01

I think what he is basically saying is: "I wield the fire of the sun through Narya. You wield the dark fire of hell. My fire is stronger than yours."

I'm pretty sure that he isn't speaking of wielding the power of the Valar, as there are no other instances in all of LotR legendarium that I am aware of where a character wields the power of another. None of the other Maiar are shown to have extraordinary powers (Except Melion, to a degree). Conversely, we see similar power over the elements by Elrond who, wielding the sapphire ring, controls the water of Bruinen to drown the Nazgûl. Besides, if Gandalf had been granted amazing powers by Manwë, Círdan would have had no reason to give him Narya in the first place.

  • "None of the other maiar are shown to have extraordinary powers (Except Melion, to a degree)." I think you are forgetting that Sauron was also a Maia.
    – Lexible
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 5:58

In The War of the Jewels, Christopher Tolkien has a brief section, page 397 through 407, on "The language of the Valar". There are several lists of Valarin words. These are not Elvish, though the Elves copied many of them. In those word lists, Anar and uruš appear on page 401. The first means "the sun" or "appointed heat" and the second means "fire". Given the linguistic similarity between r and d, I think it not unlikely that Gandalf used very ancient vocabulary indeed — words that preceded the awakening of the Elves to refer to his fire and that of the Balrog. The only connection in LotR or The Silmarillion between "Udûn" and "Utumno" comes on the very last page of The Silmarillion where "Udûn" is given as the Sindarin version of "Utumno". The word Udûn, as far as I can tell, does not appear in the 13 volume set of The History of Middle-earth and the closest that I can find is uruš. So take it as speculation that Gandalf was deliberately using some very ancient vocabulary and not Elvish words.

It also occurred to me that this speech was not for the Balrog's benefit. Assuming that the Balrog spoke the language of Morgoth which predated Elvish and then the Balrog had been buried underground for ages and then had only interacted with Orcs or a few tortured Dwarves, he likely wouldn't have spoken common or Sindarin, so the communication between Gandalf and the Balrog was likely telepathic like all the Valar and Maiar were capable of. The speech was primarily for the benefit of the hearers or to help Gandalf formulate his thought-communication.

  • Well, Sindarin was the everyday Elvish language as it were, so I wouldn't be surprised if Gandalf was using the Sindarin name for Utumno. Commented Aug 22, 2018 at 23:48
  • 1
    Isn't Anor also "The Sun" in Sindarin? Although I guess it would be appropriate for Mithrandir to use Valarin against another Maia, it's unclear whether he still recalled Valarin or whether anyone in the company knew enough of it to translate it for Frodo to transcribe.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 5:19

What about the possibility of a typo? Perhaps it was wrong in the text when printed, and what was meant was not "Anor" but "Arnor", in which case the flame of Arnor would definitely be the red ring, first carried by Cirdan and later Gandalf and it was at first in the land of Arnor, the northern kingdom.

  • 2
    Do you have any evidence to show this to be more true than the accepted answer?
    – amflare
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 17:57
  • This is a question for speculation not a statement of fact. As far as "accepted answers", I don't think they have much value as the true answers are in Tolkien's head and he is now dead. In Essence, this blog is en exercise in speculation.
    – user92317
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 16:55
  • 4
    Speculation is only useful if it's backed up by evidence. The top answer seems very reasonable based on the known meanings of Anor and Udun. But if you're suggesting that there's a typo in Lord of the Rings ... extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence to support them.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 17:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.