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Thread: elvish strength in 1st age

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A comment made by Miruvor in the "Orcs orcs orcs" thread reminded me of something that I was thinking about myself. Using the fall of Gondolin and the Balrogs as an example, I always liked the fact that it mentions vaguely in the Sil and in more detail in UT of the number of Balrogs killed and the massive feats of valour performed by the heros there, Tuor,Ecthelion,Rog,Glorfindel and co, and i liked the contrast between the massive strength there and the relative weakness to the heroes in LotR.

I believe it gave a sense of past glory when i re-read LotR, sometimes partially revealed, like with Glorfindel near the ford of Rivendell, however some people prefer what they say are Tolkiens last thoughts on the matter that there were no more than 7 Balrogs in total, and to me that takes something away from the deeds done in the first age, so what I want to know are your opinions on the matter, do any of you feel as I do? or do u prefer the more realistic figure of 7?
Hard to believe that there were only 7 Balrogs, if we look at what's in the Sil. Firstly, it's mentioned FŽanor died being surrounded by Balrogs, i always thought that there were more than 7 at that point.

In the War of Wrath later on, all Balrogs were destroyed, safe some that escaped and fled into the bowels of the earth (the Balrogs became Balrogues) : this would mean maximum 6 Balrogs were destroyed, safe the one who'd later become Durin's Bane. Not very impressive.

Also, at the Fall of Gondolin apparently quite some Balrogs were destroyed (one by Glorfindel, one by Ecthelion, 5 by Tuor), so i think there were quite some more of them in the First Age.

I think it's more realistic if there were 7 Balrogs left in the Third Age, of whom only Durin's Bane was awoken.
yes but Ive heard many say that the Sil is not canonical, and quoting a note in (HOME?) which says that JRRT said there were no more than 7 in total, im sure someone here has knowledge of this and indeed prefers this so speak up.
Brace yourself: I'm with Miruvor on this one; the first thing I thought of (as usual when this question comes up) was Feanor, and how he stood until Gothmog himself came. I had the impression Feanor laid about himself, dying the death of a thousand wounds gradually in the process, and that only the coming of Gothmog combined with his wounds prevented it from becoming a one man route of a bunch of Balrogs (which would have been amusing; Feanor was a bad--s.) It seems strange we would know how one out of nine Nazgul met their end, but half the Balrogs.

In a way, it's a GOOD thing the sources are vague; the individual reader can decide questions such as this for themselves, as no one really has the "right" answer. Despite the "name of Fingon" controversy (from what I've heard second hand I'm inclined to go against the Silmarillion for the sake of continuity on that) asserting HoME on Balrogs against the Silmarillions implicatons makes as much sense to me as going with the LT2 version of Beren, so I'm pretty much with Miruvor all the way.

As a side note, I personally think few, if any, of the Third Age Eldar could stack up with those of the First Age, the few of whom around for the War of the Ring were a different class of Elf than their younger fellows. I don't think LotR can be fully appreciated without the Silmarillion, for the reasons cited above. The loss referenced throughout the series is just a concept until you read the Silmarillion, but then becomes something poignant you share, realizing that the glory of the Elves and Edain is past, and the former soon entirely gone forever. Thus, the triumph of Aragorn, his greater similarity to the fathers of his race than to his "peers," and the renewal of his line through Arwen is that much more wonderful.
Well actually HOME is more complete, not to mention correct, when it comes to the family tree of the Noldor : Orodreth, anyone ? Christopher Tolkien admitted it himself later on, but after he realized his mistake the Sil was already published, so what the hey.
Well, HOME contradicts quite a lot of the Sil. A lot of ideas in HOME were abandoned in the Sil. I had a very hard time reading HOME. All the twists of the relationships of the Elves in HOME were so different. I'm still reading Morgoth's Ring right now, actually. It's like a detailed version of the Sil. But some minor things are different. So really, many things the books say are pretty much different. I usually go with the Sil. But others like to go with HOME, cuz it's more interesting... well, it's just all how we like to believe it.
And as Val has said something somewhere like: 'If you can determine when J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the different versions of these contradictory bits you will have a better idea of his intent. That his son Christopher hadn't yet found all his father's later writings, when he edited and had published The Silmarillion was a shame, but the public was clamoring for its release, as we wanted more of J.R.R. Tolkien's writings about the Elves and Men of his Middle-earth.'

So blame it on Canada, or Brazil, or even me, Grondy; for I was one of those who could hardly wait to obtain my first printing copy of the first American edition in 1977, having waited ten years since my initial reading of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Well, I don't blame you. Who can blame loyal fans for being loyal (and well, a bit impatient)? Besides, things came out nicely. And I'm sure we all wouldn't have the Sil in any other way. It came out fine, and I'm really glad they hadn't added all those notes onto it...there are enough notes as it is!
For whatever reason this passage from Quenta Silmarillion was left unrevised: 'But at length after the fall of Fingolfin, which is told hereafter, Sauron came against Orodreth, the warden of the tower, with a host of Balrogs.'

But, perhaps notably, Christopher Tolkien took out this 'host' of Balrogs for the 1977 version of The Silmarillion.

Christopher did retain the wording from the version of the War of Wrath as exhibited in The Lost Road (HME V: that the Balrogs were destroyed, save some few that fled and etc), and we know that when Tolkien wrote this he still thought that many Balrogs existed. He thought so after The Lord of the Rings was completed, but later reduced the number to: 'There should not be supposed more than say 3 or at most 7 ever existed' (possibly in about 1958).

After The Lord of the Rings was written JRRT only made a number of cursory corrections to the end of Quenta Silmarillion. He never truly revised it, leaving CJRT with the wording as it stood. And Tolkien never got far enough in the revised version of The Fall of Gondolin to let us in on any Balrog numbers there, though there are late enough references to show he upheld the idea of Ecthelion slaying Gothmog, and Glorfindel battling a demon out of Thangorodrim to rescue the fugitives.

magic,complete power in the vala,elves in the west,power of the seen and the unseen

I really like the idea of there being around 7 balrogs at most. If there were more (say two dozen) then they seem a lot weaker, at least a lot less special. If there were seven, then they were very special and their power has to scale up. After all, when morgoth uttered his terrible cry there were a few left in Angband to help him against Ungoliant. If there were ten in Angband and it took ten to drive away but not kill Ungoliant then they not all that powerful in the scale of things. But if there were originally seven and by the time he made his enormous cry there were say five in Angband. and it took five to drive off Ungoliant, they must be twice as strong as if it took ten. look at Gandalf vs Durins bane. if Gandalf could only kill it by also losing his own body, and Feanor bada$$ as he was fought 10 simultaneously and came close to wining, doesn't that mean that Gandalf was several times weaker than Feanor. Gandalf said himself in LoTR that a day may come when he would be strong enough to fight Sauron, and he would certainly put up a hell of a fight even if he did lose. But if Feanor was that much stronger than Gandalf who was close to Sauron, chief servant of morgoth, Eru made elves far, far to strong. Since Eru did not make elves that were stronger than people like Sauron Feanor could not have been strong enough to fight more than seven balrogs at once and hold his own. So either there were never very many balrogs or balrogs are not very powerful. In which case Gandalf barely killing one and then saying that the day might come when he could fight Sauron would not make sense. So there must have been few balrogs.

It is said my dear Curufinwe in the silmarillion that Morgoth in his discord,many followed his dark ways,of malice and destruction.Some became balrogs,fell beasts,and of course the memorable Ungoliant.Now i say that the most powerful became the Fire Demons,i guess of about twenty,in the beginning of Utumno.During the war of the silmarils there could have been twelve.

"Gandalf" along with the other wizards in ME was weaker than the high elves such as Feanor. Taking the body of old men restricted their full potential power and gave them more weaknesses. "Olorin" living in Aman would've been a lot more powerful because he didn't have any restrictions. 


 As for Ungoliant, she became more powerful than ever after swallowing the light of the trees. That being said, it is reasonable to say that it needed the combined efforts of most, if not all, of the balrogs to drive away Ungoliant.

So the Gandalf idea was that he killed a Balrog, and he said himself that a day may come when he had to fight Sauron, and he seemed to think that one day he would be ready to win that fight. So if a Balrog fought essentially to a stalemate with someone who might fight Sauron and it took ten balrogs to fight Feanor, that means that Feanor was probably more powerful than Sauron, which is something I don't believe. But if it took only three balrogs to fight Feanor then he is the strongest elf but still not so unbelievably powerful.

Hard to believe that there were only 7 Balrogs, if we look at what's in the Sil. Firstly, it's mentioned Fëanor died being surrounded by Balrogs, i always thought that there were more than 7 at that point.

This illustrates just one of the problems Christopher Tolkien had, as Tolkien himself did drastically reduce the number of Balrogs, at least according to a later marginal note -- but arguably did not get around to revising all the relevant description.

So I think what Christopher Tolkien did for the 1977 Silmarillion was 'minimal revision', meaning he changed some of his father's existing description so that large numbers of Balrogs would not be a certainty.

What Christopher Tolkien did not do however, was rewrite the passages to accommodate the specific number in Tolkien's later note [3 or at most 7].

In the War of Wrath later on, all Balrogs were destroyed, safe some that escaped and fled into the bowels of the earth (the Balrogs became Balrogues) : this would mean maximum 6 Balrogs were destroyed, safe the one who'd later become Durin's Bane. Not very impressive.

But this description was written at a time when JRRT imagined very many Balrogs existed in any case. The question is, how would this section have read if Tolkien had gotten around to truly revising the end chapters of Quenta Silmarillion.

One argument might be that since Tolkien didn't himself revise all the relevant passages then maybe he didn't really mean to reduce Balrog numbers, but while I think that's at least possible in a general sense, it seems rather easy to imagine that JRRT simply didn't get around to revising all that he meant to revise.

That said, if I recall correctly there is at least one example where it appears that Tolkien made a 'later' correction to a Balrog passage [or at least a section of Quenta Silmarillion which contained a passage about Balrogs] but did not revise the description of large numbers. But that noted as well, in this phase it can be difficult to tell which revision followed another, or if Tolkien simply missed something he wanted to revise.

Even Christopher Tolkien warns readers that later 'cursory corrections' to the end of Quenta Silmarillion for example, do not mean that his father had truly updated the later chapters in full.

Also, at the Fall of Gondolin apparently quite some Balrogs were destroyed (one by Glorfindel, one by Ecthelion, 5 by Tuor), so i think there were quite some more of them in the First Age.

A comparison that employs The Book of Lost Tales version of the fall of Gondolin is looking back at a very early and abandoned version, and Christopher Tolkien notes that the Balrogs in these early tales were more destructible. For instance, Balrogs were not Maiar in the early The Book of Lost Tales, if more powerful than orcs.

The first post in the thread mentions 'UT' or Unfinished Tales, but I think that is a slip for The Book of Lost Tales rather, as the updated Fall of Gondolin from Unfinished Tales never makes it to the battle of Gondolin -- plus the Gnome named 'Rog' is clearly from The Book of Lost Tales.

I think it's more realistic if there were 7 Balrogs left in the Third Age, of whom only Durin's Bane was awoken.

Tolkien's later note is clear that he is considering the number of Balrogs that ever existed. Ultimately [in  my opinion] it appears that Christopher Tolkien made his revisions due to being influenced by his father's note of no more than 3 Balrogs, or at most 7, ever existing.

It might be that Christopher Tolkien decided upon a middle ground solution: do not mention specific Balrog numbers in the Silmarillion, but take out references that make it certain that there were very many.

Just as his father had done on at least one occasion.

I suppose we can all agree that there is ambiguity that doesn't matter much.

i will change my opinion,that there were twenty Balrogs in the war of the jewels,in the war of the Wrath 18 were destroyed.In the chaining of Melkor.there used to be 30.

thirty, that seems like quite a high number, do you think that Feanor could fight 18 balrogs at once. That would make him nearly as strong as a Valar, I don't think Eru would do something like that. Especially after he saw how horribly the only other person with a power level far greater than the rest of his race turned out.

There were basically two 'Silmarillion' conceptions:

A) very many Balrogs -- enough for a 'host' of them, or even 1,000!

'There came wolves, and wolfriders, and there came Balrogs a thousand, and there came worms and drakes, and Glaurung, Father of Dragons.' 

JRRT, The Grey Annals


 B) 3 or at most 7

So 30 Balrogs is not really that much going by the older conception, but way too much going by Tolkien's later note.

Generally speaking when Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings and much of the Silmarillion [1930s and early 1950s versions] the concept of very many Balrogs was in play.

The exact number that attacked Feanor wasn't said in the Silmarillion. It simply said "balrogs." So for certain it was only more than 1 balrog. 

I think the idea of a whole host of Balrogs is from really old ideas, like the book of lost tales. However, while it is cool to imagine 1,000 Balrogs all lined up and ready to destroy all the elves, it seems to me that 1,000 Balrogs as strong as the final conception of a Balrog would be enough to destroy everything. Balrogs are Maia, they are not like some little fire demons, they are shadow, fire, and death. I think that it is reasonable to assume that each reader will interpret things differently, but I think that a range of three to around 20 is reasonable. They are not soldiers in my mind, they are like Morgoth chief servants, whereas if we say that a thousand Balrogs attacked Gondolin they are probably not chief lutenants of Morgoth. These are his earliest servants, they may have even existed before Eru created the world, there could not be many more than 20.

okay,what about 13?Feanor most likely fought only a few of them maybe 4,for about ten minutes,sound reasonable?

I think there were about five. You can disagree or agree, so long as you don't go over say, 20. I think we have established that there were probably not more than 20.

As Balrogs are Maia spirits, possibly corrupted or persuaded by Melkor to back him in his battles with the Valar in early Elder Days there could have been many. probably in the tens rather than the hundreds..

I think the idea of a whole host of Balrogs is from really old ideas, like the book of lost tales.

Actually Tolkien imagined very many Balrogs existing long after he abandoned The Book of Lost Tales. For example the quote I provided in my last post [Balrogs a thousand] is from The Grey Annals, which dates to the early 1950s and which Tolkien wrote after 'finishing' the story of The Lord of the Rings.

At this time Tolkien revised The Siege of Angband too, where according to the Silmarillion of the 1930s the 'greater force' that came to the meeting of Maedhros were Balrogs.

This wasn't revised in the early 1950s, as, for another example, JRRT still imagined (after the Gates of Utumno were broken)...

'Thence, seeing that all was lost (for that time), he sent forth on a sudden a host of Balrogs, the last of his servants that remained, and they assailed the standard of Manwe, as it were a tide of flame.'

JRRT, Annals of Aman, early 1950s

It was Christopher Tolkien who revised some of his father's descriptions, these editorial revisions making the 1977 Silmarillion ambiguous with respect to great numbers of Balrogs...

... and thus generally ambiguous. 

13,balrogs by the vwar of the Jewels,i think we got that under control