The Lord of the Rings – Book 2, Chapter 5: “The Bridge of Khazad-dûm”

The book Gandalf finds is stabbed through, with many lines blurred, but from it the final fate of Balin and his valiant Dwarves can be learned.  They were waylaid by orcs, and by a beast with no form.  *cue the ominous foreshadowing music*

Leaving the tomb, the Fellowship encounters the orcs en masse.  The battle is fierce, and Frodo is wounded.  Gandalf stops the orcs with a spell, but as if in warning as to what’s coming, a strong presence makes it nearly impossible for Gandalf to use his power.

Think about this for a moment.  We’ve already discussed that the wizards of Middle-Earth are not mere wizards, but rather the equivalent of angels.  The power they wield is divine.  It stands to reason that to counter such power requires something of that magnitude.

The further they go, the hotter it gets, and it’s soon learned the lower levels of Moria are on fire.  No… no symbolism here at all.  They encounter a narrow bridge across a great chasm.  Gimli leads the way, and just as Legolas is about to fire his bow, he sees something that fills him with abject terror.  What is it that can possibly counter Gandalf’s power and fill an Elf with such dread?

A balrog.  It is shaped like a man, but possesses far greater power, wielding a blade of fire in one hand, and a throng of whips in the other.

Let’s pause here for a moment to really let this sink in.  After all, exploring the full potential of the lore of Middle-Earth means looking ahead and finding out what such things are.  So what exactly is a balrog?

We’ve discussed the Maiar, which are the divine beings who stepped down into Middle-Earth to assist the creation of Arda.  So we’re talking divine and semi-divine beings on the level of the Istari (the wizards) and Sauron himself.  The balrogs were Maiar corrupted by Morgoth during the creation of Arda, before the coming of the Elves.  Who’s Morgoth?  That would be Sauron’s master, the original Dark Lord who fell at the end of the First Age.  According to the lore, the balrogs were encountered during the “Battle Under the Stars” in the First Age, pouring forth out of Angband.  After the final battle of the First Age, some balrogs made it out alive, fleeing into the underground.  To the best of anyone’s knowledge, only one balrog — called Durin’s Bane — has been seen since…

… by the Fellowship of the Ring, here at Khazad-dûm.

Gandalf moves in, blocking the balrog’s path, commanding it to go back.  The balrog attacks with his sword.  Gandalf counters with his own blade and cuts the bridge out from under the balrog before it can recover for another attack.  The balrog falls.  Its whip lashes out, wrapping around Gandalf’s knees, dragging the wizard into the abyss with it.

The remainder of the Fellowship make it across and out of the mountain under Aragorn’s leadership, once more into the sunlight of a bright afternoon.  The wisest and most powerful among them has fallen.