August 1, 2008
No, the Balrog still has no wings...
Hello all, its been a while. Busy busy busy.
Anyway, I recently stumbled across in interesting article at Xenite my Michael Martinez basically outlining his theories on the whole Balrog wing debate. Since I cannot figure out yet how to post at Xenite, I guess I'll start by posting here.
Michael is obviously intelligent and well spoken, and puts a lot of though into his post. Having limite time I will address his points one a time. I beging by quoting his original post.
[i]Objections to Balrog wings
Here is where many people make their first mistake. They argue that since Tolkien introduces the wings with a simile, saying, "the shadow around it reached out LIKE two vast wings", the wings cannot be real. But the argument is flawed, because Tolkien also introduces the darkness (the "shadow") with a simile as well: "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". If Tolkien's use of the word "like" here means that there were no wings, then it follows that there was no shadow, and if there was no shadow then it could not possibly have "reached out like two vast wings".
So, in order for there to be a shadow there must be wings, because later on Tolkien writes "it stepped forward slowly on to the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall." The Company of the Ring clearly saw the wings by this point, and what Tolkien was doing with the two similes (and other parts of the passage) was providing a transition from vagueness to clarity. Nothing more. [i]
This is in fact a false premise.
Let me explain. Michael point out that if there were no wings, then there was no shadow. A fair enough assumption, except when looks at the nature of the balrogs darkness.
Firstly, shadows are cast by something blocking oncoming light, but this is not the case the the demon. Its darkness exists despite various light sources in the chamber, such as the fires and Gandalfs staff.
In fact, after is has approached Gandalf in close proximity, despite the light being cast by his staff its darkness is actually seen to grow, to becomes larger and more impenetrable. Highly unusual goings on for conventional shadows.
The assumption therefore is that while the darkness of the balrog LOOKS like a shadow, its nature is in fact very different. It expands at he whim of the demon rather than in response to the laws of physics, and actually violated physical laws at times. It is a mystical darkness that is LIKE a shadow in appearance, but is NOT a shadow in the conventional sense.
Ergo, if the balrogs darkness is LIKE and shadow but is not, then it is perfectly feasible linguistically that the extensions of that shadow are LIKE wings, but are not actual physical wings.