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<   No. 4665   2021-12-10   >

Comic #4665

1 Lambert: So now would be a really good time to show us this Balrog-killing ability of yours, Kyros.
2 Balrog: Wait. You’re Kyros? The Kyros who all the Balrogs talk about?
3 Kyros: Yeah. Are you afraid now?
4 Balrog: Afraid I’ll die—
4 Kyros: Aha!!
4 Balrog: —laughing.

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The phrase "all the Balrogs" got me wondering. How many Balrogs are there?

I should have known better.

As with pretty much every question anyone ever asks about the lore of Middle-earth, the answer seems to be "it depends" crossed with "nobody really knows", with a good dose of "even Tolkien himself had no freaking idea" thrown in for good measure.

Investigating this question led to this thread on StackExchange, which can be summed up by the fact that the evidence is self-contradictory and supports numbers ranging from as few as three, to seven, to about fifty, to hundreds, to a thousand, to several thousands. The pertinent evidence, in detail, comes from various writings of Christopher Tolkien on his father's work:

Wikipedia backs up this inconsistency and ambiguity:

Tolkien's conception of Balrogs changed over time. In all his early writing, they are numerous. A host of a thousand is mentioned in the Quenta Silmarillion, while at the storming of Gondolin Balrogs in the hundreds ride on the backs of the Dragons. They are roughly of twice human size, and were occasionally killed in battle by Elves and Men. They were fierce demons, associated with fire, armed with fiery whips of many thongs and claws like steel, and Morgoth delighted in using them to torture his captives.

In the published version of The Lord of the Rings, however, Balrogs became altogether more sinister and more powerful. Christopher Tolkien notes the difference, saying that in earlier versions they were "less terrible and certainly more destructible". He quotes a very late marginal note that was not incorporated into the text saying "at most seven" ever existed; though in the Annals of Aman, written as late as 1958, Melkor still commands "a host of Balrogs".

And finally, here's a whole essay on just this question.

So, how many Balrogs are there? It depends. It could have been three. Or seven. Or 49. Or hundreds. Or about a thousand. Or many thousands.

Just don't ask about the wings. Or whether they speak.

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