Mar 30 2013, 3:02am
I love your idea of 'shape-shifting' rendered as an embodiment of the essence of flame, giving Balrogs an indeterminate form. However, although I don't believe 'flesh and blood' is a useful concept in imagining a Balrog's anatomy, neither will I go with the idea of a being made entirely of (or manifesting itself entirely as) fire and flame. Because Tolkien didn't. We should remember Gandalf's description of the creature when its fire had been 'quenched' by the pool in the abyss below the Bridge:
Beautiful imagery, but...
‘Thither I came at last, to the uttermost foundations of stone. He was with me still. His fire was quenched, but now he was a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake.
‘We fought far under the living earth, where time is not counted. Ever he clutched me, and ever I hewed him, till at last he fled into dark tunnels. They were not made by Durin’s folk, Gimli son of Glóin. Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day. In that despair my enemy was my only hope, and I pursued him, clutching at his heel. Thus he brought me back at last to the secret ways of Khazad-dûm: too well he knew them all. Ever up now we went, until we came to the Endless Stair.’
‘Long has that been lost,’ said Gimli. ‘Many have said that it was never made save in legend, but others say that it was destroyed.’
‘It was made, and it had not been destroyed,’ said Gandalf. ‘From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak it climbed, ascending in unbroken spiral in many thousand steps, until it issued at last in Durin’s Tower carved in the living rock of Zirak-zigil, the pinnacle of the Silvertine. ‘There upon Celebdil was a lonely window in the snow, and before it lay a narrow space, a dizzy eyrie above the mists of the world. The sun shone fiercely there, but all below was wrapped in cloud. Out he sprang, and even as I came behind, he burst into new flame. There was none to see, or perhaps in after ages songs would still be sung of the Battle of the Peak.’ Suddenly Gandalf laughed. ‘But what would they say in song? Those that looked up from afar thought that the mountain was crowned with storm. Thunder they heard, and lightning, they said, smote upon Celebdil, and leaped back broken into tongues of fire. Is not that enough? A great smoke rose about us, vapour and steam. Ice fell like rain. I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote it in his ruin.’ (LotR, III.5, underlines by squire)
Clearly this is a physical being with physical form, that fights as a man fights. So as far as physical anatomy goes, I vote that the Balrog's incarnation is in the same class as the Ents and the Trolls. All these creatures are of man-shape and move according to a man's frame and musculature, but they do not possess what we would call today a standard mammalian or even animalic anatomy. Questions of respiration, energy consumption, circulation and nervous organization are highly suspect, and in the end, unwelcome. They are of matter, and are animated by spirits who cannot activate a form that is not in some sense humanoid, but that's as far as it goes. In the end, Tolkien's creativity for monsters such as these is just as limited as that of most human cultures, who cannot project their fears and worshipfulness onto anything that does not, outwardly, resemble Man - while ascribing powers to them that cannot be contained in any real human body.
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