See below for the author's personal views on the questions discussed here.
In this last installment of the series I will present a few further passages about Balrogs which did not fit into the earlier texts and some general comments.
What are the names of the Balrogs?
The five Balrog names which appear in the stories can all be found in two passages;
"The Eldar named him Kosmoko or Kosomok(o), but 'tis a name that fitteth their tongue no way and has an ill sound even in our own rougher speech, said Elfrith [emended fmm Elfriniel].' (In a list of names of the Valar associated with the tale of The Coming of the Valar (I. 93) it is said that Melko had a son 'by Ulbandi' called Kosomot; the early 'Qenya' dictionary gives Kosomoko = Gnomish Gothmog, I.258."
BoLT2, Fall of Gondolin - Commentary ~2 'Entries in the Name-list'
"But Lungorthin Lord of Balrogs
on the mouth smote him, and Morgoth smiled"
LoB, The Second Version of the Children of Hurin (line 96)
Christopher comments a few pages after this second passage that references to Gothmog 'Lord of Balrogs' were to be found written shortly before and after this text. He suggests that Lungorthin might thus be A Balrog Lord, while Gothmog was still THE Lord of Balrogs. Alternatively, this could have been a transitory idea for another name to be given to the character elsewhere called Gothmog/Kosomot/Kosomoko/Kosmoko.
Gothmog and the different Quenya versions of the name are translated variously as 'Voice of the Master' (for the Orcish origin), 'Dread Tyrant' or 'Terrible Enemy'.
Tolkien never provided a translation of 'Lungorthin', but it may contain the Sindarin roots 'gor' = 'horror, violence' and 'thin' = 'grey'. The 'lun' element is very uncertain, but may be derived from 'lune' = 'blue' or 'lung' = 'heavy, grave, serious'.
What is the etymology of 'balrog'?
Tolkien gave a few different origins for 'balrog'. The earliest suggests that it was Orcish in origin;
"Balrog is said to be an Orc-word with no pure Quenya equivalent: 'borrowed Malaroko-'"
LROW, The List of Names
Given that Tolkien indicated that Orcs often borrowed and adapted words from other languages and the 'borrowed Malaroko' comment above it seems likely that the Orcish term was meant to be a modification of the earlier elvish Malaroko;
"Balrog GL defines Balrog as 'a kind of fire-demon; creatures and servants of Melko'. With the article the form is i 'Malrog, plural i 'Malraugin. Separate entries give bal 'anguish' (original initial consonant mb-), balc 'cruel'; and graug 'demon'. Qenya forms are mentioned: arauke and Nalkarauke. In QL Malkarauke with other words such as malkane 'torture' are given under a root MALA (MBALA) '(crush), hurt, damage', but the relation of this to MALA 'crush, squeeze' (see Olore Malle) was apparently not decided. There are also Valkarauke and valkane 'torture', but again the relationship is left obscure."
The entry for Balrog in NFG says: "'Bal meaneth evilness, and Balc evil, and Balrog meaneth evil demon.' GL has balc 'cruel'. see I. 250 (Balrog)."
By the time that Tolkien began work on LotR these ideas had been somewhat modified and formalized, retaining the meaning 'Cruel Demon' or 'Torture Demon';
"NGWAL- torment. Q ungwale torture; nwalya- to pain, torment; nwalka cruel. N balch cruel; baul torment, cf. Bal- in Balrog or Bolrog [RUK], and Orc-name Boldog = Orc-warrior 'Torment-slayer' (cf. NDAK)."
"RUK- demon. Q rauko demon, malarauko (*ngwalarauko, cf. NGWAL); N rhaug, Balrog."
LROW, The Etymologies
There was also one further etymology given for balrog after LotR had been completed;
"Note 28 (p. 390)
Some other derivatives are in Quenya: rukin 'I feel fear or horror' (constructed with 'from' of the object feared); ruhta- 'terrify'; rukima 'terrible'; rauko and arauko < *grauk-) 'a powerful, hostile, and terrible creature', especially in the compound Valarauko 'Demon of Might', applied later to the more powerful and terrible of the Maia servants of Morgoth. In Sindarin appear, for instance, raug and graug, and the com- pound Balrog (equivalents of Q rauko, etc.); groga- 'feel terror'; gruitha 'terrify'; gorog (< *guruk) 'horror'."
WotJ, Quendi and Eldar
Here the 'bal' part of the name is changed from a connection with Quenya 'NGWAL' to relate to the same root found in 'Valar' (the 'Powers'), thus arriving at the apparently final meaning given in Silm; 'Demon of Might'.
What is the plural form of the word 'balrog'?
This might seem a simple question as Tolkien consistently used 'balrogs';
"Balrogs they were named by the Noldor in later days."
MR, Later Quenta Silmarillion - Chapter 3 (Commentary ~18) pg 165
However, linguists are quick to note that an 's' ending does not indicate a plural in Sindarin and thus the word 'balrogs' might best be considered an 'anglicized' plural rather than the actual word which the elves would have used. If the older orcish origin for 'balrog' is assumed we might still guess that 'balrogs' is the correct plural, but there is nothing to indicate that this was Tolkien's intent or that 's' indicated a plural in any orcish dialect (of which Tolkien provided very little).
A possible entry for what the 'un-anglicized' Sindarin form might have been is;
"And in Utumno he multiplied the race of evil spirits that followed him, the Umaiar, of whom the chief were those demons the Elves afterwards named the Balrogath."
MR, Annals of Aman - Section 2 (AAm* ~30) page 79
A common objection to 'Balrogath' as a plural is the belief that Tolkien used '-ath' to indicate a 'collective' term for the race in question and thus that 'balrogath' should be translated as 'the balrog race' rather than simply 'balrogs'. However, in english the collective term for a race can be denoted simply by adding an 's', as shown in one of Tolkien's own translations;
Ernil i Pheriannath = Prince of the Halflings
Further, Tolkien actually used '-ath' as a simple plural for many words (e.g. 'ar-gon-ath' meaning 'king stones'), including particular races;
"1601 Many Periannath migrate from Bree, and are granted land beyond Baranduin by Argeleb II."
LotR, Appendix B - The Third Age
Here 'periannath' translates as 'hobbits', but clearly in the sense of 'more than one hobbit' rather than in reference to the 'hobbit race'.
As such it is possible that 'balrogath' was the common plural form of 'balrog', but this is far from universally accepted. Linguists then extrapolate that the correct term may have been something like 'balroeg' based upon the way Tolkien pluralized other Sindarin words. The form 'belryg' is also sometimes suggested, though this is considered a non-standard pluralization (similar to the plural of 'mouse' in English being 'mice' rather than the more common 's' pluralization, which would yield 'mouses').
The Quenya plural is given as Malraugin, Malarauke, and finally Valarauki along with other such slight variations in line with the evolving singular Quenya form.
Finally, in order to aid in evaluating how my own views may have biased the earlier essays I present an account of my personal beliefs on each issue below. Note that, while the essays concentrated on textual references and the relative support extant for various possibilities, the summations below are entirely my personal aesthetic preferences, even where I find these to be at odds with the majority of the textual evidence, and my guesses as to what Tolkien's intent was. Obviously, these should not be considered in any way the same sort of thing as the factual summaries.
Could Balrogs speak? And why would we even ASK such a question?
It seems to me that Balrogs should have been able to speak, but likely seldom did so. The possibility that they used telepathic communication seems quite plausible and fitting to me given that they would generally be communicating with Orcs and other 'slaves', who had numerous languages that it might well be beneath the Balrogs' arrogance to study. In truth I doubt Tolkien gave the matter much thought and he probably intended that they could and did speak normally.
How many Balrogs were there?
While all the known texts save one note indicate numerous Balrogs I think Tolkien's late idea of a small number is considerably better. Vast legions of Balrogs similar to the one described in LotR would have been an utterly overwhelming force. I think Tolkien would have retained the idea of a limited number if he'd had time to completely rewrite the mythology to work it into the existing stories. The most difficult area to revise would be the numerous Balrogs slain during the Fall of Gondolin - but this could be simplified down to the two best known cases (Ecthelion killing Gothmog and Glorfindel killing another in the famed battle on the peak) and possibly one to three others (most probably Tuor slaying one, Tuor and Ecthelion slaying one together and/or the men of Rog slaying one). Likewise, while most of the texts indicate that 'some few' Balrogs survived I think the Moria Balrog would probably have been made the ONLY survivor had the overall number of Balrogs been reduced in a revised mythology.
What IS a Balrog?
Again, while the majority of texts had them as constructed entities the late adaptation to fallen Maiar seems clearly preferable. The dual nature of fire and shadow introduced in LotR seems quite firmly established and was consistently used thereafter. As such it seems very likely that Tolkien would have kept the 'Maiar of fire and shadow' nature for the Balrogs.
Was the Balrog of Moria under Sauron's command?
I've never been able to get a handle on this one. I can see good reasons to believe either side of the argument. The Balrog apparently stirred at the same time Sauron was reforming (and possibly in response to this) and yet there is no indication of cooperation between Mordor and Moria, even when we see Orcs from both locations forced into a single band fleeing pursuit. It seems most likely to me that the Balrog was as yet operating independently, but that it would have wound up serving Sauron in time.
Can Balrogs change their shapes?
While the seemingly mutable appearance of the Moria Balrog is suggestive, I prefer to view this as a limited flexibility of form and/or alterations only in seeming due to the aura and power of the Balrog. That they should be unable to assume fair forms or truly change their shape seems most consistent with the limitations of Morgoth and Sauron and would also seem (to me) consistent with their apparent inability to reform after having their bodily forms killed.
Do Balrogs have wings, and can they fly?
While I prefer the image of a winged Balrog, the idea that they could fly would require a significant reshaping of the mythology. If we had some idea of how Tolkien would have accomplished that it might have been preferable, but given the state of the final texts it seems easier to keep the Balrogs land bound. My guess is that Tolkien was so struck with the idea of a winged Balrog when it first occurred to him during the drafts of LotR that he thereafter used IMAGERY suggestive of winged (and flying) Balrogs in LotR and the 'Hithlum passage', but deliberately refrained from directly stating the actual existence of wings or flight (which are usually tied together) because these would conflict with too much of the existing mythology.
Thanks are due to the regulars of alt.fan.tolkien and rec.arts.books.tolkien for their extensive discussions on these issues, from which much of the material in these essays was derived. I have also extensively reviewed similar threads on numerous other Tolkien discussion boards and, of course, the texts themselves to find additional details. My goal in writing these essays has been to present as much material as I could possibly find on all sides of the issues - in hopes both of presenting at least one thing that each reader had not seen or considered before and of combating the all too common tendency in such summations to present only one side or the other. In the end, the 'Truth about Balrogs' is that there is ample room in Tolkien's descriptions of them to justify the myriad forms and natures different readers have seen therein.
- Conrad Bertrand Dunkerson