The Great Balrog Slippers Debate

From postings to rec.arts.books.tolkien by Steuard Jensen <sbjensen-aaaaaaat-midway-dawt-uchicago.edu> and myself, dated 27 September - 29 September 1999.
Long and heated arguments have taken place over the rather silly question of whether Balrogs have wings, or shadows which reached out like wings. The question was asked at one point whether Balrogs also wore fluffy bedroom slippers, as suggested by Ralph Bakshi's animations. As has become traditional on any inquiry concerning Balrogs, long and heated argument followed. The following pair of Usenet posts illustrates.


Posted by Steuard Jensen:

Come now.  You have to understand that the text is absolutely clear on
the existence of the bedroom-slippers on the Balrog.  After all, we
read that after it leaped across the fissure of fire, "a black smoke
swirled in the air".  Now, the Balrog is a creature of fire: no
intrinsic part of it would smoulder and produce such smoke because of
a few measly flames.

Note, too, that the black smoke swirling is associated with the flames
which "roared up to greet [the Balrog], and wreathed about it":
parallel structure implies that the smoke, too must have wreathed
about the whole creature.  However, as smoke rises, this points
unambiguously to a source for the smoke near the bottom of the
Balrog's form, namely, at its feet.

What, then, can we expect on the Balrog's feet?  We know that it is
"of man-shape maybe, yet greater": whatever it's wearing must be
fairly big, but the sort of thing we would expect on a man.  Now, we
also know that it was surrounded by darkness, of its own choosing
("...a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form").  

Why would a manlike being with at least some Maia powers surround
itself in shadow?  After all, it's clear that the Balrog can light
itself on fire if it wants to; there is no natural reason for it to
shun light, UNLESS it was asleep, and just woke up!  (Wouldn't you
wrap yourself in shadow if you were dragged out of bed to deal with
tresspassers early in the morning?  Who knows what this thing's
sleep schedule was like: we know it occasionally liked to hibernate,
after all.  The Fellowship's intrusion could have come weeks before it
had planned to wake up... and heaven help Pippin if his stone knocked
it awake!)  This clearly explains why it was so upset with the
Fellowship, and how Gandalf was able to defeat it at all.

So, what would the Balrog be wearing on its feet right after being
dragged out of bed, that would give rise to such characteristic black
smoldering smoke?  What else but fluffy bedroom slippers!  I
honestly don't see how this could be at all unclear.

Incidentally, it's further confirmed when Gandalf mentions that the
Balrog became a "thing of slime" in the water: have you ever felt wet,
muddy, dirty, once-fluffy bedroom slippers?  Horrid things, let me
tell you.  No wonder Gandalf chose to "bring no report to darken the
light of day"!  The true horror of Gandalf's predicament is now clear,
when he explains that his only hope to find the surface again was to
pursue his enemy, "clutching at his heel".  Yuck!

I would like to think that this will put the debate to rest, but I
know that there are always those who will refuse to accept the facts
and try to force their own interpretations on what Tolkien wrote.  In
many cases, there is room for ambiguity, but here, I'm afraid, the
truth is clear.  If this great debate has to open up again, then so be
it!

Posted by O. Sharp:

Steuard Jensen opined:

: Come now.  You have to understand that the text is absolutely clear on
: the existence of the bedroom-slippers on the Balrog.  After all, we
: read that after it leaped across the fissure of fire, "a black smoke
: swirled in the air".  Now, the Balrog is a creature of fire: no
: intrinsic part of it would smoulder and produce such smoke because of
: a few measly flames.

Excuse me? The text doesn't say this. It does "roar up to greet [the 
Balrog]", implying an origin near the Balrog's feet, as you note later, 
but this is hardly dependent upon some non-existent Bakshi-designed 
bedroom slippers. I think you'll find the smoke was the "black 
foot-odours" of the Balrogs, documented in Book of Lost Tales vol. II 
"The Fall of Gondolin" p. 176 hardback:

   "yet they lie about its feet and a vast steam arises... women
   became faint and men sweated to weariness beneath their mail..."

Its effects are like the Black Breath of the Nazgul. Hardly evidence of 
fluffy bedroom slippers, which would in fact have served to inhibit it.

: What, then, can we expect on the Balrog's feet?  We know that it is
: "of man-shape maybe, yet greater": whatever it's wearing must be
: fairly big, but the sort of thing we would expect on a man.

This hardly limits us to bedroom slippers. The Balrog's feet were unclad. 
If it had chosen to wear footwear, Red Wing shoes would have been the 
obvious choice. But the visibility of the black foot-odour is enough to 
demonstrate that the feet were bare.

: Now, we
: also know that it was surrounded by darkness, of its own choosing
: ("...a great shadow, in the middle of which was a dark form").  
: Why would a manlike being with at least some Maia powers surround
: itself in shadow?  After all, it's clear that the Balrog can light
: itself on fire if it wants to; there is no natural reason for it to
: shun light, UNLESS it was asleep, and just woke up!  (Wouldn't you
: wrap yourself in shadow if you were dragged out of bed to deal with
: tresspassers early in the morning?  Who knows what this thing's
: sleep schedule was like: we know it occasionally liked to hibernate,
: after all.  The Fellowship's intrusion could have come weeks before it
: had planned to wake up... and heaven help Pippin if his stone knocked
: it awake!)  This clearly explains why it was so upset with the
: Fellowship, and how Gandalf was able to defeat it at all.

The Balrog was just making a good entrance. To suggest that it was 
awakened by Pippin's dropping a stone the previous day is unthinkable; 
in any case, JRRT specifically wrote that Balrogs had NO problem with 
waking up hurriedly. Silmarillion p. 81 hardback: "...swiftly they 
arose, and passing over Hithlum they came to Lammoth as a tempest of 
fire." Balrogs wake up fast. Your argument collapses of its own weight.

: Incidentally, it's further confirmed when Gandalf mentions that the
: Balrog became a "thing of slime" in the water: have you ever felt wet,
: muddy, dirty, once-fluffy bedroom slippers?  Horrid things, let me
: tell you.  No wonder Gandalf chose to "bring no report to darken the
: light of day"!  The true horror of Gandalf's predicament is now clear,
: when he explains that his only hope to find the surface again was to
: pursue his enemy, "clutching at his heel".  Yuck!

I refer you to The Treason of Isengard, p. 431 hardback. Quoting CJRT:
"The form of Gandalf's story in TT is almost reached in the 'fair copy' 
manuscript... He tells that clutching at the Balrog's heel 'I set my 
teeth in it like a hunting hound, and tasted venom'..." Would Gandalf had 
tasted venom through a fluffy bedroom slipper? Indeed, would Gandalf - no 
matter how desperate his situation - ever bite a fluffy bedroom slipper? 
Nowhere in the whole of the canon is Gandalf described as chewing on 
footwear. I see no reason to believe he would abruptly take up the habit 
during a desperate battle with a Balrog.

: I would like to think that this will put the debate to rest, but I
: know that there are always those who will refuse to accept the facts
: and try to force their own interpretations on what Tolkien wrote.  In
: many cases, there is room for ambiguity, but here, I'm afraid, the
: truth is clear.  If this great debate has to open up again, then so be
: it!

Nope. No slippers. JRRT wrote no slippers. Get over it. Honestly, it's so 
obvious, I don't know what all this confusion is about.

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