Gandalf, Balrog, Superman, Darkseid

January 17, 2013

My brother and I, along with a number of his friends, have been discussing various aspects of The Lord of the Rings, and one of the topics that came up was the way Gandalf must limit his power as he tries to inspire the free people of Middle Earth to resist the domination of Sauron. But there’s one time, in Moria, when he doesn’t need to hold back.

Some people feel that the encounter with the balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring is the absolute pinnacle of western fantasy literature. (Of course, this is a highly subjective matter; few genres have a widely accepted acme—an, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell,” moment.) It’s also one of the universally acknowledged triumphs of Peter Jackson’s frequently inept cinematic adaptations. Ralph Bakshi’s version is less well thought of, but it has its fans as well. (Some people also don’t like the Amerindian-looking Aragorn from Bakshi’s rotoscoped animation, but I think it’s a great representation of the character.)

In the original text, Tolkien’s description of the balrog is actually not especially detailed. As a result, there are many ways that a reader might picture the monster. This unfortunately leads to fans spending innumerable Internet hours arguing about questions like whether the balrog actually has wings, or whether the shadows around it merely look like vast wings. But clearly one reading of the description is as the classical image of a fallen angel, which is what the monster was in Tolkien’s cosmology.

I see the encounter with the balrog was the one time in the story when Gandalf (or Olorin, as he was known in the West) is able to unleash all his native power. He is facing a being of his own order, who does not belong in Middle Earth. The balrog is not going to hold back, so neither does the wizard (and even fighting all out, the battle leaves him mortally wounded).

However, my reason for posting this now was that I came across a quote that I think represents what Gandalf must have been thinking as he faced down his peer across the Bridge of Khazad-Dum. Thus spake Superman to Darkseid:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ywo6F4xYTvA%5D
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10 Responses to “Gandalf, Balrog, Superman, Darkseid”


  1. “Some people feel that the encounter with the balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring is the absolute pinnacle of western fantasy literature. (Of course, this is a highly subjective matter; few genres have a widely accepted acme—an, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell,” moment.) It’s also one of the universally acknowledged triumphs of Peter Jackson’s frequently inept cinematic adaptations.”

    You should stop describing everything in such hyperbolic terms. It pisses me off and it lower your credibility. Learn to praise the peri-Balrog material without claming the damned stuff is inspired by God. Christ. Because you are right: there is no widely accepted acme in any genre I’m aware of.

    • Buzz Says:

      I am not “some people.” I do not believe that Nicol Williamson was the finest British actor of his generations. I do not believe that the balrog scene is the unambiguous highlight of an genre. These are not my opinions, but they are views that have been expressed by intelligent individuals, and they are out there to be grappled with.


      • I don’t read this blog as much for the opinions of unnamed ‘some people’–which opinions, in context, sound an awful like your own opinion bolstered by a false (and vague) appeal to authority. Going on, you also describe the Balrog scene from the live-action film as a ‘universally acknowledged triumph,’ which seems rather more hyperbolic, even.

        ‘Some people’ think Transformers 2 is a fabulous action movie. ‘Some people’ also believe there’s an excellent case that global warming either isn’t happening or isn’t anthropogenic. Tolstoy thought ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ was the pinnacle of literature. Need I go on? Seems to me it’s better to talk about details and merits of a particular case, rather than making lists of ‘best moments according to X’ or making vague claims about who agrees with us on a particular artistic matter.


  2. Yo, Superman was totally hypocritical — “hold back so people don’t get hurt” but oh let me just smash a bunch of buildings up, no way people will get hurt by the massive structural damage resulting from that NO SIRREE. At least Gandalf had the sense to restrict himself to the Balrog.

    • Buzz Says:

      I did notice that about the buildings. Not having seen the whole episode, I can just imagine that the whole city has already been evacuated.

      And Gandalf did do a lot of damage to some irreplaceable ancient architecture.


  3. Aside from that, I tend to think Gandalf’s power is in general reduced in the form he’s taken, and that it can only be used in certain forms, under certain circumstances, i.e. against a metaphysical threat.

    In any case, here’s a less famous but even better fight ‘tween Superman and Darkseid (though unfortunately the latter is not voiced by Michael Ironside in this version):

    In contrast to most fights, it shows Superman using a fuller range of his powers in combination against a difficult foe.


  4. Yeah, not really sure why that happened. This should be the correct link:


    • Actually, I sorta prefer the feline can-can…

    • Buzz Says:

      That was pretty cool, although I still prefer the first one, I think. I didn’t care for Superman getting reinvigorated by the sun. I really did like the way they showed the zig-zag Omega Beams, although the battle eventually had too much beam versus beam. Beam combat in science fiction and fantasy cartoons has a bad history. (Think of the old He-Man cartoons, with their consistently bad examples; then again, don’t think about them.) Now, both Superman and Darkseid are known for their eye beam weapons, so it makes sense here, especially when Supes can supplement his weaker beam power with other effects.


      • “Now, both Superman and Darkseid are known for their eye beam weapons, so it makes sense here, especially when Supes can supplement his weaker beam power with other effects.”
        Yeah, I think it’s okay, and I think you’ve described why.


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