Thursday June 8, 2006


On the 6/8 edition of The Colbert Report, Our Steve nailed the MSM drones over at CNN for a glaring error.  During a CNN "report" about 6/6/06 and its connection to Satan, they showed a piece of artwork that seemed to show a devil's face.  Steve wasn't buying it—he recognized that the image was actually from a painting of the balrog of Moria in the 1977 Lord of the Rings calendar.  Unfortunately, Colbert then went on to embarrass himself just as thoroughly as those hacks over at CNN.

After putting up the picture of the Balrog (hat tip: The Wife) on the screen, Colbert ridiculed CNN for making the mistake:

Now devils and balrogs are totally different.  Devils are angels who refused to serve God and instead followed Satan into Hell.  Balrogs are Maiar who refused to serve Eru and instead followed Morgoth into Thangorodrim.

Close, but not quite.  The Balrogs did refuse Eru in order to serve Morgoth—or, more properly, Melkor, since Fëanor didn't name him Morgoth until after his escape from captivity in Valinor, but let's not pick nits—but Thangorodrim isn't at all analgous to Hell.  The Thangorodrim were the mountains Morgoth raised above his underground fortress north of Beleriand, not the fortress itself, which was known as Angband.  What's more, Angband wasn't the original stronghold that the balrogs would have followed Melkor into.  That was the much greater and earlier stronghold of Utumno, which was destroyed by the Valar during the great war that resulted in Melkor's capture and imprisonment for three ages.

Come on, Steve, get it right—this is basic stuff.  You can't let your success go to your head.  If we can't trust you to know Utumno from the Thangorodrim, why should we trust you any more than the MSM?

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
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Why is this statement incorrect? Now devils and balrogs are totally different. Devils are angels who refused to serve God and instead followed Satan into Hell. Balrogs are Maiar who refused to serve Eru and instead followed Morgoth into Thangorodrim.... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 9, 2006 2:57:48 AM


Whoa... did you know all that stuff offhand???

Posted by: Bridget at Jun 8, 2006 8:23:39 PM

Absolutely hilarious. Though not knowing this sort of thing does make me question my geekhood.

Posted by: Russell at Jun 8, 2006 8:40:57 PM

Thangorodrim was the triple-peaked volcano over Angband's gate. The range was the Iron Mountains, which sheltered Angband and Utumno.

Posted by: Dave Menendez at Jun 8, 2006 9:54:15 PM

Whoa... did you know all that stuff offhand???

Yes, but then I looked it up to be sure...unlike certain pseudo-journalists I could mention.

Dave, I was referring to the three volcanic peaks when I wrote "the mountains Morgoth raised above his underground fortress". Apparently the peaks were conceived of as separate mountains—recall that the Sindarin word Thangorodrim is a plural noun. Interestingly, it's pluralized with the suffix -rim 'multitude' rather than by vowel mutation of orod 'mountain' to produce *Thangered. Is the vowel mutation plural blocked in compound nouns? Where's David Salo when you need him?

Posted by: The Tensor at Jun 8, 2006 10:28:24 PM

I'll ask him and get back to you. :)

Posted by: Dorothea at Jun 9, 2006 3:43:50 AM

The calendar picture does seem to depict a conventional horned and bat-winged devil; the horns, which have no textual basis, would be "artistic license" to indicate evil -- or a simple blunder. (And the Balrog's whip should have many thongs.)

The initial error of identification is therefore understandable, although a white-bearded wizard on a bridge in a cavern should have been a clue to the context. (And Gandalf probably should be holding his own sword, too -- although the Balrog's has been broken at this point, he is never said to have sheathed Glamdring, but to have used his staff with one hand.)

Whether Tolkien actually intended the Balrog of Moria to have material wings, as shown here and elsewhere, rather than "wings" of enveloping shadow, is a much-disputed point, which is briefly treated in the current Wikipedia article.

(I tend to side with the non-materialists, since Glorfindel and Gandalf both finished off Balrogs by pushing them from a high place, not the usual way of dealing with an enemy with functional wings. It may also be relevant that Morgoth's flying dragons were a great surprise on their appearance, with no mention of airborne Balrogs in a similar role in earlier battles. Non-functional wings would seem to call for special comment. Unfortunately, it was only a late stage that Balrogs were identified as fallen Maiar, and it is possible that bits and pieces of other notions about them lingered in Tolkien's prose to confuse researchers.)

By the way, the distinctions between Utumno, Angband, and Thangorodrim were already being noted in Mythopeoic Society songs within months of the publication of the "Silmarillion -- notably a reworking of "California, Here I Come" to describe Morgoth's escape from Valinor: "But Sauron waits in Angband grim, / Valar never bothered him, / So now we'll raise Thangorodrim, / Northern Wastelands, here I come!"

Posted by: Ian Myles Slater at Jun 9, 2006 2:47:19 PM

Actually, Colbert probably knew all that stuff to, since he's an acknowledged LoTR geek. Even if he did make some minor errors in the details.

Posted by: Marcos at Jun 10, 2006 8:25:58 AM

I think it's worth pointing out that, in this case, the devil truly was in those details.

Posted by: The Tensor at Jun 10, 2006 5:15:21 PM

It was nice to Stephen acknowledge his error and correct himself on the 7/12 episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien. He called it "the most humiliating day of my life"

Posted by: Robbie at Jul 13, 2006 8:25:53 PM