Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Balrog! A Balrog is come!

Behold one of the great early Citadel miniatures: the solid-base C31 "Giant Monster" Balrog (1983). This was among the first miniatures that my brother and I bought when we we're tiny tots. That original miniature is long lost, but my current interest in miniatures for The Lord of the Rings prompted me to seek out and paint a replacement.

While I was researching The Fellowship of the Ring to plan my colour scheme, I became fixated by one of Tolkien's lines, as delivered by Legolas the elf. Let me set the scene: The nine walkers are fleeing through Moria and suddenly they realize the true nature of the great evil that's pursuing them:
'Ai! ai! ' wailed Legolas. 'A Balrog! A Balrog is come! (FotR, Book II, Chapter 5)
What would you say if you just discovered a Balrog was chasing you? I can think of several options. "Holy fuck, a fucking Balrog!" is top of mind. Other options include "GAAAH!" or "I just shit myself" or  "A Balrog? We're only 4th level! You are a dick DM. I liked this character."

Ad for the Balrog from 1st Citadel Compendium (1983)
I'll tell you what I wouldn't say. I wouldn't say, "Ai! Ai! A Balrog is come!" Let's break it down. "Ai!" is a clearly an exclamation, although it's not certain whether it is pronounced with one syllable ("Aye!") or two ("Ay-Eeeeee!"). In any case, it's rarely used in English, mainly being confined to 19th century poets who were looking for an exciting new ejaculation to place before lines like "Woe is me!" Legolas may be forgiven for saying it once, but saying it twice? It sounds like he's hog calling.

Equally odd is "A Balrog is come!". This is just an archaic way of saying "A Balrog has come!". But it is really archaic. It was becoming picturesque when Sir Walter Scott wrote "O, young Lochinvar is come out of the west" (Marmion, 1808) or when Isaac Watts wrote "Joy to the World! The Lord is come!" in his 1719 chart-topping Christmas carol. All of which is to say, when I see a Balrog coming, I wouldn't say to myself "How can I express my dismay? I know: I will swap 'to be' for 'to have' as the auxiliary verb in the construction of the perfect tense of 'to come'. Only grammar can save us now!"

So, here is my suggested re-write for Tolkien:
"Fuck! Fuck!" wailed Legolas. "RUN you BITCHES!"
Well... back to the miniature. My own paint job was much inspired by this beautiful rendition. I was hoping to capture the mixture of fiery light and darkness described by Aragorn: "It was both a shadow and a flame, strong and terrible." (FotR, Book II, Chapter 7). I'm not sure who sculpted the C31 Balrog, but I'd guess it was Bob Naismith -- if anyone knows for certain, please let me know. I like the fact that this figure is (as Tolkien described the Balrog) in "man-shape maybe, yet greater". Not many other interpretations pick up on this man-like form.

C31 Balrog, Citadel (1983) painted by M. Sullivan

By way of comparison, here's another Balrog-inspired monster... The C-29 Winged Fire Demon sculpted by Nick Bibby (1985). 

C-29 Winged Fire Demon, Citadel (1985, sculpted by Nick Bibby)

C-29 Winged Fire Demon, Citadel (1985, sculpted by Nick Bibby)

With its monstrous visage and ram's horns, Bibby's Winged Fire Demon prefigures many later interpretations of the Balrog (including the one featured in Peter Jackson's trilogy). Nick Bibby's future as a fine-art sculptor can be glimpsed in this miniature's unique flare: the pronounced slouch and the way it drags its whip behind it. The demon's heavy, menacing progress reminds me of the lines from Yeat's poem The Second Coming (1919):

     And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, 

     Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Thanks for looking and stay tuned for more Lord of the Rings miniatures (and less



  1. I really enjoyed your research analysis! Interesting and hilarious. That Legolas is such a cut up. Excellent paint job as well! ;)

  2. Fantastic paint job, and article!

  3. Wow! I love to orange glow effect on the Balrog's sword. I wish that I could paint like that.

  4. Beautiful paint jobs but the nick bibby gets the nod from me

  5. The whole miniature is awesome but the sword is outstanding. I also did like the article. It was an enjoyable read.

  6. Well done!
    Damn convincing paintjob! :)

  7. When I saw your paint job I also thought "holy fuck, you bitch, one of the best painted Balrog's I've ever seen".

  8. I cannot add anything that is not said :P
    The light effects here are really outstanding, certainly the best I've seen in a loooong time. Amazing work.

  9. Great post ,great painting! The sword is really... "Real"!

  10. Ai! That's some fine painting.

  11. Aiya utú lien Valkarauke! All that lightsaber practice paid off, epic glow on the classic Balrog™ sword.

  12. Now this is a vintage sculpt that pays off. A bit static perhaps, but full of character. Your lighting effect is, obviously, stellar. Completely convincing!

    Ps: Legolas is an elf, he does not use potty words, even under extreme duress.