Why was Gandalf afraid of the Balrog of Morgoth?
As depicted in the film, Gandalf appeared to be shaken and in fear of the Balrog of Morgoth, even just as Saruman mentioned it. Why was this so? Did they have any previous encounters?
I genuinely don't understand this question. Why **wouldn't** he, or anyone else, be afraid of an enormous demon who is more or less immortal?
Why would Gandalf be afraid of the Balrog? Well, it's a Balrog. It's a fearful thing. :)
More seriously, though, the Balrogs were terrifying beings, even for Gandalf and others of his level of power. The Balrogs are Maia as well, just as Gandalf and the rest of the Istari are. See here from the Valaquenta, the second book of the Silmarillion:
For of the Maiar many were drawn to his splendour in the days of his greatness, and remained in that allegiance down into his darkness; and others he corrupted afterwards to his service with lies and treacherous gifts. Dreadful among these spirits were the Valaraukar, the scourges of fire that in Middle-earth were called the Balrogs, demons of terror.
Not only are Balrogs on the same scale as Gandalf, they were beings of terror and fire to begin with, while Gandalf, for all his power, wasn't a warrior. He is described as "Wisest of the Maiar", and as a servant of Manwë, and of Nienna, and of Lórien, the Valar of wisdom and judgement and mercy and dreams, and not of Tulkas or Oromë, the more warlike Valar.
Additionally, you have to remember that in Tolkien's cosmology, older is always better. The world is always in a state of decay. The wonders of the Valar when the world was new could never be exceeded even by the greatest works of the elves in the First Age. Even Feanor's Silmarils were but an echo of the light of the trees. Likewise, the hands of Man of the Third Age could never produce works as fine as the Smiths of Eregion in the Second Age, and certainly not of the works of Feanor himself.
So keeping that in mind, we remember that the Balrogs were the Captains of Morgoth during the wars of the First Age. It took all the might of Ecthelion, Lord of the Fountain and one of the greatest captains of Gondolin and elvendom to defeat Gothmog, lord of the Balrogs, and he took him with him to his death.
So when Gandalf heard that a Balrog still lurks in the depth of Moria, of course he would be afraid. A Balrog is a terror of the First Age. And something that was a threat in the First Age would be an unstoppable terror in the Third.
Older? Yes, since he was a Maia, and presumably was born, or was created, alongside the rest of them. But not all Ainur were created equal. Olórin, as Gandalf was known in Valinor, was a servant of Manwë and Nienna, Valar known for their wisdom and mercy, not for their brawn. His Wikipedia page claims that he begged not to be sent among the Istari, for he lacked the power to resist Sauron, but I don't know where that is sourced.
"But Olorin declared that he was too weak for such a task, and that he feared Sauron." -- from "The Istari", published in "Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth".
Ah, there's the quote. Gracias. I didn't feel like digging through all the books, and I only have the Silmarillion (and LotR) in electronic format. :)
I generally agree, but things older are not always more powerful. Sauron's power, for example, waxed and waned under various circumstances: at certain times it grew tremendously. So the Balrog's power could have grown over the years, fed by who knows what, or just due to brooding in the dark—Tolkien is often vague about how power grows. As to their ranks, it's not Stratego: sometimes a lower rank can defeat a higher rank, e.g., mortals killed the Witch King. Even so, I agree with your main point that Balrogs were old and always extremely powerful beings, more than enough to terrorize Gandalf.
Wow, great content but that is so ironic! Lots of techies (programmers) like me love the Lord of the Rings but its underlying premis is "technology" or "magic" was at its greatest in the beginning and is just getting worse. Totally in opposition.
@zipstory.com Magic maybe, but not technology (at least, not tech of a non-mythical nature). Tolkien was a traditionalist and some analyses of his work equate Sauron with industrialism, as opposed to the ruralism Tolkien seemed to prefer. Sauron does seem to employ war machines and "technology".
"*Did they have any previous encounters?*" - since both were beings that existed before the creation of the world, and since both took part in that creation, there is a possibility that they may well have *known each other* quite well back then...!
Actually, they had a previous encounter in the burial chamber in Moria. Gandalf ties to bar the door with a spell and the states quite clearly that he was nearly destroyed when the Balrog countered it. This scene is completely missing from the movie, though Gandalf does lag after them and catch up.
Could also be pointed out that usually we see that those who take down Balrogs, often fall with them. Maybe Gandalf didn't want to face the B, knowing that he might actually have to forsake the Fellowship in doing so. (He could not know he would be returned).
@BorhanMooz Well, at that point this had happened only once, with Ecthelion and Gothmog. I don't think there was a Kill a Balrog, Get a Deadly Tumble Down For Free deal going on.
The idea of the decline of the generations was very common in the ancient world and is still common today among some religious groups.
Also he felt the Balrogs power when he was in Balins chamber in his own words he'd never felt such a challenge and it almost destroyed him.