Saturday, June 22, 2013

Moria Cutaway: We Need to Talk About Balin

After what seems an interminable amount of time prepping and revising my Balin’s Tomb model, I’m racing down the good side of the hill, albeit around a month after I’d intended wrapping things up.

Extending the cardboard base

The cause of much of the delay has been, as with Bombur and Dain, getting the tone right. Balin’s Tomb as encountered in 'A Journey in the Dark' is easily described – set low in the hall of Mazarbul in Moria, it’s the centrepiece to a bone-strewn room littered with the mute remains of Khazad-Dum’s records and the doomed efforts by Balin’s surviving kin and retinue (among them Ori, the Book of Mazarbul’s last diarist) to defend the resting place of their fallen king. It’s a site of defeat, and speaks of Balin’s failure to reclaim the kingdom, another step in the demise of his people.

I detailed the early construction of the model here, but left with the promise that I’d be tasking myself with also modelling the interior of Balin’s sarcophagus, and so here I am, nearly done. Lots of decisions to make, most of them about Balin. There’s no doubt that Balin cuts a tragic figure in the history of Middle Earth, but is distinct and quite different from the likes of Thorin. Balin is almost as old (and is already venerable in The Hobbit), a veteran of the Battle of Azanulbizar, and is a kind and gentle figure as far as we can tell from Bilbo’s story. That he then becomes a figure immortalised in The Lord of the Rings for his death in an ill-judged mission is remarkable. Certainly a few reader and scholars have sought to understand why one of the more sensible members of Thorin Oakenshield’s company would later mount such a hazardous quest – and at such an advanced age? Of all Dwarves Balin should have known better – he presumably witnessed the deaths of Thorin and his nephews in The Battle of Five Armies – a consequence of another ill-measured attempt to reclaim a Dwarven throne, and was present at Azanulbizar when his future king Dain shrank back from the gate of Moria, seeing for the first time the presence of Durin’s Bane – the Balrog that dwelled there. Was it pride, impatience or desperation that caused Balin, Oin, Ori and their companions to leave Erebor in pursuit of Moria’s treasures and throne? For what it’s worth, the early entries in the Book describe an early success to the mission. Balin’s company secure upper levels of the Mines, finding riches of mithril once more and repelling the goblin presence there. But there are early tragedies that prefigure their eventual fate as well – Oin is taken by the Watcher in the Water, and the creature seals the gates again, trapping the Dwarves. Balin falls overlooking the Mirrormere, Durin’s sacred lake. Rather deliberately on Tolkein’s part, Balin’s death is ignominious and far from the fate of kings – shot from behind a rock by a lone orc in an unguarded moment. After that, defeat and darkness.

Extended base with more detritus added
The Hall of Records is decorated and the defending dwarves slaughtered with only scant clues to their horrible fate. Balin’s tomb seems itself undisturbed, however. I drew a number of sketches in preparation for a model of Balin’s body (which were accidentally thrown away!) I kept coming back to The Hobbit’s version of Balin, though, and found that the more armour I put him in, the further away from that more sympathetic character he drifted. Oh, by the way, here’s Games Workshop’s LotR version of Balin of Moria:

Ultimately I had to decide how to depict the body of Balin, a fallen king, and in doing so try to imagine how he was at the time of his death. Was he fierce, grim, and powerful, or was he more like the humble and generous soul encountered and befriended by Bilbo? I decided he had to be more the latter, for sympathy’s sake as much as Bilbo’s version of his could be relied upon. Again, it’s not in battle that he meets his end but a moment of quiet contemplation. But he is, of course, the last king of Moria. Oughtn’t he then be clad in thick armour, a crown on his head and mighty axe in his hands? Well, perhaps. That’s for another post though.

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