"On the Wings of a Revisionist" - Murray B.
Every Tolkien fan knows these controversial words,
"...suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall..." (p. 433, vol. I , 1999 HarperCollins paperback edition)
So far most participants in this debate about the wings have assumed that the statement is always ambiguous but this not correct. It is only ambiguous when the balrog is presumed to have wings.
To illustrate this, two related passages are shown side by side instead of with their normal separation of a few sentences.
"His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings ... suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall."
If we presume that the balrog has no wings then the statement is clear and unambiguous. The wings are the shadow which had "spread from wall to wall".
It is when the balrog is presumed to have wings and the second part is taken out of context and compared to the rest of the text that the ambiguity appears. Only then is it unclear as to whether the word "wings" refers to real wings or to the shadow.
At first it appears that there is no rational way to resolve the issue, but this is not the case. It is the ambiguity itself that decides the issue.
Besides being a great author, J.R.R. Tolkien was also an English professor. If there are wings on the balrog then Professor Tolkien has published a work containing the sophomoric error of an obviously ambiguous statement. It is impossible to believe that the author, his peers, editors, and fans would have continually missed this error for the nearly two decades between the publication of the book in 1954 and the author's passing in 1973. There can be no ambiguity and this leaves the unambiguous version as the only reasonable interpretation. It follows that balrogs do not and have never had wings.
Now for the real mystery; Why have these servants of Melkor been so successful at blaming Tolkien's writing for their own poor reading? It is time for all true Tolkienists to rise up to "hew the stone and break the door" (p. 100, vol. II) of these servants of darkness. Who will be in the van?