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Barrow-Wights by John Howe

Barrow-wights were a kind of undead-like creatures, dead bones animated by evil spirits.[1]


History and Characteristics

The Barrow-wights were evil spirits (sent to the Barrow-downs by the Witch-king of Angmar in order to prevent a resurrection of the destroyed Dúnedain kingdom of Cardolan) which stirred the dead bones in the mounds.[2][3][4] The true nature of these spirits is unknown; possibly they were perverted Maiar (Úmaiar) or spirits of Orcs, fallen Avari, or evil Men.

During the War of the Ring, Frodo Baggins and company were trapped in the Barrow-downs by the spells of the Barrow-wights, and were nearly slain by the creatures.[5] They were saved in the last minute by Tom Bombadil, who seemed to have had complete authority over them. Indeed Tom (according to Hobbit verse) escaped a Barrow-wight on another occasion, using his enchanting incantations.[6] Perhaps his authority was sourced by the inherent power he had on this region of the world, not the spirits themselves.

The Barrow-wights appeared as shadowy figures with a pale, icy light gleaming from what would be their eyes. They could speak, with deep, hollow and cold voices, and likewise their touch was icy.[5][6] They were furthermore infamous for carrying rattling gold-rings on their bony fingers.[4][7]


According to Elrond, the Elves knew the Barrow-wights by many names.[8] While these names are not recorded (except for the general denomination "evil spirits"), the creatures were also called "Barrow-dwellers" in Hobbit lore.[6] Often, they were also referred to by the shortened form "Wights".[1][9]


They were based on the Old Norse Draugr. J.R.R. Tolkien borrowed this concept from Norse mythology, e.g. Waking of Angantyr and Hrómundar saga Gripssonar.[source?]

Other versions of the Legendarium

Due to his inspiration from Hrómundar saga Gripssonar, during the writing of The Lord of the Rings (see The History of The Lord of the Rings) Tolkien at first foresaw a link between the wights and the Ringwraiths, initially describing the Black Riders as horsed Wights, but the suggestion that they were the same kind of creatures was dropped in the published work. In the final work there remained a link between them: the wights were now spirits sent by the Witch-king.

Other writings

The character Tídwald, appearing in Tolkien's poem "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son", mentions the "barrow-wights and bogeys".[10]

Portrayal in Adaptations

1982-97: Middle-earth Role Playing:

Remnants haunting their own tombs, the Barrow Wights are a type of greater Undead Beings. They draw energy from living beings, sacrificing their victims.[11]

2002-5: The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game:

Barrow-wights (not to be confused with the ghost-type wights appearing in the same game) are corpses of Men animated by evil spirits.[12]

2007-: The Lord of the Rings Online:

Sambrog is a Wight-lord of the Barrow-downs.


  1. 1.0 1.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, passim
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The Númenorean Kings", "Eriador, Arnor, and the Heirs of Isildur"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "The Heirs of Elendil", p. 194
  4. 4.0 4.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "In the House of Tom Bombadil"
  5. 5.0 5.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Fog on the Barrow-downs"
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, "Bombadil Goes Boating"
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"
  9. The use of a capital "W" for the short form was noted by Jerome S. Colburn in Elfling message 19711 (24 November 2002); compare "They are Elvish wights", in J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Passing of the Grey Company"
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, "II. The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son"
  11. Ruth Sochard Pitt, Jeff O'Hare, Peter C. Fenlon, Jr. (1994), Creatures of Middle-earth (2nd edition) (#2012), p. 124
  12. Scott Bennie, Mike Mearls, Steve Miller, Aaron Rosenberg, Chris Seeman, Owen Seyler, and George Strayton (2003), Fell Beasts and Wondrous Magic, pp. 14-15