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|"Nazgûl" by Nick Deligaris|
|Other names||Ringwraiths, the Black Riders, the Nine, Úlairi (Q)|
|Origins||Men who received the Nine Rings; corrupted by Sauron|
|Locations||Mordor, Angmar, Dol Guldur, Minas Morgul|
|Languages||Black Speech, Westron|
|Distinctions||Without physical form|
|Gallery||Images of Nazgûl|
The Nazgûl (Black Speech: Ringwraiths, sometimes written Ring-wraiths), also known as the Nine Riders or Black Riders (or simply the Nine), were Sauron's "most terrible servants" in Middle-earth. They were mortal Men who had been turned into wraiths by their Nine Rings of power.
The bearers of the rings gained great wealth and prestige and became "mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old". Although the rings prolonged their lives so that they seemed to have unending lives, life became unendurable for them. The rings turned them invisible and enabled them to see things of the Unseen. But over time depending on their native strength and their initial good or evil will they succumbed to the domination of their rings and the rule of One Ring that was worn by Sauron and their bodily forms faded until they became permanently invisible and turned into wraiths.
Known as the Nazgûl, they first appeared around S.A. 2251 and were soon established as Sauron's principal servants. However the circumstances of this appearance are not recorded, nor their actions during the Dark Years, or during Sauron's capture to Númenor.
Their actions during the War of the Last Alliance are also unknown, but when Sauron was overthrown in S.A. 3441 at the hands of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, the wraiths faded into the shadows.
Early Third Age
However around 1050 of the Third Age Sauron returned in the form of a shadow in Greenwood the Great, triggering also the return of his servants. About 50 years later the Wise of that Age discovered the shadow of Dol Guldur and theorized that it was one of the Nazgûl.
But it was around T.A. 1300 when evil things, like the Orcs of the Misty Mountains, multiplied again, and the Nazgûl definitely reappeared; it was then when Lord of the Nazgûl gathered evil Men and founded the Witch-kingdom of Angmar. From there he led Sauron's forces against the mannish kingdom of Arnor in T.A. 1409.
Meanwhile Gondor was weakened by the Great Plague and War, and it was believed that Sauron's plan was to open the way to Mordor; indeed as the watch on Mordor stopped and Gondor's borders withdrew, it is believed that the Nazgûl freely re-entered Mordor around 1856 or later.
In T.A. 2000, they issued by Cirith Ungol and captured Minas Ithil after a two-year siege. The city thereafter became the stronghold of the Nazgûl, from where they directed the rebuilding of Sauron's armies, also acquiring a palantír for the Dark Lord.
In 3017 Sauron commanded the Ringwraiths to recover the One Ring of Power from "Baggins of the Shire". Disguised as horse riders clad in black (hence the term Black Riders), they sought out Bilbo Baggins who, as Gollum had revealed, had the One Ring in his possession.
The Dwarves of Erebor spoke of a rider who had come to offer Sauron's friendship and ask about Hobbits. As a token of their friendship he asked for a "trifle", a ring, "the least of rings", that the thief had stolen.[note 2]
War of the Ring
Sauron decided to assault Gondor directly. In attack on Osgiliath he let the Nazgûl lead, causing terror with the Black Shadow among the Gondorians and making them think that they are the vanguard of Sauron's military force. However this was a feigned move of Sauron, who intended them to send them invisible to look for the Ring.
The Nazgûl were given black horses (stolen from Rohan) for transportation and set off to find "the Shire", on their way learning from a Squint-eyed Southerner that Saruman was not a true ally of Sauron. Failing to find it, they returned to the Wold empty-handed; messengers from Sauron sent them to Isengard. There they encountered Gríma Wormtongue, who told them of the location of the Shire.
Crossing the Fords of Isen, they reached Sarn Ford at evening and drove off the guard of Rangers of the North and five pursued the Rangers eastward, then returned to guard the Greenway. The other four entered the Shire before the dawn of 23 September; at nightfall Khamûl came to Hobbiton and interrogated Hamfast Gamgee asking for "Baggins", not knowing that Frodo Baggins, the Ring-bearer, had left the Shire that day.
On 24 September a Rider approached Frodo and his companions near the Woody End, when a Wandering Company of Elves approached from Emyn Beraid, chanting the name of "Elbereth", and the rider fled away.:78-9 The next day a Rider came to Bamfurlong and approached Farmer Maggot, asking about Baggins. The farmer directed him to Hobbiton. The Rider said that the individual had already left Hobbiton and offered Maggot gold if he would inform the rider if he saw Baggins. The farmer felt chill and was enraged by his trespassing and threatened him with his dogs, which, however, yelped and ran. The Rider, infuriated by his defiance, hissed and rode away.
On 26 September, two Riders came to The Prancing Pony at Bree and asked Nob for "Baggins", making the dogs and geese noisy. Nob, terrified, slammed the door on them, and the Riders continued all the way to Archet.
Some days later, the hobbits arrived at the Prancing Pony. The Riders visited Bill Ferny in Bree, who gave information about how one of the hobbits mysteriously "disappeared", but Merry spotted them outside, and notified the others after narrowly escaping himself.
In the early hours of 30 September, Riders raided Crickhollow while others silently snuck into the Prancing Pony and raided the hobbits' room, but Aragorn had taken them to his room for safety. Aragorn led the hobbits away from Bree later that day.
The Riders pursued Gandalf from Bree and attacked him at night on Weathertop, where he defended himself with his magic. Four Riders followed Gandalf as he escaped to the north. The others later attacked Aragorn and the hobbits while they were camping under Weathertop, and the Witch-king wounded Frodo Baggins with a Morgul-knife.
On 11 October 3018 three Riders were guarding the Last Bridge of Mitheithel, expecting Aragorn and the hobbits on their journey to Rivendell. Their plan was foiled by Glorfindel, who drove them away. Two days later, some of them pursued Frodo across the Ford of Bruinen. Elrond and Gandalf released a flood and the waters of Bruinen swept away and drowned the horses of the Riders.
By the conclusion of the War of the Ring, all of the Nine Nazgûl were destroyed. The Lord of the Nazgûl himself was slain by Éowyn, the niece of King Théoden (with help from Merry) during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. The remaining eight Ringwraiths attacked the Army of the West during the last battle at the Black Gate. However, when Frodo Baggins put on the ring in the fires of Mount Doom, Sauron ordered the remaining Nazgûl to fly with all possible speed to Mount Doom to intercept Frodo. They arrived too late, with the Ring falling into the fire along with the hapless Gollum. The Nazgûl were caught in the firestorm of the erupting mountain and were destroyed.
To mortals, the Nazgûl appeared as shadowy Men hidden by black hoods and cloaks that reached down to their boots.:74 Without their cloaks, they were shapeless, and invisible to all but the wearer of the One Ring. When the Witch-king removed his hood, his crown could be seen, although his head was invisible, and a red fire shone between the crown and his invisible shoulders.:829 During the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, the deadly gleam of his eyes could also be seen.
When Frodo put on the Ring at Weathertop, he could see the forms of the Nazgûl clearly. They were tall, and beneath their black cloaks, they were robed in grey. Their hair was grey, and they wore silver helms, although the Witch-king wore a crown. Their eyes were merciless and piercing, and their hands were haggard. The Witch-king held a knife, and the knife and his hand shone with a pale light.
Powers and abilities
The Nazgûl came again, and as their Dark Lord now grew and put forth his strength, so their voices, which uttered only his will and his malice, were filled with evil and horror...At length even the stout-hearted would fling themselves to the ground as the hidden menace passed over them, or they would stand, letting their weapons fall from nerveless hands while into their minds a blackness came, and they thought no more of war, but only of hiding and of crawling, and of death.
—The Return of the King, "The Siege of Gondor"
The chief power of the Nazgȗl was the terror they struck in living things. As Tolkien wrote in Letter 210, "Their peril is almost entirely due to the unreasoning fear which they inspire (like ghosts)."
Their cries struck terror into the hearts of the bravest, causing them to cower as the Ringwraiths passed overhead.:823 Even when they could not be seen or heard, their terrible presence could be felt, and those nearby felt a sense of dread. Animals also feared them, and the only creatures that endured them were horses bred for the service of Sauron and the winged beasts that were given to them when their horses were destroyed. The evil aura that surrounded them was known as the Black Breath, and those that came under its shadow fell ill, and eventually passed into silence and died.
The Ringwraiths had physical weapons as well. At Weathertop they bore steel swords, and the Witch-king had a knife that he stabbed Frodo with. A shard of the Morgul-knife remained in Frodo's shoulder, and was moving deeper before it was removed by Elrond. It caused Frodo to begin to fade into the wraith-world, but was unable to pierce his heart and bring him completely under the control of the Nazgȗl. The Ringwraiths were also known to use deadly black darts. The Witch-king used a black mace during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
The Nazgûl could not be slain by arrows, and only weapons endowed with a special power, such as the blade of Westernesse that Merry used, could do them any great damage. Any blades that pierced the Witch-king were destroyed.:198
The Nazgûl existed mostly in the wraith-world and required their cloaks to give them form during their interactions with the living. When their steeds and disguises were destroyed, they were forced to return to Sauron to receive new ones.
The Nazgûl had poor vision in the world of light, but they were aware of the presence of other beings, and their perception grew stronger in the dark. They could detect living things by the smell of their blood, and they were drawn by the Ring.:189 They could also see beings with a presence in the wraith world, such as the wearer of the One Ring, as well as certain powerful Elves with control over the Unseen, such as Glorfindel. Anyone who could see into the wraith world could see the Nazgûl, as Frodo did on Weathertop and at the Ford of Bruinen.
The Witch-king could also affect objects and people with his power, striking Frodo dumb and shattering the dagger that Frodo had gotten in the Barrow-downs by raising his hand, and weakening both hearts and stone with terrifying words of power while attacking the Gate of Minas Tirith. He also caused flames to run along his sword.:828-9 Whether other Nazgûl could perform similar feats is unknown.
Only a few of the Nazgûl are named or identified individually. Their leader was the Witch-king of Angmar, and his second in command was named Khamûl. Khamûl was a lord of Easterlings, and was the only Nazgûl known by his name. Three of them were Númenóreans.
Among their many names and titles were: the Ringwraiths, the Black Riders, the Fell Riders, the Nine Riders, the Nine, the Nine Servants of the Lord of the Rings, the Black Wings, Winged Messenger(s), the Shadows, and the Shriekers.
An Elvish name given for the Ringwraiths is Úlairi. Linguists have remarked that it is a Quenya plural name of unknown meaning and etymology. Michael Martinez, analysing the word, has tentatively suggested that:
Úlairi is a compound formed from Ú + lai + ri with probable meaning of "un (bad or immoral)" + "shadow" + "ones". In other words, the name may mean something like "those who are in/of unnatural shadow".
Other versions of the legendarium
Portrayal in adaptations
|Nazgûl in adaptations|
- The Nine are clad in brown and black, and have red eyes. The attack on The Prancing Pony is their deed, not that of any accomplices. After the attack, they cast off their hoods, revealing the black armour and hideous masks they wear beneath their cloaks.
- The Nine are skull headed demons, who ride winged horses. The Witch-king himself rides a dragon-like creature, and has no face. Only a suspended crown and two red eyes can be seen. The Nazgûl have the Red Eye of Barad-dûr rather than the emblem of Minas Morgul.
2001-03: The Lord of the Rings (film series):
- The Nazgûl serve as the main antagonists in the first half of the first film. Their dialogue is changed; the conversation with Gaffer Gamgee is omitted, and the conversation with Farmer Maggot is reduced. In the Unseen, they are pale white ghostly creatures.
- After the death of the Witch-king in the third film, the other eight are taken out by Eagles and debris from Mount Doom, however, nothing is told of their individual fates.
2012-14: The Hobbit (film series) :
- The Witch-king and the other Ringwraiths were buried in a dungeon in the High Fells of Rhudaur after the fall of Angmar. The Witch-king initially appears in Dol Guldur, where he briefly fights Radagast with his Morgul-blade; he drops it and Radagast takes it, ultimately bringing it to Gandalf, who then shows to the White Council in Rivendell. Later, Gandalf, following Galadriel's advice, visits the High Fells and discovers that the Nazgûl's cells were empty, broken open from the inside. Through this investigation, he is convinced that the Necromancer in Dol Guldur is indeed Sauron.
- During the Attack on Dol Guldur they appeared in armour, ghostly versions of their mortal forms. The Nine do battle with Galadriel, Saruman, and Elrond. During the confrontation between Galadriel and Sauron, their living forms seem to phase in and out of reality as holograms. Eventually they are driven to Mordor, with their master following suit.
- The Nine are featured in this adaptation through CGI as a passing shadow with their winged steed.They do not speak at all.
- The role of the Ringwraiths was expanded with material from The Hunt for the Ring.
1979: War of the Ring (board game):
- The Nazgûl are present in this game. The Witch-king is the most powerful character available to the Sauron player. The second most powerful is identified as Gothmog.
1982-97: Middle-earth Role Playing:
- The name of the eight, other than Khamûl, are given as Er-Mûrazôr (the Witch-king, of Númenórean race), Dendra Dwar of Waw, Jí Indûr Dawndeath, Akhôrahil (Númenórean), Hôarmûrath of Dír, Adûnaphel (female Númenórean), Ren the Unclean and Ûvatha Achef the Horseman.
- The Nazgûl appear as hazard cards within Middle-earth: The Wizards. Their names are identical to those used in Middle-Earth Role Playing, except for the Witch-king, who is referred to only as the Witch-king of Angmar.
- The Nazgûl are portrayed as black figures with red eyes and purple mantle.
- All the Nazgûl are named - The Witch-king of Angmar, The Dark Marshal, Khamûl The Easterling, The Betrayer, The Shadow Lord, The Undying, The Dwimmerlaik, The Tainted and The Knight of Umbar. Versions based on their depiction in The Hobbit trilogy retain the Witch-king and Khamûl; however, the remaining seven are dubbed the Dark Headsman, the Forsaken, the Lingering Shadow, and two pairs known as the Abyssal Knights and the Slayers of Men.
- Black Riders form a threat in the Shire-stages of the game, where they need to be avoided by the player (in the persona of Frodo Baggins), and as the end boss for the game (in the persona of Aragorn). They are tall and robed in black, and nothing is seen underneath.
- The Nazgûl, other than the Witch-king, are given Neo-Quenya titles based on their numbers, and various English titles:
- Úlairë Attëa (from atta = 2); Black Predator, Keeper of Dol Guldur, Second of the Nine Riders, The Easterling.
- Úlairë Nelya (from neldë = 3); Black Hunter, Lieutenant of Morgul, Third of the Nine Riders
- Úlairë Cantëa (from canta = 4); Black Assassin, Lieutenant of Dol Guldur, Fourth of the Nine Riders
- Úlairë Lemenya (from lempe = 5); Black Enemy, Lieutenant of Morgul, Fifth of the Nine Riders
- Úlairë Enquëa (from enquë = 6); Black Threat, Lieutenant of Morgul, Sixth of the Nine Riders
- Úlairë Ostëa [sic, later corrected to Úlairë Otsëa] (from otso = 7); Black Specter, Lieutenant of Morgul, Seventh of the Nine Riders
- Úlairë Toldëa (from tolto = 8); Black Shadow, Messenger of Morgul, Eighth of the Nine Riders
- Úlairë Nertëa (from nertë = 9); Black Horseman, Messenger of Dol Guldur, Ninth of the Nine Riders.
- The Mordor faction has two different Nazgûl units: "Witch-king on Fell Beast" and "Nazgûl on Fell Beast". They are primarily used for scouting and surprise attacks.
- A new Ringwraith is introduced in the expansion pack, The Rise of the Witch-king. Morgomir is the "Lieutenant of Carn-Dûm", the right-hand man of the Witch-king, of Black Númenórean descent. The design is similar to that in Peter Jackson's films: he is hooded and cloaked when he works for the Mordor faction, and white and ghostly when he fights for Angmar.
2007: The Lord of the Rings Online:
- The Nazgûl appear throughout the game. Three are Easterlings: "The Bane of Rhûn", "The Woe of Khand", and "The Cursed Rider"; three are Haradrim: "The Grim Southron", "The High Sorcerer of Harad", and "The Forsaken Reaver"; and three are of Númenórean origin: "The Black Blade of Lebennin", "The Gloom of Nurn", and the Witch-king of Angmar. The Nazgûl are also given the Sindarin name "Gwatharan" (pl. "Gwetherain").
- Early in the game one of the Nine wounds a Dúnedain ranger, Amdir, with a Morgul blade, who is later transformed into a Wraith himself, despite the best efforts of Free Peoples. Later, the player attempts to resist the troubles the Nine are spreading in Bree-Land. During the Fellowship's stay in Lothlórien, the Galadhrim Elves launch a military strike against Dol Guldur, to draw the attention of the Eye from the company departing down the Shores of Anduin. During their travel down the waters of the Great River, Legolas shot and killed a fell shadow in the sky, not knowing it to be a Nazgûl. The player is later able to find the corpse of the fell beast in the Brown Lands and it becomes clear that a Nazgûl is not far. At night, the Wraith ambushes the player who manages to drive him away with the use of fire.
- During the Battle of the Pelennor, the Witch-king plays the role as described in the books. The High Sorcerer of Harad and the Woe of Khand guard the way to Gothmog in the raid instance "Throne of the Dread Terror", and the Forsaken Reaver is found at the end of the "Quays of the Harlond instance, in which he attempts to prevent Aragorn and his host from joining the battle. The Gloom of Nurn confronts the players at the conclusion of "The Silent Street" instance, as he attempts to reclaim the crown of Eärnur among the tombs of Gondor's kings and stewards.
- In the Evil Campaign, the Eight Nazgûl bring the Witch-King back to life after Sauron reclaims the One Ring.
- The Nazgûl appear in a flashback during the prologue of the game, in which they attack the Rangers at Sarn Ford, the entrance of the Shire. Later in the flashback their leader, the Witch-king, speaks with Agandaûr.
- Although the Nazgûl do not appear in the game, they are mentioned many times.
2017: Middle-earth: Shadow of War:
- Helm Hammerhand, the king of Rohan who fell into darkness after receiving a Ring of Power from Sauron and Celebrimbor, and in his rage he was turned into a Nazgûl.
- Talion, who succumbed into the power of the Ring.
- Isildur, whose body was found by Orcs. He was revived by Sauron after receiving a Ring of Power; he was eventually freed by Talion who took his place amongst the Nazgûl.
- Suladân, an original character, who was once a Númenórean king.
- The Nazgûl Sisters, also original characters, known as Riya and Yuka, who stole their Rings from the other Nazgûl and took their places.
- Sauron captured the Rings of Power in the Sack of Eregion around this year, and later distributed the Nine Rings (cf. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B: The Tale of Years (Chronology of the Westlands) and J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn", "Concerning Galadriel and Celeborn").
- The identity of the messenger is unknown. In fandom it has been proposed that he was the Mouth of Sauron. Michael Martinez considers more possible that it was a Nazgûl.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Akallabêth: The Downfall of Númenor"
- J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Note 39 to Letter 156, (dated 4 November 1954), "There were evil Númenoreans: Sauronians, [...] the wicked Kings who had become the Nazgûl or Ringwraiths."
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age"
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