In the Second Age, the Men of the White Mountains broke their oath to Isildur. This crime combined by Isildur's curse turned the Oathbreakers into shades who haunted the mountains until the Third Age. Aragorn II, in the capacity of the Heir of Isildur, released the Oathbreakers from their curse in return for their aid at Pelargir.
The most famous of the wraiths were the Ringwraiths, Men ensnared by Sauron's Nine Rings. Some of the victims of the Ringwraiths, too, could be transformed into wraiths, albeit lesser and under their command (although there are no records of such a being). This nearly happened to Frodo Baggins, after having been stabbed by the Morgul-knife of the Witch-king.
Other versions of the legendarium
Portrayal in adaptations
1982-97: Middle-earth Role Playing:
- The wraith Gaurithoth, an undead Númenórean lieutenant, serves the Witch-king and haunts a burial mound near the Blue Mountains.
- Wraiths are the most common of the three type of ghosts (the other being phantoms and wights). The wraith is without a physical, tangible form, and consists only of the soul of a person wishing to fulfil an evil goal after his or her death.
2007: The Lord of the Rings Online:
- Wraiths refers to the category of Unseen beings that includes the Nazgûl and victims of Morgul blades. The cursed, lingering spirits of Men such as the Dead Men of Dunharrow are called Shades and categorized as The Dead. Wraiths appeared as leaders of the Enemy and elite forces in many areas. The most commonly encountered wraiths were the red-robed Cargûl. One of the game's main antagonists, Mordirith, was a wraith who is the Steward of Angmar.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "A Knife in the Dark"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Many Meetings"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Beren and Lúthien"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Muster of Rohan"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Last Debate"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The House of Eorl"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, passim
- J.R.R. Tolkien, "Words, Phrases and Passages in Various Tongues in The Lord of the Rings", in Parma Eldalamberon XVII (edited by Christopher Gilson), p. 11
- Helge Fauskanger, "Orkish and the Black Speech: Base Language for Base Purposes" at Ardalambion (accessed 27 December 2010)
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Peoples of Middle-earth, "IX. The Making of Appendix A": (ii) "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen", p. 267
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Return of the Shadow, "The First Phase: III. Of Gollum and the Ring", p. 78
- Douglas Harper, "wraith" at Online Etymology Dictionary (accessed 26 December 2010)
- Peter Gilliver, Edmund Weiner and Jeremy Marshall, The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary, p. 223
- Jessica Ney (ed.; 1990), Angus McBride's Characters of Middle-earth (#8007), pp. 38-39
- Scott Bennie, Mike Mearls, Steve Miller, Aaron Rosenberg, Chris Seeman, Owen Seyler, and George Strayton (2003), Fell Beasts and Wondrous Magic, pp. 25-27