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Angus McBride - Wraith

Wraiths was a name for people having been transformed into undead beings.[1] The realm of the wraiths was called the Wraith-world.[2]

History[edit | edit source]

In the Elder Days, the wraith of Gorlim appeared in a dream of Beren.[3]

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[4] 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.[5]

In the Third Age, it was rumoured that the wraith of Helm Hammerhand haunted the enemies of Rohan, killing those who felt fear.[6]

The most famous of the wraiths were the Ringwraiths, Men ensnared by Sauron's Nine Rings.[7] 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).[2] This nearly happened to Frodo Baggins, after having been stabbed by the Morgul-knife of the Witch-king.[1]

Etymology[edit | edit source]

The Black Speech/Sindarin word gûl was translated as "wraith(s)" in the Red Book of Westmarch.[7][8][9]

Other versions of the legendarium[edit | edit source]

In a draft for The Lord of the Rings Appendices, the Paths of the Dead were said to have been guarded by the "fell wraiths of the Forgotten Men".[10]

In another draft it is said that the Rings of Power transformed their bearers into wraiths, thus creating elf-, goblin-, men-, or dwarf-wraiths.[11]

Inspiration[edit | edit source]

Wraith is a Scottish word meaning "ghost" (of uncertain origin; possibly from Gaelic, Irish arrach "specter, apparition").[12][13]

Portrayal in adaptations[edit | edit source]

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.[14]

2001: Middle-earth Strategy Battle Game:

The Castellans of Dol Guldur are wraiths in the service of Sauron. Nameless and with no will of their own, the Castellans are but one facet of that cursed tower’s sleepless malice. Formless, save for the armour that binds them, they stalk the paths about Dol Guldur, slaying those they find. Each fell to Sauron’s service in a different way; some sought to learn from him as an apprentice does from a master, and others are the eternal remnants of one who has died in agony in Sauron’s dungeons. However they came into the Dark Lord’s service, they are all now bound to his curse and serve him absolutely.

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

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.[15]

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.


  1. 1.0 1.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "A Knife in the Dark"
  2. 2.0 2.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "Many Meetings"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Beren and Lúthien"
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Muster of Rohan"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Last Debate"
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The House of Eorl"
  7. 7.0 7.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, passim
  8. 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
  9. Helge Fauskanger, "Orkish and the Black Speech: Base Language for Base Purposes" at Ardalambion (accessed 27 December 2010)
  10. 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
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Return of the Shadow, "The First Phase: III. Of Gollum and the Ring", p. 78
  12. Douglas Harper, "wraith" at Online Etymology Dictionary (accessed 26 December 2010)
  13. Peter Gilliver, Edmund Weiner and Jeremy Marshall, The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary, p. 223
  14. Jessica Ney (ed.; 1990), Angus McBride's Characters of Middle-earth (#8007), pp. 38-39
  15. Scott Bennie, Mike Mearls, Steve Miller, Aaron Rosenberg, Chris Seeman, Owen Seyler, and George Strayton (2003), Fell Beasts and Wondrous Magic, pp. 25-27