In the land of Middle-earth, few beings inspired as much fear and dread as the Nazgûl.
Ring-wraiths, Black Riders, the Nine; by any name, the Nazgûl were the most trusted and deadly servants of the Dark Lord Sauron, and they played a crucial role in his mission to retrieve the One Ring.
Their backstory is an unforgettable cautionary tale; once Kings of Men, they were corrupted by the Rings of Power gifted to them by Sauron. Whatever goodness or nobility they once possessed was slowly drawn out of them as greed and lust for power consumed them, and their mortal bodies were warped and twisted into ghostly husks.
Ultimately, they fell completely under the sway of the One Ring and became unquestioning servants of the Dark Lord. Whether seen in their fearsome black garb or glimpsed in their true ghostly forms, the Ring-wraiths struck terror and hopelessness in all who crossed their path.
By the time of The Lord of the Rings, they had already haunted Middle-earth for millennia, so if you’ve only read that book (or seen the Peter Jackson movies), you don’t know the whole story.
Here are the 15 Things You Didn’t Know About the Nazgûl in The Lord Of The Rings.
15. They Are Becoming Ghosts
The Nazgûl enforced their master’s will for centuries as ghostly, immortal specters, but they began their lives as mortal men. Taking the Rings of Power from Sauron started them down the dark path of corruption, but their fall wasn’t an immediate one.
As ring bearers, the Nine gathered more power and wealth to them, and became accomplished sorcerers. This satisfied their greed, and drew them further towards their doom.
The rings also granted their bearer with prolonged life, just as the One Ring would later do for Gollum and Bilbo Baggins. That life came with a cost, though. As Bilbo would eventually relate to Gandalf, he felt “stretched and thin,” and the men who would become the Nazgûl eventually came to feel that way too.
Unlike Bilbo, however, they lacked the will to relinquish their rings, and so their painful transformation into Ring-wraiths continued. The speed of that transformation was dependent on the quality of each man’s character, but even the strongest eventually fell completely.
14. They Broke the Line of Kings
By the time of the War of the Ring, Gondor had been without a king for centuries. Aragorn’s emergence as the last surviving heir of Elendil plays a huge role in the story of The Lord of the Rings. However, what exactly happened to Gondor’s last king, and why was the line of succession broken?
A thousand years before the events of the Rings story, Prince Eärnur of Gondor ascended to the throne. Eärnur had already made an enemy of the Witch-king, having led the charge to destroy Angmar.
After Eärnur became King, the Witch-king (who had returned to Mordor) challenged him to a duel, but the new king refused. Years later, after Minas Morgul had been established, the Witch-king renewed his challenge, and this time Eärnur accepted.
Whether he was driven by overconfidence or pride, Eärnur made the foolish decision to enter Minas Morgul by himself to challenge the Nazgûl, and he was never seen again.
Eärnur had no heirs, so the rule of Gondor fell to the Stewards, the last of which was Boromir and Faramir’s father Denethor.
13. Only Few Weapons Can Harm them
When the last kingdoms of men battled the forces of Mordor on Pelennor Fields, ultimate victory was tantalizingly close for Sauron and his servants.
If they had successfully routed Gondor and Rohan, there would have been no army left to stop them. Fortunately for the Free Peoples of Middle-earth, the battle was won, in no small part due to the fall of the Witch-king.
The Witch-king presided over the battle, instilling fear in Gondor’s warriors and even squaring off with Gandalf the White. The arrival of Rohan’s forces was a turning point in the battle, however. Though he mortally wounded King Théoden, Éowyn stood in his way before he could strike the final blow.
Overconfident in his power and invulnerability, the Witch-king mocked Éowyn’s effort to stand against him, allowing the hobbit Merry to sneak up behind him and stab him in the leg with a Westernesse dagger that had been found in the Barrow-downs.
12. Witch-king of Angmar Is The Most Powerful Nazgûl
The War of the Last Alliance was disastrous for Sauron and his minions, nearly wiping them out for all time. Many years passed before Sauron’s weakened spirit returned to Middle-earth in the guise of the Necromancer of Dol Guldur.
Not long after that, his most powerful servant, the Lord of the Nazgûl, made his presence felt in the northern reaches of Middle-earth. It was there that he established the dark kingdom of Angmar, and became known as the Witch-king.
The land was a stronghold of the dwarves before Angmar’s forces drove them out, and the Witch-king reigned over his kingdom for over six hundred years. During that time, the true purpose of Angmar came to light; it was established for the sole purpose of making war against and ultimately destroying the Dúnedain kingdom of Arnor.
11. Their Black Breath Could Kill
The Ring-wraiths could harm their victims without ever even touching them; their mere presence was enough to spread a debilitating and lethal illness known as the Black Breath.
Prolonged exposure to the Nazgûl could render the victim unconscious and plagued by nightmares in their sleep (and those were the lucky ones). More serious cases of the Black Breath could be deadly.
In these cases, the fear of the Nazgûl consumed the victim, sapping all the hope and light out of them and sending them into a deep sleep, which eventually gave way to hypothermia and ultimately death.
There was a cure for the Black Breath, though it was not known to many. By using athelas, a herb with healing properties, Aragorn was able to save Merry, Éowyn and Faramir from the Black Breath after their respective encounters with the Ring-wraiths during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
10. They Have Fearsome Voices
The Nazgûl could send their foes running with their mere presence and fearsome visage, but the haunting sound of their otherworldly voices also did the trick.
Whether shrieking into the night or hissing threats at their victims, the Nazgûl were adept at using their voices to sap the courage of their foes. Like most aspects of their power, the strength of this ability was tied to the power of their master Sauron and his One Ring (more on that later).
Suffice to say that early in the story of The Lord of the Rings (and in the years before Sauron’s return to power) their voices were frightening, though not as debilitating as they would later become.
As the Ring neared its master once again, he and his servants became more powerful, and the shrieks of the Ring-wraiths were once again able to stop men in their tracks and leave them cowering in fear.
9. They Are Stronger At Night
“Evil things come out at night” is a classic storytelling conceit, and Tolkien used it to great effect in his stories. The Orcs of Middle-earth feared the sun (a weakness not shared by Saruman’s Uruk-hai), and Trolls turned to stone under its glare.
The Nazgûl had a similar predilection for the midnight hours. Daylight rendered them considerably weaker (with the exception of the Witch-king), and so they much preferred to do their work under the cover of night.
Like other evil creatures, their powers and senses were heightened at night-time. In the case of the Nazgûl, this meant increased perception of the world around them. As wraiths, their vision was limited under the light of the sun, but under the moon it was unparalleled.
8. Their Power Is Directly Connected To The Ring
After Sauron’s defeat in the Second Age, his power all but vanished. Thanks to the survival of the One Ring, however, he was able to bide his time and slowly restore himself over the centuries that followed.
As the War of the Ring began in earnest and the Ring drew nearer to him, his power continued to grow; and so did that of his servants.
In the pages of The Lord of the Rings (and on screen in the Jackson movies), the Nazgûl became noticeably more powerful as the story progressed. The Witch-king is probably the best example of this.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, he and a number of his fellow Ring-wraiths were chased off of Weathertop by Aragorn, but in The Return of the King, the Witch-king stood toe-to-toe with Gandalf the White (and defeated him in the film by breaking his staff).
7. They’ve Battled with Gandalf
J.R.R. Tolkien had an interesting habit of describing incredible events in passing. One of the best examples of this is Gandalf’s battle with the Nazgûl on Weathertop, a sequence that is only seen from a great distance by Aragorn and the hobbits, and briefly referred to after the fact by Gandalf.
While Gandalf is searching the wilds for Frodo and his friends, he arrives at Weathertop and finds a number of Ring-wraiths there.
They flee from him during the day but return after dark and launch their attack. What follows is an epic battle that literally goes on all night, until the sun rises again and Gandalf escapes.
6. There Are Some Nameless Nazgûl
There were nine Black Riders, but in all of Tolkien’s writings, he named only two of them: the Witch-king of Angmar and Khamûl the Easterling.
The rest of the Nazgûl remain mysterious, though there have been a number of unofficial attempts to flesh out their backstories. One of the earliest such attempts was in the classic tabletop game Middle-earth Roleplaying.
Launched in 1984, the game offered names for the unidentified Ring-wraiths, some better than others. They were Dwar of Waw, Ji Indûr Dawndeath, and Ren the Unclean probably wouldn’t have passed muster with Tolkien, but Akhôrahil, Hoarmûrath, Ûvatha, and Adûnaphel (a woman, interestingly enough).
In The Lord of the Rings: Strategy Battle Game released by Games Workshop to coincide with the Jackson movies, the unnamed Nazgûl are given titles like The Tainted, The Undying and The Shadow Lord, as well as backstories that explain their respective falls.
5. They Went To War Against Arnor
Arnor was the northern kingdom of men in Middle-earth, founded by Elendil and his sons before they traveled south and created the kingdom of Gondor.
Arnor thrived well into the Third Age, but eventually the kingdom splintered due to infighting and poor leadership, giving way to three smaller kingdoms: Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur.
When the Witch-king established Angmar, he set to work destroying the three kingdoms. Rhudaur, which was already an enemy of the two other kingdoms, eventually came under Angmar’s sway. Next to fall was Cardolan, leaving Arthedain surrounded and under siege for hundreds of years.
Angmar’s hostilities wore Arthedain down over the years until the Witch-king’s forces finally claimed the capital of Fornost. With this victory, the last remnants of Arnor were swept away, and the Witch-king had dominion over the north.
4. Glorfindel’s Prophecy About The Nazgûl Was True
After the fall of Arnor, Prince Eärnur of Gondor traveled north with an army and combined his forces with the surviving Dúnedain and a company of elves led by Glorfindel.
Together they marched on Angmar, determined to wrest control of the north away from the Witch-king. A titanic battle was staged near Fornost, and the sheer numbers and determination of the elves and men was enough to rout Angmar’s forces.
By this late stage, the Witch-king wasn’t overly concerned with the fate of his kingdom as it had already fulfilled its purpose of destroying Arnor.
When the battle turned against him he cut his losses and fled the battlefield. Eärnur was determined to chase the Ring-wraith down and eliminate him once and for all, but Glorfindel advised him not to; “Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.“
Glorfindel’s prophecy came true a thousand years later when the Witch-king was killed in battle by a woman named Éowyn and a hobbit named Merry.
3. They Returned to Mordor After The War
After the fall of Angmar, the Witch-king returned to Mordor alongside the other Nazgûl. While Sauron remained in Dol Guldur, his servants set about restoring his former kingdom to power.
Their first major victory in this campaign was their successful siege of Minas Ithil, a fortress of Gondor that contained one of the seeing stones, the Palantíri. Renamed Minas Morgul, the fortress became the seat of the Nazgûl’s power in Mordor.
In the years to come, they continued to rebuild Mordor and amassed an army of Orcs to do their bidding. They were also responsible for ending Gondor’s line of kings, sending that kingdom into a spiral from which it almost never recovered.
2. Khamûl, the Black Easterling Is The Second Most Powerful Nazgûl
The only Nazgûl granted names and backstories by Tolkien were the aforementioned Witch-king and his second-in-command, Khamûl, the Black Easterling.
He is perhaps best known in Tolkien’s stories (and Jackson’s films) for hunting down Frodo and his friends as they fled the Shire and chasing them to Bucklebury Ferry.
As a mortal man he ruled the eastern kingdom of Rhûn, and like the other Nazgûl, he fell under Sauron’s sway after receiving one of the Rings of Power. Among the Nazgûl his power was exceeded only by the Witch-king, and he was sent to rule over Dol Guldur after Sauron returned to Mordor.
1. They Inspired Many Metal Bands
Tolkien’s work has inspired countless people, from writers who followed in his footsteps to artists who drew maps of Middle-earth and painted scenes and landscapes previously only described in words. But The Lord of the Rings has also inspired musicians to create songs that evoke Tolkien’s timeless tale.
Perhaps not surprisingly given their dark image, the Nazgûl in particular have inspired a number of rock and heavy metal bands. Rock icons Led Zeppelin referenced them in their song Battle of Evermore with the lyric, “the ring wraiths ride in black, ride on.”
Swedish band Sabaton’s song Shadows is devoted to the Nazgûl and filled with references to the story, like “search for the halfling you lords of the dark, the hobbit with Sauron’s ring he is your mark.” Another metal song dedicated to them is Summoning’s Flight of the Nazgûl.
Do you know any other interesting facts about The Lord of the Rings‘ Nazgûl? Let us know in the comments.
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