The iconic, all-fearing, Ring pursuers terrified both readers and audiences alike. Their black cloaks and screeches are the stuff of nightmares. We know them as Ringwraiths or Nazgul, but these otherworldly creatures are considered first and foremost as wraiths.
When Tolkien created these beings in Lord of the Rings, he thought of the wraiths as spectral ghosts, loosely based on the wraiths in Scotland. Thus his wraiths act similar to their folklore counterparts.
While many may remember the wraiths from the live action movie, there are some things that we don’t know about them. We know them best as a group of black cloaks, but in the books and video games, there are different kinds of wraiths that inhabit Middle Earth.
Some wraiths were cursed or tethered to the realm for specific reasons. These spirits were former people who were transformed into the undead. Most of the time they were created by necromancers. The exception are the Oathbreakers, who were cursed by Isildur for refusing the call to fight against Sauron.
With that said, here are the 15 Things You Never Knew About The Lord of the Rings Wraiths!
15 A Nazgul’s Morgul-Blade Can Turn Any Victim Into A Wraith
Lord of the Rings fans may remember the first time that the Witch-king stabbed Frodo with a Morgul-nlade. The sword shatters on contact with a living heart, leaving a shard of the blade in the fallen. The blade is capable of turning anyone into a wraith.
Most people would succumb and inevitably fall into the unseen realm. In the case of Frodo, Elrond was able to remove the shard and get rid of the poison. However, on the anniversary, Frodo becomes seriously ill and isn’t fully cured until he finally departs for Eldamar. It is unknown whether or not anyone has been turned into a wraith successfully since not many have been stabbed with a wraith's blade.
Athelas is the only known plant that can counter the Morgul-blade and prevent its poison from being fatal. The plant has a particular scent to each individual. For example, if Faramir kept the plant, he would smell “Dewey mornings of an unshadow sun."
14 Gorlim Is The First Known Wraith
Before the Nazgul surfaced during the rise of Sauron, the first wraith recorded was Gorlim. When Sauron was in his prime, he led the Morgoth troops and fought with the other lands.
Gorlim served under Lord Barahir and fought in the war against Sauron’s forces. He and Lord Barahir were part of the twelve men who survived the war, and they decided to form a group of outlaws to hide from Morgoth’s troops.
The story goes that Gorlim returned from war, only to find that his wife Eilinel was gone and nowhere to be found. Morgoth's troops captured him, and Gorlim was subsequently tortured, refusing to give up Barahir’s location.
Instead, Sauron offered him a deal: he would only give up Barahir’s location if he were allowed to be reunited with his wife. Gorlim agreed and Sauron revealed that his wife was long dead and that he would be reunited as a sprite.
Gorlim was put to death and turned into a wraith.
13 Wraiths Belong in the Unseen Realm
Nazgul spread terror with their dense aura known as Black Breath. However, their physical forms are somewhat different and their manifestations actually reside in the Wraith-world-- The Unseen World.
While many people believe that the Ring renders the user invisible, it can also teleport the individual into the Wraith-world. Wraiths' real bodies live here as wispy creatures of their past selves-- what's left of the wraiths are shells of their past lives. When Frodo Baggins is wounded by the Morgul-blade, he sees Glorfindel as a High Elf in the Wraith-world.
People who enter the Wraith-world can see the former ghosts and are grave danger if they encounter a Nazgul since they can also stab the visitor with their Morgul-blades. The Wraith-world is technically categorized as part of the Unseen since the Nazgul have an unseen form. The Seen form is part of the physical realm.
12 The Oathbreakers are Actually Wraiths... But They Were Not Turned By Sauron
The undead spirit ghosts seen in the live-action are actually wraiths. During the Second Age, they worshipped Sauron, which enraged Isildur. The Oathbreakers were once soldiers but were cursed by Isildur for ignoring the call to defeat Sauron.
The Oathbreakers are the only few wraiths in the canon series that Sauron did not turn. Instead, it was their folly and self-preservation that turned them into wraiths. Because of their disloyalty, the King and his men were cursed and trapped among the living. They dwell in Dwimorberg caverns. The King was transformed into the King of the Dead and ruled over the undead who were trapped in the Seen World.
The Bannerman would haunt the White Mountains, waiting for the heir of Isildur to free them from their curse. Aragorn, the descendant of Isildur, summoned them upon the final battle. After Sauron's defeat, the Undead were thus set free.
11 A Nazgul's Power Level Depends on Sauron’s Influence
If Sauron’s power is growing, then the strength of the Nazgul is amplified. Given that these creatures don’t require regular sustenances, Nazgul obtain their power from Sauron. When Sauron offered them the nine rings of power, they were turned into wraiths. So it’s not surprising to learn that Sauron feeds them power.
During their master’s disappearance, they disappeared into the shadows, waiting for Sauron’s return. It’s only in the Third Age that they began to take form and one again do their Master’s bidding. At their weakest, they’re shades that are unable to emerge when it’s daybreak.
In the Return of the King, the Nazgul are at their strongest. They have mounts, large orc armie, and the Witch-king even has a flaming sword. However, after the Ring is destroyed, the nine ring bearers are destroyed as well.
10 Shadows of War Created New Wraith Characters
The Lord of the Rings MMO, Middle Earth: Shadows of War, expands on the Nazgul. The online game is not just for the die-hard fans alone, as the mainstream audience can learn more about Middle Earth and its mythos.
There are other wraiths, aside from the Ringwraiths, that exist in Middle Earth. Technically, they're not part of the main canon series, but players can obtain their elusive armor sets and complete side quests pertaining to these shades.
Shadows of War expanded the Nazgul knowledge, creating new lore and characters. In the online series, the Nazgul managed to turn Isildur into a wraith after the end of Last Alliance between humans and elves.
In the game, his body was recovered and Sauron placed a ring on him. There are other wraith characters, including the most iconic: Celebrimbor. Talion, with the help of Celebrimbor, would later save Isildur from his fate as a wraith.
9 Only Two Nazgul Have Titles
In the main canon series, only two Ringwraiths have titles and only one has a name. The Nazgul don’t have names because their sole purpose is to serve Sauron. However, this doesn't stop a few fans speculating. There are many theories that suggest that three of them are Numenoreans-- a race that died after the end of the Second Age.
The two known wraiths are the Witch-king and Khamul. The Witch-king of Angmar is the most recognizable. He’s the one that stabbed Frodo with a Morgul-blade and led the rest of the Ringwraiths in search of Sauron’s ring. We don’t know the Witch-king’s real name, but he’s normally called the Lord of Nazgul, Witch-king, and Angmar. When not pursuing, Angmar resides in Minas Morgul, waiting and planning.
His second-in-command is Khamul, who hails from the Eastern Lands and used to rule Khun. This would explain why Khun was quick to backup Sauron’s forces.
Despite Sauron’s death, the Khuns stood their ground and sacrificed their lives until the bitter end. Khamul is the most ring-sensitive among the group and leads the rest of the wraiths when the Witch-king perishes.
8 The Nazgul’s Terrible Screeches Are Actually From The Screenwriter
Ever wondered how the movie team was able to create the Nazgul’s nightmarish screeches? Thank Lord of the Rings' screenwriter Fran Walsh. During the production phase, Walsh walked into the VR Booth and created the screech from scratch.
“I went into the room with the mike and let out all the stress and the horror and the terror of making those movies,” she said in an interview with The New York Times. Walsh served as the producer of the films and is a die-hard Tolkien fan.
Outside of her work with the trilogy, Walsh was already an accomplished screenwriter before she met Jackson. She and Peter Jackson have worked together on past films and worked behind the scenes of The Hobbit movies. She and Jackson are both now married.
7 The Witch-king Can Light Objects on Fire
The Ringwraiths are shown to be weak against fire in the movies. So when fans saw the Witch-king with a flaming sword, it came as quite a surprise. Their fear of fire and water is likely rooted in the undead's fear of water and fire, given that these are both elements of life.
However, after close inspection, it would make sense that the Witch-king could achieve such a feat. Most of the wraiths are accomplished sorcerers, and since Angmar is the head honcho, it would make sense that he’s able to create magical fire.
Some theorize that the Witch-king’s power is different from the other wraiths, while other believe that, due to Sauron’s power, they become even more powerful when their Master gains power.
In addition, the Ringwraiths are part living and dead-- their bodies in Middle Earth are an extension of themselves. The Witch-king has a number of mounts and powers that the other wraiths don’t have.
6 People Often Mistaken Them For Dementors
The resemblance between the Nazgul and Dementors is uncanny. They both wear dark hooded cloaks, they don’t have real bodies, they share a terrible screech, and their power is based on negative energy.
They are also both dark entities that represent darkness and can be repelled by light or any form of happiness and they both give terrible afflictions to their victims. Dementors give a kiss of death to their victims, whereas Nazgul give their victims the Black Breath. While Dementors sap happiness from their victims, Ringwraiths spread fear, and if a victim is close to one, they can easily kill them.
There are so many similarities that fans occasionally mistaken the two beings. In fact, there are few differences between them-- Ringwraiths wear silver mail and swords and do have feet.
5 In the Books, The Nazgul Never Appeared In The Hobbit
One of the key differences between the Lord of the Rings books and movies are the Ringwraiths. Galadriel’s appearance in the live-action adaptation was a glaring change, aside from the non-canon appearance of Tauriel.
However, they decided to incorporate parts of the Legendarium into the film adaptation. The Nazgul perished with their Master and stayed in the shadows. While they didn’t appear in The Hobbit, the Nazgul resurfaced once against due to Sauron’s power.
The films had some creative liberties in showing how the Nazgul returned. Galadriel and the elves learn that the tombs of the Nazgul are opened. They also learn that Sauron was the lone necromancer that released the wraiths from their prison. In the books, there was no such scene-- the Nazgul took form when Sauron returned.
4 The Costume Designers Used Multiple Layers of Silk
Ever wondered how the costume makers managed to create the haunting wraiths? The answer lies in the material. In actuality, the Nazgul’s appearance is straightforward: they wore long, black cloaks that hid their ghost-like bodies.
However, translating a ghostly being onto the big screen was a challenge. It’s easy to slap a black cloak on someone and call it a day, but production designer Ngila Dickson tried to create that effect with a combination of both practical and fabric techniques.
Behind the scenes, Dickson used layers of different black silks to look like weathered regal clothing that wore away as time went by. The aim was to show a de-evolution of a king; the royal robes wear away, leaving a lesser, gaunt being.
The silks were layered so that, whenever the wraith moved, they would sway, which would look ghost-like. They also used latex lumps to create the long skeletal effect on the wraiths.
3 The Witch-King Is the Only One That Can Shatter Weapons
Aside from creating fiery swords and commanding giant mounts, the Witch-king can also shatter weapons. It’s one of the reasons why the king is nearly indestructible. If a man’s blade or weapon is used to pierce Angmar, it’s automatically destroyed with a flick of his wrist.
This is seen when he shatters Frodo’s weapon. The attacker would then also succumb to the Witch-king’s poison. Nearly everyone who has faced the Witch-king perished, with the exception of Eowyn and Merry. Glorfindel prophesied that Angmar would not be defeated by a man.
This power is from his sorcery. The Witch-king is an accomplished sorcerer and has mastered a number of dark arts. His weapons and armor are likely imbued with magic, making him nearly impossible to defeat.
He can conjure lightning magic, destroy impenetrable fortresses, and use dark magic to manipulate the physical realm. Angmar has led countless conquests to take over Gondor. In fact, Minas Morgul was originally part of Isildur's kingdom before the Ringwraiths stole the land.
2 They Have An Indefinite Supply of Mounts
Although the number of iconic villains is limited, the Ringwraiths are incredibly powerful. They also seem to have a never ending supply of mounts that they ride in on-- probably supplied to them by Sauron.
Do you need to do some reconnaissance? One dark horse coming up. Need a mount for getting through enemy lines? How about this massive Fellbeast?
Some of the best parts of the live-action movie included these incredible mounts. However, there was a common misconception among the production team that the mounts were called "Nazgul" and not the actual Ringwraiths themselves.
The Fellbeast is described as a large-winged creature that gives off a horrible stench. Though Tolkien protested over their design in the movie, he eventually signed off and allowed the massive creatures to come to life on screen.
1 The Term 'Nazgul' Has Many Meanings and Roots
We may know them as Ringwraiths, but they have a fancier title: Nazgul. They are usually called Ringwraiths, though, which is the common tongue of the Middle Earth. If broken down to their simpler Tolkien languages, "Naz" means “ring” and "gul" is translated to “wraith.”
The word "Nazgul" actually has multiple meanings depending which language you’re reading it from. “Gul” is a Sindarin term for magic, associated with Morgul’s dark arts, and shares a commonality with Black Speech, Mordor’s native language. Meanwhile "Naz" is derived from the Elvish root Nazag, which means "bond" or "compulsion." Thus the term sums up the current predicament of the Ringwraiths.
The word is loaded with different origins and shows an integration of different fictional languages-- Sindarin, Common Tongue, Quenya, etc. The word Nazgul is Black Speech and the Ringwraiths are capable of speaking it since Sauron created the language.
Out of all of the Middle Earth dialects, Black Speech is the most difficult to speak.
Can you think of any other interesting facts about the wraiths of Lord of the Rings? Let us know in the comments!