NAZGUL (THE LORD OF THE RINGS)
Wraiths on wings (by Gollum)
Lord of the Rings
The Nazgûl (also known as Ringwraiths, The Nine, The Fallen Kings, Black Riders, Nunbolg, or Ulairi in Quenya) were the dreaded ring-servants of the Dark Lord Sauron in Middle-earth throughout the Second and Third ages, and in the later years of the Third Age, they dwelt in Minas Morgul and Dol Guldur.
The Nazgûl were once nine great powerful Men, all of whom were given Rings of Power by Sauron. Sauron meant to, and succeeded in his goal of corrupting the powerful Nine. The Nine took them and used them to achieve great power, wealth, and prestige in life. But as time passed, the Rings continued to exert their corrupting influence. The Rings eventually left the kings spectral, invisible to all but those who could see into the wraith world, and slaves to the will of Sauron. Their lives and power became bound to Sauron’s via the One Ring; as Sauron grew or diminished in power, so too did the Nazgûl.
Only two of the Nine were ever named: the Witch-king of Angmar and Khamûl the Easterling.
The Nine were first seen around 2251 of the Second Age, and soon became established as Sauron’s primary servants. Despite being Sauron’s most useful servants, not much is known of their activities during the Second Age. They were temporarily dispersed after Sauron’s downfall in SA 3434 during the war of Last Alliance of Elves and Men, losing the ability to maintain any sort of physical form as Sauron did after losing the One Ring. However, the Ring was not destroyed, and as such, both the Nazgûl and Sauron were able to endure.
Return of the Nazgûl:
The Nazgûl re-emerged around 1301 of the Third Age as Sauron at long last began to take shape after his defeat at the hands of the Last Alliance. It was around this time that the Witch-king established himself in Angmar and began to launch attacks against the nearby kingdom of Arnor, which had fractured into three smaller kingdoms due to infighting. His first target was the realm of Rhudaur. After conquering Rhudaur and replacing the Dúnedain king with one of the native Hillmen in the year TA 1356 the Witch-king moved against Arthedain, resulting in the death of King Argeleb I.
But Arthedain was not yet defeated, and it managed to maintain a line of defense along the Weather Hills. In TA 1409 came the attack on Cardolan. Also during this time, the forces of the Witch-king burned and destroyed the watchtower of Amon Sûl. After the fall of Cardolan, Angmar’s advance was slowed by resistance from the elves of Lindon and Rivendell. By TA 1974, Angmar arose again and captured Arthedain’s capital of Fornost, and with that the last kingdom of Arnor was destroyed.
A year later, a prince of Gondor named Eärnur arrived with the intention of aiding Arthedain.
However, Eärnur arrived too late to be of help in defending any of Arnor’s territories. Instead, he and his army sought revenge against the Witch-king. He and his forces marched against the armies of the Witch-king and utterly destroyed them during the Battle of Fornost. With the destruction of his forces, the Witch-king escaped and retreated to Mordor. Despite the complete annihilation of Angmar, the campaign was accounted a tremendous success by Sauron, for the territories formerly occupied by Arnor became essentially wilderness, with the Dúnedain Rangers being all that stood between its people and complete lawlessness. At some point, the Barrow-wights left Angmar and Rhudaur to occupy the Barrow-downs of Cardolan. Upon his return to Mordor, the Witch-king gathered the other eight Nazgûl. In the year TA 2000 the Nazgûl attacked, and after two years conquered Minas Ithil (which was renamed Minas Morgul), acquiring a Palantír for the Dark Lord.
It was from Minas Morgul that the Nine directed the rebuilding of Sauron’s armies and the preparation of Mordor for their master’s return. In 2942 Sauron returned to Mordor, openly declaring himself by TA 2951. He sent three of the Nazgûl to garrison his fortress Dol Guldur in Mirkwood. They were led by Khamûl, the second most powerful of the Nazgûl behind the Witch-King.
Hunt for the Ring:
Shire and Bree:
Near the beginning of the War of the Ring in TA 3018, Gollum, a Stoor who had once owned the One Ring, was captured and tortured in Mordor. From him, Sauron learned of the location of the One, and the family identity of those who had kept it. Having learned this, Sauron released Gollum, but Gollum was soon recaptured by Aragorn, captain of the Rangers of the North. Learning of this, Gandalf the Grey went immediately to interrogate the creature and discovered that Sauron now knew where the Ring was and who had it; the hobbit Frodo Baggins. Accordingly, Gandalf advised Frodo to leave the Shire and make for Rivendell, taking the Ring with him. However, Sauron wasted no time in attempting to capture the Ring, sending all of the Nine to retrieve it.
Soon the Nazgûl entered the Shire, where they learned the Ring was in possession of Bilbo Baggins’ nephew, Frodo Baggins.Subsequently, after searching for Frodo, one of the Nine, Khamûl the Easterling, had his first encounter with him.
As Frodo and his friends, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, took Bucklebury ferry to reach Crickhollow, Khamûl, who had narrowly missed them, was forced to go around to the Brandywine Bridge instead. Shortly after this, the Nine arrived at Frodo’s new home in Crickhollow.
Though Frodo had already left for Bree by the time the Nine arrived, they were soon given information regarding Frodo’s whereabouts by Bill Ferny, a spy of Saruman. Consequently, the Nazgûl attacked the village of Bree, where Frodo was located. However, during the time it took the Nazgûl to reach Bree, Frodo and company fortunately encountered Aragorn himself, who had been asked by Gandalf to watch for the hobbits and aid them if he could.
Unable to find the Hobbit, the Nine left Bree, and at Weathertop several days later they encountered Gandalf the Grey, who was scouting nearby on his way to Rivendell to meet up with Frodo. An all-night battle commenced at Weathertop between the Nazgûl and Gandalf. Though Gandalf was able to escape, four of the Nine pursued him, while five remained near Weathertop. Several days later, Aragorn, Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry made camp at the base of the ruins of Amon Sûl.
Discovering them, the five Nazgûl attacked the group. As they confronted the four Hobbits, Frodo put on the Ring and attempted to resist the Nazgûl. The Nazgûl leader quickly stabbed Frodo with a Morgul-blade, but the Nazgûl then fled because Aragorn arrived carrying firebrands, and also perhaps (as Aragorn surmised) because the Nazgûl were unprepared for Frodo’s show of resistance.
The Ford of Bruinen:
Regrouping, the Nazgûl continued to pursue Frodo. Eventually, they caught up with him, then riding the horse of Glorfindel. Chasing Frodo until they reached the Ford of Bruinen, the nine Nazgûl, now reunited, demanded Frodo give them the Ring. Frodo refused and defied them. Provoked, the Nazgûl crossed the river to take the Ring by force from a weak and injured Frodo. However, the water, enchanted by Elrond and Gandalf, formed a great wave and swept the Nine away, killing their horses. Lacking the means to successfully attack Rivendell, where Frodo and his companions took refuge, the Nazgûl were forced to retreat to Mordor on foot and stop their hunt for the Ring.
Battle of the Pelennor Fields:
Returning to Mordor in complete failure, the Nazgûl were forced to abandon their hunt for the Ring. At this point, the Nine received new mounts to replace their horses: Fell beasts. With his new mount, the Witch-king attacked the ruined city of Osgiliath with an army of Orcs and secured it. After this, he made way for the assault on Minas Tirith, leading Sauron’s forces during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. During the battle, the Witch-king confronted Gandalf the White when attempting to enter the city. However, before the Witch-king could engage Gandalf in battle, the forces of Rohan arrived. The Witch-king immediately left Gandalf to deal with the new threat against Mordor’s forces.
The Witch-king attacked King Théoden on the battlefield. As Théoden was crushed by his horse, the lord of the Nazgûl prepared to finish him off. However, Théoden’s niece Éowyn and Meriadoc Brandybuck rode up on horseback, and she confronted the Witch-king.
Engaging the Witch-king in battle, Éowyn killed the Nazgûl’s fell beast. The Witch-king, however, was unaffected by this and attacked Éowyn with his mace. After breaking Éowyn’s arm, he prepared to kill her, but Meriadoc stabbed him in the leg from behind with his Barrow-blade, which was of Westernesse make. Injured, the Witch-king screamed in pain and Éowyn stabbed her sword into his crown and body, thus killing the lord of the Nazgûl and fulfilling the prophecy of Glorfindel.
Battle of the Morannon and Defeat:
During Battle of the Black Gate the remaining eight Nazgûl, mounted on Fell beasts, attacked the Army of the West. Eventually, however, the Nazgûl were confronted by the Eagles, led by Gwaihir.
Simultaneously, Frodo Baggins claimed the Ring for himself near the fires of Mount Doom. Sauron immediately became aware of Frodo, as well as his folly. Enraged and frantic, Sauron ordered the Nazgûl to fly with all possible speed to Mount Doom and seize the Ring.
However, the Nazgûl failed; the Ring was cast into the fires of Mount Doom when Gollum bit Frodo’s finger and accidentally fell into the Cracks of Doom himself, with the ring. Sauron was immediately defeated by the loss of the Ring, Mount Doom underwent a gigantic volcanic eruption and all eight Nazgûl were destroyed, their form and power dissipating forever.
Weapons and Abilities
The Nazgûl were sustained by the power of Sauron. The Witch-king in particular was difficult to slay, for any weapon that struck him would be destroyed. The Nazgûl’s own weapons included long swordsof steel and daggers. Their leader possessed a powerful black mace as well. Their arsenal of deadly armaments was not confined to physical means; they also had powerful voices, which brought terror into the hearts of mortals and a general aura of dread. They wore hauberks of silver mail and had enhanced senses of hearing and smell.
The Nine could not see during the day as mortals do; instead they see shadowy forms. During the night, they see many signs and forms invisible to mortal eyes; it is at night that they are to be feared most. They can smell the blood of living things that they desire and hate. Their presence can be felt as a troubling of the heart, and they can more keenly feel the presence of others. At all times, they sense the presence of the Ring and are drawn to it.
They were surrounded by an aura of terror, which affected all living creatures; their aura (called the Black Breath) could be toxic to those hapless enough to come near them. Of course, their horrible cries put many a battle-hardened warrior to flight as well. Some of the Nazgûl appear to have been accomplished sorcerers and used magic to devastating effect. The fear the Nine inspired was one of their greatest strengths. According to Gandalf, if Sauron regained the One, they would become vastly more powerful. However, it is unclear as to how. However, as Sauron’s strength grew through the books, the Nazgûl became obviously more powerful. In The Fellowship of the Ring, the Nazgûl’s cries were simply unnerving to the hobbits, and they appeared to be physically weak, as Aragorn managed to hold off five of the Ringwraiths single-handedly on Weathertop. In The Return of the King however, their cries are powerful enough to send all but the most stout-hearted of Gondor’s defenders into a state of helpless terror, and the Witch-king in particular has become so powerful that he challenged Gandalf the White (which of the two is the more powerful is not revealed).
Though the Ringwraiths were among the greatest of Sauron’s servants, they also had certain weaknesses that could be used against them. One of these was daylight itself. With the exception of the Witch-King of Angmar, none of them (especially Khamûl) could operate as well under the Sun and generally feared it.
All the Ringwraiths but the Witch-King feared water, although it seems this weakness was abandoned by Tolkien in the published version because it was an idea difficult to sustain.
At Weathertop, Aragorn used fire to drive the Ringwraiths away from Frodo. Even the Witch-King feared fire; though it’s possible it had less of an effect on him over the other eight Nazgûl. At the Ford of Bruinen, Aragorn and the hobbits that accompanied Frodo used it to assist Glorfindel and drive the Ringwraiths into the raging water.
If an enemy was strong enough so to resist their aura of dread, then the Ringwraiths (with the exception of the Witch-King) had little real power over them individually.
Heroes of Middle-earth such as Aragorn, Gandalf, and Glorfindel could single-handedly face a Ringwraith and defeat or at least elude them, provided that they were not confronted by multiple Ringwraiths or the Witch-King. However, only a few could resist them all at the same time. But it has also been seen that legendary heroes like Glorfindel can instill fear in the hearts of the Nazgûl too.
At the start of the War of the Ring, the nine Nazgûl rode black horses descended from horses stolen from Rohan, which they relied heavily on for transport. However, after the encounter with Glorfindel at Ford of Bruinen, the Black Riders lost their horses, which were killed in the flood.
Returning to Mordor by foot to regroup, the Nazgûl received winged creatures from Sauron in addition to new horses. With these fell beasts, the nine attacked the ruined city of Osgiliath in order to clear the way for a siege on Minas Tirith. Subsequently, the Nazgûl used the fell beasts to their advantage at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and the Battle of the Morannon, but most of all in attempting to seek and find the ringbearer, Frodo.