The extremely inefective existence of the Nazguls!

Discussion in '"The Lord of the Rings"' started by Gilgaearel, Jul 6, 2018.

  1. Gilgaearel

    Gilgaearel Member

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    The Nazguls were supposed to be the scariest thing that someone could encounter in Middle Earth, but I think that the fear of them was not based on any sort of real evil effectiveness.
    Let me summarise here for you, what the Nazguls couldn't do.
    They were afraid of fire.
    They couldn't cross water.
    They couldn't go far without their horses or their dragons or whatever that flying creatures they rode were supposed to be.
    They couldn't sense properly the living ones.
    They couldn't travel of the roads.
    They didn't have a physical form.
    They didn't have their own will.
    They couldn't exist independently of Sauron's spirit.
    They couldn't even locate the ring if its bearer didn't use it.
    They were afraid of High Elven Lords ( the likes of Glorfindel).
    They couldn't win those who had in their possession any of the Elven rings.

    They had an evil presence that made them look scary, but putting aside the fear factor and keep in mind their vulnerabilities, how effective could they actually be?

    What is your opinion? If you were Sauron would you trust a Nazgul to run after your lost ring of power?! I wouldn't... :D
     
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  2. Halasían

    Halasían Dunedain Ranger

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    Being that Sauron had other than the Nine, orcs of various incarnations, and trolls, it would appear his choices were limited. It may have been why he chose to make Saruman an ally in the ring search, and through him, undermine Rohan, whie he undermined Denethor in Gondor via the Palantir. Under the circumstances, Sauron sent the best of his lot out to search for the ring. Your list covers much, but the fact the Witch King led a centuries-long campaign against Arnor/Arthedain/Rhuadur/Cardolan and for the most part destroyed the northern kingdom. It could be said that he had one job to do and that was to end the line of Isildur, and he failed at that as well. Still, they were able to conjour up fear in men and hobbits, and that was a lot.

    In reference to your point about they couldn't cross water, I don't think that was the case. They required their horses to make speed, and there was not suitable crossing of the Brandywine without the ferry. And later, it was the river being conjoured up by Elrond and decorated by Gandalf that washed them downstream when they were crossing the Ford of Bruinen.
     
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  3. Galin

    Galin Registered User

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    Tolkien notes that the Nine Riders being wholly under Sauron's will made them the most suitable for this mission, and that if even the Witch-king had seized the One, he would have brought it back to his master.

    That's huge. So I coloured it :)

    Tolkien admits the drawback of the fear the Nine Riders instilled, and states that Sauron long hesitated to use them, in part because of this. Of course, some of what we know about the Nine hails from material never published by JRRT himself -- who also noted that the fear of water
    (for eight of them) was difficult to sustain.

    In my opinion, I think the Nine Riders had physical forms, which could be physically "taken out" by physical things like physical flooding water for example.

    I didn't mean to get physical there (sorry, bad joke).

    Invisible plus terror equals "wraiths", a suitable enough term from our (mortal) perspective I think, but to my mind the Nine differed from the Dead.

    And Aragorn stated that despite certain drawbacks the Wraiths did have some special skills that helped them. Yes, they did not love fire and feared those who wielded it, and for myself, I love that added detail that the name Elbereth was in some way deadly to the dreadful king, and of course, Elf-lords revealed in their wrath.

    Plus, if you were a wraith, wouldn't you rather have a horse, or a balloon or something, rather than go running all over Middle-earth chasing folks, wearing your invisible legs to your invisible knees (if you agree they were in some measure physical, that is).

    ;)
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2018
  4. Merroe

    Merroe Active Member

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    I add a quote from JRRT’s letter 210, on the subject of the Nazgul, which may be relevant in this discussion:

    Their peril is almost entirely due to the unreasoning fear which they inspire (like ghosts). They have no great physical power against the fearless; but what they have, and the fear that they inspire, is enormously increased in darkness.
     

  5. Squint-eyed Southerner

    Squint-eyed Southerner Skulking near Archet

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    Not being in a position, for another week or so, to engage in the forum fully, I'll just link to a couple of threads that touch on the Nazgul:

    http://www.thetolkienforum.com/index.php?threads/a-possible-contradiction-to-lotr.23563/#post-516796

    http://www.thetolkienforum.com/inde...being-delayed-a-good-thing.23578/#post-516918

    I'll add that I don't see any indication that they couldn't travel off the roads, or that they couldn't locate the bearer of the Ring. Aragorn, after all, tells Frodo that "the Ring draws them". It's apparently true that they couldn't "see" him, in the sense we normally mean by the word, until he put on the Ring, but they were aware of him, and certainly of the Ring.

    Another point on their "existence": there's the curious conversation between Frodo and Gandalf at the beginning of "Many Meetings", where Gandalf says

    . . .the black robes are real robes that they wear to give shape to their nothingness when they have dealings with the living.

    Which raises the question: do the Nazgul even have a shape, in our "normal" world, without the robes? Gandalf nay be using the word "nothingness" metaphorically, but as The Encyclopedia of Fantasy tells us, "In fantasy, there is no safety in metaphor".

    Shippey has an interesting discussion of "wraithing" in Author of the Century, in which he compares it to the "vanity" of Ecclesiastes, where it seems to mean something like smoke, or fog, which is real, but insubstantial. This is in line with the Dragon of Revelations, "that was, and is not, and yet is".
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2018
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  6. Galin

    Galin Registered User

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    Ah yes Gandalf -- he tries to foil my opinion again when talking to Legolas about shooting arrows at a wraith!

    But don't we "know" W. King had a knee and invisible sinews to stab* ;)

    I take Gandalf's nothingness as: "nothingness" to our eyes (the "regular" living). And I think
    of Tolkien's description of the Dead: (to paraphrase) it wasn't known if their swords would bite. That's a nice touch to the story, and to me it's also a message about "ghostness" from Tolkien, and how powerful fear alone can be, on a battlefield and elsewhere.

    *I realize some/even many hold that Merry's dagger could "connect" with a wraith.
    I have the opinion that all blades could, in theory, connect, but that's yet another fish
    in a
    somewhat murky pond.
     
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2018
  7. Merroe

    Merroe Active Member

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    About the strength/weakness of the Nazgul, here is another text on the state of mind of their leader after the events on Weathertop, and which appears to endorse Gilgaearel's original point quite well:

    The Witch-King, the great captain, was actually dismayed. He had been shaken by the fire of Gandalf, and began to perceive that the mission on which Sauron had sent him was one of great peril to himself both by the way and on his return to his Master (if unsuccessful); and he had been doing ill, so far achieving nothing save rousing the power of the Wise and directing them to the Ring. But above all the timid and terrified Bearer had resisted him, had dared to strike at him with an enchanted sword made by his own enemies long ago for his destruction. Narrowly it had missed him. How he had come by it – save in the Barrows of Cardolan. Then he was in some way mightier than the Barrow-wight; and he called on Elbereth, a name of terror to the Nazgûl. He was then in league with the High Elves of the Havens.

    Escaping from a wound that would have been as deadly to him as the Mordor-knife to Frodo (as was proved in the end), he withdrew and hid for a while, out of doubt and fear both of Aragorn and especially of Frodo. But fear of Sauron, and the forces of Sauron's will was the stronger.

    PS - This text should come from "LOTR Reader's Companion" but since I do not own a copy myself I'd be happy if someone can confirm/infirm its validity?
     
  8. Gilgaearel

    Gilgaearel Member

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    My list is not complete as there must be other things that the Nazguls couldn't do. I wrote here some of the things that came up first in my mind.
    Their ability now to scare men and hobbits doesn't seem - to me at least - that much of a so serious and effective kind of skill or power.
    It could be an advantage for them if they could scare the most experienced and powerful warriors of men and elves. But scaring hobbits sounds a bit like a joke.

    They were indeed crossing Bruinen but on their horses. When the river flooded and they lost the horses they had to turn back to Mordor. ( or that is what it is supposed that they did because they are not mentioned in the story until much later when they reappear on their "dragons").

    So they couldn't inspire that much fear during the day... ! Not even that that they were supposed to be good on... Am I wrong to say that they were completely useless? ha ha ha

    They couldn't travel off the roads and that is the reason why the hobbits were advised to travel of the roads and Aragorn later on had to lead them to their way to Rivendel. They had to travel during day hours and off the roads.

    The ring draw them but they couldn't locate the ring bearer. They could only locate him when he wore the ring because only then he moved into their "world" ( and got vanished from the one of the living).
    That is also the reason why they had to interrogate the Gollum in order to find who got the ring. Otherwise they wouldn't bother neither to interrogate not asking on their way towards the Shire where they could find a Baggins who lived in the Shire.


    That is the passage I'm reffering to. Their "nothingness" indicates that they didn't have a physical form. So they were invisible to the living ones when they were not clothed with real clothes and they didn't ride real horses and they were unable to harm them simply because they didn't have a physical body. They were some kind of ghosts. Scary but harmless in the real world and under the day light.

    I don't think that this was a metaphor because it was needed by Frodo to wear the ring on the Weather Top in order for the Nazguls to be able to see him and stab him with the poisoned knife. In other words only when Frodo got into their "world" they were able to see him and harm him.

    That never made sense to me. If they didn't exist in the real world how it was possible for anyone to "kill" the Wraith King? He was already "dead".
    The Nazguls were bound to the power of the One Ring as they were the keepers of the nine rings that were given to Men. So destroying the One Ring was the easier way to destroy them too. They didn't "exist" independently from the spirit and the power of Sauron.
     
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  9. Galin

    Galin Registered User

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    As Gandalf explains (as I read it anyway), one can't destroy Sauron's Nine Riders with crashing water because, in any case, they are tied to Sauron and can return. And G. adds that he thinks the Ringwraiths were obliged to return to Sauron, "empty and shapeless."

    I don't expect Tolkien to get technical about wrathiness, especially in the tale itself, but I think the Nine do exist in some physical measure in the real world -- water, fire (and in my opinion regular weapons) can hurt them, but arguably can't hurt ghosts or actual nothingness, which wouldn't even give shape to cloaks.

    And I think W.K. would have returned (at some point) had Sauron not been destroyed. If so, to me it was still a notable feat, worthy of song, to have defeated him during the great battle. In Appendix A it's said that the W. K. broke Eowyn's shield-arm, but that he was "brought to nothing" And with Merry's strike W. K. let out a cry of bitter pain. With Eowyn's, another cry went up and faded "a voice bodiless and thin that died"

    In any case, these descriptions are, not unexpectedly perhaps, open to interpretation. Within my interpretation, I wonder a bit why Gandalf says to Legolas that this terror isn't one you can "slay" with arrows -- I have to take it to mean that Legolas could not slay the wraith in the sense that the wraith could never return -- meaning that he could return with Sauron still around, similar to G's explanation after the flood.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2018
  10. Merroe

    Merroe Active Member

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    I agree with the weaknesses of the Nazgul.

    However, to conclude that their existence was "extremely ineffective" might be saying a bit too much because it all depends on what you ask them to do and how much their limitations weigh in on the tasks given to them.

    Consider the following. The Nazgul were totally subject to Sauron's will: if they had managed to acquire the Ring they would have brought it back to Sauron. That at least we can call a vital strength, from Sauron's point of view, when sending out servants with the objective of finding it.

    Also, the Nazgul were very efficient in warfare where they caused panic and despair on the battlefields. For example, Boromir hinted at this in the council of Elrond:

    "[...] but it was not by numbers that we were defeated. A power was there that we have not felt before.
    Some said that it could be seen, like a great black horseman, a dark shadow under the moon. Wherever he came a madness filled our foes, but fear fell on our boldest, so that horse and man gave way and fled."
     
  11. Galin

    Galin Registered User

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    Huzzah Merroe.

    JRRT even notes (letter 210) that: "their peril is almost entirely due to the unreasoning fear they inspire (like ghosts). They have no great physical power against the fearless …" Tolkien also explains that in volume three W. King is given an added demonic force.

    Again interpretation. For me this explains (especially the way I colored it!) they are like ghosts but not merely ghosts. For me this says they have no more physical power than, say, a regular warrior, against the fearless, which is why I think W. King was said to fear Boromir (Appendix A, not Boromir of the Nine Walkers), for Boromir was a man not only strong of body but "in will".

    But again I think it cannot be stressed enough (or maybe it can!) that the Nine would bring back the One to Sauron. The power of the One itself creates a problem that makes the Nine, despite any drawbacks, the most suitable for such a mission.

    Plus, the plan "almost" worked :D
     
  12. Squint-eyed Southerner

    Squint-eyed Southerner Skulking near Archet

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    I repeat my earlier statement: there is no indication that the Nazgul are restricted to roads. In the first encounter with the Black Riders, it is said:

    Frodo crawled to the edge of the road and watched the rider, until he dwindled into the distance. He could not be quite sure, but it seemed to him that suddenly, before it passed out of sight, the horse turned aside and went into the trees on the right.

    In the second encounter, interrupted by the appearance of the Elves,

    The black shadow straightened up and retreated. It climbed on to the shadowy horse and seemed to vanish across the lane into the darkness on the other side.

    If those be thought ambiguous, there's the fact that the Rider follows the Hobbits the next day, off the road, as far as the top of the steep bank down which they had scrambled.

    Then there is the testimony of Farmer Maggot:

    "I come from yonder," he said, slow and stiff-like, pointing back west, over my fields, if you please.

    As to why the Hobbits leave the road, Frodo gives the reason himself, in his argument with Pippin:

    'It is less easy to find people in the woods and fields,' answered Frodo. 'And if you are supposed to be on the road, there is some chance that you will be looked for on the road and not off it.'

    This is the same logic followed by Strider: the party leaves Bree by the Road, but soon turns off into the woods. This is in part because of the Breelanders, and any spies among them, but mainly, of course, to throw off the Nazgul, who are unfamiliar with the area.

    This works, for a while, and the Nazgul seem to be limited to patrolling the Road, which makes sense, as they appear to believe (quite rightly, as it turns out) that the party will at some point be forced to return to it. In fact, Gandalf tries to draw them off, away from the Road, with only temporary success.

    And again, the attack at Weathertop certainly doesn't take place on the Road.

    As for their horses, I give the first part of the exchange between Frodo and Gandalf I quoted above:

    'They were terrible to behold! But why could we all see their horses?'
    'Because they are real horses, just as the black robes. . .'
    etc.
     
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2018
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  13. Merroe

    Merroe Active Member

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    I'm totally on SES' side here; I do not understand where that supposed limitation of not leaving roads may have come from!?

    If there are any supporting sources, I'd love to know...
     
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  14. BalrogRingDestroyer

    BalrogRingDestroyer Member

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    The Nazgul cross water in "Flight to the Ford". They can't swim because they don't really have a form. They CAN travel off the roads (they did in Three Is Company when the group was off the road and heading across a stream. A Nazgul went by at the top of the path and narrowly missed them. Also, they went to Maggot's house to look around and he was off the main road.) but they can't be omnipresent, a limitation that even Melkor and Manwe have.
     
  15. Merroe

    Merroe Active Member

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    Just as an example - during the exchange around Maggot's house the black rider says:

    “I come from yonder,” he said, slow and stiff-like, pointing back west, over my fields, if you please.
     
  16. Squint-eyed Southerner

    Squint-eyed Southerner Skulking near Archet

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    Hey -- I said dat! :mad:

    Jes' joshin'! :D
     
  17. Merroe

    Merroe Active Member

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    Awtch - yes you did! :eek: Well, so I'm confirming it! :(:oops:
     
  18. Barliman

    Barliman Active Member

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    Ummm...Bree, where else?
    Don't fall in to the trap of looking at this from the perspective of the present.
    It wasn't really that long ago that a fair number of people were executed in Salem Massachusetts purely out of fear.
    Fear can be powerfully effective. Especially when the fear is of something you perceive to be out your control.

    Yet even today, I bet a lot of people would be afraid of someone who came to their door, dressed all in black and hooded so you couldn't see their face and spoke with a "queer voice" and hissed at them.
     
  19. Ron Simpson

    Ron Simpson Member

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    I think Merroe's approach seems like a sensible way to look at this. The issue is contextual and depends on the task at hand. Yes, WK is no Gothmog, but in more than a few instances he is highly effective at advancing Sauron's agenda:

    1. Ring Retrieval: WK could be viewed as effective as he could be 100% relied upon to hand over the ring had he got it (see Galin's quote)
    2. Northern Kingdom destruction: completely effective as his victory was a matter of record (see Halasian's quote)
    3. King Killing: effective - WK: 1 / Earnur: 0 (see my quote )
    4. 'Un-Manning' bold warriors in battle: WK is completely effective (see Merroe's & my quotes)

    1. WK kills Earnur (leading to the era of governance by Stewardship)
    'Eärnur had held the crown only seven years when the Lord of Morgul repeated his challenge, taunting the king that to the faint heart of his youth he had now added the weakness of age. Then Mardil could no longer restrain him, and he rode with a small escort of knights to the gate of Minas Morgul. None of that riding were ever heard of again.'
    [The Return of the King
    , LoTR Appendix A, Annals of the Kings and Rulers: The Realms in Exile]

    2. WK enters Minas Tirith (& had it not been for Gandalf astride Shadowfax........ )
    'In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl. A great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair. In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl, under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face.'
    [The Return of the King, LoTR]

    To be fair, Gilgaearel's complaint addressed the Nazgul as a group, and my comments focus on the WK. I am not sure what role the other 8 had in Instances #2, 3, 4 . Finally, I wholeheartedly agree that this 'afraid of fire' business is a little silly. After all, my 5 year old nephews PLAY with matches!
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2018