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Silmarillion - To be taken as authority?


Registered User
Nov 28, 2004
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No problem SeS, although it seems I either misremembered, or "interpreted" the draft scene in a way I now disagree with -- or at least, it doesn't seem as simple as I worded it above.

"It fell, its vast wings outspread crumpled and helpless on the earth ( . . . ) and over the ground a headless thing crawled away, snarling and sniveling, tearing at the cloak. Soon the black cloak too lay formless and still, and a long thin wail rent the air and vanished into the distance."
(JRRT draft text, The War of the Ring, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields). Even Christopher Tolkien comments: " . . . it was the beheading of the great bird that in itself caused the defeat and flight of the Lord of the Nazgul, deprived of its steed."

There are other brief, outline descriptions of this defeat, but I couldn't find one that appears to say that the falling wreck-of-the-bird "smashed" the WK into defeat. Problem is: I remember thinking it a bit odd, since the "bird" couldn't have been that high!

In any case
I disagree with the way I worded things above :)

I could have sworn at least one description was that simple, but unless I stumble across something further . . . which is unlikely, as I don't plan to keep looking any time soon, especially for something that might not exist!

I mean, the bird was low enough to be beheaded . . . but violent enough in its "fall"?
At least today's version of me thinks this seems to be pushing things a bit. On the other hand, I'm not sure why beheading the bird would "defeat" the Witch-king.

Yes it was "unhorsed" (unbirded), but it wasn't by tons of water this time 💫

On the third hand it's draft text :)

"vast wings".


not from 'Straya
Aug 19, 2019
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Hmm, "vast wings".
I just can't resist taking a pot-shot at one of the favorite points for heated discussions (together with Tom Bombadil).
Are these possibly some more Balrogs after retraining, paid for by the Mordor unemployment agency to get them "off the streets" and into "gainful employment" again?

Squint-eyed Southerner

Pawing through the trash behind the Pony
Apr 9, 2018
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Virginia, USA
And Nazgûl were exceedingly tough: Legolas shot one out of the sky along the Anduin, and though it fell quite a distance, it wasn’t killed. (Nazgûl didn’t like fire, but that might be because it was not only painful, but it may have taken them some time to recover from the effects of burns.)
In reviewing this thread in the course of looking for something else, two of your statements here made me want to add:

1-- I didn't get the impression that the Winged Messenger fell quite so far; in fact it seemed to be flying directly overhead and low -- it was apparently about to land on the opposite bank, after all. A minor point, really, as we'd already seen them washed away by the great flood, without damage.

2 -- As to the fear of fire: I have to wonder if the Nazgul could be "burned"; it's true that Strider says "they do not love it, and fear those who wield it", but is this from fear of the fire itself, or because of the light it brings? Their power of fear being greatly increased in darkness is mentioned several times; they sometimes seem to be slightly weakened or disoriented by the light of the sun.

On the other hand, their robes are real robes, as Gandalf tells Frodo, and apparently not "magical" in any way, so vulnerable to burning. That might not seem very important, except for Gandalf's admittedly ambiguous, yet tantalizing, references to them, that they wear them to "give shape to their nothingness", that after losing them in the flood, they were forced to return to Mordor "empty and shapeless", and that their power to cause fear is increased when not wearing them. That last, and other statements regarding them, would indicate that they needed them as a sort of control over the fear they instill; their loss would hamper their effectiveness -- especially on a "stealth mission".

As for Gandalf's fire, referenced in the note, that was clearly of a different kind altogether; "like lightning that leaps from the hilltops" is the way Strider describes it, and "lightning" is echoed by Gandalf himself, in describing how people would have seen his fight with the Balrog. His "fire", whatever it is, is "magical" -- or "holy", depending on your viewpoint.

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