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Were the Nazgul actually evil?

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Don't take this the wrong way, but I mean, from what I gather, nine mortal men took the Ring and eventually became so ensnared by Sauron that they were totally under his control, essentially puppets on a string.


The only one that I think may have actually been evil to start with is this Witch King dude. He seems to have power stronger than even the rest of the Nazgul, like he had magical power even before becoming a Wraith.


Also, I am wondering some other things about the Nazgul:

1.) How come Merry and Eowyn were able to kill the Witch King but they couldn't do squat against the other 8 Nazgul?
2.) What happened to the Nazgul when the Ring was destroyed? Did they "die" at once or were they slain by Mount Doom erupting or killed by Gandalf or something, running around like a chicken with its head cut off after Sauron's fall and easy prey"
3.) Where do they go when they "die"? Do they get stuck forever in the Wraith world, never to darken the mortal plane of Middle Earth ever again, or do they, as once men before becoming Wraiths, finally just pass away and go to the Halls of Mandos?
 
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Alcuin

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Consigned to the salt mines of Núrnen…
Don't take this the wrong way, but I mean, from what I gather, nine mortal men took the Ring and eventually became so ensnared by Sauron that they were totally under his control, essentially puppets on a string.

The only one that I think may have actually been evil to start with is this Witch King dude.
By the time they became Ringwraiths they were all evil, yes. When each acquired one of the Nine Rings, some yes, some no. The one Nazgûl whose name we know is Khamûl the Black Easterling, named by Tolkien in his notes collected as the essay “Hunt for the Ring” in Unfinished Tales. In The Silmarillion, some Easterlings were faithful allies of the Elves and Edain, some traitors adhering to Morgoth; in later ages, many seem to have been worshippers of Sauron. If any one Nazgûl started out as a bad guy, Khamûl gets my vote; but maybe even his sobriquet was earned later.

In “Shadow of the Past” in Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf tells Frodo,
[S]ooner or later – later, if he is strong or well-meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last – sooner or later the dark power will devour him.
That indicates that not all the Ringwraiths began as evil people. Tolkien tells us that three of the Nazgûl were Númenóreans; one of them certainly became the Witch-king. I suspect he was a Númenórean prince, possibly the viceroy in Umbar not long after the Númenóreans came to Gil-galad’s aid in the middle of the Second Age after Eregion was overrun and destroyed. In the essay, I propose that this fallen Númenórean prince with the chief of the Nine Rings led the Númenóreans astray, leading to the rebellion of the Númenóreans against the Valar and the Downfall of Númenor. But he did not begin as an evil person: Sooner or later – later, if he is strong or well-meaning to begin with, but neither strength nor good purpose will last – sooner or later the dark power will devour him. If he first came to Middle-earth with the Númenórean army to fight Sauron alongside Gil-galad, it is possible Glorfindel knew him (cf. Glorfindel’s prophecy that “not by the hand of man will he fall”) as well as Elrond and many other of the Eldar of Middle-earth before he succumbed to evil; Gandalf would also have known who he had been, prompting him to make that observation to Frodo. Gandalf told Frodo the One Ring “was getting control” even of Bilbo just before he gave it up; and at Mount Doom in the Sammath Naur, the One Ring did take control of Frodo.

And at the Council of Elrond, when Boromir proposes using the Ruling Ring to overthrow Sauron, Elrond rebukes him, concluding his rebuke with,
[N]othing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.
You are correct again when you say that the Nazgûl were ensnared by Sauron that they were totally under his control. I don’t know that they were essentially puppets on a string: they would not be useful to Sauron that way, because that would require too much of his attention; however, they were unable to oppose his will. For instance, from Tolkien’s notes quoted in Reader’s Companion in the chapter on “Knife in the Dark”, we learn that
[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 on the way, and on his return to his Master (if unsuccessful)… [A]bove 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 ofhe Cardolan. Then he was in some way mightier than the B[arrow]-wight; and called on Elbereth, a name of terror to the Nazgûl…

Escaping a wound that would have been as deadly to him as the Mordor-knife to Frodo (as was proved at 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.
The highlighted part at the end is the key to this discussion: the Witch-king in particular, and I suppose all the Nazgûl in general, were afraid of “Sauron, and the forces of Sauron’s will”. Later on in Lord of the Rings, Frodo is unable to resist putting the Ring on his finger, and on at least one occasion, calls on Sam to prevent it. I note that Sam seems to have no difficulty at all taking Frodo’s hands into his own to keep the Ring from his master’s finger: the struggle is entirely in Frodo’s mind. I suspect the Nazgûl suffered the same fate, only long before, with less resistance (except, perhaps, by the man the Witch-king was before his final fall). “Hunt for the Ring” says that
the Ringwraiths … had no will but [Sauron’s], being each utterly subservient to the ring that had enslaved him, which Sauron held.
Each Ringwraith could hear and see and smell as far as was possible for them in the wraith-world; and could think, reason, decide, and calculate, but only in ways that had been, for over four millennia, shaped and molded by constant, intimate mental contact with Sauron, who was, to put it mildly, a powerful, malicious, experienced, overwhelming bully.

There is a thread begun by Úlairi, , that dives into the minutiae of this topic, including proposed mechanisms.

[T]his Witch King dude … seems to have … had magical power even before becoming a Wraith.
Maybe. When Gandalf calls him “sorcerer”, he could instead be referring to his time as King of Angmar, when among other horrible and nefarious things, the Witch-king summoned evil spirits in order to animate the corpses of the dead in the barrows of Cardolan. But I don’t doubt that once he came under the influence of his Ring of Power, he was a wicked Númenórean, too, well before he outlasted his normal lifespan and became a wraith. How far his wickedness and degradation progressed before he “wraithified”, I don’t know.

There is [url=http://www.thetolkienforum.com/index.php?threads/witch-king-and-wizardry.8808/]a thread on the Witch-king as Sorcerer here.

1.) How come Merry and Eowyn were able to kill the Witch King but they couldn't do squat against the other 8 Nazgul?
The short answer is that none of the other Nazgûl were stabbed with barrow-blades.

There is a thread on “Who ‘killed’ the Witch King?” here. That one is the longest; there are at least two others, however, “Destruction of the Witch-king” and “So who really killed the Nazgul Lord?” If I may, I suggest you post in “Who ‘killed’ the Witch King?” since it is longest, has the most participants, and is the most recently used.

2.) What happened to the Nazgul when the Ring was destroyed? Did they "die" at once or were they slain by Mount Doom erupting or killed by Gandalf or something, running around like a chicken with its head cut off after Sauron's fall and easy prey"
Bilbo seems to have reverted to an ancient hobbit when the One Ring was destroyed. If the Nazgûl did the same, they’d have become four thousand year-old men on flying critters caught in the eruption of Orodruin and as Tolkien put it, “the Nazgul came, shooting like flaming bolts, as caught in the fiery ruin of hill and sky they crackled, withered, and went out.” (Return of the King, “Mount Doom”) It sounds like they were burned up and physically consumed.

3.) Where do they go when they "die"? Do they get stuck forever in the Wraith world, never to darken the mortal plane of Middle Earth ever again, or do they, as once men before becoming Wraiths, finally just pass away and go to the Halls of Mandos?
There is an existing thread on this very subject, “Death of the Witch-King”. For myself, in this thread, I don’t know where they ended up, but I think the spirits of all the Nazgûl had to leave Arda (no choice) and go the way of all those who rebelled against Eru Ilúvatar.[/url]
 
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Galin

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On the barrow blade issue: I don't think Merry knew what his dagger was capable of; and actually, not all Tolkien readers agree about what it did do.

Fate and prophecy aside (for a moment), I think this was a particular instance in which circumstance and strong emotions (from both Eowyn and Merry) helped best the Nazgul-lord, and the emotion helped allow these two to even stand up to him!

Due to Eowyn's mental state at this point, she dared stand between the NL and her king! I think she was beaten though, as many warriors would have been as well, in my opinion.

But Hobbits were not done showing their worth in this War, and be it luck or fate (did Glorfindel suddenly look South-east when Eowyn struck, perhaps not wholly understanding why), Merry was there -- "Pity filled his heart and great wonder, and suddenly the slow-kindled courage of his race awoke. He clenched his hand. She should not die, so fair, so desperate!" -- allowing Eowyn an unhindered strike...

... and so the scops of Rohan have their song!
 
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