Witch-King of Angmar: 3. Commentary and Speculation

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3. Commentary and Speculation

During the course of assembling material for this article, I found several discussions or questions posted about the Witch-king, and found myself generating several more. I have addressed a few within the appropriate sections, but some remain.

One question raised was whether the Witch-king was initially the Chieftain of the Ringwraiths or whether that only occurred after he fled Angmar for Minas Morgul. From material in a few places it very much appears that Tolkien always intended the Witch-king to be the Lord of the others. In the earliest version of the Tale of Years, which is mentioned in HoMe 12, Tolkien wrote:

"c. 1350…The Ringwraiths stir once more. The chief of these, the wielders of the Nine Rings, becomes the Witch-king of Angmar in the North beyond Arnor, and makes war on the remnants of the Dúnedain." 50

It was in the beginning of the reign of Malvegil of Arthedain that evil came to Arnor. For at that time the realm of Angmar arose in the North beyond the Ettenmoors. Its lands lay on both sides of the Mountains, and there were gathered many evil men, and Orcs, and other fell creatures. [The lord of that land was known as the Witch-king, but it was not known until later that he was indeed the chief of the Ringwraiths, who came north with the purpose of destroying the Dúnedain in Arnor, seeing hope in their disunion, while Gondor was strong.]"51

It was thus in the reign of King Eärnil, as later became clear, that the Witch-king escaping from the North came to Mordor, and there gathered the other Ringwraiths, of whom he was the chief. 52

Also from an early version, "In his time the Sorcerer-king of Angmar, chief of the Úlairi, fled from the North and came to Mordor and built up a new power." 53


Another question concerns the ability of a very few things to injure the Witch-king. Consider Merry's long knife; when Aragorn finds it on Amon Hen he says, "Doubtless the Orcs despoiled them, but feared to keep the knives, knowing them for what they are: work of Westernesse, wound about with spells for the bane of Mordor." 54 So the spells are inimical in some way to the creatures of Sauron, and especially so to the Witch-king, as the sword was made by the Dúnedain who specifically opposed him during his reign in Angmar. 55

Tolkien tells us
"No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will." 56

We can accept this as the reason for the effectiveness of Merry's knife. But what of Éowyn's bladestroke? I propose that the explanation lies in the damage already done by Merry, such that the spells holding the Lord of the Nazgûl together were severely weakened, permitting Éowyn's more ordinary blade to cut through his neck "between crown and mantle" and complete the work started by the blade of Westernesse. We can speculate that once the spells were broken and the damage was done to his form, it could not be repaired. (Of course, if it could be repaired, but Sauron was too busy and/or distracted, that would make an interesting story…)

The same question can be applied to an invocation. Why, on Weathertop, did Aragorn say
"More deadly to him was the name of Elbereth?" 57 The reader is not told what effect the name had on him, and can only speculate that for Frodo "to invoke the name of divinity is in some sense to make manifest the power of that divinity through the name." 58 Frodo invokes one of the holiest names of the high elves, and it damages his enemy, but the damage is obviously insufficient to protect Frodo from him. We can only assume that the invocation in some degree counters the spell that keeps his body and will together.

What other conclusions can be drawn?

The available material tells us that the Witch-king is very capable of independent thought, planning, and strategy. His will may be that of his master, but some of his faculties are his own.

He is the only Ringwraith aside from Khamûl to be given an independent command, and Khamûl's domain is the fortress of Dol Guldur; a much smaller scale of operations than Angmar and Arnor.

He is personally vindictive, conceiving an "undying hatred" for Eärnil, and pursuing his destruction over the course of 75 years.

I have already mentioned that he knew of Glorfindel's prophecy, mocking his opponent with it during his encounter with Éowyn. This must have added to his arrogance, but gave him something to fear - the other races. This may be why he avoids Lórien and Galadriel as cited in the 'Scope of Power' section, and why we never read of him confronting elves or dwarves. One might argue that his attacks on the hobbits weigh against that assumption; but Tolkien clearly states
"The Hobbits are, of course, really meant to be a branch of the specifically human [emphasis in original] race (not Elves or Dwarves)…" 59 and again more than 20 years later, "my 'hobbits' were… a diminutive branch of the human race." 60


I have seen several discussions regarding the 600 year time delay from the forging of the Nine Rings to the appearance of the Ringwraiths. There is only the brief material in the Silmarillion 61 to extrapolate from, but it does give some clues. "Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them." This suggests that they first lived out full lives as men and then some. Since six of the Nazgûl are not Númenórean, their span would be less; using the Kings of Rohan as a model, 70 to 90 years is reasonable for a normal span. For the Númenóreans granted lifespan "thrice that of lesser men" I will use 240 years.

How long beyond their normal span before
"one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thraldom of the ring that they bore and under the domination of the One, which was Sauron's"? 60 If life seemed 'unending' it must mean they lived as non-wraiths for some time beyond that of a normal very long-lived man. I would postulate this as at least beyond 120 for a non-Númenórean, and beyond 300 for a Númenórean. (Of course if it was the line of Elros, 400 would be a normal span, and it would take at least another 50 to 100 years to realize it was abnormal.) This then could account for up to three hundred years of the hiatus, but of course there is no information on how old any of the men involved were when they first accepted the rings.

What accounts for the other three hundred or more years? We do not know if Sauron was able to find nine suitable candidates rapidly, or if it took him many years. Since the statement "kings, sorcerers, warriors" implies at least some prior adult life with resulting powers or skills, it can be postulated that Sauron sought men with some preexisting power or impulse to power. This could take time, and I would allot at least one to two hundred years to the search.

One wonders how long it took to train and teach them. Surely there were intermediate stages, where they were falling under his dominion, but before they "entered the realm of shadows" at last.



Finally, I include with some ambivalence a very bizarre theory from 'The Tolkien Crackpot Theories Page' born on the rec.arts.books.Tolkien newsgroup. This theory postulates that Tom Bombadil and the Witch-king are actually the same person. I was alerted to this by Earthspot from this list, who recast the humorous theory to write a very chilling Jungian story. 62

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Lyllyn

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: Multi-Age

Genre: Research Article

Rating: General

Last Updated: 03/29/03

Original Post: 03/24/03

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