And They Cried with the Voices of Death

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100  Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

Camera: Polaroid Automatic 100
Film: Fuji FP-100C (reclaimed negative)

Despite Frodo’s wound, our hobbits and Strider must carry on. They make it down the hill and cross the East Road. As they do, they hear the Nazgul screaming in the distance.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p199, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Over the next couple of weeks, our proto-Fellowship covers much ground, but with little description by Tolkien. Because of this, I thought I’d stick around Weathertop for a bit and do some exporing – both geographically and historically (and probably philosophically or whatever). Today, we’ll talk about the Nazgul. Yes, again.

I’ve given much of their history starting at around 1300 in the Third Age when they re-emerged to take over Arnor. But what were they doing before that? How did they come into existence?

As we all know, Sauron commissioned a mess of rings, giving scads of them to Elves, Dwarves and Men. The ones made for the Elves, were made by the Elves (well, Celebrimbor), and Sauron never had a hand in them. The ones for the Dwarves proved to be duds (relax, I’m simplifying here), but the ones made for Men, well, let’s back up a bit.

Around 1,000 years into the Second Age (roughly 5,500 years before Lord of the Rings), Sauron began to set up shop in Mordor and takes his time convincing he local Elves that he’s actually a pretty swell guy. In 1500, Sauron convinced them that making the Rings of Power would be an awesome idea. Basically, these were to be “magic” rings – they were gifts from Annatar, the Lord of Gifts, as Sauron was calling himself in those days.

But what they didn’t know was that Sauron also created the One Ring, which would, as the saying goes, rule them all. The Elves quickly caught on and thus the war broke out and the three Elven rings were hidden. The same could not, however, be said for the nine rings given to Men.

Sauron feared the Numenorians and for a time kept away from the shores where they were landing their ships. Nevertheless, when he gave the nine rings to Men, there were three among them who were “great lords of Numenorian blood” – not kings or anything like that, but still, Numenorians of high standing. The other six when to “kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old.” This was probably during the reign of Tar-Minastir, I think.

While the rings given to Men and Dwarves were basically the same (and possibly even forged at the same time – though maybe not – Tolkien said different things about this), they effected Men in some pretty nasty ways.

“They [the Men wearing the nine rings] obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, has it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron.

And 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. And they became for ever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows.

The Nazgul were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy’s more terrible servants’ darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death.” – Silmarillion, “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age”

This sheds a bit of a different light on things that we might normally think (especially if you take that Peter Jackson fellow at his word). The nine men did not die. That’s the thing – they never died at all. They simply stopped being men, they stopped living. Some lasted longer than others. Some appear to have had good intentions. But in the end, and by 2251 of the Second Age, all of them became Nazguls.

About 1,000 years later, Sauron (sans Ring) was taken prisoner by the Numenorians and taken to Numenor. This was during the rule of Ar-Pharazon. It wasn’t that the good Numenorians were battling against the evil Sauron. By this point, they had mostly rejected the Valar in the West (except for the king previous to Ar-Pharazon).

The strife between Sauron and Numenor was due to rivalry. Each wanted what they other had. And when the Numenorians captured Sauron, he soon convinced them that not only was he a fine fellow, but that worshiping Morgoth was the thing to do. Before long, the Numenorians, with Sauron’s nudging, decided to attack the West.

That ended badly. In 3319 of the Second Age, the Numenorians were defeated, Numenor was sunk, Middle-earth completely changed, and Sauron was rendered without a body. He wasn’t made of normal flesh, of course, but it was made that he could “never again appear fair to the eyes of Men.”

Sauron’s spirit rose and went back to Middle-earth, finally coming to rest in Mordor, where he once more took up the Ring. It was in Mordor where the Nazgul had been waiting. Sauron was not finished.

Some faithful Numenorians (the Dunedain), led by Elendil, escaped the destruction and came to Middle-earth. Sauron wasn’t at all happy with this, and waged war upon them. Eventually, he was beaten back to Mordor and Isildur defeated Sauron, cutting the Ring from his hand. With this, “Sauron forsook his body, “and his spirit fled far away and hid in the waste places.” He was then mostly forgotten.

The Nazgul, from all I can tell, were hardly mentioned in all of this. It can be assumed that they played a large roll in the fighting, of course. With Sauron vanquished, they went into hiding until around 1050 of the Third Age when Sauron returned to Middle-earth as the Necromancer, setting up shop in Mirkwood. Less than 300 years later, the Nazgul returned and waged war from Angmar against Arnor.

A Few Notes:

  • For some reason, this one was incredibly difficult to write. Tracking down this information isn’t easy. Most of it came from the Silmarillion, but other stuff came from Appendix A and Unfinished Tales.
  • I’m sort of bummed that I didn’t uncover some little-known fact about who the nine ring bearers originally were. There’s just not much information about them.

About the Photo
Loose at night – get it? I took a few shots of this sign with a few different cameras. This was taken with a Polaroid. It’s a “reclaimed negative.” The red sky was due to bleach (used in the process) getting on the photo-side of the negative.


  • Day 51
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 246
  • 214 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,533 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Just crossing the East Road, south of Weathertop (map)

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10 thoughts on “And They Cried with the Voices of Death

  1. So, I realize we’re only new best friends (TAKE THAT, PERSON ABOVE ME!) and that you wouldn’t necessarily know this yet, but Akallabêth is probably my favourite part of the Silmarillion. It’s pretty much depressing as shit, which is what I appreciate most in my fine literature. I also love how they were all “Now. Men. Don’t you eat that apple, ‘kay?” (the apple totally being sailing west) and YET THEY WERE SURPRISED WHEN IT HAPPENED!

    Anyway, this is one of my favourite passages in the entire thing because it makes me giggle to think of Sauron laughing and dancing as Númenor buuuuuuuuuuuuurns…well, drowns. You know what I mean.

    It was greater far than aught he had looked for, hoping only for the death of the Númenóreans and the defeat of their proud king. And Sauron, sitting in his black seat in the midst of the Temple, had laughed when he heard the trumpets of Ar-Pharazôn sounding for battle; and again he had laughed when he heard the thunder of the storm; and a third time, even as he laughed at his own thought, thinking what he would do now in the world, being rid of the Edain for ever

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