The Witch-king’s Got a Bad Feeling About This

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper Film: FujiChrome 400D (expired 08/1994) (xpro as C-41)

Camera: Ansco Color Clipper
Film: FujiChrome 400D (expired 08/1994) (xpro as C-41)

While our proto-fellowship walks its way east from Weathertop, they take care to avoid the Nazgul who are searching for them.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p200, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
In the published Lord of the Rings, we are given the details of the fight on Weathertop from Frodo’s point of view, as well as Sam’s. Sometime after publishing the book, Tolkien revisited the scene as part of a series of writings titled “The Hunt for the Ring.”

A few versions and snippets show up in Unfinished Tales, but there’s another, a manuscript, that is only (to my knowledge) in the Reader’s Companion by Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull. It’s in this manuscript that Tolkien approaches the scene from the Nazgul’s perspective.

According to this manuscript, five Nazgul attack the company on Weathertop. After Frodo slips on the Ring, the Witch-king, their leader, knows who the bearer is. But he’s “greatly puzzled that it should be a small creature, and not Aragorn, who seems to be a great power though apparently ‘only a Ranger’.”

Yesterday, I talked about how Aragorn had never had an encounter with the Nazgul before this, and here’s more evidence to support that. They have no idea who this guy is, but can gather that he’s an important fellow.

As we know from the published book, the Witch-king stabs Frodo, but according to this manuscript, it seems almost like a bookmark rather than an attempt to kill him outright (though Gandalf later insisted that they tried to pierce Frodo’s heart): “But the Bearer has been marked with the Knife and (he thinks) cannot last more than a day or two.” Either way, the Witch-king believes he’s about to win.

He states that they were “driven off by Aragorn; and withdraw after wounding Frodo.” This is a different take on things than in the book, where they seem to be driven off by Frodo exclaiming “O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!” Aragorn even alludes to this idea, saying that the names were “more deadly” to the Witch-king than Frodo’s sorry attempt to stab him (which isn’t really saying much, I admit). Aragorn doesn’t mention the effect his fire-wielding had upon the Nazgul. But it now seems obvious (or at least fairly plausible) that it was Aragorn’s torches that beat them back and not Frodo’s exclamations (though both must have been a shock to the Witch-king).

Tolkien, writing in a sort of detached way, then commented that it was strange that the hobbits’ camp wasn’t watched by the Nazgul, and thus he lost track of the Ring. That fire must have really done the trick. Actually, Tolkien gives us a few reasons.


1) The Witch-king was dismayed. Two days prior to attacking Frodo, he attacked Gandalf and was not victorious. He “began to perceive that the mission on which Sauron had sent him was one of great peril to himself.” If he continued to attack, it would be incredibly difficult, and he could be defeated. If he returned to Sauron empty-handed, well, who knows how that might end (not very well). Picture ol’ Witchy pleading his case to the Dark Lord ala Han Solo: “It’s not my fault! It’s not my fault!”

2) The Bearer, Frodo, actually attacked him. He didn’t run away like Gollum. He lashed out. Though he was “timid and terrified,” he resisted. He even “dared to strike at him [the Witch-king] with an enchanted sword made by his own enemies long ago for his destruction.”

The Witch-king knew the blade, and knew that the Barrow-wights had it. For Frodo to now possess it, he must have somehow bested the Barrow-wights! This little hobbit, thought the Witch-king, was quite an impressive foe.

3) Frodo called on the name of Elbereth. This could then only mean that he was in league with the High Elves. This was bad.

The poor Witch-king must have been on a roller coaster of emotions. He had entered the Shire, finding it populated with frightened halflings. Figuring the Ring was in one of their pocketses, he must have thought his mission would be cake. He had no idea that anyone more powerful than a random Ranger or two would be involved.

But in stepped Gandalf and then this.

The following day, he called his fellow Nazgul to him. Apparently, Aragorn’s fire had scattered them. The proto-fellowship heard these calls, but, according to the published book, “they had seen and heard no sign that the enemy had marked their flight or followed them” (this was true even on the fourth day out from Weathertop – we are now at mile 286, in the middle of the second day from Weathertop).

For the next few days, the Witch-king and the four Nazgul patrol the East Road and hang around the Last Bridge “knowing that it was practically impossible to cross the Greyflood between Tharbad and the Bridge.”

There are no fords between the Last Bridge and Tharbad, located about 200 miles downriver. The same must be relatively true upriver. Basically, five Nazgul wait for Frodo, while the remaining four chase down Gandalf.

Since Frodo was pierced with the Morgul-knife, the Witch-king thought that the hobbit, the Bearer, had only a couple of days left to live. They seem not to understand that Aragorn has led Frodo and the others south of the East Road.

But in the end, Frodo would bear not only the Ring, but a shard of the Witch-king’s knife, for seventeen days. Gandalf would explain to him that if the shard had not been removed “you would have become a wraith under the dominion of the Dark Lord; and he would have tormented you for trying to keep his Ring, if any greater torment were possible than being robbed of it and seeing it on his hand.”

Gandalf, when seeing Frodo again, would be amazed that he was doing so well. “It seems that Hobbits fade very reluctantly. I have known strong warriors of the Big People who would quickly have been overcome by the splinter….”

A Few Notes:

  • The published bits of the manuscript conclude with the Nagzul watching the Last Bridge. I have no idea if there’s more. I wish things like this would be fully published. If only…
  • I’m in dire need of ideas for things to write about. Almost nothing happens for the next two and a half book-days. This translates into roughly ten to twelve blog-days. So, dear readers, make with the good ideas!
  • Khamûl: Together again, huh?
    Witch-king: Wouldn’t miss it.
    Khamûl: How we doin’?
    Witch-king: Same as always.
    Khamûl: That bad, huh?

    Witch-king: … I love you.
    Khamûl: I know.

About the Photo
Maybe if the Nazgul would have had some good, strong coffee, they would have been able to keep a better watch on Frodo’s camp.

  • Day 59
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 286
  • 174 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,493 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Still south of the East Road, southeast of Weathertop. (map)


12 thoughts on “The Witch-king’s Got a Bad Feeling About This

  1. I’m so glad Heather mentioned this on Twitter! I’m thoroughly loving it and have shared it with so many people. I’m not sure how you feel about creative fiction, but you could do journal entries from the proto-fellowship from their various perspectives and then when you get to another boring day you’ll be able to refer back to it.

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