Hello and welcome to July 17, 3018 of the Third Age! Today we’ll catch up with the Nazgûl. Where have they been? What have they been doing? How many are there now gathered? We’ll sort it all out.
Back to Canon-ish
From here on out I’ll be sticking to the accepted canon when it comes to the Nazgûl. Previously, I jumped around a bit between what’s accepted and a few other manuscripts that Tolkien wrote. That said, it’s important to remember how things became canon.
Obviously any dates in Lord of the Rings are canonical. Concerning the Nazgûl, the “Tale of Years” in Appendix B, tells us that it was June 20 – the fall of Osgiliath – when we last encountered them. The next date given for any Nazgûlish activity isn’t until September 18. If you stick with just Lord of the Rings, their activity across those three months is unknown.
However, Tolkien worked it out in several ways, most of which have been published in Unfinished Tales. There’s another, probably later, manuscript that J.R.R. Tolkien’s son, Christopher, left out. In that, the elder Tolkien laid out a much different (and frankly much more do-able) timeline. You can read all about that here.
Yet, because Christopher left it out of Unfinished Tales, it’s basically not canon. Even though it probably should be. Anyway, mini-rant over. Let’s get down to business.
Following the Fall of Osgiliath on June 20th, we learned that the Nazgûl were unleashed by Sauron on July 1st. This was somewhat of an odd way of putting it, since at least one Nazgûl led the attack on Osgiliath.
Nevertheless, July 1st was the canonical coming out party for the Nazgûl. Of course, the question is raised (and we’ve raised it before), if the Nazgûl are just coming out July 1st, how did Radagast tell Gandalf about it two days before that on Midyear’s Day? And again, without that unpublished manuscript, the canonical timeline doesn’t makes a lot of sense.
But this far into it, I don’t think it matters.
What matters is what they’ve been up to since July 1st, when the Nazgûl were led “over Anduin, unclad and unmounted, and invisible to eyes, and yet a terror to all living things that they passed near.” Osgiliath is on the eastern shore of the river, and after the battle the Nazgûl were led to the western shore.
“They passed slowly and in stealth, through Anórien, and over the Entwade, and so into the Wold, and rumour of darkness and a dread of men knew not what went before them. They reached the west-shores of Anduin a little north of Sarn Gebir, as they had trysted; and there received horses and raiment that were secretly ferried over the River. This was (it is thought) about the seventeenth of July.”
Looking at the map, this seems like an odd route.
The Passage of the Nazgûl
They started in Osgiliath, on the eastern shores of the Anduin, crossed west over the river, and continued west through the region known as Anórien. With the Entwade, which flowed into the Anduin, on their right, the turned towards it and crossed, now moving north into the southern parts of the Wold.
The Anduin was now on their right, and they sort of circled back to reach its western shore just north of Sarn Gebir.
A little north of Sarn Gebir, they received horses and clothing and were taken in secret back across the Anduin.
I’m not sure that this little jaunt makes much sense. Perhaps they just wanted to spread darkness and dread deeper into the Minas Tirith suburbs. If so, they accomplished their mission, which took them over two weeks.
Over seventeen days they traveled around 300 miles. They were, I suppose, on foot, though they were invisible, so I suppose they could have been on ectoplasm or some such stuff. At any rate, they made about seventeen miles a day – not a bad pace.
Let’s Do the Tryst
We’ve learned that at the very least the Witch King was at Osgiliath. He was based out of Minas Morgul with six of his fellow Nazgûl. The two others – Khamûl the Shadow of the East and another Nazgûl known as “his messenger” – lived in Dol Guldur.
We also learn in this passage that the Witch King was en route to Dol Guldur to meet up with Khamûl and his plus-one. However, we also learn that the Witch King’s entourage “trysted” just north of Sarn Gebir. What’s most likely is that they crossed the Anduin on July 1st, split up, caused much darkness and dread, then met back up on the Anduin near Sarn Gebir.
And so it seems that their only goal was the whole darkness and dread routine. There’s no indication that they were actively searching for “Shire” or “Baggins.” It was only after crossing and turning to the north, now on the eastern shores of the Anduin, that they began “seeking for the Shire, the land of the Halflings.”
This seems like an incredibly strange diversion since Sauron wanted desperately to find “Shire” and “Baggins.” Especially if you consider that at this point Sauron had no idea about Gollum escaping yet again. He would have known about the attack on Thranduil and the Wood-elves in an attempt to recapture Gollum, but not the outcome. Certainly he must have been anxious to hear the news of how they went.
But What About Water?
Nevertheless, the Witch King took his pals on a bit of a post-Osgiliath tear through the Wold, a fun run through Anórien.
So from the looks of it, the Nazgûl needlessly crossed the Anduin twice and the Entwash once. That’s a lot of river crossings for a bunch of guys who apparently fear water. We learn later in this passage that “all, again save the Witch-king, feared water, and were unwilling, except in dire need, to enter it or to cross streams unless dryshod by a bridge.”
It’s possible that the Entwash had a bridge over it, but the two Anduin crossings were probably by ferry. Again, this doesn’t make a ton of sense. But it must be remembered that though now considered as canonical, everything we’ve learned today is from notes taken by Tolkien in an attempt to work it out. With a bit more time, it’s possible that he would have addressed this in a more practical way.
Christopher Tolkien confessed in Unfinished Tales that “My father did indeed note that the idea [of the Nazgûl’s fear of water] was difficult to sustain.”
On July 22nd, we’ll check back in with the Nazgûl – where are they now… what are the doing .. what are they thinking… are they thinking of me?