The Witch King's vision is perfectly excellent

In session 242, Probably a Wisp of Cloud, the idea was floated that the wisp might be the Witch King. It was further posited that the reason the Witch King may have lingered in the West, rather than promptly returning to Mordor, was so that he could spy out the land from a high and invisible vantage point. This idea was then discarded on the grounds that the Witch King is nearly blind, but nothing could be further from the truth!

During the end of the journey to Rivendell we see the world from the perspective of a wraith (or nearly a wraith) as Frodo nearly becomes one. And Frodo sees a lot! Most notably he sees Glorfindel as "a white figure that shone" beacause "He is an Elf-lord of a house of princes." We can assume the Witch King saw the same. Surely then the Witch King is better at spotting Elf-lord's from a distance than your average mortal, who is essentially blind to such things.

While we do not know that Glorfindel was among those who left Rivendell to go scouting we know that many elves did and they likely glow as well, if more dimly. Likely the Witch King from a high vantage point would be well positioned to see their comings and goings. If he assumes the Ring Wielder will be a spiritually powerful individual this would be of the utmost importance to spy out.

Further, assuming the wisp is the Witch King, we know that he is in the region of Caradhras at the time of the wisp sighting. If he lingered only a few days surely he noticed when someone wrote 'Gandalf is here' in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the mouths of Anduin. And while I question that everyone can read the sign it seems reasonable that those with keen spiritual eyes like the Witch King's would be able to read it.

From Sauron's perspective there is perhaps no one better suited to be spying out potential Ring Wielders than the Witch King, who's eyes are well adjusted to identifying just the kinds of people most likely to claim the ring.

So, in short I think the theory of ringwraith spying was dismissed too quickly. Do others agree or have a critique of my analysis?
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
Perhaps a few more data points are required to understand 'wraith vision' better.
I've added emphasis:

A Knife in the dark
‘Can the Riders see ?’ asked Merry. ‘I mean, they seem usually to have used their noses rather than their eyes, smelling for us, if smelling is the right word, at least in the daylight. But you made us lie down flat when you saw them down below; and now you talk of being seen, if we move.’

‘I was too careless on the hill-top,’ answered Strider. ‘I was very anxious to find some sign of Gandalf; but it was a mistake for three of us to go up and stand there so long. For the black horses can see, and the Riders can use men and other creatures as spies, as we found at Bree. They themselves do not see the world of light as we do, but our shapes cast shadows in their minds, which only the noon sun destroys; and in the dark they perceive many signs and forms that are hidden from us: then they are most to be feared. And at all times they smell the blood of living things, desiring and hating it. Senses, too, there are other than sight or smell. We can feel their presence - it troubled our hearts, as soon as we came here, and before we saw them; they feel ours more keenly. Also,’ he added, and his voice sank to a whisper, ‘the Ring draws them.’
Pretty clear information here
Flight to the Ford
Frodo’s pain had redoubled, and during the day things about him faded to shadows of ghostly grey. He almost welcomed the coming of night, for then the world seemed less pale and empty.
This might be due to the pain.
At once the white horse sprang away and sped like the wind along the last lap of the Road. At the same moment the black horses leaped down the hill in pursuit, and from the Riders came a terrible cry, such as Frodo had heard filling the woods with horror in the Eastfarthing far away. It was answered; and to the dismay of Frodo and his friends out from the trees and rocks away on the left four other Riders came flying. Two rode towards Frodo; two galloped madly towards the Ford to cut off his escape. They seemed to him to run like the wind and to grow swiftly larger and darker, as their courses converged with his.

Frodo looked back for a moment over his shoulder. He could no longer see his friends. The Riders behind were falling back: even their great steeds were no match in speed for the white elf-horse of Glorfindel. He looked forward again, and hope faded. There seemed no chance of reaching the Ford before he was cut off by the others that had lain in ambush. He could see them clearly now: they appeared to have cast aside their hoods and black cloaks, and they were robed in white and grey. Swords were naked in their pale hands; helms were on their heads. Their cold eyes glittered, and they called to him with fell voices.
This seems fairly clear. The first paragraph could be as clear as it is, due to recollections of the others. The final paragraph seems like it could only have come from Frodo.
With his last failing senses Frodo heard cries, and it seemed to him that he saw, beyond the Riders that hesitated on the shore, a shining figure of white light; and behind it ran small shadowy forms waving flames, that flared red in the grey mist that was falling over the world.
This might be due to him being close to passing out.
Many Meetings
‘What happened at the Ford?’ said Frodo. ‘It all seemed so dim, somehow; and it still does.’

‘Yes, it would. You were beginning to fade,’ answered Gandalf. ‘The wound was overcoming you at last. A few more hours and you would have been beyond our aid. ...'
This might be more in reference to memory than to sight.
‘What about Rivendell and the Elves? Is Rivendell safe?’

‘Yes, at present, until all else is conquered. The Elves may fear the Dark Lord, and they may fly before him, but never again will they listen to him or serve him. And here in Rivendell there live still some of his chief foes: the Elven-wise, lords of the Eldar from beyond the furthest seas. They do not fear the Ringwraiths, for those who have dwelt in the Blessed Realm live at once in both worlds, and against both the Seen and the Unseen they have great power.’

‘I thought that I saw a white figure that shone and did not grow dim like the others. Was that Glorfindel then?’

‘Yes, you saw him for a moment as he is upon the other side: one of the mighty of the Firstborn. He is an Elf-lord of
a house of princes.
...'
I think this clears up any question of whether the dimness of vision was due to pain or 'wraithification'. Even if pain played a role here, his view was of the other side.

All of this taken together suggests to me that even if we accept the premise of a rapidly flying, disembodied Nazgul, it wouldn't see very well most of the time unless it is looking for someone actually wearing the One, or Caliquendi (those that have seen the light of the Two Trees) and there are not too many of them left in Middle-earth at this point, with none of them in the Company. Altitude above head-height would rule out smelling, and the sense of presence and the pull of the Ring can't be highly precise or directional: If so the Rider would have found Frodo in the Shire.

All in all, I think it was reasonable to rule out a rapid-flying, disembodied, spying Nazgul in Eregion. If there was one, I'd expect it to be doing laps around the perimeter of Rivendell, not two weeks march away.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
All of this taken together suggests to me that even if we accept the premise of a rapidly flying, disembodied Nazgul, it wouldn't see very well most of the time unless it is looking for someone actually wearing the One, or Caliquendi (those that have seen the light of the Two Trees) and there are not too many of them left in Middle-earth at this point, with none of them in the Company. Altitude above head-height would rule out smelling, and the sense of presence and the pull of the Ring can't be highly precise or directional: If so the Rider would have found Frodo in the Shire.
You forget Gandalf who is also a ring-bearer. While Gandalf's mind and body might be dimmed through the incarnation, his fea cannot have been changed in its very nature. As such it should burn lightly and visibly for any ancient spirit being. As such Gandalf's death in Moria actually served the company, especially Frodo's stealth mission.
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
You forget Gandalf who is also a ring-bearer. While Gandalf's mind and body might be dimmed through the incarnation, his fea cannot have been changed in its very nature. As such it should burn lightly and visibly for any ancient spirit being. As such Gandalf's death in Moria actually served the company, especially Frodo's stealth mission.
I didn't forget Gandalf, I just don't have enough data to draw the same conclusion you have drawn, so didn't mention him. His incarnation might indeed include a shutter for his spiritual light, although there is no evidence for or against it. His Ring might also include some sort of spiritual stealth technology as otherwise the location of the Three would not be considered a (possibly poorly kept) secret.

Even so, the (dubious?) benefit of a spying Nazgul who might only be able to reasonably sense a few dozen enemy life forms in all of Middle-earth, is probably outweighed by the demonstrated benefit of having the Nazgul available for the front lines in the war whose opening actions have already occurred.

Remember that Sauron's predictions of the enemy actions are:
1. Someone claims the Ring, suppresses any other claimants, amasses forces, and then challenges Sauron; or
2. Runs for the havens to board a ship for the West

Neither of these require more than mundane scouts (Men, Orcs, animals, or birds) to detect.
Only the stealth based intrusion and destruction mission would benefit from a spying Nazgul, and that doesn't even figure in Sauron's (and therefore the Witch-King's) thinking.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Remember that Sauron's predictions of the enemy actions are:
1. Someone claims the Ring, suppresses any other claimants, amasses forces, and then challenges Sauron; or
2. Runs for the havens to board a ship for the West

Neither of these require more than mundane scouts (Men, Orcs, animals, or birds) to detect.
Only the stealth based intrusion and destruction mission would benefit from a spying Nazgul, and that doesn't even figure in Sauron's (and therefore the Witch-King's) thinking.
There is also the possibility of the Ring going to Minas Tirith to be claimed by Denethor. So there is no complete dismissal of a stealth mission going towards Gondor.
 

Anthony Lawther

Well-Known Member
There is also the possibility of the Ring going to Minas Tirith to be claimed by Denethor. So there is no complete dismissal of a stealth mission going towards Gondor.
Sorry, how would Sauron predict that?
If Denethor is going to be the new Ring Lord he would have to go and seize it from whomever is currently holding it.

At the Council of Elrond, Frodo recognised a claim that Aragorn could make on the Ring and still had a twinge of refusal to bring it out, let alone hand it over.

Sauron doesn't expect a proxy claim, or a democratic selection process to determine the new challenger for domination of Middle-earth, just an outright power struggle leaving only one valid claimant. This claimant would then muster their forces and march on any remaining opponents. These remaining opponents would be given the option of submit or die. I'm thinking of models like the Ancient Persian Empire, or Alexander the Great.

The only other option that he might see is the world's biggest game of keep-away ending in Valinor. This is an option he might consider being taken by the Elves because they all realise that the combined might of Valinor was enough to defeat Morgoth, so Sauron stands no chance against them even with the Ring.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Sorry, how would Sauron predict that?
If Denethor is going to be the new Ring Lord he would have to go and seize it from whomever is currently holding it.
Not necessary. If the elves are planning to evacuate then sending the ring to Denethor would give him the tool to stand against Sauron while they are all fleeing West. Remember that Sauron thinks the Arnorian king's line already extinct and Denethor is remotely connected to the line of Elros. He might have been chosen as the proper Ring-wielder by the elves who are ready to abandon ME - to buy them time. However doubtfull Sauron has to consider such a possible turn of events as one of the possibilities necessary to check against (It would be a little like the West sending their old Sowiet-made weapons to the Ukraine but not entering the conflict themselves).
 
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Flammifer

Well-Known Member
We have no evidence of disembodied Nazgul being able to fly through the sky. We do have evidence of Nazgul flying through the sky on Fell-beasts. The much simpler, and more likely culprit for the 'shadow passing over the high clouds' is a Nazgul who has returned to Mordor, been mounted on a Fell-beast, and returned to mobilize spies, and do a quick reconnaissance around Rivendell himself.

In this case, how well Nazgul can see is not very important. "The black horses can see", says Aragorn, implying that what the black horses can see, the Nazgul can perceive. I guess the Fell-beasts can see pretty well themselves (probably better than horses - as is typical of flying predators). So, the Nazgul don't need to be able to see. Their mounts can see perfectly well for them.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
In this case, how well Nazgul can see is not very important. "The black horses can see", says Aragorn, implying that what the black horses can see, the Nazgul can perceive. I guess the Fell-beasts can see pretty well themselves (probably better than horses - as is typical of flying predators). So, the Nazgul don't need to be able to see. Their mounts can see perfectly well for them.
? If they are just predators interested e.g.in fish they would automatically ignore anything the does not look either a potential meal or a potential danger. They cannot report to their riders what they do ignore. They would been raised being fed some Gondorians, Arnorian, hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizzard to consider those pray. Can we assume that? Domesticated horses do notice people, why should fell-beasts do so?
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
? If they are just predators interested e.g.in fish they would automatically ignore anything the does not look either a potential meal or a potential danger. They cannot report to their riders what they do ignore. They would been raised being fed some Gondorians, Arnorian, hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizzard to consider those pray. Can we assume that? Domesticated horses do notice people, why should fell-beasts do so?
Fell-beasts have been warped and raised by Sauron specifically to be mounts for the Nazgul. One would assume that he would ensure to breed, and train them to be useful to flying Nazgul, such as being able to see well, and especially to see landscapes and beings (men, dwarves, elves, orcs, etc.)

They seem to enable the Nazgul to see their way above the battlefields of the Pelennor just fine. One manages to guide the Witch-king across the battle to find Theoden, amongst the chaos, so that the Witch-king can defeat him, and, perhaps destroy the morale and impact of the Rohirrim. Picking out Theoden, amongst the thousands, seems to me to indicate that the vision of the Fell-beasts is keen, and discerning.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Fell-beasts have been warped and raised by Sauron specifically to be mounts for the Nazgul. One would assume that he would ensure to breed, and train them to be useful to flying Nazgul, such as being able to see well, and especially to see landscapes and beings (men, dwarves, elves, orcs, etc.)

They seem to enable the Nazgul to see their way above the battlefields of the Pelennor just fine. One manages to guide the Witch-king across the battle to find Theoden, amongst the chaos, so that the Witch-king can defeat him, and, perhaps destroy the morale and impact of the Rohirrim. Picking out Theoden, amongst the thousands, seems to me to indicate that the vision of the Fell-beasts is keen, and discerning.
Does the fell-beast not go after Theoden's very impressive horse? Those animals never seemed described as intelligent in any way.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Does the fell-beast not go after Theoden's very impressive horse? Those animals never seemed described as intelligent in any way.
I do not speculate that the Fell-beasts are particularly intelligent. Rather, I speculate that they serve as the eyes for the Nazgul, who are intelligent.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I do not speculate that the Fell-beasts are particularly intelligent. Rather, I speculate that they serve as the eyes for the Nazgul, who are intelligent.
Like being possessed by the Nazgul? Otherwise the picture created out of the optic signals in a fell-beast's brain would be filtered not only through the optic setup of the beast's eyes but first and foremost through its brain. So if the fell-beast does not know what to look for it will not really see it - a little like seeing ancient undecipherable scripts - you can see the strokes but not the message that they do convey. I am quite sure a fell-beast cannot see spiritual entities nor recognise Gandalf's "fire signature".
 
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Flammifer

Well-Known Member
I agree that Fell-beasts cannot see spiritual entities nor Gandalf's spiritual 'aura'. They don't need to. Nazgul can see those for themselves.

Strider says (on top of Weathertop, after they spot Black Riders on the road, and Merry asks, "Can the Riders see?"), "I was too careless on the hill-top. I was very anxious to find some sign of Gandalf; but it was a mistake for three of us to go up and stand there so long. For the black horses can see..."

This implies to me that the Riders can somehow 'see' through their horses, or at least direct or influence and perceive what the horses are seeing somehow. If they can do that with their horses, I see no reason why they cannot do the same with their Fell-beasts.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I agree that Fell-beasts cannot see spiritual entities nor Gandalf's spiritual 'aura'. They don't need to. Nazgul can see those for themselves.

Strider says (on top of Weathertop, after they spot Black Riders on the road, and Merry asks, "Can the Riders see?"), "I was too careless on the hill-top. I was very anxious to find some sign of Gandalf; but it was a mistake for three of us to go up and stand there so long. For the black horses can see..."

This implies to me that the Riders can somehow 'see' through their horses, or at least direct or influence and perceive what the horses are seeing somehow. If they can do that with their horses, I see no reason why they cannot do the same with their Fell-beasts.
But as I said, horses are primed to look out for any potential predator - and humans do belong to that group. Would fell-beast look out for a group of humanoid travellers when they are just flying high and are not out on a hunt?
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
But as I said, horses are primed to look out for any potential predator - and humans do belong to that group. Would fell-beast look out for a group of humanoid travellers when they are just flying high and are not out on a hunt?
Well, if they were trained, and/or directed/compelled to do so by their Nazgul masters, then sure.

But, we don't know exactly what the Nazgul were looking for (if this was a Nazgul who had been directing spies such as crebain and wargs, and conducting a quick reconnaissance around Rivendell). Perhaps a group of humanoid travellers? But we have no reason to think that Mordor would have any reason to think that the Ring would be in the possession of a small group of travellers. The possible mustering of armies in Rivendell, or a large party heading for the Havens, might have been more likely to occur to Mordor as target search objects.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
The possible mustering of armies in Rivendell, or a large party heading for the Havens, might have been more likely to occur to Mordor as target search objects.
I understand that Sauron would find those two possibilities the most plausible. And also that he would not even consider sending out some hobbits with the task to throw the ring into Mount Doom as even an option. Still having the ring be sent to Denethor, even if relatively unlikely, is not an option Sauron as a skilled and very experienced commander would be able to totaly disregard. He has once been bested by "a girl and a dog" (as the Tolkien Professor phrases it) - he has to take some precautions for even unlikely circumstances.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
I understand that Sauron would find those two possibilities the most plausible. And also that he would not even consider sending out some hobbits with the task to throw the ring into Mount Doom as even an option. Still having the ring be sent to Denethor, even if relatively unlikely, is not an option Sauron as a skilled and very experienced commander would be able to totaly disregard. He has once been bested by "a girl and a dog" (as the Tolkien Professor phrases it) - he has to take some precautions for even unlikely circumstances.
Sure. I agree. The main mission of the Nazgul (if it was a Nazgul) in my supposition was to launch spies such as Crebain and Wargs to increase surveillance against all such possibilities in the lands surrounding Rivendell. But, I doubt that Nazgul would have been conducting such surveillance themselves. More likely, after launching spies, the Nazgul just made a quick circuit of Rivendell, and check on the western road before heading back. If it was a Nazgul, I think it was probably heading back to Mordor (possibly via Isengard) and not really concentrating on spying on Hollin.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
More likely, after launching spies, the Nazgul just made a quick circuit of Rivendell, and check on the western road before heading back. If it was a Nazgul, I think it was probably heading back to Mordor (possibly via Isengard) and not really concentrating on spying on Hollin.
Convincing imho.
 
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