Unmasked?

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Ooh, that does sound like turning Orcs into Wraiths, doesn't it? I'd always thought of it more metaphorically, but it could be quite literal!

OTOH, I don't think it's at all similar to creating a Barrow-wight. I think of Barrow-wights as dead bodies inhabited and reanimated by evil spirits: exactly the opposite of separating the spirit and the body of a living being.
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Hi Jim,

It does sound like Gorbag has either seen or heard of Nazgul turning living beings into wraiths, doesn't it? (I don't think necessarily just Orcs?)

Your interpretation of Barrow-wights as dead bodies inhabited and reanimated by evil spirits, seems to be a common interpretation. But, is there any evidence?

The barrows were burial places. "Gold was piled on the biers of dead kings and queens; and mounds covered them, and the stone doors were shut, and the grass grew over all."

But, the Barrow-wights did not arrive until long afterwards, when, one would think, any bodies had rotted away leaving only bones. "Sheep walked for a while biting the grass, but soon the hills were empty again."

"A shadow came out of dark places far away, and the bones were stirred in the mounds. Barrow-wights walked in the hollow places with a clink of rings on cold fingers, and gold chains in the wind."


None of Tom Bombadil's history indicates that the Barrow-wights are inhabiting the dead bodies of those buried in the barrows.

When Frodo first sees a Barrow-wight, he does not see a dead body or an animated skeleton, "Trembling he looked up, in time to see a tall dark figure like a shadow against the stars. It leaned over him. He thought there were two eyes, very cold though lit with a pale light that seemed to come from some remote distance." That sounds a lot like Sam's account of The Gaffer's description of a Black Rider (the first description we get), "He was tall and black-like, and he stooped over me."

When Frodo sees the arm of the Barrow-wight, walking on it's fingers towards the hilt of the sword, he appears to see an arm, not a skeleton arm.

I don't think there is any evidence that the Barrow-wights have taken over the bodies or skeletons of the dead in the barrows?

So, what are the Barrow-wights? I don't think there is enough evidence to know. My wild conjecture is that they seem to have appeared about the time when Angmar had defeated the Eastern Kingdoms of divided Arnor. Perhaps they were placed there by the Witch King? Perhaps they were wraiths, wraithified by the Witch King, as Gorbag seems to suggest? Somehow linked to the barrows (or the treasure in the barrows) by the power of the Witch King? Perhaps as a defence of sorts, on the western borders of Angmar ruled territory?

It is a very thin speculation. Not supported by much evidence. However, there are a number of connections between the Nazgul and the Barrow-wights (thematic connections more than direct connections) to make me suspect that they are similar. The way that weapons which damage them are themselves destroyed in the blow. The emphasis on the eyes that Frodo sees, "very cold though lit with a pale light", and the eyes of the Witch King on Pelennor Fields, "between rim and robe naught was there to see, save only a deadly gleam of eyes", and, "He bent over her like a cloud, and his eyes glittered; he raised his mace to kill."
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
That right there would argue against them being wraiths, at least.
Well, it would argue against them being totally incorporeal wraiths. However, the Ring-wraiths themselves are not totally incorporeal (they have enough corporality to support cloaks and boots and to sit on horses or fell-beasts). I think wraiths with faded, but not totally eliminated corporality is a reasonable supposition.
 

JJ48

Well-Known Member
Well, it would argue against them being totally incorporeal wraiths. However, the Ring-wraiths themselves are not totally incorporeal (they have enough corporality to support cloaks and boots and to sit on horses or fell-beasts). I think wraiths with faded, but not totally eliminated corporality is a reasonable supposition.
Except that this has nothing to do with corporeality, but rather visibility (or lack thereof); invisibility being one of the primary features that we actually know about wraiths.

I would also point out that when discussing The Supposition, I pointed out several times that they could be less than fully corporeal without being fully incorporeal, and you simply ignored this and continued acting as if the only claim was of wraiths being fully incorporeal. Yet here, you talk about "wraiths with faded, but not totally eliminated corporeality," which seems a little disingenuous.
 
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Flammifer

Well-Known Member
The wraiths we know (the Ring-wraiths) are invisible (except, it seems, for the eyes), but this could be a Ring-effect more than a wraith-effect.

Perhaps wraithification is not an absolute and binary state? It could be some sort of continuum? Frodo, in the process of wraithification, is still corporeal and visible (though becoming more 'transparent'). Glorfindel, when operating in the Unseen as well as the Seen world is corporeal and visible. Would the Ring-wraiths be invisible wraiths if not for the influence of the Nine rings? Or would they have 'shadowy' visibility such as the Barrow-wights seem to have?

True, the crawly arm seems to be less 'shadowy', but it is being seen in the mysterious and spooky 'pale greenish light' which seemed to be emanating from himself and the floor. Who knows how exactly that is being generated, or affecting perceptions?
 

JJ48

Well-Known Member
The wraiths we know (the Ring-wraiths) are invisible (except, it seems, for the eyes), but this could be a Ring-effect more than a wraith-effect.

Perhaps wraithification is not an absolute and binary state? It could be some sort of continuum? Frodo, in the process of wraithification, is still corporeal and visible (though becoming more 'transparent'). Glorfindel, when operating in the Unseen as well as the Seen world is corporeal and visible. Would the Ring-wraiths be invisible wraiths if not for the influence of the Nine rings? Or would they have 'shadowy' visibility such as the Barrow-wights seem to have?

True, the crawly arm seems to be less 'shadowy', but it is being seen in the mysterious and spooky 'pale greenish light' which seemed to be emanating from himself and the floor. Who knows how exactly that is being generated, or affecting perceptions?
Interesting questions, to be sure. However, since they are pure speculation, I don't see how they help us understand the text.

It may be possible to come up with a reading that allows barrow-wights to be a type of wraith, but since the simpler, more straightforward reading based on what we see in the text is that the two are different creatures, I think that's the reading I'll stick with.
 

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
When Frodo sees the arm of the Barrow-wight, walking on it's fingers towards the hilt of the sword, he appears to see an arm, not a skeleton arm.
Maybe, maybe not; "he hewed at the crawling arm near the wrist, and the hand broke off". A mummified hand might break off, or a skeleton, or a statue, but that would be a very odd thing for a regular hand to do! OTOH (pun not intended) it's very interesting that Bombadil scatters the barrow's treasure - not its bones - to prevent another wight from occupying it.
The whole thing is very odd, and I can come to no definite conclusion. A barrow wight could have come to the barrow with its own strange body, or as a spirit that housed itself in and animated a dead body, or it could be something else entirely; we really don't have enough information in the book to tell.
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
Thanks for citing the blog Beech27. I like the authors' dubious attitudes towards legendarium material. I don't think it says much, however, to illuminate possible relationships between wraiths and wights.
 

Forodan

Active Member
Ooh, that does sound like turning Orcs into Wraiths, doesn't it? I'd always thought of it more metaphorically, but it could be quite literal!

OTOH, I don't think it's at all similar to creating a Barrow-wight. I think of Barrow-wights as dead bodies inhabited and reanimated by evil spirits: exactly the opposite of separating the spirit and the body of a living being.
I started a thread specifically on this topic some months ago...
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
I started a thread specifically on this topic some months ago...
Hi Forodan,

I remember your interesting post.

I also, have always thought that Gorbag's quote sounds like the Nazgul creating wraiths.

Your supposition, that Gorbag himself has been 'wraithified' and re-born, is interesting, but a real stretch. However, I think it likely that Gorbag has heard of, or witnessed, Nazgul wraithification. I think I said as much in a reply to your post.
 

Forodan

Active Member
It doesn't sound at all like creating wraiths. It sounds like a description of violent death. Where do we get any sign that they "skin the body off" of the victim to make them a wraith? That's not how it was proceeding with Frodo. And it's clearly not how it was done with the Nazgul, they are very intact when Frodo can see them.
 
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Flammifer

Well-Known Member
It doesn't sound at all like creating wraiths. It sounds like a description of violent death. Where do we get any sign that they "skin the body off" of the victim to make them a wraith? That's not how it was proceeding with Frodo. And it's clearly not how it was done with the Nazgul, they are very intact when Frodo can see them.
Well, we must realize that the speaker is Gorbag. He may be talking from hearsay. He may have even seen this done (less likely). However, he probably does not have an intricate or scientific understanding of the process. If he is describing wraithification, wherein the body fades and the poor victim (or perhaps volunteer?) is left 'cold and dark on the other side'.

'Skin the body off', is dramatic and Orcish, but I would interpret it as a metaphor, rather than a physical description.

It certainly does not sound like a realistic description of 'violent death', as there is no way to 'skin the body' off someone, nor to kill them in this manner.

It works better as a metaphor for wraithification than for violent death.
 

Rauþúlfr

New Member
Flammifer said:

"I very much like Professor Olsen’s supposition that the Nazgul ‘unmasked’ might have lost all bodily aspects, becoming pure spirit, with virtually no perception of the world, and no option but to return to Sauron, who could ‘mask’ them again."

What would 'masking' the Nazgul again look like? I listened to the discussion of "unmasking" several times. What struck me was how much it reminded me of Odysseus' Nekuia in book 11 of the Odyssey. I do not intend to imply equivalence and recognize that this takes us outside of the Tolkienian world; but the wraiths being "empty and shapeless" recalled the shades in Hades flittering around and yammering like bats. It is only when Odysseus moves aside to allow the shades to drink the sacrificial blood, that they can speak and be spoken to.

Certainly, there are notable differences. Not the least of which is that the shades appeared much as they once did (at least in the House of Hades). There is every indication that in the waking world, the Nazgul had long lost even the tangible semblance of their living forms even before being thrown down by the waters and boulders (spiritual or other) and are thus cast into shapelessness. For all that, they find their way back to Mordor and their master. So, too, the many valiant shades of the warriors are “sent” to the House of Hades. Iliad I: 3 Both they and the disembodied Nazgul are drawn to where they belong, and the mechanism is left only to imagination and speculation.

I do not know how much this may add to the discussion, but this helps frame my thinking about Sauron 'remasking' the Ring Wraiths, however it is that they make their way back. Perhaps others will find it equally helpful.
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
Certainly, there are notable differences. Not the least of which is that the shades appeared much as they once did (at least in the House of Hades). There is every indication that in the waking world, the Nazgul had long lost even the tangible semblance of their living forms even before being thrown down by the waters and boulders (spiritual or other) and are thus cast into shapelessness. For all that, they find their way back to Mordor and their master. So, too, the many valiant shades of the warriors are “sent” to the House of Hades. Iliad I: 3 Both they and the disembodied Nazgul are drawn to where they belong, and the mechanism is left only to imagination and speculation.
During the discussions of this, I wondered if Sauron breathes on them to embody them. We see Aragorn breathe on the leaves of athelas to activate their power, and we see Galadriel breathe on the waters in the basin the activate her mirror. Why not Sauron breathing on the Nazgul to activate their ability to act in the waking world?
 

Rauþúlfr

New Member
During the discussions of this, I wondered if Sauron breathes on them to embody them. We see Aragorn breathe on the leaves of athelas to activate their power, and we see Galadriel breathe on the waters in the basin the activate her mirror. Why not Sauron breathing on the Nazgul to activate their ability to act in the waking world?
That's possible, although given the way things work, I suspect that chanting rather than breathing would be involved.
 

Ragnelle

Member
"A shadow came out of dark places far away, and the bones were stirred in the mounds. Barrow-wights walked in the hollow places with a clink of rings on cold fingers, and gold chains in the wind."
None of Tom Bombadil's history indicates that the Barrow-wights are inhabiting the dead bodies of those buried in the barrows.
The first sentence can be read as meaning just that: that the Barrow-wights inhabbit the bones - they are the thing that stir the bones. How is the bones stired? I read the passive to mean that it is not the shaddow that stirs the bones - or it would be "A shaddow came ... and stirred the bones". But if it is the bones themselves that stir, becoming barrow-wights, would it not then be "A shaddow came ... and the bones stirred"? While it is possible to read it as if the bones are disturbed/moved, the overall image I get is that the bones are woken from death-sleep and walk around.

To the dicussion on the nazgûl being unmasked - I find it similar to how Sauron has to take new shape when is body is destroyed, which is mentioned in the appendixes and which does (from the Tale of Years) seem to take some time, but his spirit is able to move (from Numenor at its fall back to Middle-earth, for instane). His spirit is said to be born on a dark wind, so that should be possible for the Nazgûl as well. (App A (i) Númenor).
 

Flammifer

Well-Known Member
The first sentence can be read as meaning just that: that the Barrow-wights inhabbit the bones - they are the thing that stir the bones. How is the bones stired? I read the passive to mean that it is not the shaddow that stirs the bones - or it would be "A shaddow came ... and stirred the bones". But if it is the bones themselves that stir, becoming barrow-wights, would it not then be "A shaddow came ... and the bones stirred"? While it is possible to read it as if the bones are disturbed/moved, the overall image I get is that the bones are woken from death-sleep and walk around.

To the dicussion on the nazgûl being unmasked - I find it similar to how Sauron has to take new shape when is body is destroyed, which is mentioned in the appendixes and which does (from the Tale of Years) seem to take some time, but his spirit is able to move (from Numenor at its fall back to Middle-earth, for instane). His spirit is said to be born on a dark wind, so that should be possible for the Nazgûl as well. (App A (i) Númenor).
Hi Ragnelle,

A possible interpretation might be that the bones were stirred in order to remove the rings and gold chains which the Barrow-wights then wore on cold fingers. That, as you say, would be the bones being disturbed/moved, but not woken and walking around, rather being plundered for jewelry.

The shift from the bones being stirred, to the Barrow-wights walking in the hollow places, seems to me to imply that it is not the bones that are walking, but the Barrow-wights (being different from the bones). Also, the immediate reference to the rings and gold chains, would seem to offer some explanation as to why the bones were stirred.

If the bones were animated, why not say something like, "the bones were stirred in the mounds, and then began walking in the hollow places with a clink of rings on cold fingers."?
 
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