The Nazgul

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Eloymen 20/Dec/2006 at 05:24 PM
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Sorry for another one of these what do they look like threads but this has bugged me for a few weeks. After The Nazgul are washed away in The Ford of Bruinen, Gandalf I think says somewhere that they were disrobed and they lost their horses. So, without their black cloaks, what do they look like to a normal person who isn’t wearing the ring. When Frodo is stabbed on Weathertop while he is wearing the Ring, he sees their human form I believe, but what do they look like to an ordinary man while they are not wearing their black hoods?
Vugar 20/Dec/2006 at 05:34 PM
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The simple answer is that they would not be visible to the eyes of a man without their black robes.  It was because Frodo was wearing the Ring upon Weathertop that he was able to see the true form of the Nazgūl.  A suitable description is given in the Silmarillion:

Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old...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 they became for ever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgūl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy’s most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death." (Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, The Silmarillion)

Morgil 20/Dec/2006 at 05:38 PM
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Eloymen...You have really answered your own question. When wearing the Ring, Frodo was able to see them, and they him. To all others they would have been invisible without their garb and armor. From FotR, ch. many Meetings:

"’You were in gravest peril while you wore the Ring, for then you were hald in the wraith-world yourself, and they might have seized you. You could see them, and they could see you.’
 ’Iknow,’ said Frodo. ’They were terrible to behold! But why could we all see their horses?’
  Because they are real horses; just as the black robes are real robes that they wear to give shape to their nothingness when they have dealings with the living.’"  



Eloymen 20/Dec/2006 at 05:39 PM
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But what about the Witch King of Angmar? He’s wearing armor or something like that isn’t he? Or is that another misconception of the movies? If they are invisible, why would they ride on large flying beasts (can’t remember what they’re called) if they were invisible, couldn’t they have easily slain Frodo early on and taken the ring?
Qtpie 20/Dec/2006 at 05:44 PM
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Yes, Frodo had a glimpse of the Nazgul, when he stepped into the wraith-world via the One Ring. Consider the quote:

’He was able to see beneath their black wrappings...In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver;...’ FoTR: A Knife in the Dark

My interpretation would be that a normal person would be able to see what Frodo saw with the Ring, if the Nazgul was ever seen without their black guise. Frodo with the Ring was able to see what was under the black guise of the riders, so I think that a normal person would be able to see the same thing if the Nazgul didn’t have its black wrappings on. The black wrappings were also to conceal their true identity, hence their black guise. Since the Ringwraiths had corporeal bodies, I wouldn’t see why they wouldn’t be wearing what they wore in the quote I provided.
Qtpie 20/Dec/2006 at 05:45 PM
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Seems like my interpretation is wrong . I just now recall that they were wraiths, so they wouldn’t have tangible bodies.
Morgil 20/Dec/2006 at 05:51 PM
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Eloymen...The armor would serve the same purpose as the robes. Providing shape and identity when the Nazgul had dealings with anyone living. Armor is not a misconception of the movies, though Tolkien wrote that the Nazgul wore mail, rather than plate armor. As for letting themselves remain invisible and slaying Frodo and taking the Ring, that’s along the same line as when someone asks why an eagle didn’t fly someone over Orodruin so they could drop the Ring in. It would have made a really short and unsatisfying story.
Boromir88 21/Dec/2006 at 09:12 AM
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Tara, your interpretation was right.  The Ringwraiths do have bodies...just ones that weren’t visible.  They had a definite physical presence in Middle-earth.  Hence why when Merry stabs the Witch-King we can definitely tell this:
No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will.~The Battle of Pelennor Fields
If the Nazgul didn’t have a corporeal form, they wouldn’t be able to wear their robes, as there would be no body their to give shape to the robes.  It’s like putting a blanket over say a TV, the blanket would be supported by the TV and roughly form in the shape of the TV.  Then trying to put a blanket around air, it would have nothing to support it and would just fall on the ground.  When the Witch-King is killed, it’s noted that his robes and hauberk just lie there, with no shape...since the body of the Witch-King’s that was supporting it was killed:
Eowyn fell forward upon her foe.  But lo! the mantle and hauberk were emptyShapeless they lay now on the ground, torn and tumbled; and a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing; passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world.~ibid

I would watch out when trying to take words Tolkien uses and their meanings today (or even their meanings in other cultures).  There was a discussion (I’ll see if I can find it) about the difference between the Ringwraiths, and ’wraiths’ as we commonly think of them today...a visible spirit/ghost.  Tolkien’s wraith (as we see with the Ringwraiths) were a bit different from the conception of wraiths today.

Arvellas 21/Dec/2006 at 12:24 PM
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That should answer it, then.  The Nazgul had corporate, but invisible, forms, and so without their garb, you simply would not see anything.  So the answer to what they look like is that they look like nothing until you put the Ring on.

About Ringwraiths vs. non-Tolkienien wraiths, some other examples are Elves and goblins.  The Tolkienien creature that bear those names are nothing like the elves and goblins of tradition folklore, which goes to show that you can’t go by the dictionary.

That just made me think that maybe a Tolkienien dictionary on the Plaza would be useful.

Qtpie 25/Dec/2006 at 11:53 AM
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Ah, thanks Boromir .