Witch-king of Angmar
|Witch-king of Angmar|
|Aliases||the Black Captain|
the Lord of the Nazgûl
the High Nazgûl
the Chieftain of the Ringwraiths
|Book(s)||The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)|
The Two Towers (1954)
The Return of the King (1955)
Unfinished Tales (1980)
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The Witch-king of Angmar, also known as the Lord of the Nazgûl and the Black Captain, is a character in Tolkien's legendarium. In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, he is the chief of the Nazgûl or "Ringwraiths", the chief servants of the Dark Lord, Sauron. His name is not revealed in any of Tolkien's writings, nor are the names of any of the other Nazgûl except Khamûl.
In the manuscript of his notes for translators, Tolkien stated that the Witch-king's name and background were not recorded, but that he was probably of Númenórean descent. In the Second Age, the Rings of Power were forged by the Elves of Eregion under Sauron's direction, and nine of these were given to men of the time, one of whom became the Witch-king. The rings gave them immense power, and they "became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old." The rings extended their life span, and eventually corrupted them, turning them into the ghastly, undead Nazgûl. The Witch-king became their leader and, as Lord of the Nazgûl, served as Sauron's second in command for over 4,000 years.
Campaign against Arnor
A millennium into the Third Age, the Witch-king reappeared in Angmar, a realm in the far North straddling the Misty Mountains. He quickly dominated Angmar, and turned to wage war against the three splinter kingdoms of Arnor (Arthedain, Rhudaur, and Cardolan); for Sauron, seeing that Gondor remained strong, sought to capitalise on the dissension among the northern kingdoms. It was during these northern wars, prosecuted against the Dúnedain for the next several hundred years, that the King of Angmar became known as the Witch-king. Rhudaur was soon compromised; power there was seized by evil Hillmen allied with Angmar. Argeleb I of Arthedain fortified the border against Rhudaur along the Weather Hills, but was killed in battle with Angmar and Rhudaur. The Witch-king then invaded Cardolan. King Arveleg I of Arthedain was killed defending Weathertop, but the palantír there was saved and moved to Fornost. The last Prince of Cardolan was killed, and most of the Dúnedain of Rhudaur were killed or driven out. Later the Great Plague destroyed many of the remaining Dúnedain of Cardolan, and evil spirits from Rhudaur and Angmar infested the burial mounds in the Barrow-downs.
Only Arthedain remained to resist the Witch-king (though with frequent help from both Lindon and Rivendell). Araval won a victory over Angmar and sought to reoccupy Cardolan, but the barrow-wights terrified all who tried to live near the Barrows. Finally, as it became apparent that Angmar was preparing another attack, Arvedui appealed for help from King Eärnil II of Gondor. But before help could arrive, Angmar overran Arthedain. The Witch-king captured Fornost Erain, the capital of Arthedain. Arvedui fled north, only to drown in the Ice Bay of Forochel early the next year when the ship from Lindon that rescued him sank.
The following summer, arriving too late to save Arvedui, Prince Eärnur of Gondor landed at the harbours of Mithlond with an army from Gondor. The Elves of Lindon and the remnant of the northern Dúnedain joined his army and the combined forces marched against the Witch-king. On the plains west of Fornost Eärnur's army met the army of Angmar, which was forced to retreat toward Fornost. As his army was routed, the Witch-king fled north toward Carn Dûm in Angmar; but Eärnur and Glorfindel, with reinforcements from Rivendell, pursued the retreating party and defeated them. In the process the Witch-king caused the panic of much of Gondor's cavalry, including Eärnur's horse. But with the appearance of Glorfindel the Witch-king fled into the gathering darkness. Eärnur attempted to follow him, but Glorfindel stopped the prince and prophesied, "Do not pursue him! He will not return to these lands. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall."
The Witch-king returned to Mordor and led the Nazgûl in the siege of Minas Ithil. The city soon fell to the Nazgûl, and was known afterward as Minas Morgul, the Tower of Black Sorcery. Here the Witch-king made his stronghold, and he was called "the Lord of Morgul".
When King Eärnil II of Gondor died, his son Eärnur, the Witch-king's old enemy, inherited the throne. The Witch-king challenged him to single combat, but Eärnur refused. Seven years later, the Witch-king again challenged him; this time the king accepted. Eärnur rode out of Minas Tirith to meet the Witch-king in Minas Morgul. He entered the city's gates and was never seen again. From this time the Stewards of Gondor ruled the kingdom on behalf of the absent line of kings.
Pursuit of the Ring
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Sauron learns from Gollum that the One Ring is held by a hobbit named Baggins in a land called "Shire". Sauron sends the Ringwraiths forth to search for the Ring. The Riders do not at first know the location of the Shire, and are dispelled by Saruman from Isengard, but when they come by chance upon Gríma Wormtongue in Rohan, he tells them what he knows of Saruman's plans, including his interest in the Shire and the Shire's location.
The Witch-king and the other Nazgûl ride from Mordor and Dol Guldur searching for the Shire. Four enter the Shire, and find that "Baggins" has moved to Buckland. Several Nazgûl attack Gandalf on Weathertop and try to ambush Frodo Baggins in Buckland and at Bree. Five, including the Witch-king, finally find Frodo on Weathertop with the other hobbits, accompanied by the Ranger Aragorn. The Ringwraiths attack the party, and the Witch-king wounds Frodo with a Morgul-blade. Frodo's wound threatens to turn him into a wraith under the control of the Nazgûl.
As the company makes for Rivendell, the realm of Elrond Half-elven, they meet Glorfindel, who loans Frodo his horse, Asfaloth. Pursued by all nine Nazgûl, the horse carries Frodo across the Bruinen. From the far bank, Frodo defies the Nazgûl. When the Witch-king rides into the water, Elrond, who controls the river, releases a flood that catches three Nazgûl and their horses. Glorfindel advances and drives the terrified horses of the remaining Nazgûl into the flood. The horses drown and all nine Nazgûl are swept away.
Campaign against Gondor
When they reappear in The Two Towers, the Nazgûl are remounted on great winged beasts. The Witch-king returns to Minas Morgul to prepare the assault upon Gondor. In The Return of the King his forces attack Faramir's Rangers in the Battle of Osgiliath and drive them back across the Anduin. The Witch-king soon leads large numbers of Orcs, Haradrim, and Easterlings to besiege Minas Tirith in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. After the gates of the city are broken, he rides to enter the city but is prevented from entering by Gandalf.
Recalled to the battle by the unexpected advance of the Rohirrim, the Witch-king attacks Théoden, who has outrun his own riders. Snowmane, Théoden's horse, is struck by a dart and falls upon Théoden. As the Witch-king approaches him for the kill, Éowyn, the king's niece, bars his way. She decapitates his mount, and the Witch-king replies with a powerful blow from his mace, breaking her arm and her shield. As he prepares to finish her off, the hobbit Meriadoc Brandybuck stabs the back of the Witch-king's knee with a Dúnedain dagger which bears enchantments deadly to the Witch-king. Éowyn then thrusts her sword into the void between the Witch-king's crown and torso. Her sword shatters but the Witch-king's clothing falls to the ground and he vanishes with a wailing cry.
This fulfills the prophecy of Glorfindel, for the Witch-king fell not by "the hand of man", but by a woman and a hobbit.
The Witch-king appears in all adaptations of The Lord of the Rings for film, radio and stage.
In Ralph Bakshi's adaptation, he is voiced by William Squire and appears mostly as a black armoured figure, having removed his cloak following the attack on the Hobbits in Bree.
The Witch-king appears in the Rankin/Bass adaptation of The Return of the King. His physical appearance is much the same as described in the novel, with an invisible head with a crown on top and two red eyes as his only visible feature. His voice was provided by John Stephenson.
In New Line Cinema's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, the Witch-king is portrayed by Brent McIntyre, in flashback by Ben Price in The Fellowship of the Ring, and by Lawrence Makoare in The Return of the King. In one movie he was voiced by Andy Serkis. In the first film, the Witch-king leads the Nazgûl in pursuing Frodo and his friends all the way to Weathertop. The Witch-king stabs Frodo with his Morgul blade before being driven off by Aragorn, and pursues the Hobbit and Arwen with the other Nazgûl before they are swept away by a flood that Arwen summons. In The Two Towers, he appears in a few flashbacks when Frodo is at the Dead Marshes. In The Return of the King, the Witch-king leads his forces from Minas Morgul in the siege of Minas Tirith. During the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, after mortally wounding Théoden, the Witch-king overpowers Éowyn with his sword and a huge flail. While Éowyn in the book reveals herself as a woman before the fight, the Witch-king in the film is unaware of her true identity until Merry wounds him sufficiently for Éowyn to land the deathblow. In the extended edition, the Witch-king flies up to Minas Tirith, confronts Gandalf, but breaks the wizard's staff before being interrupted by the Rohirrim.
The original helmet designed for the Witch-king in The Return of the King was similar to an illustration by John Howe, and this original armour can be seen in the game adaptation by Electronic Arts; but crew members who had not read the books were confused over whether it was Sauron or the Witch-king on the battlefield. This prompted WETA to revise the helmet's design to be more suggestive of a Black Rider; his scenes were then re-shot during the 2003 pick-ups.
The Witch-king also appears in Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, first when he attacks Radagast in Dol Guldur as a spectral ghostly figure wielding a Morgul blade. In a departure from the book (where he fled from Angmar to Minas Morgul), the Witch-king's mortal body was buried in the High Fells of Rhudaur with the other fallen kings, and their tombs are sealed with magic. But the Nazgûl are summoned to Dol Guldur by Sauron in his guise as the Necromancer, and appear as spectral beings wearing Morgul armour in the third film when they fight the White Council.
In the video game Middle-earth: Shadow of War, the Witch-king appears as one of the two main antagonists, alongside Sauron himself, voiced by Matthew Mercer. He is once again portrayed as the leader of the Nazgûl, as well as the oldest and most powerful. His aim throughout the game is to make Talion one of the Nine. He makes a deal with General Castimir to have Minas Ithil and the Palantír as long as he spares his daughter, Idril. The Witch-king promptly betrays Castimir once he has the Palantír, killing him and ordering the Nazgûl to execute Talion and Idril. While Idril is able to escape as Talion holds off the Nazgûl, the Witch-king quickly defeats Talion and attempts to corrupt him before Eltariel enters and stuns them, kills Talion (who cannot stay dead due to being the host of Celebrimbor's wraith) and escapes. He continues to hold Minas Ithil (now Minas Morgul) until Talion returns, now separated from Celebrimbor and instead using the ring of Isildur (who is a Nazgûl in Shadow of War) to stay alive, now being a Ringwraith himself although not a servant of Sauron. The Witch-king and Talion battle until Talion finally banishes the Witch-king to Barad-dûr with the rest of the Nazgûl, claiming Minas Morgul for himself. Talion keeps Mordor in a state of perpetual war for decades, managing to fight off Sauron's corruption for many years, though eventually, the Witch-king returns and Talion finally succumbs to the corruption, becoming one of the Nazgûl and taking Isildur's place among the Nine.
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- Quoted in Hammond & Scull, Reader's Companion, p. 20.
- Tolkien, The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age", p 289.
- The Return of the King, Appendix A (I, iii).
- The Peoples of Middle-earth, "The Heirs of Elendil", p. 195.
- The Return of the King, Appendix A (I, iv).
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