Ringwraiths, or Nazgul are the horror element to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings story, and the scariest they ever get is quite possibly in Chapter 11 of The Fellowship of the Ring – A Knife in the Dark. With this oil painting, I wanted to capture the fear they induce and put into those who face them.
“The Ringwraiths are deadly enemies, but they are only shadows yet of the power and terror they would possess if the Ruling Ring was on their master’s hand again”JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring – Book I, Chapter 4 – A Journey in the Dark
A lot of what we learn about the Ringwraiths we learn fairly early on, Tolkien gives us a nice amount of detail through the words of Gandalf the Grey, as he explains to Frodo:
“The Enemy still lacks one thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance, break the last defences, and cover all the lands in a second darkness. He lacks the One Ring.”
“The Three, fairest of all, the Elf-lords hid from him, and his hand never touched them or sullied them. Seven the Dwarf-kings possessed, but three he has recovered, and the others the dragons have consumed. Nine he gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them. Long ago they fell under the dominion of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants. Long ago. It is many a year since the Nine walked abroad. Yet who knows? As the Shadow grows once more, they too may walk again.”JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring – Book I, Chapter 2 – The Shadow of the Past
Tolkien had a masterful way of setting emotions through his words, building tension and rather adept at instilling terror where needed, he proved that in a fine way with this scene much as he did earlier in the story with the Barrow-Downs.
The Weathertop scene is a personal favourite of mine and it’s a scene that I have read many times and would love to dig into a lot deeper in the future both in a literary and artistic fashion for deeper exploration.
My oil painting of this scene is more aligned with the movie vision directed by Peter Jackson, the reference was limited and this is an early painting of mine, my future exploration I would definitely love to get more of Tolkien’s descriptions in there and work from a more personalised vision too. That being said, this is definitely one of the strongest scenes of all of the movies and Jackson is certainly a talent with the horror elements.
Going back to the Barrow-Downs, Merry was clearly reminded of them by the architectural style of the ruins of Amon Sûl and this prompted him to ask Strider about the ‘barrow-wightish’ look of the place.
Strider answers Merry’s concerns with a brief history lesson:
“No. There is no barrow on Weathertop, nor on any of these hills,’ answered Strider. ‘The Men of the West did not live here; though in their latter days they defended the hills for a while against the evil that came out of Angmar. This path was made to serve the forts along the walls. But long before, in the first days of the North Kingdom, they built a great watch-tower on Weathertop, Amon Sul they called it. It was burned and broken, and nothing remains of it now but a tumbled ring, like a rough crown on the old hill’s head. Yet once it was tall and fair. It is told that Elendil stood there watching for the coming of Gil-galad out of the West, in the days of the Last Alliance.”JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring – Book I, Chapter 11 – A Knife in the Dark
Passages of text like this one are what make Tolkien such an impressive writer to me, the way he uses his characters to give the reader some seriously captivating insight in to the history of the world they are immersed in is not only inspiring, but it feeds into that hunger for more information of a reader like myself.
Over the lip of the little dell, on the side away from the hill, they felt, rather than saw, a shadow rise, one shadow or more than one. They strained their eyes, and the shadows seemed to grow. Soon there could be no doubt: three or four tall black figures were standing there on the slope, looking down on them.JRR Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring – Book I, Chapter 11 – A Knife in the Dark