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Old 08-07-2020, 10:52 AM   #1
Boromir88
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Re-imagining the Ringwraiths

As I brought up in a different topic I've been doing a reading of the books after several years and I had an almost complete change in my views of the Ringwraiths.

The Nazgul might just be the characters where the movies messed with my head the most. They do have the element of terror (Fran Walsh voices the scream and it is how I hear the description of their lonely cry in my head), but Jackson didn't go far enough with portraying their terror. He tried to portray them as Sauron's most skilled warriors, when that's not their power. When I previously read the books, it was difficult to separate that portrayal of the Nazgul were swordsmen. Viewing them in that light, I never quite felt they were a significant threat in Book I. I felt they were just ineffective subordinates, who had one job to do and couldn't do it.

However, it's probably been longer or the same amount of time since I've seen the films, so I didn't have that imagination that the Nazgul were warriors in my head this time, and it's completely changed my reading of the text (I'm also very thankful for this! )

I read Huey's thread here and Brett Devereaux's analysis which brings up a good point of Tolkien understanding the 'morale battleground' better than maybe any other fantasy author. The Ringwraiths demoralizing opposition is what makes them efficient and deadly effective. They aren't warriors in the skilled sword-fighters way, but they are deadly weapons in war, because of their ability to demoralize. I always remembered how Jackson fumbled the Weathertop scene with Frodo, but forgot just how much he fumbled it:

Quote:
Terror overcame Pippin and Merry and they threw themselves flat on the ground. Sam shrank to Frodo's side. Frodo was hardly less terrified than his companions; he was quaking as if he was bitter cold, but his terror was swallowed up in a sudden temptation to put on the Ring...~A Knife in the Dark
Whether you read Frodo's striking back as courageous, or to me it seems more like desperation by a cornered animal, the entire event paints a completely different picture than the movies. Merry, Pippin and Sam sort of stand in the way or strike back in the movies, Frodo drops his sword and falls to the ground. This not only embarrasses Frodo's character, but it also weakens the Nazgul as 3 of the hobbits courageously decide to fight back. Completely different from the books, which shows the Nazgul's effectiveness to demoralize their opponent. I mean 3 of their opponents just lose all will to resist, and it's highlights Frodo's will, even though it feels more like desperation.

Now with this entirely new picture of the Nazgul in my head, I read The Hunt for the Ring in the UT as a supplement to get a better idea of them and this stood out:

Quote:
At length they returned; but the summer was now far waned, and the wrath and fear of Sauron was mounting. When they came back to the Wold September had come; and there they met messengers from Barad-dur conveying threats from their Master that filled even the Morgul-lord with dismay.
It has me wondering what was Sauron's relationship with the Nazgul (and vice versa) truly like? Sauron at this point obviously wasn't happy with their failure to find the Ring's location yet, and the threats even filled the 'Morgul-lord with dismay.' In kind of a similar point, Gandalf says that Gollum hates the ring, but will never be rid of his need for it.

Again, I don't really have any questions. I'm mostly just glad to shake the flawed image of the movie!Ringwraiths from my mind. From the UT there appears to be a dichotomy between them and Sauron, that I wasn't expecting. Any other comments and information about their effectiveness I would welcome!
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Old 08-07-2020, 11:52 AM   #2
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Yes, not at all satisfied with the many Jacksonian stumbles and fumbles throughout the movies.

Actually, more egregious in the novel compared to the films, was Frodo, alone and wounded astride Asfaloth, facing off against the Nazgul at the Ford of Bruinen. His bravery was singular in that moment with the Nazgul taunting him ("'Come back! Come back!' they called. 'To Mordor we will take you!'"). It was a signature scene of the novel, incredibly frightening (at least to me when I first read it as an adolescent). And after Frodo invokes Elbereth and Luthien, he is struck dumb by the Witch-King as he begins to cross the ford.

But what does Jackson do? He eliminates Frodo's valor altogether and makes Princess Xenarwen powerful enough to defy the Nazgul (with the daft, "If you want him, come and claim him"), and then to whisper an incantation that calls the roaring water down on the Nazgul. She did not have such ability (that would be wholly a product of her father, the Ring-bearer Elrond, with an assist from another Ring-bearer Gandalf).

So Jackson, in one fell swoop, destroyed a perfectly frightful book scene, rendered Frodo impotent, takes Arwen completely out of the realm of Tolkien lore, and eliminates the element of surprise as the Nazgul cross the Ford and the flood comes unexpectedly to wash them away.
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Old 08-07-2020, 01:54 PM   #3
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Was there a single character in the book whom Jackson et. al. didn't distort and diminish? Maybe Bill the Pony, I dunno.

IMO JK Rowlings Dementors came closer to the essence of the Ringwraiths (and were probably, let's put it politely, inspired by them) than what we were shown in the movies, with regard to their main weapon being terror. Which makes it all the more remarkable how Maggot, a simple hobbit farmer, found the courage to stand up to a Black Rider and tell him to get off his land, and quickly, or else! It's interesting how the Nazgûl grew in stature during Book One - or, you might say, how more and more of their true nature was revealed both to and by the author - , from their first appearance, surrounded by an air of vague unease and creepiness, to the double climax in A Knife in the Dark and Flight to the Ford.

(Wholly d'accord with everything Morth said above about the Ford scene! The Witch-King striking Frodo dumb was perhaps the most scary bit, it's like you're trying to expel the Devil but he won't let you utter the holy names. (A Catholic education is hard to shake off.)

About the Nine and Sauron, I think you're spot-on with bringing up Gollum, Boro. They were probably like him, only far further gone in their addiction to their rings and without a chance of ever regaining them. Maybe their relationship to Sauron was something like between a junkie and their dealer - I mean, deep down they must have known that their rings would never be given back, but they just couldn't help themselves doing his bidding. Also maybe he could use the bond between them and their rings to do things to their spirits. It doesn't bear thinking about too closely.
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Old 08-07-2020, 04:42 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Pitchwife View Post
Was there a single character in the book whom Jackson et. al. didn't distort and diminish? Maybe Bill the Pony, I dunno.
Oi! That animal can nearly talk - or would talk, if Tolkien let Frodo & co stay in Rivendell for just a bit longer.


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Originally Posted by Pitch
Which makes it all the more remarkable how Maggot, a simple hobbit farmer, found the courage to stand up to a Black Rider and tell him to get off his land, and quickly, or else!
I think part of it really was that the Nazgul were deliberately "being gentle', as they wanted to get answers but not wreck too much havoc in that part of the world quite yet. Find Baggins quickly, without word reaching said Baggins that something is afoot. They seem to veil their true power, or true terror. It's like you say - their true nature is revealed more and more gradually throughout Book I.

The Gaffer also encounters the Nazgul, but we get that account second hand from Sam, and there is no sense of how the Gaffer fares courage-wise. He doesn't sound as gutsy as Maggot, but not much beyond that. He calls the Nazgul a "strange customer" who gave hi "quite a shudder" - but the extent of that shudder is left to be imagined. Still, seeing as the Gaffer seemed to be pretty calm about the whole affair.

That is in contrast to Fatty Bolger, who is so terrified that he sprints an entire mile and babbles about not having the Ring. However, Fatty was facing the Nazgul who were prepared to finally reveal their strength and attack, not the Nazgul who were on a secret mission. He feels their presence as a growing fear long before he actually sees their shapes, and no wonder he is terrified and flees when his anxiety is "confirmed".

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Originally Posted by Pitch
About the Nine and Sauron, I think you're spot-on with bringing up Gollum, Boro. They were probably like him, only far further gone in their addiction to their rings and without a chance of ever regaining them. Maybe their relationship to Sauron was something like between a junkie and their dealer - I mean, deep down they must have known that their rings would never be given back, but they just couldn't help themselves doing his bidding. Also maybe he could use the bond between them and their rings to do things to their spirits. It doesn't bear thinking about too closely.
Speaking of the Devil... Once you sell your soul, he kinda owns it, whether you like it or not. I highly doubt that the Nazgul like serving Sauron, but they are trapped. But I sort of assumed that this "trap" was on such a deep existential level that disobedience would be unthinkable. The UT quote Boro brings up shows that not to be quite the case - though the threatened punishment is not for disobedience, but rather for incompetence. I am not imagining Sauron screaming "You had one job!" at the Nazgul. So perhaps despite a firm bond of loyalty they can still allow themselves to do a job lazily or half-heartedly, if Sauron thinks that threats would entice them to work better. Or maybe Sauron knows they are doing their best and is still punishing their failure because anger management issues, and because he never received training on positive team building or something.
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Old 08-09-2020, 07:36 AM   #5
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It helps if one stops envisioning the Ringwraiths as a death-metal album cover and more as black holes in reality. I agree that the movie Dementors get much closer than PJ ever did.
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Old 08-09-2020, 03:37 PM   #6
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Like Boro I recently started a fresh read through of Lord of the Rings for the first time in a long, long time.

While I can never really recapture what it was like to hear the stories for the first time (my first time was having them read aloud to me as a child), the length of time since the last reading has really given me a fresh perspective on things that I had not realized or had forgotten about.

One sign that it had been far too long since the last time I read them is that I have been favorably impressed with the richness and elegence of Tolkien's writing style compared to our contemporary writers.

Anyway, to the topic at hand...

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Originally Posted by Pitchwife View Post
It's interesting how the Nazgûl grew in stature during Book One - or, you might say, how more and more of their true nature was revealed both to and by the author - , from their first appearance, surrounded by an air of vague unease and creepiness, to the double climax in A Knife in the Dark and Flight to the Ford.
This stuck out to me because that is not the personal impression I gained in my recent readthrough.

To me the terror of the Nazgûl peaked in Bree. Their ability to simultaneously strike with potentially deadly force in Crickhollow and in the very building where the Ring was hiding and the unsettling tone for these episodes set me on edge. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that is the first time we see the Nine strike and do damage in the story (property damage only, but damage nonetheless).

Beyond that point, and I know it is partially from knowledge, but the presence of Strider was a grounding influence in the story, even though in an absolute sense the danger increased.

Another thing that struck me in this readthrough was how woefully unprepared the hobbits were for a journey of this nature. I remember thinking as they were leaving Tom Bombadil that, "These guys would never have a chance in the Wild on their own."

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It helps if one stops envisioning the Ringwraiths as a death-metal album cover and more as black holes in reality. I agree that the movie Dementors get much closer than PJ ever did.
Black Holes in Reality sounds like the name of a death metal band.
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Old 08-09-2020, 06:19 PM   #7
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In hindsight, now that the question has been posed, I don't think I ever minded the visual look of PJ's Black Riders. Perhaps some happy medium would have brought them a bit closer to the movie-Dementors, giving more emphasis to their robes being something they wear "to give shape to their nothingness," but the overall look of the PJ Riders was fine by me.

But, I agree that there is something lacking about them, and I think that it's entirely the nature of the medium. The Nazgûl's chief weapon is terror and dread--though the ruined beds in the Prancing Pony should be a reminder that they do act more in the physical realm than floating Dementors. The main way that a movie conveys feeling is through visuals and through the score, but it's ultimately going to have the same issues as portraying stench: the medium simply doesn't do it.

As far as the score goes, I think Howard Shore actually doesn't a decent job with the FotR Nazgûl--at least until they're past Bree. It's the Winged Nazgûl of the later books that really get short-shrift. And this is at least in part because their magnum opus is Minas Tirith during the Great Darkness, but the movie never quite managed the darkness for me and the baseline of Minas Tirith was all messed up by a platter of juicy tomatoes (i.e. Denethor's descent into madness and despair, which parallel's his city's loss of hope under the shadow of the Nazgûl, isn't really a descent in the movies--he starts there).
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Old 09-02-2020, 11:48 AM   #8
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to simultaneously strike with potentially deadly force....in the very building where the Ring was hiding
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though the ruined beds in the Prancing Pony should be a reminder that they do act more in the physical realm
This is a very common misperception, which PJ picked up and ran with- but it's in error. Tolkien was explicit (it's somewhere in HME or UT) that the Pony burglary was carried out by Bill Ferny, Harry Goatleaf and the cross-eyed Southerner at the Wraiths' orders, not by the Nazgul personally.
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Old 09-02-2020, 11:50 AM   #9
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Black Holes in Reality sounds like the name of a death metal band.
I would think more of an emo band. "OMG! They're like The Smiths, but even more depressing!"
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Old 09-03-2020, 09:28 AM   #10
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This is a very common misperception, which PJ picked up and ran with- but it's in error. Tolkien was explicit (it's somewhere in HME or UT) that the Pony burglary was carried out by Bill Ferny, Harry Goatleaf and the cross-eyed Southerner at the Wraiths' orders, not by the Nazgul personally.
That's true, in that I also had long assumed that the Black Riders had broken into the hobbit bedroom themselves. I remember in the Bakshi cartoon I saw when very young that that was indeed the depiction.

That said, the Nine clearly aren't just smoke and mirrors. The Black Captain had sufficient physical strength to break Éowyn's shield (and her arm with it) using his mace, and the home-invaders at Crickhollow were able to break open the door of the house.
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Old 09-03-2020, 01:55 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin View Post
This is a very common misperception, which PJ picked up and ran with- but it's in error. Tolkien was explicit (it's somewhere in HME or UT) that the Pony burglary was carried out by Bill Ferny, Harry Goatleaf and the cross-eyed Southerner at the Wraiths' orders, not by the Nazgul personally.
Yes. I for a while thought it was the other Ringwraiths who attacked Bree, just as habit from other adaptations. And to be fair to Jackson, as Inzil notes, all the adaptations I'm familiar have the Ringwraiths tear up the beds.

This recent reading I've been doing, I discovered it was Ferny and his men. At least Aragorn seems to think so, when they were expecting an attack on the inn:

Quote:
'No, I think not,' said Strider. 'They are not all here yet. And in any case that is not their way. In dark and loneliness they are strongest; they will not openly attack a house where there are lights and many people - not until they are desperate, not while all the long leagues of Eriador still lie before us. But their power is in terror, and already some in Bree are in their clutch. They will drive these wretches to some evil work: Ferny, and some of the strangers, and, maybe the gatekeeper too...'~Strider
I believe it's noted that 4 of them entered the Shire and then raided Frodo's house at Crickhollow. That's quite a different situation though, as they didn't have any hobbits to do their bidding but there also wasn't going to be much resistance. At Bree, I believe 1 had ridden into town, there might have been 2 (the other 3 were south patrolling the Greenway), so they wouldn't have attacked "a house where there are lights and many people" when they had people already in Bree to do their bidding.

What I've found interesting also is the Ringwraiths orders weren't to kill/get the Ring from Frodo and take the Ring to Sauron. It appears Sauron doesn't trust anyone in possession of the Ring, not even the Ringwraiths. Their orders were to incapacitate Frodo and take him to Sauron, so Sauron could take the Ring.
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Old 09-03-2020, 03:50 PM   #12
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One thing to keep in mind is that, as The Hunt For the Ring tells us, the Ringwraiths were under orders to operate covertly. Not quite "never let anyone see you," but rather "do not draw attention to yourselves." Hence the absurdity of PJ having one of them arbitrarily behead some random Shire-hobbit,* just for the eevuls, or having them ride down Bree's gates and smoosh the poor keeper - at least not on that night.

We are told that on a subsequent night five Riders tore down the gates and rode through Bree like a whirlwind... but this was because they had the scent now and the quarry was afoot; moreover they now had the W-K with them, who would have had the authority to dispense with discretion at this juncture.

*PJ the B-horror director just can't help himself. See also Dead Marshes zombies, demonic Bilbo, beheading the Mouth etc etc etc.
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Old 09-09-2020, 04:45 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin View Post
This is a very common misperception, which PJ picked up and ran with- but it's in error. Tolkien was explicit (it's somewhere in HME or UT) that the Pony burglary was carried out by Bill Ferny, Harry Goatleaf and the cross-eyed Southerner at the Wraiths' orders, not by the Nazgul personally.
Not that I am disputing the contention, but I've hunted and I haven't found an explicit statement from Tolkien (in his authoritative voice) saying that a Ringwraith was not directly involved in the attack on the attack on the Pony. Can anybody point me to the specific reference?

Admittedly, my HoME library is not complete.

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What I've found interesting also is the Ringwraiths orders weren't to kill/get the Ring from Frodo and take the Ring to Sauron. It appears Sauron doesn't trust anyone in possession of the Ring, not even the Ringwraiths. Their orders were to incapacitate Frodo and take him to Sauron, so Sauron could take the Ring.
I wonder if the intent was always to stab the Ring-bearer with a Morgul blade to render him into a more wraith-like state so they would not have to worry about food and drink to keep him alive.
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Old 09-11-2020, 03:23 PM   #14
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Not that I am disputing the contention, but I've hunted and I haven't found an explicit statement from Tolkien (in his authoritative voice) saying that a Ringwraith was not directly involved in the attack on the attack on the Pony. Can anybody point me to the specific reference?

Admittedly, my HoME library is not complete.
I'm not aware of a specific reference, I just go by Aragorn's (and Butterbur's) statements. Being characters in the story, they could be wrong, but they make sense...

Quote:
'No, I think not,' said Strider. 'They are not all here yet. And in any case that is not their way. In dark and loneliness they are strongest; they will not openly attack a house where there are lights and many people - not until they are desperate, not while all the long leagues of Eriador still lie before us. But their power is in terror, and already some in Bree are in their clutch. They will drive these wretches to some evil work: Ferny, and some of the strangers, and, maybe the gatekeeper too...'~Strider
On September 26th 2 Nazgul enter Bree (4 were in the Shire, the other 3 were said to be keeping a watch on the Greenway south of Bree). Butterbur says he shut the door on them and bid them off.

September 29th is Frodo's "accident" in the Prancing Pony.
September 30th, over night Crickhollow and The Prancing Pony are attacked.

However, I don't think it was the Nazgul that ripped up the beds because of Aragorn's point they aren't all there yet "and in any case that is not their way." Because they aren't all there yet to where they would attack a "house where there are lights and many people," not when they could drive Ferny and his men to some mischief.

Also, there's Butterbur: "But spooks or no spooks, they won't get in The Pony so easy.' He already shut the door on the 2 that came to Bree on the 26th, so there's no reason to think he's blowing smoke by telling the hobbits they won't get into the Pony easily.

I believe the attack on the pony, in combination with Ferny having the only horse available, was meant to try to delay their departure until all 9 could be gathered together and then the Nazgul could attack them in the open land. There's 1 in Bree (Merry comes under the black breath) but on September 29th at most there only appears to be 2 Nazgul and they were simply putting Ferny to work in order to delay Aragorn and the hobbits departure.

Edit:

Another point that I kept reminding myself during my most recent reading...as the readers we learn all the information, but it's interesting to step back and think that not all the Ringwraiths have all the same information that we have.

Only 4 enter the Shire, so it's reasonable to imagine the 5 who did not, don't know all the information that the 4 who entered the Shire know. The 4 then find out Frodo's moving to Crickhollow, but did not know Frodo was leaving Crickhollow and Fatty's diversion worked. The 2 that came to Bree only know Frodo had not come there yet, but he might be. I imagine there had to be quite a lot of messages going back and forth as the 9 are rather spread out until early October, when all 9 attack Gandalf on October 3rd.
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Old 09-15-2020, 11:59 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Boromir88 View Post
I'm not aware of a specific reference, I just go by Aragorn's (and Butterbur's) statements. Being characters in the story, they could be wrong, but they make sense...
I asked because William Cloud Hicklin said there was an explicit statement.

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However, I don't think it was the Nazgul that ripped up the beds because of Aragorn's point they aren't all there yet "and in any case that is not their way." Because they aren't all there yet to where they would attack a "house where there are lights and many people," not when they could drive Ferny and his men to some mischief.
I think the Nazgul were either there or right outside observing. That they had Ferny and company do most of the dirty work I do not doubt. But I do doubt that they would let Ferny, who they cannot have had much of a relationship with and would probably view as an unreliable character, have very much leash in getting his hands on the Ringbearer or even more importantly the Master's Precious.

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Also, there's Butterbur: "But spooks or no spooks, they won't get in The Pony so easy.' He already shut the door on the 2 that came to Bree on the 26th, so there's no reason to think he's blowing smoke by telling the hobbits they won't get into the Pony easily.
Well, somebody got into the Pony during the night without it being discovered until the next morning.

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I believe the attack on the pony, in combination with Ferny having the only horse available, was meant to try to delay their departure until all 9 could be gathered together and then the Nazgul could attack them in the open land.
I don't know that this delay would have served that purpose very well.

Did the Nazgul know about Aragorn (not in the who he actually was sense, but in the sense of being an experienced traveller and able to help the Ringbearer in the Wild, as he in fact did)?

If the Nazgul knew about Aragorn's presence in the Pony, or understood the significance of it then maybe I can see the point. But on the whole, I think the Nazgul would want the Ringbearer to get out into the middle of nowhere as quickly as possible.

I think the attack was a genuine attempt to get hold of the Ringbearer.
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Old 09-15-2020, 02:35 PM   #16
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The two Wraiths who were in Bree the night the hobbits were there knew very little. According to the Hunt For the Ring, Khamul and four others had entered the Shire and, after Frodo escaped across Bucklebury Ferry the night of the 25th, they re-assembled at the Bridge. One was left there to watch it while Khamul and one companion entered Buckland to search it out (they would raid Crickhollow later); the other two were sent to report to the Witch-King, who had stationed himself on the Greenway south of Bree. He in turn sent three to ride cross-country to Weathertop and then scour the Road back westwards as far as Bree. It seems that their presence there was, besides taking a left turn, a stop to interview their spy the cross-eyed Southerner, who reported the odd happenings at the Pony. One immediately rode south to report; the other two attempted to capture Merry, and then orchestrated the Pony burglary. So it was Chance that they arrived on the same night as the Ringbearer; and even greater Chance that they missed him ... furthermore, their report the next night to the W-K confuses him, since the Ring is reported to be both in Buckland and in Bree!

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As for trusting local yokels to bring them the Ring; they were I surmise fairly secure in the knowledge that the hapless Ferny (or whomever) wouldn't know what it was, and wouldn't be exposed to it long enough for it to gain much if any hold; and moreover the stooges were under a 'shadow of fear' that made disobedience unlikely in the extreme. And if it happened anyway, well, dealing with a simpleminded and easily terrified-to-paralysis Man, alone and at night, wasn't a very great matter.
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Old 10-01-2020, 03:40 PM   #17
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As for trusting local yokels to bring them the Ring; they were I surmise fairly secure in the knowledge that the hapless Ferny (or whomever) wouldn't know what it was, and wouldn't be exposed to it long enough for it to gain much if any hold; and moreover the stooges were under a 'shadow of fear' that made disobedience unlikely in the extreme. And if it happened anyway, well, dealing with a simpleminded and easily terrified-to-paralysis Man, alone and at night, wasn't a very great matter.
I don't agree here.

The Nazgul at this stage were aware of the trechery of Saruman (regardless of which version of the story being referenced). If I were in their shoes I would most assuredly not trusted Ferny or the Southerner or anybody else likely to have been involved in the raid out of my sight. Who knows what other agents Saruman might have had in the area.
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Old 10-26-2020, 07:37 AM   #18
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Not that I am disputing the contention, but I've hunted and I haven't found an explicit statement from Tolkien (in his authoritative voice) saying that a Ringwraith was not directly involved in the attack on the attack on the Pony. Can anybody point me to the specific reference?


Found it! Finally. Treason of Isengard, 71: the "New Plot" of August 1940. Tolkien first wrote that Riders D and E "attack the inn but fail," but struck it out and replaced it with "get Bill Ferny and the Southerner to burgle the Inn."
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Old 10-26-2020, 09:39 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by William Cloud Hicklin View Post
Found it! Finally. Treason of Isengard, 71: the "New Plot" of August 1940. Tolkien first wrote that Riders D and E "attack the inn but fail," but struck it out and replaced it with "get Bill Ferney and the Southerner to burgle the Inn."
When I consider it, sending others to do the Pony break in was a pretty good idea.

If Ferny and the Southerner had been able to get the Ring (or the hobbit that carried it), well and good. If not, the Wraiths had still, as Aragorn noted, all the distance between Bree and Rivendell to make an overt attack on the Ring-bearer and his party.
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