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Old 03-25-2021, 10:55 AM   #1
Boromir88
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The Dead and The Undead

As I mentioned in other topics I've been doing another reading of the books and recently finished Lord of the Rings. Next on my Tolkien stack is The Silmarillion (which actually might prompt some more thoughts on what this thread is about).

And this thread is generally about death, as in Men's fear of their own mortality in the Tolkienverse. Also about the Dead (Men of Dunharrow, the Dead Marshes) and the Undead (The Ringwraiths).

What prompted this originally is just trying to do a compare/contrast to the Dead Men of Dunharrow, the Ringwraiths, and how do the Barrow-wights fit into this whole dead and the undead. I think the Men of Dunharrow are exactly what they're called, they are indeed dead. Spirits, bound to not be at rest because of their broken oath. Which is I think interesting considering the theme of Men's fear of death. Even if their blades no longer have any "bite" (Gimli makes a comment about this), few of the living could endure them, because it's like being confronted by their own mortality, literally staring into the face of their "Death."

But how do the "spirits" (for lack of a better identification) in the Dead Marshes fit in here? The Men of Dunharrow are bound by an oath. What about the "dead faces" Gollum describes:

Quote:
"Yes, yes," said Gollum. "All dead, all rotten. Elves and Men and Orcs. The Dead Marshes..."

‘You cannot reach them, you cannot touch them. We tried once, yes, precious. I tried once; but you cannot reach them. Only shapes to see, perhaps, not to touch. No precious! All dead.’~The Passage of the Marshes
The Ringwraiths, on the other hand, are the undead. I don't have access to the full OED, but the entry for "undead" is: "(of a fictional being, especially a vampire) technically dead but still animate."

Generally, this definition I think fits the Ringwraiths...they should be dead, but are not because they can still physically interact with the living (much different from the Oathbreakers and the spirits in the dead marshes). Indeed they are kept animated by their Rings of Powers, which gave their bearers immortality...or did it?

I think Bilbo's description of the Ring's effects on him are brilliant because it gives a simple understanding of what the Ring does. Bilbo comments that he feels "stretched," and this is a great description because despite living longer, it's not prolonging Bilbo's life, not really. Gollum is actually a better example, because Bilbo despite being very old for a hobbit, is still physically possible in Tolkien's story. Gollum, on the other hand has to be close to 600 years old and that is not possible for someone akin to hobbits.

For simplicity, let's just say an expected lifespan for Gollum if he never came across the ring would be 100 years. What the Ring does to him, I would say is take that same expected lifespan of 100 years and "stretches" it over a time span of 600 years, thousands of years...etc. It's a perversion of immortality.

Which this all leads to I guess my major question...is Gollum "undead?" That is if the Ringwraiths are kept animate merely because of the Rings, and when the Ring is destroyed the Ringwraiths pretty much fizzled out:

Quote:
And into the heart of the storm, with a cry that pierced all other sounds, tearing the clouds asunder, the Nazgul came, shooting like flaming bolts, as caught in a fiery ruin of hill and sky they crackled, withered, and went out.~Mount Doom
If Gollum had not fallen in with the Ring, wouldn't he have just "went out" like the Nazgul? And if he was only being sustained because of the Ring, would this fit the definition that Gollum was "undead?"
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Old 03-26-2021, 12:12 AM   #2
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Gollum maintains a physical body throughout. Not quite undead yet in my book.

Sorry for low quality post, just wanted to remember this thread.
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Old 03-26-2021, 03:12 AM   #3
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I think the Men of Dunharrow are exactly what they're called, they are indeed dead. Spirits, bound to not be at rest because of their broken oath. Which is I think interesting considering the theme of Men's fear of death. Even if their blades no longer have any "bite" (Gimli makes a comment about this), few of the living could endure them, because it's like being confronted by their own mortality, literally staring into the face of their "Death."

But how do the "spirits" (for lack of a better identification) in the Dead Marshes fit in here? The Men of Dunharrow are bound by an oath. What about the "dead faces" Gollum describes:
I think you've drawn a good distinction here: dead means no longer having a body. You 'cannot reach them', their blades have no bite. To this category I would add Gorlim's appearance to Beren, and the ghosts of Cardolan:

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Originally Posted by Fog on the Barrow-Downs
'What in the name of wonder?' began Merry, feeling the golden circlet that had slipped over one eye. Then he stopped, and a shadow came over his face, and he closed his eyes. 'Of course, I remember!' he said. 'The men of Carn Dūm came on us at night, and we were worsted. Ah! the spear in my heart!' He clutched at his breast.
They don't appear visibly, but Merry is clearly briefly possessed by some remnant of the locals.

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Originally Posted by Boromir88 View Post
The Ringwraiths, on the other hand, are the undead. I don't have access to the full OED, but the entry for "undead" is: "(of a fictional being, especially a vampire) technically dead but still animate."
The full online definition matches ("In vampirism, clinically dead but not yet at rest.") Looking at the examples, I think this is a Bram Stoker coinage - all the pre-Dracula usages look to just mean 'not dead'.

Quote:
Originally Posted by The First tome..of the Paraphrase..vpon the Newe Testamente, 1548
Where as all men did eat therof, they neuertheles dyed, nether did any one of so great a number remain vndead.
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Generally, this definition I think fits the Ringwraiths...they should be dead, but are not because they can still physically interact with the living (much different from the Oathbreakers and the spirits in the dead marshes). Indeed they are kept animated by their Rings of Powers, which gave their bearers immortality...or did it?

...

Which this all leads to I guess my major question...is Gollum "undead?" That is if the Ringwraiths are kept animate merely because of the Rings, and when the Ring is destroyed the Ringwraiths pretty much fizzled out:

If Gollum had not fallen in with the Ring, wouldn't he have just "went out" like the Nazgul? And if he was only being sustained because of the Ring, would this fit the definition that Gollum was "undead?"
Quote:
Originally Posted by Soriman the Whide View Post
Gollum maintains a physical body throughout. Not quite undead yet in my book.
Now this is one I hadn't even thought about before. We know that the Nazgul were undead: Eowyn claims it, and Tolkien directly tells us:

Quote:
Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. ‘But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.’

...

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 end of Eowyn's line is one of my favourite spoken lines in the entire book. ^_^)

I feel like the Nazgul were still somewhat corporeal - they can sit on horses, and their cloaks stay up - even if not visible. But as Soriman indicates, they were also not fully embodied. They survive being swept down a raging river, which isn't plausible for humans. Gollum, on the other hand, feels like he could still be injured; the Ring had extended his lifespan, but not turned him into something new.

The OED actually quotes a Tolkien-related source on this: P. H. Kocher's 1973 Master of Middle-Earth:

Quote:
They still inhabit their original bodies, but these have faded and thinned in their component matter until they can no longer be said to exist in the dimension of the living. Their flesh is not alive, not dead, but ‘undead’.
Gollum's flesh was still alive, as far as we know - he eats, he feels pain. The Nazgul's had become something else.

And what about the Barrow-Wights? My understanding is they're spirits (of the dead? Maiar or other unembodied?) sent by the Witch-King to possess the bodies of the fallen Cardolan royalty. Since they are making use of flesh (or just bones? I've always understood the 'long arm' to have skin and so on, but the fact that the hand 'broke off' might imply something more brittle), are they undead? Or are they just dead and making use of handy corpses?

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Old 03-26-2021, 07:50 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Soriman the Whide View Post
Gollum maintains a physical body throughout. Not quite undead yet in my book.

Sorry for low quality post, just wanted to remember this thread.
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Originally Posted by Huinesoron View Post
I feel like the Nazgul were still somewhat corporeal - they can sit on horses, and their cloaks stay up - even if not visible. But as Soriman indicates, they were also not fully embodied. They survive being swept down a raging river, which isn't plausible for humans. Gollum, on the other hand, feels like he could still be injured; the Ring had extended his lifespan, but not turned him into something new.

Gollum's flesh was still alive, as far as we know - he eats, he feels pain. The Nazgul's had become something else.
Thank you! I think that distinction between Gollum and the Ringwraiths are important and something I overlooked. Even if he had not fallen in, Gollum would have also died when the Ring was destroyed, he doesn't pass all the criteria for being undead.

I think there can be connection drawn between the Ring sustaining Gollum and the Ringwraiths physical forms, but I agree with the point that Gollum could still be injured by ways that don't involve the destruction of the Ring. Therefor he has living flesh, he can "starve" as he often says to Frodo and Sam.

What sparked me originally thinking wait is Gollum "undead" was more than his connection and being sustained by the Ring, but also his strange attraction to dead things. He tells Frodo and Sam he tried to reach the dead apparitions in the marshes at one time, but he could not reach them, could not touch them. And I don't know about you but if I see strange dead faces floating in marshes my first reaction is not "oh let me just dive in there and try to grab it." I'd go as far to speculate that had Gollum seen the Dead Men of Dunharrow he would not have fled. So, Gollum appears to be in this odd category all by himself, not undead, but sustained by the Ring, and attraction to strange moistened faces lyin' in marshes.
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Old 03-26-2021, 10:34 AM   #5
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To add a bit to this discussion, I am linking an old thread (which, in turn, links another even older one) that touches upon some of these issues. I certainly am not doing this to discourage discussion, but rather to add more ammunition.

http://forum.barrowdowns.com/showthr...ght=necromancy

I agree that Gollum and the Nazgul were not "dead," however the Nazgul may be where Gollum would have ended up, after being "stretched too thin." Then again, this may not be true because Gollum no longer had the Ring (but of course the Nine were "held" by Sauron so maybe the Wraiths didn't "have" their Rings). Nor was Gollum "undead." But the Nazgul, notwithstanding JRRT's characterization?

The Dead of Dunharrow were, obviously dead, as was Gorlim. How their shades remain, considering the Doom of Men, is an open question.

When we reach the Barrow-Wights, we touch upon the Necromancy thread linked above. Maybe a correct description would be dead but inhabited?

I hope that this encourages some more brainstorming.
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Old 03-26-2021, 04:36 PM   #6
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Thank you for the link (and the link in the thread you linked), Mithadan. I think they will do exactly what you intend, and spark more discussion. Necromancy is certainly linked to a topic about the dead and the undead.

I was intrigued by the comment, in one of the threads, about Isildur and his heirs (Aragorn) being able to use weapons of Sauron (the Dead of Dunharrow) against him. I don't recall reading any character making that comment, but Aragorn is able to command the spirits of the oath-breakers. I don't think we could call Isildur or Aragorn necromancers, but it is an interesting point in perhaps understanding the power Aragorn had to "summon the dead to fight."

Looking at the words of Isildur's curse is interesting:

Quote:
'Then Isildur said to their king: "Thou shalt be the last king. And if the West prove mightier than thy Black Master, this curse I lay upon thee and thy folk: To rest never until your oath is fulfilled. For this war will last through the years uncounted, and you shall be summone once again ere the end."~The Passing of the Grey Company
So the curse is their spirits will never be able to rest until they fulfill the oath they made to Isildur. What is perhaps more interesting is Isildur says Sauron was their "Black Master." Over the years I've perhaps forgotten and just assumed the Men of Dunharrow did not fight because they were scared of their mortality and frightened of the power of Sauron, but it's more than that:

Quote:
"But when Sauron returned and grew in might again, Isildur summoned the Men of the Mountains to fulfill their oath, and they would not: for they had worshiped Sauron in the Dark Years."~ibid
This is going to be a lot of speculation on my part, but it contradicts what I had always assumed. I assumed they didn't fight because they feared death and then ironically, breaking their oath was the punishment for fearing their own mortality. But it goes beyond that, reading they had "worshiped" Sauron I think suggests possibly a cult or practitioners of sorcery. Is it too much of a stretch to see "worship" as having an association to necromancy, and therefor the Dead Men are indeed a case of weapons of Sauron being used against him?
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Old 03-27-2021, 05:54 AM   #7
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We don't know much (really, do we know anything?) about the worship of Sauron in Middle-earth beyond that he WAS worshipped, but I think that some comparative "religious studies" to what we know of the Melkor-worship he introduced in Nśmenor would, in fact, suggest that Sauron-worship in Middle-earth was heavily tied to Death and the fear of death, which, ironically, seems to have involved deaths and accelerated dying.
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Old 03-27-2021, 07:45 AM   #8
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WI think that some comparative "religious studies" to what we know of the Melkor-worship he introduced in Nśmenor would, in fact, suggest that Sauron-worship in Middle-earth was heavily tied to Death and the fear of death, which, ironically, seems to have involved deaths and accelerated dying.
I agree. The Black Nśmenóreans also worshipped Sauron "being enamoured of evil knowledge", suggesting that he promised them insight into things Men were not meant to wot of. It wouldn't surprise me if Sauron-worship, at least in some quarters, focused on the fruitless pursuit of long life and power over the wills of others.

Incidentally, I believe the door that Baldor was found trying to open was the entrance to a temple to Sauron, or the Shadow more generally, beneath the Haunted Mountain.

Whether that was the same as the Sauron-religion propagated among the Easterlings and Haradrim may also be worth a separate discussion: "To them Sauron was both king and god; and they feared him exceedingly".
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Old 03-27-2021, 09:54 AM   #9
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We don't know much (really, do we know anything?) about the worship of Sauron in Middle-earth beyond that he WAS worshipped, but I think that some comparative "religious studies" to what we know of the Melkor-worship he introduced in Nśmenor would, in fact, suggest that Sauron-worship in Middle-earth was heavily tied to Death and the fear of death, which, ironically, seems to have involved deaths and accelerated dying.
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Incidentally, I believe the door that Baldor was found trying to open was the entrance to a temple to Sauron, or the Shadow more generally, beneath the Haunted Mountain.
Interesting about the door Baldor finds, and it may give some clues as to the Sauron-worship by the Men of Dunharrow:

Quote:
...Brego and his son Baldor climbed the Stair of the Hold and so came before the Door. On the threshold sat an old man, aged beyond the guess of years; tall and kingly he had been, but now he was withered as an old stone. Indeed for stone they took him, for he moved not, and he said no word, until they sought to pass him by and enter. And then a voice came out of him, as it were out of the ground, and to their amaze it spoke in the western tongue: The way is shut.

'Then they halted and looked at him and saw that he lived still; but he did not look at them. The way is shut, his voice said again. It was made by those who are Dead, and the Dead keep it, until the time comes. The way is shut.'

'And when will that time be? said Baldor. But no answer did he ever get. For the old man died in that hour and fell upon his face; and no other tidings of the ancient dwellers in the mountains have our folk ever learned. Yet maybe at last the time foretold has come, and Aragorn may pass.'~The Muster of Rohan
This is Theoden's account and I like the feel that it's an urban legend telling of what's been passed down through the Kings of Rohan. It leaves me to wonder that the old man outside the door was already dead, re-animated by one of the cursed spirits because it spoke "as it were out of the ground." The spirit exits and "the old man died in that hour and fell upon his face." Creepy, necromancy Sauron-worship!
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Old 03-29-2021, 08:59 AM   #10
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This is Theoden's account and I like the feel that it's an urban legend telling of what's been passed down through the Kings of Rohan. It leaves me to wonder that the old man outside the door was already dead, re-animated by one of the cursed spirits because it spoke "as it were out of the ground." The spirit exits and "the old man died in that hour and fell upon his face." Creepy, necromancy Sauron-worship!
See, now I'd always taken this story entirely at face value, but now you've got me thinking about it... could the 'old man' be a Drśedain watch-stone? We know the Pśkel-men were considered to be carved by them, and the repeated references to stone suggest it - as does the fact that Tolkien bothered to write "The Faithful Stone" at all. There's no other stories which link them to animated statues, right? The idea of the 'old man' as an ancient watch-stone expending its last drop of energy does seem to hold up.

If so, this would mean there were four players in the drama of The Broken Oath: the men of the mountains, Sauron who had corrupted them, Isildur who wanted their alliegance - and the Woses, ignored by everyone else, who carefully set their watch-stones to guard the cursed caverns which the Oathbreakers still haunted.

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Old 03-29-2021, 10:58 AM   #11
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Incidentally, I believe the door that Baldor was found trying to open was the entrance to a temple to Sauron, or the Shadow more generally, beneath the Haunted Mountain.
I am curious about this. Is there any source to suggest this as Baldor's destination?

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This is going to be a lot of speculation on my part, but it contradicts what I had always assumed. I assumed they didn't fight because they feared death and then ironically, breaking their oath was the punishment for fearing their own mortality.
But that brings up another player, our favourite king of Numenor. Ar-Pharazon and his men are also trapped in a deathless state, truly in punishment for desiring immortality. What does make them? Still living? Undead? Or does that depend on the state of their hroas and the connection between hroa and fea, if the spirit is still bound to the body?
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Old 03-29-2021, 02:03 PM   #12
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I am curious about this. Is there any source to suggest this as Baldor's destination?
I wondered that same thing. Aragorn may imply it, if you squint: he calls out "Keep your hoards and your secrets hidden in the Accursed Years!" Accursed Years implies a direct connection to Sauron, and I'm sure I've seen (somewhere!) the secrets used as a synonym for the Mysteries. The other possibility that sticks out is that it was just a treasure room (hence 'hoards') - but if Rohan is inspired by the Anglo-Saxons, it's worth noting that some of the richest places in Saxon England were the churches and monasteries (much to their detriment when the Vikings showed up!)

I've just glanced through the drafts given in HoME VIII, and... well, CT didn't even give them in full, so close were they to the text. The only difference is that Baldor is named by Aragorn directly, and a passing mention that even after the Paths were no longer haunted, nobody went through his stone door.

What's weird is that I have a very clear memory of reading that section for the first time, and being sure that Baldor was outside a golden door. It's literally only in this thread that I've discovered it's just stone. I must be mixing it up with something, but have no idea what!

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Old 03-29-2021, 04:26 PM   #13
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See, now I'd always taken this story entirely at face value, but now you've got me thinking about it... could the 'old man' be a Drśedain watch-stone? We know the Pśkel-men were considered to be carved by them, and the repeated references to stone suggest it - as does the fact that Tolkien bothered to write "The Faithful Stone" at all. There's no other stories which link them to animated statues, right? The idea of the 'old man' as an ancient watch-stone expending its last drop of energy does seem to hold up.

If so, this would mean there were four players in the drama of The Broken Oath: the men of the mountains, Sauron who had corrupted them, Isildur who wanted their alliegance - and the Woses, ignored by everyone else, who carefully set their watch-stones to guard the cursed caverns which the Oathbreakers still haunted.

hS
Well, it could have simply been an old man, that is I believe the traditional reading is the face value interpretation. Some 2500 years pass from when Isildur cursed them and Baldor finds the door. Despite that I think the area was still populated by Pukel-men and the Men of Dunharrow were ancestors of the Dunlendings, who had been pushed into the White Mountains by the Numenoreans and then the Rohirrim.

It seems like that would be an awful occupation, just sitting outside the entrance to a Sauron Temple to warn intruders the way is shut. In 2500 years it appears only Baldor and Brego stumbled upon it. When I read the part this last time, I can't shake out the image the old man is the bridge-keeper from Monty Python.

(Edit: and actually the quote from The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor does suggest it was a living old-man, as the end suggests enemies snuck up from behind Baldor and broke his legs. Grim!)

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I am curious about this. Is there any source to suggest this as Baldor's destination?
It comes from a later essay Tolkien wrote but did not complete, The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor. The essay is referenced in HOME, but CT said was not completely published do to lack of space. I think the expectation is The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor will be published in the new book, The Nature of Middle-earth.

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The Men of Darkness built temples, some of great size, usually surrounded by dark trees, often in caverns (natural or delved) in secret valleys of mountain-regions; such as the dreadful halls and passages under the Haunted Mountain beyond the Dark Door (Gate of the Dead) in Dunharrow. The special horror of the closed door before which the skeleton of Baldor was found was probably due to the fact that the door was the entrance to an evil temple hall to which Baldor had come, probably without opposition up to that point. But the door was shut in his face, and enemies that had followed him silently came up and broke his legs and left him to die in the darkness, unable to find any way out.
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Old 03-29-2021, 08:15 PM   #14
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In regards to the Dead Marshes, of course Tolkien was referring to his horrid experience in WWI seeing dead bloated soldiers staring lifelessly as they bobbed up from the murky water at the bottom of bomb craters and foxholes: "the Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme."

What is interesting about Tolkien's ghastly reminiscence is that he married his personal horror to folktales of Welsh and Irish origin:

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'I don't know,' said Frodo in a dreamlike voice. 'But I have seen them too. In the pools when the candles were lit. They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water. I saw them: grim faces and evil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair, and weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all rotting, all dead. A fell light is in them.'
Gollum refers to these lights as "corpse candles", a motif used often in old ghost tales that either act as a precursor to death, or more malevolently led travelers off the road at night and to their watery deaths in bogs and fens, known in legend as the Ignis Fatuus: a light that sometimes appears in the night over marshy ground and is often attributable to the combustion of gas from decomposed organic matter.

As far as the dead themselves, as noted they look grim, evil, noble, sad, proud, fair -- an approximation of their previous lives and personas mirrored below the foul water. They are not animate, they are reflections; although Tolkien never explained why "a fell light was in them."

Tolkien also notes the Dead Marshes "owe more to William Morris and his Huns and Romans in The House of the Wolfings and The Root of the Mountains." Now, it's been decades since I read Morris, so I can't recall in what context Tolkien was referencing, but I do remember how Tolkienish it seemed (in a Rohirric sort of way), and I will always remember "the treasure of the world, the Dwarf-wrought Hauberk." Weird what one retains.
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Old 03-30-2021, 05:13 AM   #15
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To add a bit to this discussion, I am linking an old thread (which, in turn, links another even older one) that touches upon some of these issues. I certainly am not doing this to discourage discussion, but rather to add more ammunition.

http://forum.barrowdowns.com/showthr...ght=necromancy
Reading over the Necromancy thread, I was struck by William Cloud Hicklin speculating that at one point, Tolkien might have considered werewolves and vampires to be the spirits of the dead forced by Sauron into the bodies of animals, and presumably bound fast to his will. It's not a well-supported idea, but "Sauron the Chainer of Souls" would account for basically all of the "Undead".
  • The Barrow-wights are souls pushed into human bodies other than their own.
  • Werewolves and vampires, if they even count, would be human/elvish souls stuffed into wolves and giant bats.
  • The Silent Watchers would be bound in stone - easy enough for Sauron, who had already stuffed part of his own spirit into a Ring.
  • The Nazgul are bound in the remnants of their own bodies, and possibly even more under Sauron's control for it.
  • The Dead Marshes are literally just spirits trapped in the water.
  • The Ghosts of Cardolan are probably the same - the souls of the dead, 'sleeping' where they fell.
  • Eilinel too? She's called a "phantom devised by wizardry", but that doesn't mean she can't have been the 'sleeping' spectre (= ghost = phantom) of the real woman.
  • The Dead of Dunharrow... it would be really dumb of Sauron not to put "and your souls belong to me when you die" into his religion. The men of the Mountains had abrogated their right to pass from the world, but Sauron was defeated and unable to claim them; they had to stay where they were until either the Dark Lord rose to full power, or they fulfilled the conditions laid on them by Iluvatar's chief priest - Isildur, as High King - to reclaim their rightful fate.

There's a clear distinction between spirits which are actively doing Sauron's will (the Wights, the Nazgul) and those which are just 'sleeping' (the ghosts of the Marshes and Cardolan). Speculatively, the difference might be that the active set chose to serve Sauron after death, whereas the 'sleepers' were ensnared, by dying somewhere that was under his power. The Dead of Dunharrow would come somewhere in the middle - they're there willingly, so have an active 'fear' effect, but also have a way out provided to them by Isildur, so aren't utterly dominated slaves. Gorlim, too - he obeyed Sauron but repented, so while he may have been trapped, he wasn't (fully?) controlled. If we want a happy ending for Gorlim and Eilinel, we can assume that Sauron's 'sleeping' souls were released when Luthien broke his power.

Ar-Pharazon and his soldiers, I don't think are undead at all. Iluvatar can put His children into stasis-like sleep - he did it to the Fathers of the Dwarves for centuries! The Numenoreans are probably in the same state.

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Originally Posted by Boromir88
Well, it could have simply been an old man, that is I believe the traditional reading is the face value interpretation. Some 2500 years pass from when Isildur cursed them and Baldor finds the door. Despite that I think the area was still populated by Pukel-men and the Men of Dunharrow were ancestors of the Dunlendings, who had been pushed into the White Mountains by the Numenoreans and then the Rohirrim.

(Edit: and actually the quote from The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor does suggest it was a living old-man, as the end suggests enemies snuck up from behind Baldor and broke his legs. Grim!)
An earlier draft specifically says the old man looked a lot like the Pukel-men statues, which strongly implies he wasn't one. I still wonder if he might have been a Wose, though, standing guard over the ancient evil.

I actually don't much like the 'snuck up behind and broke his legs' story: the text in LotR implies a supernatural explanation, with Baldor wasting away while hacking and scrabbling at the stone door under an overwhelming compulsion to get inside. The idea that he wandered in, got beat up, couldn't find the way out so just kept trying the door in front of him while he bled out is pretty dull by comparison.

But if it did happen, given the swords of the Dead have no bite, it seems to imply either the Men of the Mountains were still a viable population thousands of years after their cursing (presumably each one who died left another ghost?), or that someone - the Woses? - was really determined that nobody be allowed to unlock their secrets.

Or, zombies. But I feel like that might have come up while Gimli was going on about them just being spooky ghosts.

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Old 03-30-2021, 07:15 AM   #16
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Ar-Pharazon and his soldiers, I don't think are undead at all. Iluvatar can put His children into stasis-like sleep - he did it to the Fathers of the Dwarves for centuries! The Numenoreans are probably in the same state.
But if they are peacefully asleep, doesn't it defeat the point of the punishment? They have to be conscious in order for it to count, so that they can feel just how weary they are and regret their choices. You can't do that asleep. And I equally don't believe the Fathers of the Dwarves were conscious during their long sleep, that would be cruel to them. No peaceful nap for Ar Phar. Sleep paralysis - maybe.

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Originally Posted by Hui
I actually don't much like the 'snuck up behind and broke his legs' story: the text in LotR implies a supernatural explanation, with Baldor wasting away while hacking and scrabbling at the stone door under an overwhelming compulsion to get inside. The idea that he wandered in, got beat up, couldn't find the way out so just kept trying the door in front of him while he bled out is pretty dull by comparison.
So I am also not a fan of real living people being the cause of Baldor's desperation and death. Whatever happened, I prefer that it happened by the power that the dead have over the living. Baldor could easily have broken his own legs if he was recklessly fleeing a nameless fear in complete darkness in the caves.

But by the same token, one of the ideas I've entertained for a while is that we don't even know if he was under an overwhelming compulsion to get in, or get out. Aragorn assumes he was going in, because he's standing there with a torch and a sense of direction. But it's equally possible that Baldor, driven half to madness and losing his way in the dark for however long, was desperate to get out of the caves and could not find the way back. Or, if not get out, then possibly get away, hide, run. All of these are well in the power of the dead spirits. We assume he was after what's behind the door, but we don't know what motivation drove him so intensely to hack at the stone as his strength failed.

Do we know the contents of Baldor's vow? ROTK only says "a rash vow he spoke". If the vow was just to enter the passage, it was fulfilled, he had no reason to seek anything beyond for the vow's sake. If it was to discover the secrets of the place - perhaps, but how strong would it's force be against the dead? And besides, surely there are other places to discover secrets except for this locked door, there's no reason to die scratching at it fruitlessly when there are other options around that would fulfil the vow. So I don't think Baldor stayed there by his own choice, at least; it was not likely his vow that kept him at it.
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Old 03-30-2021, 10:18 AM   #17
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In regards to the Dead Marshes, of course Tolkien was referring to his horrid experience in WWI seeing dead bloated soldiers staring lifelessly as they bobbed up from the murky water at the bottom of bomb craters and foxholes: "the Dead Marshes and the approaches to the Morannon owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme."
Hey good to still see you around Morthoron. I know nothing about William Morris, so I can't add anything to that piece of information. I am familiar with the connection Tolkien makes between the Dead Marshes and Northern France. I believe in the letter he briefly writes the plot doesn't represent the World Wars, but perhaps the landscape did.

Which is the interpretation that made the most sense to me, because I think the descriptions of the landscape through the entire story are perhaps the most fascinating. The land has a "character" of its own, influenced by the people (or unknown things) who lived there. As Gandalf says to the Fellowship going through Hollin:

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"I think we will rest here, not only today but tonight as well. There is a wholesome air about Hollin. Much evil must befall a country before it wholly forgets the Elves, if once they dwelt there."~The Ring Goes South
Then Legolas feels out of place, because it was a land inhabited by Celebrimbor and his followers. The Noldor had a better relationship with dwarves, so the land takes on the character of their inhabitants:

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"That is true," said Legolas. "But the Elves of this land were of a race strange to us of the silvan folk, and the trees and the grass do not now remember them. Only I hear the stones lament them: deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they builded us; but they are gone. They are gone. They sought the Havens long ago."~ibid
So, we have the land of Hollin holding on faintly to the memory of its Noldor inhabitants, but it is only in the stones.

Perhaps the Dead Marshes are actually trapped spirits of those killed in the battle from the 2nd Age. It's a topic I'm not at all familiar with besides some basic understanding. Could they be something like a "memory imprint" on the land? Similar to Hollin, where the memory of the Noldor still resides in the stones?

Huey and G55, I agree that the quote from The Rivers and Beacon-hills of Gondor does remove a lot of the interest in the "legend" of Baldor's disappearance. Of course the Grey Company come across his remains, but the legend of what exactly happened to him remained. In any case, the essay still has yet to be published in full, so I think the full context could still be missing. It certainly has me even more excited about the new Tolkien book.

Regarding Ar-Pharazon and the Numenoreans, again what happens to the fėar after dead is something not at all in my wheelhouse. I'm hoping when I read The Silmarillion again I will remember more, but until then I differ to other members.

I wonder if understanding the Ringwraiths will shed some light on the Numenoreans who rebelled against the Valar? I don't think it would be the same extent as the Ringwraiths, but it might give some ideas.

In Letter 246, there is the note the Witch-King had been "reduced to impotence" after his body was slain by Merry and Eowyn.

The importance of Merry's blade is re-iterated in a few places. A blade enchanted with spells, specifically designed to be the "bane of Mordor." And the quote from the Lord of the Rings proper:

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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.~Battle of Pelennor Fields
So the Witch-King's undead body was destroyed, "reduced to impotence" to me suggest that as a spirit the Witch-King was completely helpless and powerless. They required a body to have any power in the living world. This makes them different from the Oath-breakers in the fact that we know the Oath-breakers were not powerless, even though they could not interact with physical objects. The Ringwraiths, without a body were "impotent.” However, as Gandalf points out in Rivendell, at the Fords of Bruinen, the best hope is their mounts were killed, because the Ringwraiths would not have been killed in the flood.

I believe though, the Ringwraiths spirits were binded to Sauron, or perhaps to their 9 Rings which Sauron held? I remember in my thread about the Ringwraiths, coming across the fascinating quote in Unfinished Tales: Hunt for the Ring, that Sauron issued "threats that even filled the Morgul lord with dismay." This would imply:

1. G55's hilarious point in the thread that Sauron has anger management problems
2. That Sauron, since he held the 9 rings, and was in control of the Nine's fėar, he could inflict some kind of spiritual pain/torment upon them. Otherwise, I don't know what physical threat could have "dismayed" the Witch-King?
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Old 03-30-2021, 06:55 PM   #18
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Tolkien also notes the Dead Marshes "owe more to William Morris and his Huns and Romans in The House of the Wolfings and The Root of the Mountains." Now, it's been decades since I read Morris, so I can't recall in what context Tolkien was referencing
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I know nothing about William Morris, so I can't add anything to that piece of information.
I have read (and been published on) both The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains and I'm unsure what Tolkien means, unless his syntax is getting mixed up and he's referring to his writings more generally. It's possible that he is saying that the desolation of the marshes is influenced by Morris's depiction of the Romans and the Huns as marauders who laid waste to the natural environment (as opposed to his nature-loving Goths) and left it in ruins for years to come.

And yes the information in Rivers and beacon-hills of Gondor does somewhat spoil the mystery of the death of Baldor. The idea that his legs were broken by the inhabitants of the Dwimorberg suggests that the Men of Dunharrow still hadn't died out 2,500 years after the end of the Second Age, which seems odd.
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Old 03-31-2021, 02:03 AM   #19
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I am familiar with the connection Tolkien makes between the Dead Marshes and Northern France. I believe in the letter he briefly writes the plot doesn't represent the World Wars, but perhaps the landscape did.

Which is the interpretation that made the most sense to me, because I think the descriptions of the landscape through the entire story are perhaps the most fascinating. The land has a "character" of its own, influenced by the people (or unknown things) who lived there.
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I have read (and been published on) both The House of the Wolfings and The Roots of the Mountains and I'm unsure what Tolkien means, unless his syntax is getting mixed up and he's referring to his writings more generally. It's possible that he is saying that the desolation of the marshes is influenced by Morris's depiction of the Romans and the Huns as marauders who laid waste to the natural environment (as opposed to his nature-loving Goths) and left it in ruins for years to come.
Interesting! (I own the Morris books but don't remember them, so am very glad of Zigūr's expertise!) It really does sound like Tolkien drew a distinction between the physical appearance of things (Dead Marshes = the Somme), and their character (approach to Mordor = like the worlds of the Huns and Romans) - and that, unlike what would be my first instinct, he viewed the character as the true "inspiration".

That ties in with the way he doesn't seem to much care what his characters look like, assigning them physical traits only when they can sound properly Old English Epic (tall, bright eyes, hair like shadow following). I think he attributed the same kind of distinction to the Noldorin language-masters, who insisted Quenya was more like Primitive Quendian than Telerin was, even though Telerin kept the sounds more faithfully: they considered the nuances of grammar more significant than what it actually looked/sounded like.

Struggling to remember the Morris books... Zigūr, I know there's a wood-sprite type figure in one of them (shades of Goldberry), but is there anything spooky enough to be a thematic source for any of the undead, such as the Marshes?

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Old 03-31-2021, 08:11 AM   #20
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is there anything spooky enough to be a thematic source for any of the undead, such as the Marshes?
I'm sadly not familiar with all of the prose romances of Morris; they deserve a topic and then some in themselves. The enormous influence Morris had on Tolkien cannot be understated, and yet is often under-recognised — or, at least, that is my conjecture in some of my academic writings.

That being said, while not 'spooky', one element that does come to mind is the three men, two old, one melancholy, who come to Cleveland, home of the House of the Ravens, in the opening of The Story of the Glittering Plain, seeking the "Land of Living Men" aka "The Acre of the Undying". Morris had concerns with "death and the desire for deathlessness" too, but he believed in the pursuit of a better way of being in this world, not any world to come.
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Old 03-31-2021, 08:15 AM   #21
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Getting a bit far afield from the original topic, but years ago there was a thread arguing that Sauron was misguided (a polite lawyer term) in permitting a pockmarked and cratered field that allowed anyone to hide to exist before his front gate. This thread touched upon the imagery as well and included a debate regarding whether the desolation before the Gates reflected the battlefields of France during WWI.

I don't think that the Dead Marshes were specifically discussed. I would agree that the visions in the Dead Marshes were images and nothing more; not dead or undead. The images likely were placed there for shock and horror value by Sauron to make them even more difficult to traverse.
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Old 03-31-2021, 08:28 AM   #22
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Hey good to still see you around Morthoron. I know nothing about William Morris, so I can't add anything to that piece of information. I am familiar with the connection Tolkien makes between the Dead Marshes and Northern France. I believe in the letter he briefly writes the plot doesn't represent the World Wars, but perhaps the landscape did.

Which is the interpretation that made the most sense to me, because I think the descriptions of the landscape through the entire story are perhaps the most fascinating. The land has a "character" of its own, influenced by the people (or unknown things) who lived there. As Gandalf says to the Fellowship going through Hollin:

Then Legolas feels out of place, because it was a land inhabited by Celebrimbor and his followers. The Noldor had a better relationship with dwarves, so the land takes on the character of their inhabitants:

So, we have the land of Hollin holding on faintly to the memory of its Noldor inhabitants, but it is only in the stones.

Perhaps the Dead Marshes are actually trapped spirits of those killed in the battle from the 2nd Age. It's a topic I'm not at all familiar with besides some basic understanding. Could they be something like a "memory imprint" on the land? Similar to Hollin, where the memory of the Noldor still resides in the stones?
Hello Boro:

I think the issue with the Dead Marshes is that it's not merely the land retaining remnants and vague recollections of previous inhabitants, like Hollin, for instance.

Frodo was able to determine the fallen warriors' identities: "They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water. I saw them: grim faces and evil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair, and weeds in their silver hair."

Yet he adds the further descriptor: "But all foul, all rotting, all dead. A fell light is in them."

So, something evil and seductive draws Frodo to the pools; however, there are clearly faces of dead Elves among the fallen looking up at him. And Frodo refers to them directly: "Many faces proud and fair, and weeds in their silver hair."

"Silver hair" would indicate Telerin, or more precisely Sindarin Elves. One would assume that the fėar of these Elves would have been called to the Halls of Mandos after they died in battle. I'm not sure how they would become dispossessed spirits enthralled by Sauron when these Elves died during the War of the Last Alliance, in which Sauron himself was defeated. The Dead Marshes came to claim the graves of the fallen warriors over time -- hundreds or thousands of years?

So, when did this "fell light" consume these fallen warriors and reveal their visages after so many centuries? Tolkien never explained.
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Old 03-31-2021, 01:12 PM   #23
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And yes the information in Rivers and beacon-hills of Gondor does somewhat spoil the mystery of the death of Baldor. The idea that his legs were broken by the inhabitants of the Dwimorberg suggests that the Men of Dunharrow still hadn't died out 2,500 years after the end of the Second Age, which seems odd.
It comes down solely to taste whether or not one likes the Rivers and Beacon Hills story. It is very "late Tolkien" if that makes any sense as an aesthetic judgment. That said, I don't find it immediately implausible that there would be descendants of the Dead still living and active in the White Mountains 2500 years later, because we know there were.

Thing is though, we call them Men of Gondor and refer to the hinterlands south of the Mountains. And the same people still dwelt west of the Gap: the Dunlendings. The idea that there was still some remnant of the White Mountain "Deadlendings" seems very Tolkienesque. And, certainly, with the Dśnedain in Calenardhon being few, it's easy to imagine Gondorians living mostly near the Great Road and either Angrenost or Aglarond--plenty of possibility for remnants of the Mountain people to survive further up, who could have possibly still had some sort of contact with their more-assimilated kin across the White Mountains.

Certainly, we know that the Dunlendings still harbour bitterness at the time of the War of the Ring toward the Rohirrim for usurping "their" land. While this could have specific reference to areas closer to Dunland (I'm thinking especially of the angle between the Adorn, which is a point of contention in Helm's day), it seems to be Calenardhon in general, and it seems more plausible to me that they'd resent the Rohirrim specifically, who are latecomers, if they still had some sort of presence in the White Mountains.

I suppose they needn't be LITERAL descendants (i.e. father to son to son) of the Deadlendings. Perhaps the Curséd Ones literally died out, but whatever lands or homes they had, I doubt they were abandoned completely, and we know Gondor never occupied the area in great numbers, which to me implies a native population. We know that the Dunlendings were willing to live under Gondorian rule as a mixed population retaining some of their culture (c.f. the state of Isengard just before Saruman is given its care--is that part of the "Cirion and Eorl" section of UT?), and a better-integrated version of the same happened south of the White Mountains as Gondor reinforced itself with the men of the Mountains--i.e. cultural kin of the Dunlendings and the Deadlendings.

So I can easily imagine that the Calenardhon-side of the White Mountains was (probably lightly) settled by a folk akin to the Dunlendings and Gondorian hinterlands, and these probably dwindled and thinned even as the Dśnedain did: probably never a great population there, and exposed to dangers like the Wainriders and Balchoth. When Cirion gave away that land to the Rohirrim, there were probably few enough left to think of it as "none," but the idea that there might have been a small sect that, instead of fleeing to Gondor or Isengard or Dunland holed up behind Dunharrow, seems possible.

If so, maybe there was a long chain of hidden continuity with the Dead, but there needn't have been: the Paths of the Dead wouldn't have had any terror if the Dead couldn't influence the living, and the idea that the Dead might have corrupted or used some embittered near-Dunlendings driven to anger at the loss of THEIR land in the service of, as they'd see it, their own kin, to maim and kill Bregor as a sort of dark revenge ritual... well, I'm enjoying the idea.
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Old 04-01-2021, 03:58 AM   #24
Huinesoron
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Originally Posted by Mithadan View Post
I don't think that the Dead Marshes were specifically discussed. I would agree that the visions in the Dead Marshes were images and nothing more; not dead or undead. The images likely were placed there for shock and horror value by Sauron to make them even more difficult to traverse.
I suppose we do know that Sauron had the power to create "phantoms devised by wizardry", but it seems a bit of an odd plan - my understanding is that the Marshes lie between the Emyn Muil and the Morannon, so you wouldn't bring an army through them anyway. (The Two Towers points out that there's a road directly to the north!)

At least not by choice - but it's a great place to drive enemies into if they attack. Apparently both Amdir of Lorien and Ondoher of Gondor saw their soldiers driven into the marshes, as did the Wainriders.

So could it be less a roadblock and more of a trap? Drive the enemy in there, and make them so spooked that they can't fight any more? And if you happen to be, I dunno, a Necromancer, you could put a spell on the entire marsh to capture some essence of the fallen to add to the trap.

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"Silver hair" would indicate Telerin, or more precisely Sindarin Elves. One would assume that the fėar of these Elves would have been called to the Halls of Mandos after they died in battle. I'm not sure how they would become dispossessed spirits enthralled by Sauron when these Elves died during the War of the Last Alliance, in which Sauron himself was defeated. The Dead Marshes came to claim the graves of the fallen warriors over time -- hundreds or thousands of years?

So, when did this "fell light" consume these fallen warriors and reveal their visages after so many centuries? Tolkien never explained.
I think silver hair is more specific to Thingol's relatives than to the Sindar as a whole, but Tolkien may not have 'known' that at the time of writing. Unfinished Tales tells us they were more likely Silvan: "Malgalad [of Lorien] and more than half his following perished in the great battle of the Dagorlad, being cut off from the main host and driven into the Dead Marshes."

Accepting that this is a late source, it implies that the Dead Marshes were already marshes, and possibly already cursed. Perhaps each elf that fell seemed to open their eyes again as they sank into the water, cupping a dancing light in their hands. It would work very nicely with my 'trap' theory.

The Two Towers says that "They fought on the plain for days and months at the Black Gates. But the Marshes have grown since then, swallowed up the graves; always creeping, creeping," but that doesn't mean the first Dead didn't appear during the battle itself. It just means that Sauron has somehow cursed the very water of the marsh - which is exactly what he's done to the Morgulduin. He probably gets a kick out of corrupting Ulmo's domain.

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It comes down solely to taste whether or not one likes the Rivers and Beacon Hills story. It is very "late Tolkien" if that makes any sense as an aesthetic judgment.
It does, actually. Coupled with Myths Transformed, 'Late Tolkien' is (partly) the era of demysticisation. Previously mysterious things had to have a logical explanation, even if the explanation made the story less powerful.

Which I can totally accept, and even find useful - but I think I'm always going to aesthetically prefer the 'myths'.

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So I can easily imagine that the Calenardhon-side of the White Mountains was (probably lightly) settled by a folk akin to the Dunlendings and Gondorian hinterlands, and these probably dwindled and thinned even as the Dśnedain did: probably never a great population there, and exposed to dangers like the Wainriders and Balchoth. When Cirion gave away that land to the Rohirrim, there were probably few enough left to think of it as "none," but the idea that there might have been a small sect that, instead of fleeing to Gondor or Isengard or Dunland holed up behind Dunharrow, seems possible.

If so, maybe there was a long chain of hidden continuity with the Dead, but there needn't have been: the Paths of the Dead wouldn't have had any terror if the Dead couldn't influence the living, and the idea that the Dead might have corrupted or used some embittered near-Dunlendings driven to anger at the loss of THEIR land in the service of, as they'd see it, their own kin, to maim and kill Bregor as a sort of dark revenge ritual... well, I'm enjoying the idea.
This makes a lot of sense! Like you say, the Dunlendings would have had the land if they could, and we know the Rohirrim hated them and drove them out. It would tie Baldor's death to the Wulf coup; and it's notable that Aldor, Baldor's brother, seems to have devoted his time to persecuting the Dunlendings. Makes sense, if their kin killed his brother!

That said, it all fits very badly with "The way is shut... the Dead keep it". Whether the Old Man was a Dunlending, a Wose, or an animated corpse, if there's a whole colony still alive in the mountains, he's more than a bit of a liar.

hS
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Old 04-04-2021, 03:52 PM   #25
Galin
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[ . . . ] Coupled with Myths Transformed, 'Late Tolkien' is (partly) the era of demysticisation. Previously mysterious things had to have a logical explanation, even if the explanation made the story less powerful.
I wonder if anyone has taken an "in-depth" look at this matter. In my opinion, "very late Tolkien" accepts/includes the OFW* idea and the Tree-origins of the Sun and Moon, as long as they are presented in the legendarium as hailing from Mannish or Mixed tales and sources.

I have a very vague memory of Tom Shippey talking about Tolkien being arguably "too something" in his later years, but can't recall what it was!



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