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I am of course referring to Glorfindel's prophecy about Witch-king's death:

'Eärnur now rode back, but Glorfindel, looking into the gathering dark, said: "Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall.' These words many remembered; but Eärnur was angry, desiring only to be avenged for his disgrace.

My questions are;

  • Was the Witch-king aware of this prophecy?

  • If so, why would he continue fighting Éowyn when she revealed herself to be a woman?

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Are you referring to the film or the book? –  Richard Jun 11 at 20:06
    
I just realized the second question might be opinion based if it isn't explained in the book so might aswell ignore that one, but the tittle question is about the book –  IamVeryCuriousIndeed Jun 11 at 20:08
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Out of universe, the story is essentially a ripoff of Macbeth, fighting MacDuff who is "of no woman born". The wording is nearly identical, as is the 'twist ending'. –  Richard Jun 11 at 20:38
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I don't think the second question really needs an explanation: Most people don't have a prophesy that they can't be killed by the hand of man, but do still fight if they are in battles. –  Jon Hanna Jun 12 at 9:13
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3 Answers 3

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The Witch-King was certainly aware of Glorfindel's prophecy (it's described as being remembered by many people) and he seems to have had no fear in explaining to his enemies that he was, to his own mind, essentially immortal because of it.

During his fight with Éowyn, he explicitly references the wording of the prophecy. e.g. that he cannot fall "by the hand of man":

"A sword rang as it was drawn. “Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may.”

“Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!

When it's then revealed that his opponent isn't in fact a man (but rather a woman) he seems to hesitate for a few seconds, presumably contemplating whether this makes a substantial difference.

“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.”

The winged creature screamed at her, but the Ringwraith made no answer, and was silent, as if in sudden doubt.

As to the second part of your question (e.g. why he keeps fighting after it's revealed that she's a woman), it seems to boil down to the fact that running away from someone a fraction of his size would be ridiculous. On top of that, Éowyn kills his mount so it's not like he's going anywhere in a hurry.

Still she did not blench: maiden of the Rohirrim, child of kings, slender but as a steel-blade, fair but terrible. A swift stroke she dealt, skilled and deadly. The outstretched neck she clove asunder

Backward she sprang as the huge shape crashed to ruin, vast wings outspread, crumpled on the earth; and with its fall the shadow passed away and the hewn head fell like a stone.

For the record, he was actually doing quite well against her until he got stabbed from behind (by one of those sneaky little hobbitses):

Merry's sword had stabbed him from behind, shearing through the black mantle, and passing up beneath the hauberk had pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee.

“Éowyn! Éowyn!” cried Merry. Then tottering, struggling up, with her last strength she drove her sword between crown and mantle, as the great shoulders bowed before her.

The order of events in the film version is similar, except that she kills his Nazgul mount first, then he crows at her (without her part of the dialogue). He also shows none of the hesitation suggested in the novel.

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Good answer. He far outmatched Éowyn in single combat and would have killed her. Though he contemplated her for a moment, he did not fear her. He was after all a powerful warrior/witch king who laid waste to the most powerful armies of men and a veteran of many battles. His real danger was a little Hobbit sneaking up behind him wielding an ancient blade forged by the Men of Westernesse. –  Morgan Jun 11 at 21:00
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@Morgan - also, by my count there are at least a half-dozen 'not men' on the battlefield including elves, orcs, Dwarves, Nazgul, FellBeasts, horses, etc etc. Any one of those could fulfil the prophecy. –  Richard Jun 11 at 21:04
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@Morgan - For the record, if I was him I'd assume that it meant that I'd eventually get splatted by Sauron. –  Richard Jun 11 at 21:05
    
It would have been funny if the witch king's flying mount would have turned on him and bit his head off. Uh...Oops –  Morgan Jun 11 at 21:15
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@NateEldredge -Yep, Merry's thrust with that ancient magical blade broke the spell. That's even stated in the story. –  Morgan Jun 12 at 2:10
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Yes, he was. We're told:

'Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!'

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. Eowyn I am, Eomund'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.'

The winged creature screamed at her, but the Ringwraith made no answer, and was silent, as if in sudden doubt.

So he certainly knew that no living man could kill him; it's likely that he, like pretty much everyone else, interpreted that as meaning "no living human".

It's not entirely clear how, exactly, the Witch-king became aware of the prophecy. Glorfindel apparently made it to Earnur, but in public:

Earnur now rode back, but Glorfindel, looking into the gathering dark, said, "Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall." These words many remembered; but Earnur was angry, desiring only to be avenged for his disgrace.

I'm guessing that since "many remembered" the prophecy, it wouldn't have been too difficult for Angmar's spies to come across it and report it.

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This interpretation may even hold in the light of how it turned out: it was, ultimately, a Hobbit that caused the Witch-king to tall. –  Raphael Jun 12 at 5:52
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That depends on how you interpret things. The hobbit "[broke] the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will," but I don't think that's necessarily "causing him to fall". Eowyn was, after all, the one that sliced his neck. –  Matt Gutting Jun 12 at 10:23
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Yes he knew. But his interpretation was wrong. I am a Hindu and we have a lot of similar stories in our Hinduism mythology. Many include Asuras (demons) gaining boons of strength, weapons etc. But the boon would have hidden catch. These will be used by the protagonists (mostly Devas or Gods) to kill the particular Asura. (If interested check the stories of 'Bhasmasura', Narasimha, Ravana etc). The same happens in LOTR. Witch King had received a boon that no man could kill him. But the word 'man' was literal and not 'human' as most would think. And unfortunately (I like 'em after Sauron) it triggered his Fall!

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“Yes he knew.” — without providing anything to back that up, this isn’t an answer to the question. –  Paul D. Waite Jun 26 at 11:21
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