They were once Men. Great kings of Men. Then Sauron the Deceiver gave to them Nine Rings of Power. Blinded by their greed, they took them without question. One by one, falling into darkness. They are the Nazgûl. Ringwraiths, neither living nor dead.

Aragorn - The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien

Are the Nazgûl literally blind?

Or is "blinded by their greed" figurative?

If they are blind, how do they get around and find what they're looking for so adeptly? Would they rely on their sense of smell alone?

I Googled this, but found LOL comments, RPG forums, and really poor quality sources that I wouldn't trust to have the correct information. The LOTR Wikia doesn't address this.


4 Answers 4


As I answered in this question:

A quote from Aragorn, The Fellowship of the Ring, A Knife in the Dark:

For the black horses can see, and the Riders can use men and other creatures as spies, as we found at Bree. They themselves do not see the world of light as we do, but our shapes cast shadows in their minds, which only the noon sun destroys, and in the dark they perceive many signs and forms that are hidden from us: then they are most to be feared. And at all times they smell the blood of living things, desiring and hating it. Senses, too, there are other than sight or smell. We can feel their presence - it troubled our hearts, as soon as we came here and before we saw them; they feel ours more keenly. Also, the Ring draws them.

From The History of Middle Earth, The Return of the Shadow, "Of Gollum and the Ring," describing what happens when one is fully possessed of the Ring:

Yes, if the Ring overcomes you, you yourself become permanently invisible - and it is a horrible cold feeling. Everything becomes very faint like grey ghost pictures against the black background in which you live; but you can smell more clearly than you can hear or see. You have no power however like a Ring of making other things invisible: you are a ringwraith. You can wear clothes. (you are just a ringwraith; and your clothes are visible, unless the Lord lends you a ring) But you are under the command of the Lord of the Rings.

The talk of them being blinded by greed is indeed figurative, but it has a real application. Their greed for Sauron's power enslaved them to the ring, which led to their becoming wraiths. That is why they cannot see well. So they were literally and figuratively blinded by greed.

  • 1
    Another great answer -- thanks for the canon quotes! :) Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 15:14

"Blinded by their greed" is figurative.

They are not blind per se, but they exist in - and see - in... err... the best SciFi term would be an alternate/parallel dimension (what Tolkien called "the shadow realm"). They exist in the spirit world more than real one. Thus, what they see of real world is just general outlines.

As proof that they aren't blind, they instantly see the Ring Bearer once he puts on a ring and gets linked to the spirit world himself.

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    I believe it's called "the shadow realm."
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 2:41

That particular reference is purely figurative. Aragorn has more to say about the reality in The Fellowship of the Ring; while I don't have my copy here to quote from, they have a shadowy awareness of the world we see and are to some extent — but not entirely — reliant on the vision of their mounts. Frodo then demonstrated this as he gradually slipped toward their world due to the Morgul-knife wound, before Elrond brought him back: the world began to become shadowy around him, except for the Nazgûl and Glorfindel.


Kind of, they see the world differently, from another realm of sorts, they can sense the world around them but they don't see it the same way. The can also sense the world through their mounts, which is why they always use some kind of mount. As for the ring, it's a bridge between realms it shows up in both.

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