25

What are the dragon-like creatures that the Nazgûl ride in the later part of the series called?

Anything in relation to the books or movie and out of universe answers.

12
  • 4
    On all the questions pertaining to them on SFF, they're calld simply "beasts" or "fell beasts". Feb 19, 2017 at 9:08
  • 3
    lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Fellbeast
    – Valorum
    Feb 19, 2017 at 9:49
  • 1
    @Gallifreyan & Valorum, I saw that when looking for the answer. I was wondering if they were in fact called something else, but, if that is what they are called I will take that as an answer.
    – KyloRen
    Feb 19, 2017 at 9:52
  • 5
    To quote Wiki: Tolkien did not use fell beast as a proper name, merely describing the animals as "fell". Fell, a Middle English adjective (from the Old French fel "cruel, dreadful") has come to mean, in Modern English, "ferocious, fierce, terrible, cruel, dreadful", and implies an underlying malevolence or hostility that make the noun described all the worse for the ill-will that drives its suddenness and intensity. Feb 19, 2017 at 11:12
  • 1
    @Gallifreyan, post that as the answer, it seems like that is the best we have ATM.
    – KyloRen
    Feb 19, 2017 at 11:39

5 Answers 5

38

Tolkien did not name the creature but based on different chapters of the books they were called by different names.

The Fell beasts, hell-hawks, and Nazgûl-birds, were names used to describe the flying creatures on which the Nazgûl rode after being unhorsed at the Ford of Bruinen.

http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Fell_beasts

When asked about the nature of the fell beast

Asked about the nature of the "steed of the Witch-king", Tolkien replied that the fell beast was not intended to be pterodactylic, but hesitantly acknowledges that it resembles a pterosaur and may have been a survivor of older geological eras.

http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Fell_beasts#Inspiration

4
  • 1
    I haven't been able to find any reference to Nazgûl-birds in The Lord of the Rings.
    – Blackwood
    Feb 22, 2017 at 4:01
  • 2
    "fell" as used in the books is an adjective describing the general dangerousness of the creature, not a specific moniker for this creature.
    – RLH
    Sep 7, 2021 at 23:46
  • @Blackwood - From letter #100, My sentiments are more or less those that Frodo would have had if he discovered some Hobbits learning to ride Nazgûl-birds, 'for the liberation of the Shire'.
    – ibid
    Oct 1, 2021 at 16:19
  • and it wasn't the narrator calling them "hell-hawks" but the Gondorian, Beregond.
    – NKCampbell
    Oct 1, 2021 at 18:56
21

The carcass of one of these animals (the one ridden by the Witch-king of Angmar) is twice referred to as a "fell beast" in The Return of the King.

Right before Théoden's death:

But thereupon Éomer rode up in haste, and with him came the knights of the household that still lived and had now mastered their horses. They looked in wonder at the carcase of the fell beast that lay there: and their steeds would not go near. But Éomer leaped from the saddle, and grief and dismay fell upon him as he came to the king's side and stood there in silence.

And again immediately after Théoden's death:

Men now raised the king, and laying cloaks upon spear-truncheons they made shift to bear him away towards the City; and others lifted Éowyn gently up and bore her after him. But the men of the king’s household they could not yet bring from the field; for seven of the king’s knights had fallen there, and Déorwine their chief was among them. So they laid them apart from their foes and the fell beast and set spears about them. And afterwards when all was over men returned and made a fire there and burned the carcase of the beast; but for Snowmane they dug a grave and set up a stone upon which was carved in the tongues of Gondor and the Mark:

There's no particular reason to believe that "fell beast" is being used as a proper name in this context, but most people seem to use it in this way because they aren't really named elsewhere.

Toward the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, the term "fell beasts" seems to be used to describe general nasty monsters that Frodo sees assaulting Elves and Men in Mirkwood in a vision.

But everywhere he looked he saw the signs of war. The Misty Mountains were crawling like anthills: orcs were issuing out of a thousand holes. Under the boughs of Mirkwood there was a deadly strife of Elf and Men and fell beasts. The land of the Beornings was aflame; a cloud was over Moria; smoke rose on the borders of Lórien.

The character Beregond seems to refer to the Nazgûl's winged creatures as "hell-hawks" although he could be referring to the Nazgûl themselves or even to the Nazgûl/fell beast combo. This is from the scene where the Nazgûl are chasing Faramir and Gandalf rides to his aid and chases them off with white light:

'Faramir!.... It is his call!' cried Beregond. '... But how can he win to the Gate, if these foul hell-hawks have other weapons than fear? But look! They hold on. They will make the Gate. No! the horses are running mad. Look! the men are thrown; they are running on foot. No, one is still up, but he rides back to the others. That will be the Captain: he can master both beasts and men. Ah! there one of the foul things is stooping on him. Help! help!'....

But there is no indication that "hell-hawks" is the proper name for the creatures either.

2

There is no official name given

Tolkien generally refers specifically to the Nazgûl riding the creature, using terms like "Nazgûl" or "Ringwraiths", with the creature itself either ignored or included into the package.

In the rare occasions where Tolkien refers to these creatures themselves, he does not offer any specific name, but has used several different descriptors depending on the context.

The only term Tolkien seems to have ever used that can be interpreted as a proper noun is "Nazgûl-bird", though this was only in a single recorded instance, and it likely was only capitalized because of the element "Nazgûl", and not as a name in itself.

But it is the aeroplane of war that is the real villain. And nothing can really amend my grief that you, my best beloved, have any connexion with it. My sentiments are more or less those that Frodo would have had if he discovered some Hobbits learning to ride Nazgûl-birds, 'for the liberation of the Shire'.
May 1945 Letter to Christopher Tolkien (Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien #100)

Tolkien has also used a few other nouns or adjectives to describe them, never capitalized, ordered here by assumed date of composition. (Though note that some of these may actually be referring to the rider, not the creature.)

The great shadow descended. Slowly the huge vulture-form came down, lifted its wings, and with a hoarse croaking cry settled upon the body of the fallen king, digging in its talons and stooping its long neck.
"Fall of Théoden in the Battle of Osgiliath", a very early draft of "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields" (The War of the Ring - Chapter IX)

‘Faramir! The Lord Faramir! It is his call!’ cried Beregond. ‘Brave heart! But how can he win to the Gate, if these foul hell-hawks have other weapons than fear? But look! They hold on. They will make the Gate. No! the horses are running mad. Look! the men are thrown; they are running on foot. No, one is still up, but he rides back to the others. That will be the Captain: he can master both beasts and men. Ah! there one of the foul things is stooping on him. Help! help! Will no one go out to him? Faramir!’
The Lord of the Rings - Book V, Chapter 4 - "The Siege of Gondor"

The great shadow descended like a falling cloud. And behold! it was a winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, and its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was, whose kind, fingering in forgotten mountains cold beneath the Moon, outstayed their day, and in hideous eyrie bred this last untimely brood, apt to evil. And the Dark Lord took it, and nursed it with fell meats, until it grew beyond the measure of all other things that fly; and he gave it to his servant to be his steed. Down, down it came, and then, folding its fingered webs, it gave a croaking cry, and settled upon the body of Snowmane, digging in its claws, stooping its long naked neck. ... The winged creature screamed at her, but the Ringwraith made no answer, and was silent, as if in sudden doubt.
The Lord of the Rings - Book V, Chapter 6 - "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"

They looked in wonder at the carcase of the fell beast that lay there: and their steeds would not go near. But Éomer leaped from the saddle, and grief and dismay fell upon him as he came to the king’s side and stood there in silence. ... But the men of the king’s household they could not yet bring from the field; for seven of the king’s knights had fallen there, and Déorwine their chief was among them. So they laid them apart from their foes and the fell beast and set spears about them.
The Lord of the Rings - Book V, Chapter 6 - "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"

Yes and no. I did not intend the steed of the Witch-king to be what is now called a ‘pterodactyl’, and often is drawn (with rather less shadowy evidence than lies behind many monsters of the new and fascinating semi-scientific mythology of the ‘Prehistoric’). But obviously it is pterodactylic and owes much to the new mythology, and its description even provides a sort of way in which it could be a last survivor of older geological eras.
October 1958 Letter to Rhona Beare (Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien #282)

It should also be noted that Christopher Tolkien has used the term "the great beast", and that Hammond and Scull have used "the winged steeds of the Nazgul". Of course neither is an official name, but it helps to show that they did not consider any of the terms Tolkien used to be an official name either.

The passage (RK p. 120) recording the burying of the carcase of the great beast and of Snowmane, with the horse's epitaph, is absent
The War of the Ring - Chapter IX - "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"

More detail of the winged steeds of the Nazgûl is given in Book V, Chapter 6 when that ridden by the Witch-king is seen at close quarters.
The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion - Book V, Chapter 4 - "The Siege of Gondor"

-1

And behold! it was a winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, and its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was, whose kind, lingering in forgotten mountains cold beneath the Moon, outstayed their day, and in hideous eyrie bred this last untimely brood, apt to evil. And the Dark Lord took it, and nursed it with fell meats, until it grew beyond the measure of all other things that fly; and he gave it to his servant to be his steed.

The description indicates it could be a prehistoric flying reptile. It is also possible that it is supposed to be the largest flying dragon left in the world in Third Age 3019. The description of its wings stretched between fingers indicates that its wings were more like bat wings than pterosaur wings. The description is unclear whether the witch King's mount was the same type of creature as those of the other Nazgul.

All in all, if the species should be given a name, I would suggest "terror dactyle".

-2

I thought the beasts were called Nazgûl, and the riders -- who were Men once that had fallen into Shadow -- were called Dark Riders (first on horses, then on the Nazgûl). In LotR: The Return of the King, the Dark Rider, named the Witch King of Angmar, when King Théoden is toppled and killed, says: "Do not come between the Nazgûl and its prey!" I interpreted this as the Nazgûl beast being the predator, and King Théoden its prey.

If course, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien knew best!

3
  • 4
    At first, that is what I thought. But upon researching the question I found that it is the Dark Riders who were in fact the Nazgul. So in effect, the witch king is referring to himself along with the others. Sounds like a funny way to say it, as it would have sounded more natural if he said Don't come between me and my prey, but then again, they were in fact magical creatures, so I guess it makes sense. Up voted for the same reason as what I originally thought.
    – KyloRen
    Feb 20, 2017 at 6:07
  • 5
    This is a common misconception created by the movies, but it is not the case even in the films. In the Fellowship of the Ring film, Aragorn explains that the Black Riders are called Nazgul or Ringwraiths after the Nazgul search the inn at Bree for the hobbits. This is long before the winged beasts appear in the movies. See this clip: youtube.com/watch?v=FTthEbYCYN8
    – robopuppy
    Feb 20, 2017 at 6:17
  • In the books, I remember the specific reference to them being "winged Nazgul" after the Nazgul and their equine steeds were taken out by Glorfindel when he raised the waters at the ford, and they traded up to air power. If it was a reference to the creatures, they wouldn't have changed the reference. Plus what @robopuppy says. But they do also refer to the steeds as the Nazgul in the movies, pretty clearly. Feb 20, 2017 at 14:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.