9

Even Aragorn and the Hobbits are surprised at Weathertop that the Nazgûl did not try a second attack to take the ring. The following possible reasons are offered or implied:

  • The Nazgûl where satisfied with stabbing Frodo with the Morgul-knife.

But why fall back on a second-best solution when they could have taken the ring directly?

  • The Nazgûl were terrified of Aragorn and his flaming torch.

But even assuming that in Tolkien's world a hero like Aragorn can direct his force-of-will with almost super-power-like effect on evil spirits, they are five against one, since the Hobbits are unable to fight. The Nazgûl could attack Aragorn from a distance with arrows or spears, or encircle him. At least they could have stayed close and waited till the effect of his will-power-attack vanished, or started a siege.

  • The Nazgûl were terrified of the name Elbereth.

But if that would work, they would be easy to defeat and pose no danger anymore.

Connected problems are other cases where the Nazgûl apparently act under sub-optimal strategy, like not having one of them waiting directly at the Brandywine ferry (he could even wait openly and tell suspicious Hobbits he is waiting for Mr. Baggins), not better observing Crickhollow (they must have reached it long before Frodo, to find it they could just ask where it is or where Mr. Baggins lives), and hesitating several days till attacking Crickhollow.

I'll try to give an answer myself, but I welcome better suggestions.

  • What makes you think this is a "second best solution"? – Matt Gutting Jun 8 '17 at 20:34
  • @MattGutting I assume their first priority is to take the ring as quick as possible and avoid any danger of losing contact with its bearer again. – elias_d Jun 8 '17 at 20:45
13

There are a few varying reasons why the Nazgul didn't attack again, all of which I'll cover in this answer.

First off is Gandalf's opinion that he gives to Frodo in Rivendell, following that we have some common fan theories, based on evidence, that suggest why they may not have struck a second time.

  • Unexpected Resistance
  • Lack of Physical Power
  • Frodo mentioning Elbereth
  • Fear of barrow-blades

These are further elaborated below


Firstly, Gandalf gives us his opinion of what he thought the Nazgûl aimed at doing and in his opinion, they were successful and there was no need for them to start a second attack.

‘What would they have done to me?' asked Frodo. `What were the Riders trying to do?'

'They tried to pierce your heart with a Morgul-knife which remains in the wound. If they had succeeded, you would have become like they are, only weaker and under their command. You would have became a wraith under the dominion of the Dark Lord; and he would have tormented you for trying to keep his Ring, if any greater torment were possible than being robbed of it and seeing it on his hand.'

He clearly thinks that they in fact only aimed to turn him into a wraith, and could then have claimed him and taken back the ring.

With that aside lets look at the various arguments for them trying to take the Ring at Weathertop rather than Gandalf's opinion of just trying to turn Frodo into a wraith.

Unexpected resistance

By far the most common, a lot of people agree with Aragorn when he said

I don't think they expected to be resisted... They will come again another night, if we cannot escape. They are only waiting, because they think that their purpose is almost accomplished, and that the Ring cannot fly much further.
FOTR: Chapter 12, Flight to the Ford

The main criticism with the above is that the Nazgûl wouldn't have been careless enough to just let Frodo go wonder about with the wound, and would surely have gone for another strike. I'm of this opinion, as I feel the Nazgûl could not have known that Aragorn was the Heir to the Throne of Gondor and only one of such high stature would've been able to prevent Frodo so well from death. Furthermore, they didn't know Frodo would be so strong.

Lack of physical power

Another camp of users think that due to Aragorn's strength, he was able to scare of the Nazgûl due to their lack of inherit power. As stated in Letter 210:

They have no great physical power against the fearless

Suggesting that due to Aragorn's fearless-ness, they were unable to fight against him and therefore fled. However this seems to be counteracted by the fact that the Witch King challenged Gandalf later in the books, and had previously challenged great foes.

O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!

The third group of people are those who support the fact that Frodo's cry of

At that moment Frodo threw himself forward on the ground, and he heard himself crying aloud: O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!

Frodo's cry seemed to have caused him to some pain, as pointed out by Aragorn.

'More deadly to him was the name of Elbereth.'

Barrow-blades

Some people think that the Nazgûl were aware of the Barrow-blades and that in fact two of the Nazgûl had stepped back with only the Witch King advancing.

Desperate, he drew his own sword, and it seemed to him that it flickered red, as if it was a firebrand. Two of the figures halted. The third was taller than the others... He sprang forward and bore down on Frodo.

However, Aragorn, as earlier pointed out, states that the words "Elbereth" was more deadly than the slash of Frodo's blade.


To fix the other answers speculation. Frodo has no power over the Nazgûl, that lies with Sauron as he holds the 9 rings.

  • Nice. But I think that the barrow-blades are indeed dangerous to the nazgul. The reason why Frodo's blow caused no serious damage in the Wich King is, that he had not hit him. (only his black mantle) Aragorn noted that in that case Frodo's blade would have been destroyed. (As happened later to the barrow-blade used by Merry near Minas Tirith.) – b.Lorenz Jul 14 '17 at 17:24
  • Wait which bit are you disagreeing with? – Edlothiad Jul 14 '17 at 17:34
  • With: 'However, Gandalf, as earlier pointed out, states that the words "Elbereth" was more deadly than the slash of Frodo's blade.' I deem that it does not mean that barrow-blades are ineffective, only that Frodo had not managed to hit the right place. and in the previous paragraph you attributed this comment to Aragorn. – b.Lorenz Jul 14 '17 at 17:43
  • Yes I meant Aragorn says that not Gandalf. And yes I'm not saying the Barrow-blades are ineffective, I'm saying they're less effective than Frodo calling out Elbereth. – Edlothiad Jul 14 '17 at 17:51
7

"There seem only to have been five of the enemy"

You're not the first to wonder. Strider also ponders over why the Ring wraiths had retreated immediately. The Ring wraiths were strongest together: all 9 of them. Unfinished Tales notes:

Now few could understand even one of these fell creatures, and none could withstand them when gathered together under their terrible captain, the Lord of Morgul.

Gandalf also notes how hopeless it is to withstand against all Nine Riders (on foot):

The Riders were too swift to overtake, and too many to oppose. On foot even Glorfindel and Aragorn together could not withstand the Nine at once.

So how does this link up? With only five of the Ring wraiths attacking the camp, they were not - so to speak - at their "strongest" then, and hence went back to regroup with the others who were chasing Gandalf.

Not only that..

They didn't expect to be resisted

This is another good reason. To put it in an analogy: Imagine you and 8 other friends decide to rob a house today. Unfortunately, 4 of your friends are busy today, so only 5 of you can rob the house. You climb over the gates, thinking of how easy it'll be to rob the house (you have a bunch of knives) while the helpless house owners cower in fear. Unexpectedly, the house owners don't cower away but attack you with baseball bats and frying pans. What, are you going to come back again? Personally, I'd wait for my 4 other friends to come back so 9 of us can rob the house together. That's what the Ring wraiths did, except that Strider and Co. were already on the run.

"Why they were not all here, I don't know; but I don't think they expected to be resisted. They have drawn off for the time being. They will come again another night, if we cannot escape. They are only waiting, because they think that their purpose is almost accomplished, and that the Ring cannot fly much further."

They didn't expect Frodo to be able to survive his wound

In a word: overconfidence. They expected Frodo to succumb to the wound made by heir Morgul knives, so they simply decided to wait till Frodo "faded". Unexpectedly, Frodo survives. Gandalf also notes:

"They did not need the guidance of their horses any longer: you had become visible to them, being already on he threshold of their world.

Therefore, (as Omegacron excellently interprets in the comments): What was the use of going back and getting defeated again, when an easy victory could be secured by waiting for the Ringbearer to succumb to his wound? Knowing this (and the fact that they had horses), the Ring wraiths decided to wait it out before attacking them again.


So, the Ring wraiths retreated because of a few reasons:

  1. They were not at their full power as only 5 were present
  2. They didn't expect resistance
  3. They believed Frodo couldn't "fly any further", and sooner or later he would be weakened enough to be attacked
  • 1
    In other words, they had no reason to push the issue - they felt they could easily fall back while waiting for the other four to show up. Why risk another defeat when you can sit back and wait for the easy victory... – Omegacron Jun 9 '17 at 4:16
3

The urge to put on the ring is not just so that the Nazgul can see where Frodo is, but so that he can come under their control:

'You were in gravest peril while you wore the Ring, for then you were half in the wraith-world yourself, and they might have seized you.'

Gandalf, in Book II, Chapter 1, "Many Meetings"

But the Nazgul have no guarantee that Frodo will indeed put the Ring on, so that they can take it. Instead, they stab him with a dagger designed to make him a wraith himself, and under their control. This way, they can make a single attack, guaranteed (as they suppose) to work before any remedy can be found, As it is easier to make a hit-and-run attack, without stopping to seize the Ring, they do this and rely on the certainty that Wraith-Frodo will appear and be under their control, giving them the Ring, without the bother of them having to take it.

And why would they still go with that plan even after they saw Frodo put the Ring on? Perhaps they, in their suffering, knew that Sauron "would have tormented [Frodo] for trying to keep his Ring". After all, as Gandalf says elsewhere, "There is such a thing as malice and revenge."

2

Whenever the Nazgul are close, Frodo has to fight the urge to put on the ring. From the emotional context of the narrative it is clear that it is important for Frodo to fight that temptation, and a huge defeat if he gives in.

Why?

In the Shire the reason might be that putting on the ring alerts the Nazgul.

Also, putting on the ring would be risky in the long run since he could become addicted like Gollum.

But none of that applies to Frodo at weathertop. The Nazgul know he is there and has the ring, and if they take it he would not end up like Gollum. So why is it a big deal there that he puts on the ring? The Nazgul being able to see him a bit better should not count for so much.

If the ring-bearer tries to use the ring, he has access to its power, if he is strong enough to keep control. But my assumption is that the ring-bearer also has access to a hidden power, if he is strong enough to refrain from using the ring: He neutralizes Saurons power to some extent, and also the power of the Nazgul. So he can in a certain sense try to command the Nazgul to keep away from him, if he has enough force of will.

That is why the Nazgul need the Morgul-knife: Otherwise they would not have been able to take the ring from Frodo, they need to weaken his body and mind first. It was their plan all along to stab him and then wait a few days.

  • 1
    "he can in a certain sense try to command the Nazgul to keep away from him" - except that they stabbed him with a knife. If Frodo has any power against the Nazgul, he should've been able to keep them from stabbing him. – DaaaahWhoosh Jun 8 '17 at 20:19
  • 1
    "My assumption is"... on what is it based? – Matt Gutting Jun 8 '17 at 20:32
  • @DaaaahWhoosh Since he put on the ring, he lost control of that power, Maybe that would mean they could have taken the ring, but those "rules" are speculation of course. The important thing to me seems to be that Tolkien gives the challenge not to put on the ring much more emotional relevance than his explanations of the events justify. – elias_d Jun 8 '17 at 20:38
  • @DaaaahWhoosh Possibly the ring grants some power over the Nazgul in any case, but stabbing with a Morgul-knife does not appear on the ring's "radar", since that only transforms you into a phantom and that is similar to what the ring will do anyway? – elias_d Jun 8 '17 at 20:55

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