It seems that crows are the harbingers of trouble and disaster, judging by king Theoden's choice of words, when giving a rather frosty welcome to Gandalf:

'I greet you,' he said, 'and maybe you look for welcome. But truth to tell your welcome is doubtful here, Master Gandalf. You have ever been a herald of woe. Troubles follow you like crows, and ever the oftener the worse. I will not deceive you: when I heard that Shadowfax had come back riderless, I rejoiced at the return of the horse, but still more at the lack of the rider; and when Eomer brought the tidings that you had gone at last to your long home, I did not mourn. But news from afar is seldom sooth. Here you come again! And with you come evils worse than before, as might be expected. Why should I welcome you, Gandalf Stormcrow? Tell me that.'

Harsh words. And Grima echoes:

"..." Why indeed should we welcome you, Master Stormcrow? Lathspell I name you, Ill-news; and ill news is an ill guest they say.' ~LoTR- The Two Towers - Chapter 6 - King of the Golden Hall

So crows considered to be the harbringers of bad news and in general nasty creatures, and not just by the Rohirrim, but also by the dwarves:

“I only wish he was a raven!” said Balin. “I thought you did not like them! You seemed very shy of them, when we came this way before.” "Those were crows! And nasty suspicious-looking creatures at that, and rude as well. You must have heard the ugly names they were calling after us. But the ravens are different. There used to be a great friendship between them and the people of Thor; and they often brought us secret news, and were rewarded with such bright things as they coverted for their dwellings. "They live many a year, and their memories are long, and they hand on their wisdom to their children." ~The Hobbit, chapter 15 - The Gathering of the Clouds

Saruman also uses crows to spy on his adversaries.

Tolkien's writing is inspired by various mythologies in which ravens, crows and also eagles serve as symbols of war and death, but also of wisdom - the Nordic god Odin has two ravens, in the Irish mythology war goddes Badb wreaks havoc as a raven or crow among her enemies, according to the Cornish folklore the spirit of king Arthur entered into a red billed Chough, a member of the crow family and so on.

So why the crows singled out as baddies, getting all the bad bird rep in Middle-earth, while ravens (and eagles) shine as benevolent and helpful creatures?

Could it be that Saruman corrupted them? Or were they always nasty?

  • 2
    I think you got it right a the end there, it seems to be that the Crebain are the ones that are most often being referenced to when it comes to evil crows, that being said, in an earlier draft of the hobbit, it was Ravens that were evil, however as the story progressed Tolkien had to change the ravens to being friendly and the crows to being evil.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 14:57
  • @Edlothiad the ravens were the baddies originally? I thought JRRT was inspired by a specific myth, but maybe he'd just tossed a coin then...
    – user68762
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 15:34
  • One of the baddies, yes. The crows were still bad. Below you state you're not interested in the in-universe reason for bad crows but instead for the out-of-universe of which mythologies inspired the crows? Your question should be edited to reflect this
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 15:46
  • 1
    Speciesism? There's nothing inherently evil about spiders, snakes, or vultures, but when they show up in fiction, you can bet that they're not part of the good guys. Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 16:34
  • Well, you know... "Dark wings, dark words"
    – Sekhemty
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 20:45

1 Answer 1


There's two answers here. One debunking the use of "Stormcrow" as to mean that crows are bad, and another to explain why crows are bad.

Stormcrow means "bringer of the storm", and as in the quote, Theoden says this to Gandalf. This is because he infers Gandalf brings trouble with him. To a possessed Theoden, he would be right. I don't think this is directly related to a crow being bad, it's just a name. The "bogey-man" sounds like a horrible name, but bogeys aren't necessarily bad.

Now onto why crows are bad. There's no black and white explanation for the origin on crows or "Crebain" as they are known in the legendarium. There are quite a few species, both good and inherently evil that have no explanation of their origin (Watcher in the water, Ungoliant and her spiders, The Ents, Dragons).

The only thing we know is they are usually used for the bidding of evil, and because of that they must have been corrupted from something else since Melkor/Saruman/Sauron could only bend and corrupt, they never had the ability to create. It is my guess that they are possibly corrupted Ravens, but again, nothing concrete.

EDIT: Also on the point made about crows being the harbinger of bad news. It's actually Ravens which are usually the harbinger of bad news, this is not just limited to Tolkien's work either.

  • I believe that's boogie man, but your version sounds equally terrifying Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 18:11
  • 2
    The bogeyman is a thing too
    – John Bell
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 8:42
  • That's awful. As if your nightmares weren't scary enough, now there's more of them?! Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 19:20
  • Origin of ents is known.
    – Mithoron
    Commented Oct 10, 2017 at 20:18
  • When I search "history of the ents" this is the first thing I read: Almost nothing is known of the early history of the Ents
    – John Bell
    Commented Oct 11, 2017 at 8:54

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