30

When Aragorn and the Hobbits are on Weathertop, just after seeing the Nazgul below them and prior to inflicting Frodo's knife wound, Aragorn says the following:

Sauron can put fire to his evil uses, as he can all things, but these Riders do not love it, and fear those who wield it. Fire is our friend in the wilderness.

Is there any mention as to whether fire can actually cause harm to the Nazgul and if not, is there a specific reason for their fear of it?

55

I don't think they can be harmed by fire, they just don't appreciate it being shoved in their faces.

As the quote itself says, they don't fear fire - they fear those who wield it. Anyone who is wielding a firebrand in their face is obviously (a) knowledgeable about Nazgul, and (b) of sufficient stature to not become a gibbering wreck in the face of the fear engendered by them, so the act of wielding fire at a Nazgul in a sign that said foe is to be taken seriously.

In Letter 210 Tolkien touches on this:

Their peril is almost entirely due to the unreasoning fear which they inspire (like ghosts). They have no great physical power against the fearless.

In addition, fire wasn't the main reason the Nazgul fled from Weathertop. Tolkien wrote on this in an essay (The Hunt for the Ring) reproduced in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion.

[The Witch-king] had been shaken by the fire of Gandalf, and began to perceive that the mission on which Sauron had sent him was one of great peril to himself both by the way, and on his return to his Master (if unsuccessful); and he had been doing ill, so far achieving nothing save rousing the power of the Wise and directing them to the Ring. But above all the timid and terrified Bearer had resisted him, had dared to strike at him with an enchanted sword made by his enemies long ago for his destruction. Narrowly it had missed him. How he had come by it — save in the Barrows of Cardolan. Then he was in some way mightier than the B[arrow]-wight; and he called on Elbereth, a name of terror to the Nazgûl. He was then in league with the High Elves of the Havens.

Escaping a wound that would have been as deadly to him as the Mordor-knife to Frodo (as was proved at the end), he withdrew and hid for a while, out of doubt and fear both of Aragorn and especially of Frodo. But fear of Sauron, and the forces of Sauron's will was the stronger.

If not for the combination of resistance, Frodo's Barrow-sword and the instinctive cry of Elbereth, the Nazgul would have persisted in their attack. The fire would not have been enough to hold them off.

  • 2
    Great answer! I had forgotten all about the Barrow incident. I really need to re-read the series – The Fallen Aug 1 '12 at 20:55
  • 1
    That really is a great answer. It seems that so much of the additional middle-earth literature explains so much that is unexplained in LOTR – bazz Aug 1 '12 at 22:04
  • 1
    Let me add to the chorus saying that is a fantastic quote. A great insight to the mind of the Witch-King. – Plutor Aug 2 '12 at 13:08
  • 3
    Intriguing. Tolkien's quote implies that Merry's stabbing of the W-K on the fields of Pelennor would have alone (eventually) done in the W-K and the Eowyn simply hurried things along. – QuantumMechanic Jun 16 '15 at 20:42
  • 2
    Another point is their cloaks. Fire could of course damage and destroy their cloaks, and without them, the fear they could instill in the living would be reduced. – maguirenumber6 Feb 19 '17 at 12:52

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.