I am focusing on the fellbeasts acting as Nazgûl mount.

What are fellbeasts and when did Sauron acquire them? Are they Sauron's own creation or did he collaborate with them? Do they appear in any books or stories by Tolkien other than The Two Towers and Return of the King?

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    Possible duplicate of What were the fell beasts the Nazgul flew on?
    – Mithoron
    Sep 15, 2019 at 21:31
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    @Mithoron I did my research with "fellbeast" not "fell beast", so I missed that question :) Regardless, both the question and the answers focus on appearance rather than their relation with Sauron.
    – user65648
    Sep 15, 2019 at 21:44
  • It's pretty clear that the quote in those answers covers how Sauron acquired them, and that they are not his creation.
    – DavidW
    Sep 16, 2019 at 13:07
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    That answer, though it does cover the how, does not cover the "when" Sep 16, 2019 at 13:51
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    I would propose that a question asking when a creature was acquired is not the same question as what those creatures were called. Even if the other question's answers are able to answer this one, they are clearly different questions. Sep 16, 2019 at 15:51

2 Answers 2


I can't believe that Mark Olson found seven quotes for his answer but didn't give the most important one. Since I could find only partial versions of that passage online, I had to type in the full passage manually from The Return of the King, Book V, Chapter 6, "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields":

The great shadow descended like a falling cloud. And behold! it was a winged creature: if bird, it was 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. 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.

This passage is ambiguous whether there were at least nine such fellbeasts, one for each of the Nazgûl plus spares, or only one that was ridden only by the Witch-king, with the other Nazgûl riding lesser flying creatures such as corrupted giant eagles or baby dragons. Adult dragons would probably have been much larger than the fell beast.

From the Fell Beasts page on Tolkien Gateway:

While the exact origin of the beasts is unknown, they were likely bred by Sauron from a creature of the Elder Days to supply the Nazgûl with steeds.1

1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"

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 acknowledged that it resembles a pterosaur and may have been a survivor of older geological eras.5

5 J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 211, (dated 14 October 1958)

I would guess that in the Elder Days Morgoth bred the wingless dragons like Glaurung the Golden from something like pythons or crocodiles, and then bred the wingless dragons with members of the fell beast's species to produce the flying winged dragons.

Or possibly Morgoth bred the first flying dragons with something else to produce the first fell beasts, intended to be smaller and less dangerous but more numerous than the winged dragons, but the fell beasts did not multiply and afflict people as much as Morgoth intended.

And if I had to classify the fell beast ridden by the Witch-king I would describe it as a "terror dactyl".

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    Thank you for your answer before some people shut down another perfectly valid question with duplicacy claims.
    – user65648
    Sep 16, 2019 at 15:45
  • This doesn't add much beyond the accepted answer to the proposed duplicate.
    – chepner
    Sep 16, 2019 at 19:01
  • @chepner It is a different question answer by the same quote. Also "doesn't add much" and "doesn't add anything at all" are way different.
    – user65648
    Sep 17, 2019 at 0:05
  • Unlikely that there was only one, as Legolas shot one while on the river with the Fellowship. Possible he just wounded it I guess
    – The Fallen
    Apr 1, 2022 at 2:48

A "fell beast" is not a specific type of animal. "Fell" is a somewhat archaic work meaning "fierce", "deadly", or "terrible" -- basically, pretty any dangerous animal can be a "fell beast."

In LotR, Tolkien uses it twice:

Under the boughs of Mirkwood there was deadly strife of Elves and Men and fell beasts.

Could be pretty much anything, really. Wolves? Bears? Spiders, even, though "beast" usually means a "mammal."

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 carcass of the fell beast that lay there: and their steeds would not go near.

Here it's the flying reptile that the head Nazgûl was riding.

Where did they come from? It looks like they were already around and Sauron gathered them in. (You'll remember that the events of The Hobbit were set in train because Gandalf feared the Sauron would find a way to use Smaug (no creature of Sauron's) against Elves, Dwarves, and Men.

Among many cares he [Gandalf] was troubled in mind by the perilous state of the North; because he knew then already that Sauron was plotting war, and intended, as soon as he felt strong enough, to attack Rivendell. But to resist any attempt from the East to regain the lands of Angmar and the northern passes in the mountains there were now only the Dwarves of the Iron Hills. And beyond them lay the desolation of the Dragon. The Dragon Sauron might use with terrible effect.

So, as Gandalf says:

'Alas! Mordor draws all wicked things, and the Dark Power was bending all its will to gather them there.

Sauron pulled in "naturally occurring" beasts (many fashioned by Morgoth, no doubt) and perhaps made them more dangerous.

Going earlier to The Silmarillion, Oromë the Vala is

...a hunter of monsters and fell beasts, and he delights in horses and in hounds;

In Beleriand, Dwarves reported that

'There are fell beasts ...in the land east of the mountains, and your ancient kindred that dwell there are flying from the plains to the hills.' And ere long the evil creatures came even to Beleriand, over passes in the mountains, or up from the south through the dark forests. Wolves there were, or creatures that walked in wolf-shapes, and other fell beings of shadow;

Later, Sauron apparently added malevolent spirits to ordinary wolves:

Therefore and army was sent against him under the command of Sauron; and Sauron brought werewolves, fell beasts inhabited by dreadful spirits that he had imprisoned in their bodies.

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    My researched showed me fell is a word similar to foul, probably with some Latin or Germanic root. Although I upvoted your answer, it does not explain when did Sauron acquire them.
    – user65648
    Sep 15, 2019 at 21:39
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    @C.Koca: Good point. I've added Gandalf's statement that Sauron attracted them to himself.
    – Mark Olson
    Sep 15, 2019 at 21:46
  • @C.Koca American Heritage Dictionary (1981) says it's from the same root as felon. Sep 18, 2019 at 5:22
  • OED gives this citation for fell: "1340 Ayenbite (1866) 61 Þe felliste best þet me clepeþ hyane" (emphasis added, 'best' here is a Middle-English form of 'beast', as far as I can tell). We also get, in the centuries since, citations including 'fell Adders' and 'fell Viper'. OED also suggests the Anglo-Norman noun 'feloun, felun' as a source for 'fell' via the nominative case 'fel'. Apr 1, 2022 at 3:42

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