15

In the Fellowship of the Ring, when Tom Bombadill is telling the hobbits stories of the nearby lands, he says:

"... Gold was piled on the biers of dead kings and queens; and mounds covered them, and the stone doors were shut; and the grass grew over all. Sheep walked for a while biting the grass, but soon the hills were empty again. A shadow came out of dark places far away, and the bones were stirred in the mounds. Barrow-wights walked in the hollow places with a clink of rings on cold fingers, and gold chains in the wind."

What is the shadow that came out of dark places and caused the barrow-wights to wake? Some websites point to the Witch King of Angmar, but I wanted to know if there are any canon sources to that. I always had the impresssion that barrow-wights are a totally separate evil and have nothing to do with Mordor. Like the Balrog and Shelob, I assumed they were another source of evil in middle earth.

When did the barrow-wights first wake and who woke them?

12

The Barrowdowns were the remnants of the kingdom of Cardolan. The history of its fall and the inhabiting of the barrows is in Appendix A:

A great host came out of Angmar in 1409, and crossing the river entered Cardolan and surrounded Weathertop. The Dúnedain were defeated and Arveleg was slain. The Tower of Amon Sûl was burned and razed; but the palantír was saved and carried back in retreat to Fornost, Rhudaur was occupied by evil Men subject to Angmar, and the Dúnedain that remained there were slain or fled west Cardolan was ravaged. Araphor son of Arveleg was not yet full-grown, but he was valiant, and with aid from Círdan he repelled the enemy from Fornost and the North Downs. A remnant of the faithful among the Dúnedain of Cardolan also held out in Tyrn Gorthad (the Barrowdowns), or took refuge in the Forest behind.

...

In the days of Argeleb II [1670-1743] the plague came into Eriador from the Southeast, and most of the people of Cardolan perished, especially in Minhiriath. The Hobbits and all other peoples suffered greatly, but the plague lessened as it passed northwards, and the northern parts of Arthedain were little affected. It was at this time that an end came of the Dúnedain of Cardolan, and evil spirits out of Angmar and Rhudaur entered into the deserted mounds and dwelt there.

Rhudaur was just a vassal state of Angmar, so it's canon that the evil spirits definitely came from the Witch-Kingdom of Angmar. The waking was, in effect, done by these evil spirits - they were the shadow from far away, and stirred (controlled) the bones already in the mounds.

It's not explained whether they were sent specifically by the Witch-King or came of their own volition, but I think it's a reasonable assumption that the Witch-King would have been involved, especially at this time and given the strategic benefit of effectively preventing any further settlement of one of the Kingdoms of the Dunedain.

9

From the LOTR Wikia:

These hills were the burial mounds that were made in the First Age of the Sun for the Kings of Men. For many ages the Barrow-downs were sacred and revered, until out of the Witch-Kingdom of Angmar many terrible and tortured spirits fled across Middle-earth, desperately searching to hide from the ravening light of the Sun.

Since the Kingdom of Angmar was destroyed by Eärnur in TA 1975, we can suppose that they are relatively "new" (no older than Angmar fundation, in TA 1300).

Another site seems to confirm the apparition of the wights during the war between the remnants of the Arnor kingdom and Angmar:

Evil spirits sent to dwell in the Barrow-downs by the Witch-king of Angmar during his wars with the remnant of Arnor, and who remained there long after the realm of Angmar itself had vanished from the world.

Edit: More informations from a verifiable source, with references to actual book passages

The Barrow-wights were evil spirits, although their true nature is unknown; it is not known if they were perverted Maiar (Úmaiar) or spirits of Orcs, fallen Avari, or evil Men.

The Witch-king of Angmar sent them to the Barrow-downs, in order to prevent a resurrection of the destroyed Dúnedain kingdom of Cardolan. The spirits stirred the dead bones in the mounds and haunted them.

  • 1
    FYI: Wikia (unless properly referenced) may not be canon. Anyone can write anything they wish. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 8 '12 at 22:03
  • 2
    You mean the internetz are not absolute truth??? – The Fallen Sep 8 '12 at 23:08
  • @DVK: I added another source (tolkiengateway.net) wich includes references to the actual books, to make the information easily verifiable. Thanks for the remark. – Eureka Sep 9 '12 at 7:27

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