In the Fellowship of the Ring, our heroes encounter a creature called "The Watcher in the water" which was guarding the Doors of Durin, the ancient and abandoned entrance to the Mines of Moria. What was it? It isn't revealed in the trilogy. Is it explained in any of Tolkien's notes?

  • Small correction - it wasn't guarding the Doors of Durin any more than the Balrog was guarding Moria. Both of them are explicitly shown to have been awakened, at least in the movies - the Watcher by Merry throwing stones into the lake outside the Doors, and the Balrog by Pippin dropping the corpse of a Dwarven soldier down a well. – Prometheus Jun 1 at 17:51

It appears to be some kind of vaguely defined underground lake Kraken or similar dungeon lurker.

Outside of The Fellowship of the Ring it is only mentioned in The History of The Lord of the Rings which contains some of Tolkien's notes.

Dark scene of kraken
a slightly lighter more cartoony drawing of the kraken
From Watcher in the Water on Wikipedia:

Since Tolkien never explicitly stated what the creature is, others have felt free to speculate on its identity and origins. In A Tolkien Bestiary, David Day calls the Watcher a kraken; however, he also implies that there are some differences between the kraken of Scandinavian folklore and the Watcher in the Water. However, Tolkien never called the Watcher a kraken nor described the presence of krakens in Middle-earth. In The Complete Tolkien Companion, J. E. A. Tyler postulates the Watcher was a cold-drake: "...these dragons rely on their strength and speed alone (the creature that attacked the Ring-bearer near the Lake of Moria may have been one of these)." Another writer compared it to squids.

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    Any monster in Middle Earth can be assumed to have its origins in Morgoth's experiments to create life. All of them, including Balrogs, are just distortions of existing creatures, so the kraken, clearly, is a distorted squid or octopus, if not a dragon as hypothesized. – Ryan Reich Jun 14 '14 at 16:58
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    @Bardo Tolkien had zero involvement with the video game. – Lexible Oct 9 '15 at 20:40
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    @Lexible Of course, I mean the roleplaying game, not any videogame, however obviously Tolkien hadn't any involvement in it neither. But a lot of people involved in Tolkien lore and investigation did, for a long time, and the hypothesis they reached about this creature was it's the Kraken. Of course it's not godspeech, but it's a good and somewhat reliable source on modern day. – Bardo Oct 11 '15 at 10:16
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    I remember reading somewhere that in the film, Peter Jackson considered it one of the "Nameless Things" that live "far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves" as mentioned by Gandalf when recounting his battle with the Balrog. This creature had somehow make its way to the surface to guard, deliberately or otherwise, the West-gate of Moria. – maguirenumber6 Oct 11 '15 at 14:35
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    @Bardo It may be a "reliable source" but a reliable source of what? Certainly not a reliable source of Tolkien canon. A reliable source of "some ideas some people thought of as pretty cool, but others can feel free to disregard as they choose?" Sure. – Lexible Oct 11 '15 at 15:51

The accepted answer is excellent, but I'd like to add that we just don't know.

Within the works it's not even 100% clear that the Watcher is one creature or a number of independent snake like creatures working together.

‘I felt that something horrible was near from the moment that my foot first touched the water,’ said Frodo. ‘What was the thing, or were there many of them?’ ‘I do not know,’ answered Gandalf; ‘but the arms were all guided by one purpose. Something has crept, or has been driven out of dark waters under the mountains. There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.’ He did not speak aloud his thought that whatever it was that dwelt in the lake, it had seized on Frodo first among all the Company.

While it's extremely likely that it was one creature, and the Kraken theory does fit, we cannot say for certain without a degree of speculation.

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    In fact, when I read the book I understood they were independent snakes, and when I watched the film I thought the Kraken was an invention of Jackson. – Oriol Oct 12 '15 at 20:30

In addition to the suggestions in other posts, when Gandalf was recounting his fight with the Balrog to Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, he says

[...] till at last he fled into dark tunnels. They were not made by Durin's folk [...]. Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he.

So it is possible that one of these "nameless things" found its way up to the lake.

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