73

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?

1
  • 2
    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. – Hashim Aziz Jun 1 '20 at 17:51
42

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.

14
  • 5
    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
  • 2
    @Bardo Tolkien had zero involvement with the video game. – Lexible Oct 9 '15 at 20:40
  • 3
    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
  • 2
    @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
  • 3
    @Bardo If you direct your attention to the original question at the top of the page, it is precisely about Tolkien canon. – Lexible Oct 13 '15 at 15:01
22

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.

1
  • 2
    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
9

There is a clue to the Watcher in the Water's identity in The Silmarillion. In the chapter "Of Beren and Luthien" it is revealed that before the Gate of Angband "Black chasms opened beside the road, whence forms as of writhing serpents issued."

This suggests the tentacled monster described in The Fellowship of the Ring was a remnant of one of Morgoth's creations which had somehow survived the destruction of Beleriand at the end of the First Age. Perhaps the creature still retained some instinct to guard the gate of its master's abode, similar to the Balrog of Moria.

6

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.

2

i agree, it seems pretty likely the watcher is one of the nameless things just like ungoliant, whom had scary grabbing arms as well (ungoliant is just as scary as the watcher, but we just don't know anything about him)

New contributor
Thomas Haeyen is a new contributor to this site. Take care in asking for clarification, commenting, and answering. Check out our Code of Conduct.
3
  • 1
    This seems like a bit of a guess, and doesn't really add much to the other answers that say much the same, but at least suggest where it came from (the deeps, Beleriand, the roots of the world). This is really more of a comment than an answer, and should be posted as such. – DavidW Mar 2 at 14:31
  • This answer does make the point that Tolkien's world has creatures in it which (a) don't fit in neat categories and (b) aren't understood (or even known to) the wisest, most knowledgeable and and most powerful beings in it. It's a point that I think deserves to be more widely understood. – Mark Olson Mar 2 at 18:12
  • i agree, some creatures we can only imagine. like the horrors of utumno and angband and yes, my comment wasn't really an answer. – Thomas Haeyen Mar 3 at 7:28

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.