The swarms of dead men fighting for the good side always seemed wrong to me. I know they did it to be released from their plight, but.... It's one thing to curse somebody, it's quite another to back it up. How did Isildur back up his curse on the oath breaking men of Dunharrow?

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    Could he have used the Ring somehow? Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 8:00
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    @KeithThompson I don't know when he placed the curse. Was he a ring bearer at the time? Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 19:45
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    @KeithThompson No, as he didn't yet have it. Isildur cursed the Men of the Mountains when they refused to fight with him against Sauron in the War of the Last Alliance. According to the Encyclopedia of Arda (glyphweb.com/arda/p/pathsofthedead.html), the curse could have been placed as many as eleven years before Sauron fell and Isildur claimed the Ring. Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 14:20
  • @Jason Baker Why did you close my question as a dupe when it is two years the senior of the question you closed it against? SMH Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 2:20
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    @MajorStackings Because I thought the other question got better answers. I'm open to being persuaded, but I don't think the age of the posts should factor into it Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 2:24

4 Answers 4


From other answers on SFF, we know that only Ilúvatar has the power to cause men to remain on Arda after death (from Silmarillion).

As such, the best guess is that somehow, the oath (or the curse) was "by name of Ilúvatar".

  • Using Iluvatar's name cannot actually do anything. No one can command Iluvatar to do anything. Fëanor and his sons named Iluvatar in their oath, but still there they couldn't command Iluvatar to give them everlasting darkness. All such things are only by Eru's will. Commented Oct 20, 2023 at 11:45

There are two elements in this:

  1. The Dead Men's original oath, and,
  2. Isildur's curse.

The assumption that Isildur's curse was the primary factor in the Dead Men's eventual fate may not be entirely valid. Oaths in Tolkien are powerful stuff. Perhaps the best example to compare with is the oath of the Feanorians:

They swore an oath which none shall break, and none should take, by the name even of Ilúvatar, calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not ..... For so sworn, good or evil, an oath may not be broken, and it shall pursue oathkeeper and oathbreaker to the world's end.

The implication here is that the breaking of the oath was what actually sealed their fate, but Isildur's curse just made things a little more specific.


It is important to understand how important oaths and curses are within the context of Old English / Old Norse cultural traditions and JRRT incorporated that into his works. user8719 mentions the Fëanorian oath, and that's one example. Curses show up in the case of Hurin and his descendants in The Silmarillion.

Also, check out the discussion of Elrond and Gimli on swearing oaths in support of the Fellowship. Elrond counsels against it - recognizing the power of oaths and how dire they can be.

As a scion of a great and fated line of men, Isildur wasn't necessarily a wizard of any kind, but an oath sworn by him or an oath sworn to him and his kin would be especially meaningful.


The only other magic power mentioned is that wielded by a King - which Aragorn uses to heal after he becomes the King of Gondor.

The only problem with this is that Isildur isn't King yet at this time either, as his father is still alive.

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