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In The Lord of the Rings, the Witch King says

"Come not between the Nazgûl and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the Houses of Lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye."

What are these Houses? Are they a metaphor or a real place? It seems like a real threat, not an idle one. He is a sorceror after all so presumably it's something he could really do.

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    FWIW, the original draft of this passage shown in HoMe has this dialogue almost identical, just without the capitalization: "'Come not between the Nazgûl and his prey,' said a cold voice, 'or he will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness where thy flesh shall be devoured and thy shrivelled mind be left naked.'"
    – ibid
    Oct 9, 2023 at 3:29
  • They appear as a literal place in Lord of the Rings Online and LOTR: The Card Game
    – Valorum
    Oct 9, 2023 at 8:18
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    I read it as a metaphor for "somewhere deep in Barad-Dur". I don't think Sauron kept "out-houses" (unless you count Sammath Naur), but I could be wrong ;)
    – m4r35n357
    Oct 9, 2023 at 9:30
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    @m4r35n357 - I've just checked and it is not capitalized in the current text either. Perhaps OP added the capitalization.
    – ibid
    Oct 9, 2023 at 15:50
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    I don't think this phrase is used anywhere else, so we have very little to go on, but I'd say it probably means Barad Dur. It is notable that the Mouth of Sauron threatens that Frodo will be taken there if Gandalf and Aragorn don't surrender (The Black Gate Opens), so this seems to be a standard threat for mortals who make a nuisance of themselves. Oct 9, 2023 at 20:40

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The Lidless Eye refers to the eye Frodo and Sam see when they climb Mount Doom:

Far off the shadows of Sauron hung; but torn by some gust of wind out of the world, or else moved by some great disquiet within, the mantling clouds swirled, and for a moment drew aside; and then he saw, rising black, blacker and darker than the vast shades amid which it stood, the cruel pinnacles and iron crown of the topmost tower of Barad-dûr. One moment only it stared out, but as from some great window immeasurably high there stabbed northward a flame of red, the flicker of a piercing Eye; and then the shadows were furled again and the terrible vision was removed.

That you are "left naked to the Lidless Eye" in the Houses of Lamentation suggests they are a dungeon in Barad Dur. The tone suggests a waiting place before or after death, a sort of purgatory. There are multiple places like this, like the Halls of Mandos, where Elves wait until they reincarnate. Tolkien Gateway also mentions the last words of Thorin:

'Farewell, good thief,' he said. 'I go now to the halls of waiting to sit beside my fathers, until the world is renewed.'

The Witch King is invoking images of eternal dread to frighten his listeners.

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    This looks like it could be a good answer, but as written it seems a bit confusing. I think you need to be clearer that the HofL are not Mandos or anything related to Mandos or the halls of waiting Thorin speaks of. In particular, I see no evidence that the HofL are a post-death thing -- quite the contrary!
    – Mark Olson
    Oct 9, 2023 at 12:55
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    Indeed, it could be a sort of "half life" like the ghosts of Dunharrow?
    – WOPR
    Oct 10, 2023 at 1:14
  • "The Witch King is invoking images of eternal dread to frighten his listeners." Unfortunately for him, he was addressing somebody who was as unafraid of death as anybody ever gets.
    – EvilSnack
    Mar 18 at 23:31

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