Orcs and Uruks can smell people from some distance away. And Aragorn says (in FotR, A Knife in the Dark):

... And at all times they smell the blood of living things, desiring and hating it. Senses, too, there are other than sight or smell.

Plus, they have their nice beastie mounts. Why couldn't the Nazgul or their mounts smell Frodo and Samwise (and Gollum) in the dead marshes?

  • 2
    Marshes are full of dead people... possibly masked their smell? Also, likely as not, marshes have methane or sulphur smell. Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 23:52
  • ...plus the Nazgul (and their beasties) weren't actually in the marshes; they flew over them.
    – user8719
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 1:16
  • Simple answer: the Orcs can and they can't. Just because the Orcs can, doesn't mean the Nazgul can.
    – Dan Barron
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 16:13
  • @DanBarron: Why would Orcs have a better hobbit smell than Nazgul-beasts? I'm not asking about the Nazgul themselves, of courses.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 16:42
  • Orcs are fantastic beasts. They can have whatever abilities the author decides upon. Nazgul beasts were horses and reptile like, neither of which have remarkable senses of smell, as far as I know.
    – Dan Barron
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 16:45

2 Answers 2


The answer is that they can't.

The Nazgul already tried to sniff out Frodo and the Ring in the Shire, and it doesn't work as easily as this question assumes; the first time described in Three is Company:

When it reached the tree and was level with Frodo the horse stopped. The riding figure sat quite still with its head bowed, as if listening. From inside the hood came a noise as of someone sniffing to catch an elusive scent; the head turned from side to side of the road ... At that moment the rider sat up, and shook the reins. The horse stepped forward, walking slowly at first, and then breaking into a quick trot.

And the second time:

As Frodo watched he saw something dark pass across the lighter space between two trees, and then halt. It looked like the black shade of a horse led by a smaller black shadow. The black shadow stood close to the point where they had left the path, and it swayed from side to side. Frodo thought he heard the sound of snuffling. The shadow bent to the ground, and then began to crawl towards him.

The second one in particular is described in the same manner as if it were a dog following a scent.

The observations about a Nazgul's sense of smell are therefore:

  • The range of the sense is limited. The first time the Nazgul fails to pick up the scent.
  • Catching the scent requires some concentration and effort:
    • The first time the horse stops and the Nazgul keeps still while sniffing.
    • The second time the Nazgul is dismounted and needs to cast around a bit before it gets the scent.
  • A scent, once caught, needs to be followed. Catching the scent is not enough to tell you where the quarry is, what direction you need to go, etc.

Now consider a winged Nazgul hurtling over the Dead Marshes. There is going to be neither time nor opportunity to do any of these.


We are never canonically told that the Nazgul, or their "fell beasts," have strong senses of smell. As others have said, combine the fact that the Nazgul themselves probably can't track scent any better than the humans they originally were with the fact that the Hobbits tended to be in some rather smelly places - a marsh, a forest, next to the army of Mordor with its thousands of stinking Orcs, humans, and sundry others - and you are left with a scenario where it is very unlikely that the Nazgul could pick up any scent, let alone Sam and Frodo's.

  • 2
    You know, the more I think about it the more it seems the Nazgul are useless except as scarecrows against Gondorian soldiers.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 18:29
  • If they couldn't pick up any scent, they'd know that, so why would they have even tried in the Shire?
    – Dan Barron
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 16:12

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