01 July 2010

Are the Nazgûl the Ultimate Fantasy Antagonists?

I’m inclined to think so. I have a hard time imagining a more dramatic or thrilling kind of foe. The Ring-wraiths are intelligent, relentless, and terrifying.

I still vividly recall watching the animated Lord of the Rings film as a wee lad. The scenes with the Nazgûl were amazing … and very frightening. In particular, the scene in which Frodo and Sam are hiding from one shortly after leaving the Shire, and the Ring-wraith starts ‘sniffing’ for the one ring, especially struck me. Bakshi’s film (although I realize now that it is deeply flawed) ignited my lifetime love of fantasy, and the portrayal of the Úlairi played a huge role in that.

The Ring-wraiths also have a tragic element. Once they were men, powerful sorcerers, kings, and princes. But their desire for power and immortality led to their entrapment. One can understand the temptation. Humanity’s fear of death – and the tragic things that it will do to avoid that fate – is a common theme in Tolkien’s Middle-earth (the fall of Númenor being the most vivid example). Consequently, I feel as much pity as I do fear for the Nine.

Above are three pictures portraying the Nazgûl by one of my favourite fantasy artists, Angus McBride.

(Oh yeah, Happy Canada Day! I’ll be back in the Great White North tomorrow.)


  1. Angus McBride was the master! One painter to rule them all!

    I still love the Ralph Bakshi animated film. The Nazgûl were much more terrifying than in the recent films.

  2. I don't know if they are "the ultimate" but they are excellent antagonists. They also go to prove my long-held theory that the evil lieutenant is always more interesting the Big Bad.

  3. Yes. I believe they are the ultimate fantasy antagonist. You don't delve into their lair to kill them. They hunt you down.

  4. "Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!"

    A cold voice answered: "Come not between the Nazgul 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."

    A sword rang as it was drawn. "Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may."

    "Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!"

    "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Eomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him."

    That scene is epic, in the full sense of the word. Tolkien at his best.

  5. All good points. And many have copied them.

    Including me. Intelligent and implacable, creatures of legend and lryic, immortal and unending, they terrified me from my first reading.


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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who divides his time between Milwaukee and Toronto.