Answer by Thomas Snerdley:
So you want to be a Ringwraith, huh? Kids these days … are you sure you want to go through with this? You do realize there are significant physical, mental, and spiritual drawbacks, right? (More on those below.)
OK, OK, stop twisting my arm, kid. Here’s your guide to becoming a Ringwraith in one easy step:
Assuming you were of the race of mortal men living in the Second Age of Middle-earth, all you needed to do was come into and maintain possession of one of the Nine Rings. These were lesser rings of power forged by Celebrimbor and Sauron (in his guise as Anatar, Lord of Gifts) in Eregion. It is written in the Silmarillion:
Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth, yet it turned to their undoing. They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron. And one by one, sooner or later, according to their native strength and to the good or evil of their wills in the beginning, they fell under the thraldom of the ring that they bore and under the domination of the One, which was Sauron’s. And they became for ever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy’s most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death.
Another equally unpleasant way to become a Ringwraith would be—like Frodo almost was—to be slain by a Morgul knife while wearing the One Ring.
Now that you’ve swallowed the hook, let’s take a look at some of the undesirable yet unavoidable consequences of becoming a Ringwraith:
You will start out being visible to the eyes of other mortals. Eventually, you’ll be able to move unseen among mortals if you choose. At last, your flesh will become invisible to the mortal eyes even if you desire to be seen.
Your voice will become a hideous sound in the ears of mortals, resulting in mental and eventually physical distress. During the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, it is recorded of the Ringwraiths that:
… their deadly voices rent the air. More unbearable they became, not less, at each new cry. At length even the stout-hearted would fling themselves to the ground as the hidden menace passed over them, or they would stand, letting their weapons fall from nerveless hands while into their minds a blackness came, and they thought no more of war; but only of hiding and of crawling, and of death.
You’ll develop breath so bad that it will become legendary, called “the Black Breath.” Simply breathing on a mortal is enough to cause the poor guy to fall unconscious and experience terrible nightmares.
You’ll gain a terrible power to infect mortals with a deadly disease that is difficult for any except a king of Gondor to heal. Again, from the Return of the King:
… for there were many sick of a malady that would not be healed; and they called it the Black Shadow, for it came from the Nazgûl. And those who were stricken with it fell slowly into an ever deeper dream, and then passed to silence and a deadly cold, and so died.
On the plus side, you’ll be able to survive physical trauma that would cripple or kill a normal mortal man (such as a massive flood outside of Rivendell). As a kindly wizard informed Meriadoc Brandybuck:
“You cannot destroy Ringwraiths like that,” said Gandalf. “The power of their master is in them, and they stand or fall by him.”
You’ll develop an intense dislike of the sun, and your physical capabilities will be significantly degraded during daylight hours. Expect to work a lot of swing and midshifts.
Your aura will become so polluted that normal animals will go mad with fear. Horses and other steeds (such as winged monsters) must be specially bred from birth to bear you.
I almost forgot to mention your eyesight will become worse than Mr. Magoo’s. You could be standing this close to a ringbearer and not see him. Fortunately you’ll develop a slightly improved sense of smell, but then you’ll make these lame snuffling sounds that your target can hear a furlong away.
You will develop an unreasonable fear of crossing running water (much as vampires were rumored to have in ancient Europe).
You’ll experience the terrible scourge of near immortality. Even many elves succumb to the horrors of observing the passage of many thousands of years, and you won’t enjoy the benefits of elven society.
Your soul will no longer be your own. It will become enslaved to the will of Sauron. And if and when Sauron is destroyed, your soul will be also. It was written in Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth that Sauron’s “mightiest servants, the Ringwraiths … had no will but his own, being each utterly subservient to the Ring that had enslaved him, which Sauron held.”
Hey, wait a minute. You mean Sauron used the Nine Rings to entrap mortal men into becoming Ringwraiths, then repossessed the actual rings? What a tightwad.
Are you sure you want to sign up for this, lad?
More questions on Tolkien’s Middle Earth:
- What powers does Gandalf possess?
- Who would win in a fight: Galadriel or Sauron?
- In The Hobbit, why does Gandalf choose Bilbo to be the burglar?