Friday, November 23, 2012

(Black) Friday diversions: Nazgul

I am an ardent admirer of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I encountered those books in my early teens and remember the awe and fascination I felt watching Tolkien build his worlds with such care and imagination. In spite of their departures from the source material, I enjoyed the films immensely, and I watch all three of them each year around Christmas. You can probably imagine how excited I am to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on the big screen, although I will forever have a sentimental love for the original Rankin/Bass animated television special The Hobbit.

It's funny, but I have a very vivid childhood memory about that animated version. My father had read to me the entirety of The Hobbit when I was very young. This would have been 1974 or 1975, when I was 5 or 6. I loved the story and remember asking him to re-read certain parts so I could imagine them better. In 1977, when i would have been 8, I remember very clearly seeing a poster for the upcoming television special in the Lorain Public Library, when I was there with my father. He must have already known about it because he explained a bit about when it would air and how it came to be. I was so excited to see it I could barely breathe, and I remember watching it with my mother and father when it first ran. I was spellbound.

Anyway, some of my favorite characters from The Lord of the Rings are the Nazgul. When I was younger, I liked them because, like many teenagers, I thought they were just "cool" and "badass." But as time goes by, I become more and more fascinated with them. Tolkien's symbolism is broad and overt, perhaps because of his Catholicism, and there are no moral ambiguities in his work. Good is good and evil is the blackest evil. Sauron represents evil in the abstract. Terrifying, and something to be fought bitterly against, but still somehow remote. The Nazgul though are especially terrifying because they are us. Any of us. Nine mortal men, "kings, sorcerers and warriors of old," given rings of power by Sauron and gradually corrupted by not just these rings but their own lust for power, riches, and dominion over others. Eventually they become slaves to these appetites, and thralls of Sauron. A cautionary tale if there ever was one, and oddly relevant today.

Of all the Nazgul, the one that fascinates me the most is their chief, the Witch-King of Angmar. Initially, it was just the name. Witch-King! At first I wondered how that could be! Witches were, to my young mind after all, always female. The name alone hinted at bizarre and perverse mysteries beyond my own understanding. And the appellation, Angmar, a place long gone and almost forgotten in Middle-earth heightened this sense of mystery. I retain this fascination for the Witch-King, but we'll learn more about that in a later post.

So, to celebrate this Black Friday, a day in which many Americans give in almost entirely to their own greed and lust for wealth, as well as to begin enjoying the delicious anticipation many of us share for the upcoming release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I'd like to dig into my folders and share with you some of the Nazgul art I've found online over the years. Some of these I like quite a bit, some I find very curious, and others I despise. I may comment here or there, but in general I like to let the art speak for itself. We'll run through these images in more or less chronological order, as they would appear in the context of Tolkien's story. I will make every effort to credit and link to each artist, but if I make an error or am missing a link, please do not hesitate to correct me. Some sketches and studies first, though.

Nazgul by Wynahiros

Black Knight by Andy Eriksson

Eowyn and the Nazgul by Filip Stary

The Witch-King and Eowyn by Rosana Sullivan

Ringwraith by Steve Le Couilliard

(This one is strange to me because the robes look pale instead of black, making the Nazgul look almost like some sort of desert phantom.)

And now, on to some familiar scenes from the books. The Nazgul first appear while searching for Frodo in the Shire. My wife has commented that, in the films, she actually finds them more frightening like this, as hooded figures on black horses, instead of as armored warriors on winged beasts, because they somehow seem more real and more threatening. I can see her point, and many of these images very skillfully convey a palpable sense of unease and lingering terror.

The Black Rider by Anke Katrin Eissmann

Black Riders in the Shire by John Howe

The Black Rider and the Gaffer by Stephen Hickman

A Black Rider from the flawed but brilliant Ralph Bakshi film The Lord of the Rings

The pursuit begins.

Der Erste Nazgul by Thomas Petmecky

The Black Rider by John Howe

(This image was reproduced almost exactly in the film, a scene which still terrifies me.)

Flight to the Ford by Anke Katrin Eissmann

At the Ford by John Howe

Now, mustering the armies of Mordor.

Nazgul by Alan Lee (who, surprisingly, doesn't seem to have an official site)

Preparing for the final battle at the Pelennor Fields.

Nazgul over Minas Morgul by Alan Lee

The Dark Tower by John Howe

The Witch-King by Akreon

Nazgul by Maciek Wygnanski

The Nazgul by Ted Nasmith

(I really like this piece. It is unabashedly, unashamedly straightforward, evil and fantastical.)

The Witch-King and the armies of Mordor breach the gate of Minas Tirith and enter the city.

Witch-King by Alvaro Barros

The Lord of the Nazgul Enters the Gates of Gondor by Mark Fletcher

(I am fascinated by this one because it is just so unexpected, unusual and unique. The Lord of the Nazgul looks more like a knight than anything else, and the hints of its face showing against the smoke and flames, combined with the bizarre lightning coursing across the armor make an unforgettable image.)

Gandalf vs. Nazgul by Andrzej Grzechnik

(While I do like the iron crown floating over a head of flames, in general this particular style of art is something I find pretty pedestrian and best suited to uninspired graphic novel adaptations of other properties or bad trading card game art.)

Much of the art I found focused, unsurprisingly, on the Witch-King's final battle with Eowyn during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. So to there we will turn.

Eowyn and the Lord of the Nazgul by Villev Vuorinen

Fields of Pelennor by Alan Douglas

Eowyn and the Nazgul by David Wyatt

Eowyn and the Nazgul by Filip Burburan

Eowyn and the Nazgul by Rebecca Orr

(There is an awful lot going on in this piece, which makes it slightly hard on the eyes, but there are traces of brilliance.)

Eowyn vs. the Nazgul by Glen Ostrander

No Living Man is She by Per Sjogren

(Strange in that it seems bother overly faithful to the film and curiously not.)

Nazgul by Frank Frazetta

(This one just beggars the imagination. Remember, a big part of the narrative is that the Witch-King is superbly confident on the battlefield due to the thousand year old prophecy that states no living man may harm it. Thus, the Witch-King is stunned when Dernhelm removes his helmet, revealing that he is actually a she, Eowyn of Rohan. If the scene took place as Frazetta imagined it here, I am pretty sure there is no way that anyone, not even a four thousand year old wraith, could miss the fact that Dernhelm is in fact a living, breathing, curvy woman. Nice ass though. Frazetta was always good for that.)

Pelennor by Frank Frazetta

(Another drawing, showing a very unmistakable woman. Sigh. I mean, seriously, was the Witch-King completely blind?)

The Witch-King Descends on Eowyn by Peter Xavier Price

(Nice job on the fell beast here.)

Eowyn and the Nazgul by Rick Hansen

(I really like the sense of scale with this piece. You can really get a sense of how vast and terrifying the fell beast is, and how powerful the Witch-King must be.)

Eowyn and the Lord of the Nazgul by Ted Nasmith

Eowyn vs. the Nazgul by Angela Rizza

(This one is really beautifully done. Almost like the best art in the very best children's picture books. Gorgeous color.)

Lady Eowyn and the Nazgul by The Brothers Hildebrandt

(Who could forget this old gem? That is a CRAZY fell beast there, but this piece remains oddly endearing.)

Eowyn and the Witch-King of Angmar by Michael W. Kaluta

(Stunningly beautiful. Very reminiscent of, and indebted to, the genius of Arthur Rackham, and in very good ways. I love this one.)

The Lord of the Nazgul by Roger Garland

(This remains one of my favorites. It is just so off-puttingly bizarre, garish, grotesque and perfect. Everything from the spot-on fell beast to the terrifying head and crown / helmet of the Witch-King to the brilliant colors and almost medieval depiction of the armies lined up in the background. Excellent work.)

Battle of the Pelennor Fields by Mariet Theune

(I love the brutal simplicity of this piece. In some ways, it looks like the work of a child, but to me a forceful kind of honesty and directness so often lacking in polished illustration. I find this one to be almost magnetic.)

Now, a few which wouldn't fit anywhere else, but bear mentioning. First, an image of the true form of the Witch-King from Peter Jackson's films.

The Nazgul by Lode Claes

(Chilling, ominous, and terrifying. This may be Weathertop, but I don't believe there was snow on the ground in that scene. Still, an image to freeze the blood.)

Witch-King by Leif Podhajsky

(I absolutely love this. In general, I despise all computer-assisted art, but I find this one to be incredibly compelling. I'm not even sure if Leif created this specifically based on Tolkien's work or if this is just some kind of general witch king, but it is awesome.)

And now we come to it at last. Cor Blok, an artist whose work seems to polarize Tolkien fans like no one else. Personally, I love it. I think his vision of Middle-earth is the most unique, perceptive, and interesting I have ever encountered. I am smitten with how he at times seems to willfully ignore Tolkien's overly detailed descriptions and cuts to the heart of the idea with these beautiful miniatures. I am an unavowed Cor Blok fan, and these are my favorite views of Middle-earth.

Legolas Shoots Down the Nazgul by Cor Blok

The Slaying of the Nazgul by Cor Blok

And finally, what is, for me, the definitive image of the Witch-King of the Nazgul, this piece by Cor Blok.

I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed creating it. There is much more to come in Nazgul-related posts on this blog, so keep watching. For now though, Witch-King says "Go home."

And Hipster Nazgul (by Ginger Haze) says "Okay."


  1. Yeah! The Art Order did a GREAT contest for "Eowyn & the Nazgul," but then the site got updated & ate the post, so...that is...sad news. I was going to link it here & you'd be all "DANG SON" but now I got nuthin'. 'cept:

  2. Thanks Mordicai. I had only seen one of these, and somehow I had stumbled across some mention of thet contest held by The Art Order but I was never able to actually find it. You solved the mystery and connected me with more great art. All of which has been ganked by me for a second post, but with full credit to you.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.