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Barrow-wights are wraith-like creatures in J. R. R. Tolkien's world of Middle-earth, based on Old Norse beliefs such as Draugr or vǣttr (wights). Barrow refers to the burial mounds they inhabited and wight is a Middle English word for "living being" or "creature", especially "living human being".[1] It does not necessarily mean "spirit" or "ghost"; it is cognate to modern German "Wicht", meaning small mythical creatures (also "Wichtelmännchen", "wight-manikin"). Tolkien borrowed this concept from Norse mythology, see e.g. Waking of Angantyr and Hrómundar saga Gripssonar. The name Barrow-wight itself was first recorded in 1869 in the Eiríkr Magnússon and William Morris translation of Grettis saga, which features a fight with such a creature.[2] In Norway, farmers of the 19th century were still concerned about "vetter" (wights) around old Viking barrows, when these were first excavated.[3]

Created dateFirst Age
Created by fictional beingWitch-king of Angmar
Home worldMiddle-earth
Base of operationsBarrow-downs

Tolkien's main work featuring Barrow-wights is The Lord of the Rings, where they are neighbours of the character Tom Bombadil. However Barrow-wights (together with Bombadil) originated in Tolkien's writings well before The Lord of the Rings and independently of his Middle-earth legendarium: namely in the first version of his poem The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, which was published in the Oxford Magazine for 15 February 1934.[4]

Barrow-wights are absent in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Middle-earth narrativeEdit

Evil spirits (perverted Maiar or possibly spirits of Orcs, fallen Avari, or evil Men)[citation needed] were sent to the Barrow-downs by the Witch-king of Angmar in order to prevent the restoration of the destroyed Dúnedain kingdom of Cardolan.[citation needed]

They animated the dead bones of the Dúnedain, as well as older bones of Edain from the First Age, which still were buried there.[citation needed]

After leaving Tom Bombadil, Frodo Baggins and company were trapped in the Barrow-downs, and nearly brutally killed by a barrow-wight. It was mentioned in The Lord of the Rings Appendix A that Frodo was trapped in the cairn of the last prince of Cardolan; Merry's exclamation on waking from his trance suggests this. Frodo cut off the wight's hand; then, when the wight extinguished the dim light in the cavern where the company was imprisoned, Frodo called for Tom Bombadil, who expelled the wight from the barrow.

Other versions within Tolkien's legendariumEdit

Due to his inspiration from Hrómundar saga Gripssonar, during the writing of The Lord of the Rings (see The History of The Lord of the Rings) Tolkien at first foresaw a link between the wights and the Ringwraiths, initially describing the Black Riders as horsed wights, but the suggestion that they were the same kind of creatures was dropped in the published work. In the final work there remained a link between them: the wights were now spirits sent by the Witch-king of Angmar.

In other mediaEdit

Barrow-wights have appeared in several games based on Tolkien's writings:

Barrow-wights appear in other media:

  • In an episode of The Real Ghostbusters, Egon Spengler describes the barrow-wights as troll-like creatures which live underground in nests, and like vampires they cannot enter a place unless invited.
  • In the game Castle of the Winds barrow wights (as well as variants tunnel wights and castle wights) appear as enemies.
  • In the MMORPG RuneScape, the Barrows brothers (who have been referred to as wights) are vengeful spirits who serve the powerful Mahjarrat known as Sliske. They inhabit six barrows, which also serve as their tombs. After the events of an in-game quest, a new female spirit was added, and a later major quest resulted in the player character freeing the spirits from Sliske's control, though they can still be battled by the player in the usual manner afterwards.
  • It's one of the many enemies in NetHack, but appears rarely.
  • In the text-based adventure game The Heroes Of Karn a barrow-wight appears in a location called "the long barrow". It guards some money and can be killed with a bible.
  • In the text-based adventure game Trinity by Infocom, you can find a barrow-wight in an area known only as "Barrow".


  1. ^ Wight, in the Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, 1974 edition.
  2. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary
  3. ^ Vikingenes Verden by Kim Hjardar, Spartacus Forlag
  4. ^ Christina Scull & Wayne G. Hammond (2014, editors), The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Harper Collins, p. 123; ISBN 978-0007557271

External linksEdit