Fellbeasts were the flying creatures that the Nazgûl rode after being unhorsed at the Ford of Bruinen in Middle-earth.


The fell beasts were described as large, winged creatures without feathers. Its pinions were in between horned fingers; and its body gave off a stench. It is possible that fell beasts came from "an older world". The dark lord Sauron bred these fell beasts and gave them to his servants.[1]


When the Nine Nazgûl were thwarted at the Ford of Bruinen near Rivendell, they were riding coal-black horses. Those steeds were destroyed in the flood caused by Elrond's intercession that vanquished the Nazgûl as they pursued Frodo.[2]

After The Fellowship of the Ring had left Lothlórien and were camped on the western shore of the River Anduin, they saw "a great winged creature, blacker than the pits in the night." When Legolas raised the great bow of Lórien and shot it with an arrow, it gave "a harsh croaking scream" and vanished into the gloom of the Eastern shore.[3]

Frodo, Sam, and Gollum encountered a fell beast while passing through the Dead Marshes, wherein Gollum referred to the beasts as "wraiths on wings".[4]

According to the chieftain of Harrowdale, a fell beast flew over Edoras and stooped just over Meduseld. They described it as being a darkness in the shape of a monstrous bird. After this, Gandalf told the Rohirrim to assemble at Dunharrow rather than at the fields to prevent attack.[5]

John Howe - Eowyn and the Nazgul

Éowyn and the Nazgul, by John Howe

When Faramir, captain of Gondor, was fleeing from the besieged city of Osgiliath on his way to Minas Tirith, he was many times beset by winged Nazgûl until Gandalf rode out and drove them away with a shaft of white light from his raised hand, most probably from Narya, the invisible ring of fire, of which he was the bearer.

During the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, the Witch-king of Angmar arrived in battle mounted on a fell beast. When the Witch-king successfully injured King Théoden, Éowyn removes her guise as Dernhelm and kills the fell beast.[1] The winged Wraiths would later join the Battle of the Black Gate and be engaged by Gwaihir and his Great Eagles, only to flee at the command of Sauron when he sensed Frodo donning the Ring within Mount Doom.

Behind the ScenesEdit

There is a common misconception that these creatures are called Nazgûl, probably due to the fact that the unit in many video games (combined Fell beast and Ringwraith) was called a Nazgûl. Another possible explanation is the line in Return of the King where the Witch King says "Do not come between the Nazgûl and his prey" referring to himself, but shortly before, his mount had appeared to try to eat Théoden's horse.

Tolkien did not use fell beast as a proper name, merely describing the animals as "fell." Fell, a Middle English adjective (from the Old French fel "cruel, dreadful") has come to mean, in Modern English, "ferocious, fierce, terrible, cruel, dreadful", and implies an underlying malevolence or hostility that make the noun described all the worse for the ill-will that drives its suddenness and intensity. Given the rarity of fell (which had all but disappeared from Modern English until Tolkien's work revived it), the animals having no other name, Tolkien's fans often, if not quite correctly, have dubbed them "fellbeasts"--although philologists in general, and students of Tolkien's oeuvre in particular, look askance at such usage. (Cf, e.g., "fell light in his eyes" and "fell meats.")

While occasionally interpreted as resembling pterosaurs, Tolkien himself stated that the creatures were not intended to be "pterodactylic", though he conceded similarities.[6] For the most part, while fell beasts vaguely resemble outdated pterosaur depictions, they are vastly different from the modern scientific interpretation of these animals, as endothermic, hairy quadrupedes instead of "featherless birds".

Portrayal in adaptationsEdit

Ralph BakshiEdit

File-Witchking and Fell beast (1980)-1-

The Witch-King and his fell beast in the 1980 cartoon.

In Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated version of The Lord of the Rings, one of the Nazgûl (possibly the Witch-king, for he carries a mace), is shown riding a fell beast. However, Bakshi's film only covers events up to the Battle of the Hornburg, so that is the last we see of the fell beasts and their riders.

Rankin BassEdit

In the Rankin-Bass 1980 animated version of The Return of the King, the Nazgûl ride winged horses. But when Éowyn confronts the Witch-King he is riding a bird-like steed. Gandalf had called it a carrion-fowl. 

Peter JacksonEdit

See also:Witch-king's Fell Beast

Fell-Beast 4 (Witch-King Fell-Beast 3)

A Nazgûl on his Fell-Beast in The Two Towers film

In Peter Jackson's trilogy of movies based on The Lord of the Rings, the fell beasts are depicted as Wyverns (a two legged, flying serpentine creature that is similar to a Dragon), i.e. their heads appear more like a snake's and they don't have beaks. It is a common misconception that they are dragons in the books; Tolkien definitely meant a pterosaur-like creature, as shown in the quote above.

Although on screen the film characters never make this mistake, sometimes actors on the commentary tracks refer to the winged creature as a Nazgûl; this is incorrect. The Fell-beast is the creature that the nine Nazgûl ride, and the mistake probably arose because Fell-beasts are always seen with a Nazgûl atop them.

The Witch-King in The Return of the King says specifically: "Do not come between a Nazgûl and his prey." Though he commands the Fell Beast to eat Theoden he is referring to himself when he says Nazgûl, not the Fell-beast.

Shadow of WarEdit


Hell-hawks in Shadow of War

While drakes appear instead of fellbeasts, hell-hawks which is originally an alias of fellbeasts, appears as the name of a different race in a television game Shadow of War of Shadow of Mordor series.

Offensive AbilitiesEdit

Fell beast bfme

A Nazgûl on his Fell beast in BFME II

Clearly (at least in the movies and video games), Fell beasts were powerful creatures and were deadly offensive predators, especially with the Nazgûl on them. They could choose either to bite their prey (less attacking radius but increased damage) or swoop down on them (larger attacking radius), scattering enemies apart or outright crushing them. If a Fell beast snatched a soldier, it could easily fly high into the air and drop its helpless victim to his death far below. Fell beasts were feared for their ferocity and speed, and were known as the second fastest creatures in Middle-earth (The Eagles are faster).

In The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, the Fell Beasts could also breathe foul air on their opponents, weakening them significantly.

One other major use of the Fell beast was spreading Fear. From the very beginning, Fell Beasts are terrifying creatures. Combined with a Nazgûl's screech, very few enemies could hope to even stand up to them; only heroes could effectively hope to do so.


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter VI: "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"
  2. The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter XII: "Flight to the Ford"
  3. The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter IX: "The Great River"
  4. The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter II: "The Passage of the Marshes"
  5. The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter III: "The Muster of Rohan"
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 211, (dated 14 October 1958)

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