|Founder||Witch-king of Angmar|
|Base of operations||Barrow-downs|
Barrow-wights are wraith-like creatures in J. R. R. Tolkien's world of Middle-earth, based on the Old Norse Draugr. Barrow refers to the burial mounds they inhabited and wight is a Middle English word for "living being" or "creature", especially "human being". It does not necessarily mean "spirit" or "ghost"; it is cognate to modern German "Wicht", meaning small mythical creatures (also "Wichtelmännchen"). 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.
Evil spirits (perverted Maiar or possibly spirits of Orcs, fallen Avari, or evil Men) 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.
After leaving Tom Bombadil, Frodo Baggins and company were trapped in the Barrow-downs, and nearly slain 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 sliced off the wight's hand; then, when the wight extinguished the dim light in the cavern where the company was imprisoned, Frodo called upon Tom Bombadil, who expelled the wight from the barrow.
Other versions within Tolkien's legendarium
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 media
Barrow-wights have appeared in several games based on Tolkien's writings:
- In a mission of the Evil campaign in The Lord of the Rings: War of the Ring, a real-time strategy game based on the book instead of the Peter Jackson films, Saruman merges barrow-wights with Orcs to create the Uruk-hai
- In The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, a real-time strategy game based on the Peter Jackson films as well as the book, barrow-wights appear as ghost-like creatures on skirmish maps; they are also created when a Nazgûl kills a unit with its Morgul Blade ability
- The idea of spirits possessing dead men's bones was used in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King video game, with the spirits of the Dead Men of Dunharrow possessing their old skeletons and attacking Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli on the Paths of the Dead
- In the game Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Frodo faces the barrow-wight as a boss, shown as a full body (although in the Xbox version great hands burst out of the ground and hit Frodo, the PlayStation 2 version has ghost-like creatures emerge from the ground)
- In the online game The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar barrow-wights are portrayed as animated skeletons or zombies and are located in the Barrow-downs and many other locations in the game
- In the 2011 game The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, a Barrow-wight appears as an enemy in the Barrow-downs.
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 can't 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 a powerful lich mage (and possibly god) known as Sliske. They inhabit six barrows, which also serve as their tombs.
- It's one of the many enemies in nethack, but appears rarely.
- Wight, in the Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, 1974 edition.
- Online Etymology Dictionary
- at the