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Discussing: The Black Breath

The Black Breath


Friends and I were talking about the Black Breath the other night and one of us thought that perhaps the battle of Osgiliath was where the first instance of it happening occurred. I thought that there were instances of it before and the healers not sure how to cure it.

Here are all the references I could find in the Lord of the Rings. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

1) The Houses of Healing - ROTK

This is what is said. It seems to me that if there is a rhyme from of old - that somehow or the other Gondor had dealings with the Black Breath - I'd sure love to know how - though the Nazgul were only in Minas Morgul since around 2950 ish.... hmmmmm..................

"Your pardon lord!" said the man. "I see you are a lore-master, not merely a captain of war. But alas! sir, we do not keep this thing in the Houses of Healing, where only the gravely hurt or sick are tended. For it has no virtue that we know of, save perhaps to sweeten a fouled air, or to drive away some passing heaviness. Unless, of course, you give heed to rhymes of old days which women such as our good Ioreth still repeat without understanding.

When the black breath blows

and death's shadow grows

and all lights pass,

come athelas! come athelas!

Life to the dying

In the king's hand lying!

It is but a doggrel, I fear, garbled in the memory of old wives. Its meaning I leave to your judgement, if indeed it has any. But old folk still use an infusion of the herb for headaches."

2) Right before that it states: Houses of Healing - ROTK

For though all lore was in these latter days fallen from its fullness of old, the leechcraft of Gondor was still wise, and skilled in the healing of wound and hurt, and all such sickness as east of the Sea mortal men were subject to. ... But now their art and knowledge were baffled; 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. ... they would speak, murmuring in their dreams; and the watchers listened to all that they said, hoping perhaps to learn something that would help them to understand their hurts. But soon they began to fall down into the darkness, and ... a grey shadow crept over their faces. ...

Then an old wife, Ioreth, the eldest of the women who served in that house ... said: 'Alas! ... Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say! For it is said in old lore: The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known.'

3) FOTR - Strider

Merry has a run-in with the Black Breath - but it doesn't seem to have lasting effects AND he doesn't need Aragorn to heal him. Very strange indeed....

"I found him, sir," put in Nob. "Mr. Butterbur sent me out with a lantern. I went down to West-gate, and then back up towards South-gate. Just nigh Bill Ferny's house I thought I could see something in the Road. I couldn't swear to it, but it looked to me as if two men was stooping over something, lifting it. I gave a shout, but where I got up to the spot there was no signs of them, and only Mr. Brandybuck lying by the roadside. He seemed to be asleep. "I thought I had fallen into deep water," he says to me, when I shook him. Very queer he was, and as soon as I had roused him, he got up and ran back here like a hare."

"I am afraid that's true," said Merry, 'though I don't know what I said. I had an ugly dream, which I can't remember. I went to pieces. I don't know what came over me."

"I do," said Strider. "The Black Breath. The Riders must have left their horses outside, and passed back through the South-gate in secret. They will know all the news now, for they have visited Bill Ferny; and probably that Southerner was a spy as well. Something may happen in the night, before we leave Bree."

4) Flight to the Ford - FOTR

Now it doesn't seem that Frodo was attacked with the Black Breath at Weathertop for Stider doesn't mention a thing about it. Very strange. He is only concerned with the dagger wound - which is what he uses the athelas for....

"And more deadly to Frodo was this!" He stooped again and lifted up a long thin knife. There was a cold gleam in it. As Strider raised it they saw that near the end its edge was notched and the point was broken off. But even as he held it up in the growing light, they gazed in astonishment, for the blade seemed to melt, and vanished like a smoke in the air, leaving only the hilt in Strider's hand. "Alas!" he cried. "It was this accursed knife that gave the wound. Few now have the skill in healing to match such evil weapons. But I will do what I can."

5) Siege of Gondor - ROTK

The Nazgul came again, and as their Dark Lord now grew and put forth his strength, so their voices, which uttered only his will and his malice, were filled with evil and horror ... 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."

ALSO - Houses of Healing - ROTK
"... 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."

6) The Council of Elrond - FOTR

However - there is NOTHING said at the Battle of Osgiliath about the Black Breath -

Boromir speaks this last bit - though he doesn't mention the Nazgul by name nor the Black Breath. "Some said that it could be seen, like a great black horseman, a dark shadow under the moon. Wherever he came  a madness filled our foes, but fear fell on our boldest, so that horse and man gave way and fled..."



Re: The Black Breath

Hi Agape!

You probably didn't intend this, but your nuzgûl er, question has sent me off on a Research Library entry spree...... and I got so distracted I didn't answer your question! Sorry about that....

I will try to answer in more detail later... it's dawn here and I really should not have played with the RL all night.... LOL!

But, I think that there must have been earlier encounters with the Black Breath, because the When the black breath blows... verse is so specific about the "king's" hand; if you consider that along with Ioreth's adage, The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, I think there is an implicit indication that the knowledge of the Black Breath dates back to the time of the Kings in Gondor.

One possibility is at the Battle of Fornost, though the little bit that I checked did not explicitly mention "breath"... but there was certainly something terrifying about the Witch-king.

And if you check the bio for Boromir, Steward of Gondor (son of Denethor I), you'll see that he was injured in the Morgul-wars, though it appears to have been a Morgul-knife that did it.

So there certainly were close encounters with the terror of the Nazgûl in the earlier parts of the Third Age... and the Battle of Fornost, at least, was in the time of the Kings.

Hope this helps!

- Barbara



Re: The Black Breath

Hmm.  Well, the Nazgul have been around for around 5000 years (at least, their Rings were forged around SA 1500) so the Black Breath must surely have been encountered before.  I think the doggerel verse of 'When the black breath blows' is similar to the old children's nursery rhyme 'Ring A Ring of Roses'  which relates to the Great Plague.  Children still recite it today, but have little idea of the meaning behind the words.

Ioreth seems to be one of the few who believes the lore in the old tales.  And maybe Hobbits are more resilient to the black breath than Men.  (Didn't the Warden of the Houses of Healing call them 'very tough in the fibre?)




Re: The Black Breath

Thanks ever so much - I know what you mean about research - it is a hideous creature that is worse than any nuzgul ever could be.

I researched the thing myself - if you noticed - and just felt all at sea...

However, Jay's little reply was exactly what I needed... not specifics but enough to know there had to be 'history' with this little doggeral...

A buddy on another board reminded me about poor Farmer Maggot and the Gaffer who probably were also assailed by something akin to this - but, thankfully, there good Hobbit endurance and temperments probably saved them!

Again - many thanks for your reply!!!



Re: The Black Breath


This is perfect! My deepest thanks!

I didn't need a bunch of references, just something to tell me my 'gut reaction' might be right. I really believe the Black Breath is as you state... something that has been encountered in ages past!

Again, 10,000 thanks for responding!



Re: The Black Breath

I'm glad I could help!



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