" Barrow-wights walked in the hollow places with a clink of rings on cold fingers"

Hervor claiming her sword
Public DomainHervor claiming her sword - Credit: wikimedia commons
Barrow-wights are not actually the ghosts of the men buried within the barrows, but evil spirits who came out of the Witch-King’s kingdom of Angmar, capable of possessing and animating the dead bodies. The Witch-King will be discussed later (bookmark for page 161).

The barrow-wights are based on draugar, Norse ghosts who inhabit Viking graves and guard the treasures buried there. Draugar are incredibly strong and possess magical abilities, such as the power to shapeshift and control the weather. Their presence can also drive a mortal insane. When they have killed their victims they will often eat them or drink their blood. They can be harmed by iron, but it takes a hero to properly vanquish them, as told in Norse folklore. Stories such as Hervararkviða, an Old Norse poem from the Hervarar Saga in which the shieldmaiden Hervor visits a barrow ghost to reclaim a family sword, may have influenced Tolkien when creating his barrow-wights.