- "Dreary and wearisome. Cold, clammy winter still held sway in this forsaken country. The only green was the scum of livid weed on the dark greasy surfaces of the sullen waters. Dead grasses and rotting reeds loomed up in the mists like ragged shadows of long forgotten summers."
- —from Passage of the Marshes, The Two Towers
The marshes predated the battle, but were not named until after. The Dead Marshes were part of the ancient battlefield of the Battle of Dagorlad between the Last Alliance and the forces of Mordor, where many of the fallen were laid to rest. Over time, the battlefield became marshes, which swallowed up the dead, though their bodies could still be seen floating in the water.
During Gondor's war with the Wainriders, King Ondoher's army was caught by surprise and he and men were driven into the Dead Marshes and defeated. When Eärnil II became king, he avenged the earlier defeat at the Battle of the Camp in TA 1944, and the Wainriders were defeated and driven into the marshes where most perished.
The War of the Ring
During the quest to destroy the One Ring (Third Age: 3019), Gollum led Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee on a passage through the marshes. They entered the Dead Marshes at Dawn on the 1st of March. The Passage was marked by lights that danced about and candles which Gollum called "candles of corpses"; it is likely that those who become entranced by these lights and attempt to touch the bodies drown in the water and go down to join the dead. It seems that the bodies only appear in the water when the lights are lit. At the Mere of Dead Faces, Frodo became entranced by these lights and tried to reach out and touch the faces of the dead at the bottom of the marshes, though Sam broke him out of his trance. Gollum told them that the dead could not be touched, suggesting that he had once tried to eat them. While passing through the marshes, a Black Rider on a Fell beast passed overhead, terrifying Gollum enough that he started to slip back into his old speech-habits, which he had somewhat given up after swearing to "serve the master of the Precious." They exited the Marshes on the morning of March 2nd.
Portrayal in AdaptationsIn Peter Jackson's The Two Towers, the Dead Marshes are shown with jets of fire rather than the misty candle-flames described in the book. Frodo actually falls into the muck where ghostly figures surround and reach for him, though Gollum pulls him out.
Behind the Scenes
- In the Journeys of Frodo atlas by Barbara Strachey, the Dead Marshes are depicted as an eastward extension of the swamps of Nindalf (Wetwang), although on the Lord of the Rings map they appear separate.
- In The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Tolkien speculated that the description of the Dead Marshes may have been based on his personal experience in World War I, specifically, the Battle of the Somme, in which he saw dead men who were laying in the mud where they were killed.
Forests & Mountains:
The rest of Arda:
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, "The Passage of the Marshes"
- Unfinished Tales: Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan, "The Northmen and the Wainriders" pgs. 288-95
- The Complete Guide to Middle-earth