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While the content of this article is based on official information, the actual name of the subject is conjectural, and is yet to or cannot be officially named.
The fellbeasts were described as large, winged creatures without feathers, that had pinions in between their horned fingers, and whose bodies gave off a stench. It is possible that fellbeasts came from "an older world". The dark lord Sauron bred these fellbeasts and gave them to his servants.
When the Nine Nazgûl were thwarted at the Ford of Bruinen near Rivendell, they were riding coal-black horses. These steeds were destroyed in the flood caused by Elrond's intercession that vanquished the Nazgûl as they pursued Frodo.
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.
According to the chieftain of Harrowdale, a fellbeast 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.
When Faramir, captain of Gondor, was fleeing from the besieged city of Osgiliath on his way to Minas Tirith, he and his men were many times beset by winged Nazgûl until Gandalf rode out and drove them away with a shaft of white light from his raised staff.
At the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, the Witch-king of Angmar arrived in battle mounted on a fellbeast. When he successfully injured King Théoden on the field, Éowyn removed her guise as Dernhelm and slew the fellbeast. She then confronted and slew the Nazgûl, with the aid of Meriadoc Brandybuck. 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 once he sensed Frodo donning the Ring within Mount Doom.
There is a common misconception that these creatures are called Nazgûl, probably due to the fact that the unit in many video games (combined Fellbeast and Ringwraith) was called a Nazgûl. Another possible explanation is the line in The 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 fellbeast as a proper name, merely describing the beasts 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 beasts having no other name, Tolkien's fans have often, if not quite correctly, dubbed them "fellbeasts." (c.f., 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. For the most part, while fellbeasts 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 adaptations
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 fellbeast. However, Bakshi's film only covers events up to the Battle of the Hornburg, so that is the last we see of the fellbeasts and their riders.
Rankin-BassIn 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 Jackson's films
In Peter Jackson's film trilogy based on The Lord of the Rings, the fellbeasts are depicted as "wyverns" (a two-legged, flying serpentine creature) and their heads appear more like a snake's, without a beak. (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.)A Ringwraith is first seen riding a fellbeast at the Dead Marshes in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Middle-earth: 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 the video game Shadow of War of Shadow of Mordor series.
Clearly (at least in the movies and video games), fellbeasts 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 fellbeast snatched a soldier, it could easily fly high into the air and drop its helpless victim to his death far below. Fellbeasts were feared for their ferocity and speed, and were known as the second fastest creatures in Middle-earth (only the Eagles are faster).
In The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, the fellbeasts could also breathe foul air on their foes, weakening them significantly.
Three fellbeasts are available (at a time) as heroes in The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth and its sequel; mounted by Ringwraiths.
Translations around the world
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- ↑ 1.0 1.1 The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter VI: "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields"
- ↑ The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter XII: "Flight to the Ford"
- ↑ The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter IX: "The Great River"
- ↑ The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, Book Four, Chapter II: "The Passage of the Marshes"
- ↑ The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, Book Five, Chapter III: "The Muster of Rohan"
- ↑ The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 211 (dated 14 October 1958)