Top 10 Terrifying Monsters in Tolkiens Middle Earth
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Nick Roffey
So, do you still want to be an elf? For this list, we'll be looking at the most nightmarish creatures in J. R. R. Tolkien's epic fantasy world. Our countdown includes Wargs, Dragons, Giant Spiders, and more!
Top 10 Terrifying Monsters in Tolkien’s Middle-earth
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Terrifying Monsters in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most nightmarish creatures in J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy world. We’ll be considering types of monsters, rather than monstrous individuals like Morgoth or Sauron. We considered including Oliphants, but while they’re ‘grey as a mouse / big as a house’, have a ‘nose like a snake’ and ‘make the earth shake’, we don’t think they’re bad … just made to do bad things.
Which of these monsters makes YOU shiver? Share your fears in the comments!
Taller and broader than Men, trolls are strong and voracious, with a taste for manflesh. According to Treebeard, they were created by the Dark Lord Morgoth in mockery of Ents. There are various types, including hill-trolls, stone-trolls, cave-trolls, and mountain-trolls. Fortunately, trolls are dull-witted and vulnerable to sunlight, which turns them to stone. However, in the Third Age, Sauron bred a new race, the Olog-hai, which was more agile and cunning, and could endure sunlight. While ordinary trolls could be easily outwitted, the Olog-hai were much more formidable foes.
Dwelling in burial mounds east of the Shire, these dark, shadowy figures are armed with spells, and whisk away those who wander through their barrows. Like the Oathbreakers that Aragorn enlists during the War of the Ring, they belong to the undead. Their eyes shine with cold, pale light, and their sad, dreary voices murmur songs cursing the life and warmth denied to them. Although their barrows harbor treasure, the risk is really not worth it. You may hear them coming thanks to the clink of rings and rattle of chains, but if they get close, their icy grip is as strong as iron.
Because evil cannot create, the fallen Valar Morgoth and his lieutenant Sauron bred their twisted creatures from the races and animals of Middle-earth. This included werewolves - evil spirits in the shape of wolves. Wargs were also a breed of demonic wolves, and may or may not have been related to werewolves. Swift and ravenous, wargs hunt in packs, preferring the cover of darkness. They’re afraid of fire and can’t climb trees. But they’re far more clever than regular wolves, communicating in their own tongue and allying with Orcs, who use them as mounts. Remember: ‘where the warg howls, there also the orc prowls’!
The footsoldiers of the Enemy, Orcs are vicious and pitiless, taking pleasure in cruelty. Although smaller in stature than Men, their powerful frames, fanged mouths, and ferocity make them frightening foes. The origin of Orcs is sinister and tragic: they were bred from tortured elves in Morgoth’s fortress Utumno. Without leadership, they’re cowardly and prone to quarreling between themselves. However, under the command of Morgoth, Sauron, or a powerful chieftain, Orcs are relentless enemies. Synonymous with ‘goblins’, they prefer darkness, but a later breed, the Uruk-hai, had no such weakness.
#6: Fell Beasts
Corrupted creatures of an older world, fell beasts resemble great carrion birds, but their bodies are featherless, and webs of hide stretch between the pinions of their vast wings. A croaking cry and hideous stench announce their arrival. Tolkien’s description of them as “fell beasts” stands in for an official name. In one of his letters, Tolkien acknowledged them as ‘pterodactylic’ - survivors of “older geological eras” (or, in Middle-earth terms, the Elder Days). After the Nazgûl are unhorsed, fell beasts replace their lost steeds. Nursed on ‘fell meats’, they’re the largest winged creatures in the skies - leaving nowhere to hide when the Nazgûl are on your trail.
#5: The Watcher in the Water
Beneath the delvings of Dwarves, nameless things older even than Sauron gnaw at the world. Perhaps the Watcher in the Water, which dwelt in a lake beneath the western walls of Moria, was such a creature. Its writhing tentacles search for unwary ankles to drag down into the water. It has so many limbs that when it strikes, the lake seethes, as if a host of pale-green, luminous snakes are breaching the surface. Presumably, there are others of its kind lurking in remote waters or subterranean chambers. Even the possibility would make us second-guess going for a leisurely swim in Middle-earth.
The scourge of both land and air, dragons, or Worms, were bred by Morgoth to support his army of Orcs. The first dragons, including the Father of Dragons, Glaurung, were wingless, but nonetheless devastated Elven armies. During the War of Wrath in the First Age, Morgoth unleashed winged dragons, the evil counterparts of the Great Eagles. In the etymological notes of Tolkien’s unpublished work “The Lost Road”, there is also a fleeting mention of sea-serpents. While fire-drakes can breathe fire, cold-drakes cannot. But all are cunning, long-lived, and greedy, with a hypnotic power over their enemies. Their only vulnerabilities are their lust for gold and gems, and a soft spot on their chest that their scaly armor doesn’t cover.
The fangs and claws of bestial monsters fill us with instinctive terror. But there is something even more uncanny and dreadful about monsters in human form. The Nazgûl were once mortal Men to whom Sauron gifted nine Rings of Power. This allowed them to peer into the Unseen world, but gradually reduced them to invisible wraiths. Only the gleam of their eyes remains, shining from the depths of black cloaks. Led by their leader, the Witch-king of Angmar, the Black Riders leave terror in their wake. In another of his letters, Tolkien described their peril as “almost entirely due to the unreasoning fear which they inspire”. But Sauron’s ‘most terrible servants’ also wield swords, knives, and maces with magical properties.
#2: Giant Spiders
In the Elder Days, the evil spirit Ungoliant descended from the darkness around the world and took the shape of a spider. Belching black vapors, she drank the light of the Two Trees of Valinor, growing so large and powerful that she was almost able to slay Morgoth. In her ravenous hunger, she may have eventually consumed herself, but not before breeding with the spiders of Middle-earth and producing offspring, including Shelob. Bloated and drabbling venom, hunting with many-windowed eyes, Shelob haunted the pass of Cirith Ungol, preying on Elves, Men, and Orcs. She also had children, who spread out into Mirkwood. Tolkien wrote giant spiders into “The Hobbit” to frighten his son Michael, and they remain some of his most memorable monsters.
Cloaked in darkness, Balrogs are demons of fire and terror. Originally, Balrogs were Maiar, spirits like Gandalf and Sauron, who helped the Valar shape the world. Corrupted by Morgoth, they became dark figures with hearts of fire, streaming manes, and wings of shadow. In their hands they wield swords and whips of flame. The Lord of Balrogs was Gothmog, who mortally wounded renowned Elven craftsman, king and warrior Fëanor. After the War of Wrath, the Balrogs fled to the roots of the mountains, where like the Balrog Durin's Bane, they continued to haunt the world’s dark, hidden places.