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Nightmare Fuel / The Lord of the Rings

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"Come back, to Mordor we will take you!"

Aragorn: Are you frightened?
Frodo: Yes.
Aragorn: Not nearly frightened enough.

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    From the books 
  • The Nazgûl. Read about the creation of the book and you'll learn that the first Black Rider just... appeared, in Tolkien's third draft or so. Even he wasn't sure what it was at first... but once he decided, it became clear - the Riders would never stop hunting the Ring.
    • At first they were limited by the physical needs of their horses. But once Sauron stopped trying to be subtle, he gave them better steeds. Far swifter, far more terrible, indifferent to barriers such as rivers and mountains...
    • Their power and terror reach an apex during the Siege of Minas Tirith. Tolkien's descriptions of these undead things terrifying the inhabitants of the city into hopelessness really grinds in how desperate the situation is.
    • The Witch-King definitely stands out just for this. The description of his 'face' is horrifying enough.
    • In fact, the Nazgûl are so incredibly evil that just being near them will actually make you physically ill, and that's if you're lucky!
      • Gorbag puts it best in his conversation with Shagrat:
        "Grr! Those Nazgûl give me the creeps. And they skin the body off you as soon as look at you, and leave you all cold in the dark on the other side."
    • Their own fate is Nightmare Fuel. They are no longer themselves, utterly controlled by a depraved will, and Alone with the Psycho.
  • While using the seat at the top of Amon Hen, Frodo gives in and puts on the One Ring. This soons leads to getting discovered by Sauron and without having any self-control to take it off. Its only thanks to Gandalf's voice that interjects in the mental connection that he gets the prompting to resist and end it.
  • Also from the siege: Sauron's army catapulting the severed, mutilated heads of Osgiliath's defenders over the walls of Minas Tirith. And even when they're as hacked and crushed as they are, the other soldiers can still recognize their friends and neighbors.
  • Combined with above, the Dawnless Day. A huge cloud comes out from Mordor, stretching as far as Rohan, plunging all of Minas Tirith into darkness.
    • This simultaneously crushes his enemies' hope, bolsters his troops (many of which are dazzled or weakened by sunlight), and shows as an aside that Sauron has a tame volcano erupting at his will...
    • Along with that, the events preceding the Dawnless Day are chilling as well. It's very in the background, but several days before it happens, multiple characters have short lines describing how everything feels a bit... off. Sam notices a chilling air, and that the light seems thinner and less wholesome. Multiple people note how the weather seems to be steadily worsening. In context, it just seems like some fluff about bad weather, but on a second read, you realize that that was all foreshadowing for what happened next.
  • The insignificance of the siege from the perspective of the overall war itself is terrifying to consider. Sauron's forces, including orcs and their human allies, outnumber Gondor's forces massively, an advantage that is hardly diminished even after the arrival of reinforcements from Rohan. According to the books, it wasn't even the largest of the forces that Sauron fielded at that time. From his perspective, the loss of the battle was a minor setback with the only real loss being the death of the Witchking. It would have hardly slowed him down, had the Ring not been destroyed.
  • In the chapter "Scouring of the Shire," it is implied that Saruman forced the starving Grí­ma to eat the corpse of Lotho Sackville-Baggins.
  • The Barrow-wight scenes. The hobbits get lost in the mist, hear voices calling to them... and the next thing Frodo knows is he's waking up in a grave and there is something in the darkness with them... terrifying!
  • Everything about Gollum. Not just his ghastly appearance, but knowing that it was his addiction to the Ring which turned him into whatever creature he has become, and the lengths he will go to for the Ring. The movies make it worse by giving him a split personality. Gandalf also mentions that during his search for Gollum, he began to hear rumors of a blood-drinking ghost who "climbed trees to find nests and crept into windows to find cradles".
    • The worst part? He is a Hobbit. So he is a picture of what could have become (and nearly happened anyway) to Frodo or Bilbo. The fact that the Ring contains some form of intelligence suggests it may have even done this for fun.
    • As in regards to the possible baby-eating, remember that Gollum's first scene in The Hobbit involved him wanting to eat Bilbo.
    • When Gandalf tells Frodo what he learned about Gollum's past he reveals that, back when he was Sméagol, he took one look at the beautiful golden ring that his cousin Déagol had found in the river and promptly throttled Déagol so that he could have it.
  • "Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day."
  • The concept of The Ring itself. As the Soul Jar for one of the most utterly evil creatures to ever inhabit Middle-earth, it's beautiful, you want it even if you don't know why, it stretches out your existence but in a bad way, it whispers to you and puts ideas into your head, and if you spend too long with it, it will pervert you into a horrible shadow of your former self, leaving you a hopelessly addicted, twisted, pitiful wretch. How long it takes to do this to you depends on your mental and moral strength, but it will break you eventually no matter how strong you are. If you're not particularly strong-willed it can claim you in mere seconds! And if it ever achieves its goal, then... Tolkien insisted that The Lord of the Rings held "applicability," not "allegory," but people have compared the Ring to everything from capitalism to communism to nuclear power.
    • The fact that there are so many things in Real Life that can be compared to the One Ring... now there's some Nightmare Fuel for you.
      • Speaking of Real Life, in the foreword to one of the editions Tolkien says that he has been asked or heard of many possible things the Ring can be an allegory for, all of which unintended as he does not like allegory (preferring applicability.) Now, if he did want the book to mirror actual events, he adds, the Ring would certainly have been used, Sauron not dead but enslaved (which, if you know what he did to Númenor, you know why it is a bad idea), his tower occupied instead of thrown down, and Saruman would have gone to Mordor, finding bits and pieces with which he would have ultimately made a Ring for himself, challenging the new ruler of Middle-earth and, worst of all, in the ensuing conflict there would have been no place for simple, peaceful Hobbits: both sides would have hated them and the Hobbit race would not have survived even as slaves.
  • Shelob: "She, who only desired death for all others, and for herself a glut of life, alone, swollen until the darkness could no longer contain her and the mountains could no longer hold her up..."
    • For added nightmare fuel, she does not merely kill her prey, but captures them by a paralyzing poisonous bite to the neck, dragging them back to her lair where she feeds them to keep them alive and make them grow fat, so she can feed off on their flesh and blood.
  • 'The Watcher in the Water took Oin'. It's a simple yet horrific sentence, especially if you've read The Hobbit; first, Oin, one of the original Company, has been killed - and second, Oin was snatched by that terrible creature that nearly killed Frodo, and wasn't rescued in time.
    • And Gimli is his nephew. All the named dead dwarves are his relatives. No wonder he's not entirely rational in the Chamber.
  • Moria as a whole is this. Dark, claustrophobic, a gigantic tentacled abomination that nearly kills Frodo, Orcs at every corner, insane architecture, and a friggin' Balrog is underground. Even with beautifully carved, giant statues of dwarves, it doesn't make it any less frightening.
    • The Watcher in the Water is a complete footnote in the story and that really just makes it so much more frightening. It's noted by Gandalf to be something that crawled up from or escaped from the deepest reaches of the Misty Mountains. Much like the Fellbeasts used by the Nazgul, it's simply some huge unaccounted-for primordial monster that apparently just has been sitting outside Moria for years, waiting and killing anything that goes too close. Obviously, it disappears after the Fellowship's only encounter with it, so we don't even get to know its final fate.
    • The Balrog, a creature of dark fire dating back to ancient times. Not to mention the foreshadowing: an entire mighty kingdom of stalwart warriors, shattered and desolate, without even a single survivor to identify the cause. Also, as The Silmarillion can tell you, the Balrogs used to be Morgoth's muscle and their captain was at the same level of authority and power as Sauron himself.
    Gandalf: The Dwarves dug too deep, and too greedily...
    • What happens after Pippin gets the attention of the goblins. The movies used a drumbeat for when the goblins started moving toward the Fellowship, but the book just has tapping noises.
    • And then the drums begin, and the sound they make is prophetic: doom, doom...
  • The Dead Marshes are already pretty horrific: the faces of dead men, elves, and orcs from three thousand years ago preserved forever and revealed as the marshes overtake the old battlefield. (For bonus points, it's implied that Gollum tried to eat them during his first passage.) And then you learn that they actually existed: Tolkien based them on his experiences in World War I, when he crossed flooded battlefields. Decades after the war, and even during it, there were the silent, horribly wounded bits and pieces or corpses of soldiers, floating in the craters with their weapons and kit, plus ponies, machine guns...
  • Aragorn and the Grey Company discover the centuries-old skeleton of Baldor, son of Brego, in the Paths of the Dead. His sword is notched from hewing at the door, and his legs are broken. Sweet dreams.
  • The breeding of Saruman´s orcs. Treebeard only states that Saruman has mixed orcs with human blood. He does NOT go into detail on how Saruman managed this, but it is implied the breeding took years. If we consider that Saruman made his orcs do this the regular, non-magical way... The implication is a lot more squicky than the movie.
    • From Silmarillion: For the Orcs had life and multiplied after the manner of the Children of Iluvatar. Combine these two points...
    • And Saruman had enough of these hybrids to mount a full-scale invasion. A few captives are not enough for this in any reasonable timeframe. Imagine the scale...
  • The Mouth of Sauron taunting the Fellowship by telling them that they've captured Frodo and are torturing him. The films implied that they killed him at some point, but the books make it clear that he's still alive and they're far from done with him.
  • In one of his letters, Tolkien wrote that "Gandalf as Ring-Lord would have been far worse than Sauron. He would have remained 'righteous', but self-righteous. He would have continued to rule and order things for 'good', and the benefit of his subjects according to his wisdom (which was and would have remained great)." The idea of Big Good Gandalf, the slightly curmudgeonly but nonetheless kind mentor figure who loves hobbits for their simplicity and innocence, being corrupted by the Ring to be even worse than Sauron... brrrr.
  • The moments depicting Frodo's slowly being overpowered by the ring, from his increasing weariness and Dissonant Serenity in the Dead Marshes to having to ask Sam to keep his hands from putting the ring on. Perhaps creepiest of all is in the first book when he finds himself hesitating to ride away to Rivendell on Glofindel's horse, even with the riders within sight... and realizes that they are silently commanding him to wait for them.

    From the film version 

    From the Ralph Bakshi film 

  • They pretty much nail the Ring Wraiths, especially the tree scene and Frodo's confrontation with them, complete with Scare Chord and their whispers, "Come, come, to Mordor we will take you..."
  • The sequence with the orcs marching on Helm's Deep. Shadowy, menacing, almost unearthly monsters advancing while chanting ominous war songs. Between the almost demonic appearance of the orcs and the scene's red lighting, it almost seems as if the forces of Hell itself are marching against Rohan.
  • Frodo wakes up in Moria and notices two green eyes of some creature only a few feet away from his sleeping companions.

    From the animated Return of the King film 

  • The Stone Watchers at Cirith Ungol. Especially the way their expressions change offscreen, with the worst being their mocking smirk when the Phial doesn't work on them on the way out. Nearly as scary is, after Sam first uses the Phial to open the invisible gate and saunters in with the Watchers glaring at him, he puts it away... and both he and the viewer are nearly deafened by the thunderous, moaning roar both Watchers emit from six mouths to alert the Orcs to their trespasser.
  • The moment where Frodo claim the ring for himself. Unlike the movie (which only gave him a Slasher Smile), Frodo is almost completely changed. He loses his weariness, he has fire in his eyes and he lets out a creepy Evil Laugh before turning invisible Here at 2:30. Say what you want about the Rankin/Bass adaptation, but they sure knew how to portray the ring as The Corruption.
    • Pretty much any time someone touches the One Ring is Nightmare Fuel, if not for the audience, for the characters themselves. Look at the reaction of the Orc who attacks Sam after Sam grabs at the Ring to prevent the Orc from taking it from him; he goes from ready to kill to terrified and cringing in seconds!
  • The Witch-King's voice. A manic, screechy voice underscored and echoed by a mechanical, grating one somewhere between Darth Vader and Judge Doom.
  • When Sam tells Frodo that Gollum is still alive and trying to murder them.

    From the video games 
  • The level in the PS2 and PC version of Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo must escape the Shire at night. The bright, colorful Shire is now dark and gloomy, with sinister BGM playing in the background. The streets of Hobbiton are being patrolled by the Black Riders. Everywhere they go, a vast darkness covers their surroundings. The slightest noise will draw them to you, and if you try putting the One Ring on for even a second, they will immediately come after you at full speed. And if they catch you, a Game Over cutscene will trigger in which a Black Rider with two glowing red eyes draws its sword, points it threateningly at the camera, and growls "Surrender the Ring!" in a deep, raspy voice, followed by a text message stating that the One Ring has been captured and Middle-earth is doomed. After that, you are sent back to the Main Menu.
  • Bilbo's picture at the beginning of the GBA version of Fellowship of the Ring is basically the evil face he makes in the movie's freakout, AS A FREEZE FRAME. Have fun playing the game.

    From the BBC radio adaptation 

  • A lot of moments are all the scarier because there's nothing for you to see. All you have to go on is the sound - which is extremely effective.
    • When Gollum is held captive in Mordor and being tortured, there's the sounds of the rack continuously being turned under the sound of his screams.
    • The Ring is mostly just represented by a glass harmonica note, before or during someone being influenced by it. This is an eerie sound at the best of times, but when you associate it with the One Ring...
    • This version has Gandalf's narration of Deagol and Smeagol finding the Ring cut to a flashback of them doing so, with Smeagol abruptly drowning his friend and Deagol's panicked struggle to breathe.
    • The call of the Nazgul sounds like the cry of a demonic bird and it ranges from eerie to downright startling.
    • Frodo's caught by the Watcher in the Water and Ian Holm does a fantastic job of sounding absolutely terrified and shrieking desperately for help.
    • The entirety of the Journey through Moria is one, as all that can be heard is the party's footsteps and Gollum's following them. Frodo's reactions, each time he becomes aware of Gollum's presence, are understandably scared.
    • As the Balrog shows up (completely with unnerving sound-effects) Legolas starts screaming in fear like he does in the book, sounding legitimately terror-stricken.

    From the Russian movie