The Witch King's "No Man Shall Kill Me" is really dumb.

happyninja42

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Ok so, I've been thinking about the prophecy about the leader of the Ring Wraiths, and how he was so scary because he couldn't die. But, then when I thought about it, the only information we are provided, makes the prophecy of his fate to be about as dumb as a carnival fortune teller, or completely bullshit.

So, all we know, is that "no man shall kill him" and then what's her name takes off her helmet and is all dramatic "I am no man", poke, die. In the books, and the movies, this is predicated by the hobbit stabbing him with a regular old magical elven blade. I don't think it even had a name, it was just Magic Sword+1. This broke the magic, and let the woman...Eowyn I think? Kill the witch king.

So, did the prophecy he got come from such a dumb source, that they literally conned him with a technicality? "Yes lord, no MAN shall kill you." *snickers behind his back as he leaves* Which makes the validity of the source of their mystical divination they used fairly suspect.

Or, any old magical blade could do the job, which means that anyone during the height of the mortal age, with all those nifty elven blades they had, could've done the job if they'd got a hit in. Which again, negates the validity of the prophecy.

So, yeah, seems kind of dumb when I think about it.
 

Hawki

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I think this is getting into semantics. There's no rule in-universe that says that a man CAN'T kill the Witch-king. Like, if Eowyn was Eomer, and the exact same circumstnaces were replicated, there's nothing to suggest that the same thing wouldn't happen. It seems more that the prophecy is interpreting a future outcome. Or, via a Doylist reading, it's a twist for the sake of a plot twist.
 
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Johnny Novgorod

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Ah yes, the CinemaSins school of literary appraisal.

The Witch King's undoing comes from Macbeth, who is assured by a prophecy that "no man of woman born" can kill him. He's eventually killed by a man who was c-sectioned from a womb (and thus not "born" as far as tradition then had it). The point being pride comes before the fall, and we cannot escape our own fate because our own hubris makes it self-fulfilling.

By that same token Tolkien turned another prophetic line of Macbeth about a forest moving (another portent of death as far as Macbeth was concerned) into the Ents marching into Isengard. He was famously disappointed when the forest in Macbeth "moves" by being cut down into spears by an invading army; the Ents were born from this early disillusion. I imagine he was similarly inspired with the Witch King's ironic death.
 

Dirty Hipsters

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At least it's slightly less stupid than " none of woman born shall harm Macbeth." The guy who ends up killing Macbeth was c-sectioned and therefore "not born of woman." It's an incredibly stupid technicality since he's still born from a woman as is everyone including test tube babies.

Also, on the topic of Eowyn:

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The above illustration is one of the oldest in-book illustration's of Eowyn's fight with the Witch King.

She's supposed to be dressed to pass for a man and wearing men's armor. That means all Rohirrim rode into battle wearing that armor.

The sound of them riding into battle was the sound of all their ass checks collectively clapping.
 

Asita

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You've never seen/read Macbeth, have you?

"Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill Shall come against him" - Fulfilled by Malcolm's forces approaching from Birnam wood carrying large tree branches to hide themselves. From Macbeth's castle, it looks like the forest itself is moving.

"No man of woman born shall harm Macbeth" - Macbeth is killed by Macduff, who was delivered by Caesarean and thus did not strictly go through the birthing process.

And I cannot emphasize enough that prophecies operating on technicality has been bog-standard since antiquity.

Croesus asked the oracle of Delphi if he should invade Persia and the oracle told him that doing so would cause a great empire to fall. Invading Persia made his great empire fall.

Brahmna gave Mahishasura a boon through which no man or god could defeat him. After wiping the floor with the big boys butts, Mahishasura had his ass handed to him by the goddess Durga.

For the Trojan War, it was prophesied that the first Greek to set foot on Trojan soil would be killed, so naturally all the Greek soldiers were spooked and staying on the boat until the coast was clear. Odysseus, brilliant bastard that he was, tossed his shield onto the shore and jumped on that, tricking the other Greeks into rushing onto the shore and taking the bullet, so to speak.

Of course rules laywering works both ways. Odysseus was prophesied to die by the sea...which ended up fulfilled quite a ways inland through him dying from a spear tipped with a barb of a Stingray's tail.

Ra declared that Geb and Nut would be unable to conceive on any day of the year (fearing that their kids might end up more powerful than he). Thoth tricked him into gambling away a small amount of his sunlight every day, until Thoth had saved up enough light to add five days to the calendar. These days allowed them to have Nephtys, Set, Osiris, and Isis. Amusingly enough, Isis actually did become more powerful than Ra by making him reveal his true name to her, but she was a pretty chill goddess so that ended up being nothing ominous.

Oedipus runs away from home because he was prophesied to kill his father and marry his mother (something that horrified him as he loved his parents dearly)...he was adopted, ran into and killed some important asshole of a man on the road and after some adventures ended up marrying the recently widowed queen of Thebes. No points for guessing who those two people ended up being.

Queen Medb asks which of her sons will kill Conchobar (King of Ulster, for those unfamiliar with the story). Turns out that it's supposed to be Maine who does the deed. She doesn't have a son named Maine. She renames all her sons Maine... and Maine Andoe ends up killing a completely different Conchobar.

So yeah...prophetic twists like that are old as dirt.
 

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Oedipus runs away from home because he was prophesied to kill his father and marry his mother (something that horrified him as he loved his parents dearly)...he was adopted, ran into and killed some important asshole of a man on the road and after some adventures ended up marrying the recently widowed queen of Thebes. No points for guessing who those two people ended up being.
There's probably a few different versions of this myth, but I've never heard the one of Oedipus running away from home because of the prophesy. The version I always heard was that the king, upon hearing the prophecy, ordered that his infant son Oedipus be taken out into the forest and left to die (pretty standard for Greek myths), and that the servant who was supposed to do it took him to a neighboring city state instead where he was raised.
 

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There's probably a few different versions of this myth, but I've never heard the one of Oedipus running away from home because of the prophesy. The version I always heard was that the king, upon hearing the prophecy, ordered that his infant son Oedipus be taken out into the forest and left to die (pretty standard for Greek myths), and that the servant who was supposed to do it took him to a neighboring city state instead where he was raised.
Forgive me, I phrased that part poorly. It should have been "What Oedipus didn't know was that he was adopted. In fleeing the prophecy he ran into and killed some important asshole of a man on the road..." Ie, ran away from his adoptive parents to avert the prophecy, ended up unknowingly fulfilling it with his birth parents.
 
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I think an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has fun with this sort of technical loophole stuff when faced with a demon that “No weapon forged could kill”, they shot it with a bazooka. After all, it wasn’t forged as was understood when the demon last ran across the earth.
 

Thaluikhain

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Eh, the Witch-King is all "no man can kill me", but, IIRC, he's also all "Run away!" when Aragon beats him and the Witch-King's hardest mates up at Weathertop.

Personally I think that's the more important bit.
 

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Did Eowyn actually kill the Witch-King?

I thought the Nazgul were essentially immortal because of their rings being linked to Sauron and the One Ring, so the most you could do would be to banish or destroy their corporeal form.
 

Johnny Novgorod

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Did Eowyn actually kill the Witch-King?

I thought the Nazgul were essentially immortal because of their rings being linked to Sauron and the One Ring, so the most you could do would be to banish or destroy their corporeal form.
She destroyed his physical form like Isildur had destroyed Sauron's before. I don't remember the specifics of the Nazgul's existence but the Witch King does not appear again after Eowyn kills him (unlike the other 8 Nazgul) before Frodo destroys the Ring. So it's possible he was dead for good.
 

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Did Eowyn actually kill the Witch-King?

I thought the Nazgul were essentially immortal because of their rings being linked to Sauron and the One Ring, so the most you could do would be to banish or destroy their corporeal form.
Eh...yes and no? It's kinda a joint-kill between Eowyn and Merry (amusingly, both qualify for the loophole for different reasons. Eowyn is of the race of men but is a woman by sex/gender, while Merry is a man by sex/gender, but as a hobbit is not of the race of men). The movies gloss over Merry's role in the fight, but without him Eowyn almost certainly could not have killed the Witch-King. See, the hobbits of the Fellowship had all gotten Barrow-Blades way back when they met Tom Bombadil. These weapons were forged and enchanted for the explicit purpose of fighting evil, and that of Angmar especially. As put in the book itself: "No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will." Or to put it more directly, the sword was uniquely suited to making the Witch-King vulnerable. Merry did not deal a lethal blow by any stretch, but his strike enabled Eowyn to deal a killing blow.
 

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One of the Brandon Sanderson Mistborn books have as subversion of this. The big thing in the book is the Well of Ascension, a special place where a human can gain godhood, or the powers of a god, but only "A man who is not a man"(or something similar) can use the well as intended.

Vin one of the main characters, being a woman, thinks "Oh, that means I can do it. I'm not a man". It turns out she's wrong and ends up making things worse when she tries to use the well. The words actually refer to a Eunuch, which is another member of their group, but nobody even thinks of that as being the fulfillment until the very end
 

Agema

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Ok so, I've been thinking about the prophecy about the leader of the Ring Wraiths, and how he was so scary because he couldn't die. But, then when I thought about it, the only information we are provided, makes the prophecy of his fate to be about as dumb as a carnival fortune teller, or completely bullshit.

So, all we know, is that "no man shall kill him" and then what's her name takes off her helmet and is all dramatic "I am no man", poke, die.
The prophecy from Tolkein, as I recall, was that he would not die by a man's hand, not that he could not die by a man's hand.
 

happyninja42

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The prophecy from Tolkein, as I recall, was that he would not die by a man's hand, not that he could not die by a man's hand.
It doesn't really matter, it's a dime store, carnival level prophecy that is entirely based on a technicality of word play. I mean, this is a lich, a wraith lord of the dark lord sauron, one of the elder beings of power from the dawn of time. A being that has infused his will into items of power, and used them to enslave the souls of people of power across the realms, chaining them to him for millennia....capable of dark and terrifying powers of divination and corruption.....and the prophecy this wraith king gets, from whoever he gets it from (seriously is that actually established? I mean tolkien was really anal about detailing out ALL that shit from the dawn of time, so it wouldn't surprise me), is able to trick him with an elementary bit of gender word play? I mean, come on.

The fact that this is a common trope of fortunetelling (this is in response to the above posts saying it gets used a lot, as if that's somehow a mark of quality), doesn't make it good, it just makes a commonly used thing, that's still just as dumb.

Macbeth falling for it I can believe, because he's just a mortal dude, who is established as being somewhat arrogant and vain. But I mean, the beings in LOTR are ancient beings of cosmic and terrible power. But apparently they get their divinations from an automated gypsy machine at a carny. It's just dumb.
 

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It doesn't really matter, it's a dime store, carnival level prophecy that is entirely based on a technicality of word play. I mean, this is a lich, a wraith lord of the dark lord sauron, one of the elder beings of power from the dawn of time. A being that has infused his will into items of power, and used them to enslave the souls of people of power across the realms, chaining them to him for millennia....capable of dark and terrifying powers of divination and corruption.....and the prophecy this wraith king gets, from whoever he gets it from (seriously is that actually established? I mean tolkien was really anal about detailing out ALL that shit from the dawn of time, so it wouldn't surprise me), is able to trick him with an elementary bit of gender word play? I mean, come on.

The fact that this is a common trope of fortunetelling (this is in response to the above posts saying it gets used a lot, as if that's somehow a mark of quality), doesn't make it good, it just makes a commonly used thing, that's still just as dumb.

Macbeth falling for it I can believe, because he's just a mortal dude, who is established as being somewhat arrogant and vain. But I mean, the beings in LOTR are ancient beings of cosmic and terrible power. But apparently they get their divinations from an automated gypsy machine at a carny. It's just dumb.
The Ring Wraiths were once men, and for all the dark and ancient magic now driving them, at their core they were like the rest of us. Flawed, and fallible. And since they actually fell for Sauron’s trap with the rings I can imagine they too were more than a little cock sure and up themselves.
 

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I always got the impression that the Ring Wraiths were supposed to be seen as pathetic losers. They used to be kings, now they're just the insubstantial servants of Sauron, with no agency of their own. It makes sense that the Witch King would cling on to the prophecy in order to feel important and powerful.
 
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Agema

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It doesn't really matter, it's a dime store, carnival level prophecy that is entirely based on a technicality of word play. I mean, this is a lich, a wraith lord of the dark lord sauron, one of the elder beings of power from the dawn of time. A being that has infused his will into items of power, and used them to enslave the souls of people of power across the realms, chaining them to him for millennia....capable of dark and terrifying powers of divination and corruption.....and the prophecy this wraith king gets, from whoever he gets it from (seriously is that actually established? I mean tolkien was really anal about detailing out ALL that shit from the dawn of time, so it wouldn't surprise me), is able to trick him with an elementary bit of gender word play? I mean, come on.
They really weren't all that. Maybe against men they were terrible, but a powerful enough elf was evidently quite enough to defeat them. They fled Glorfindel. Galadriel was also easily powerful enough as the last of the great Noldor lords (grand-daughter of Finwe, no less). Cirdan and Elrond bore the other Elven rings of power, so presumably were hugely powerful too. It's very likely elf-lords such as Thranduil and Celeborn, and probably quite a few unusually mighty elves, were enough.

The fact that this is a common trope of fortunetelling (this is in response to the above posts saying it gets used a lot, as if that's somehow a mark of quality), doesn't make it good, it just makes a commonly used thing, that's still just as dumb.

Macbeth falling for it I can believe, because he's just a mortal dude, who is established as being somewhat arrogant and vain. But I mean, the beings in LOTR are ancient beings of cosmic and terrible power. But apparently they get their divinations from an automated gypsy machine at a carny. It's just dumb.
The Ring Wraiths were also not ancient powers. They were men twisted to evil, arrogance, greed and hubris, subjugated and granted powers by Sauron. Maybe the prophecy was nothing - it was just something said that the Witch-king with his arrogance believed, that led him either to complacency, or critical doubt when he suddenly realised he might be vulnerable.

I think also literary context matters. Tolkein based his work on ancient history, myth and legend, where prophecy was often unclear or misleading, including angles that perhaps people did not see until they became real. For instance the prophecy to King Midas that if he waged war against Persia he would destroy a great empire - but it turned out to be his own. You are right that it is a trope, but it is a trope with a very long history all the way to the sorts of works Tolkein was using as a basis for LotR.