Tolkien Gateway

Paths of the Dead

Paths of the Dead
Mountain pass
Darrell Sweet - The Paths of the Dead.jpg
"The Paths of the Dead" by Darrell Sweet
General Information
Other namesDwimorberg Pass
LocationWhite Mountains, Dwimorberg
TypeMountain pass
DescriptionTunnelled pass through the mountains
People and History
InhabitantsDead Men
EventsDeath of Baldor
Passing of the Grey Company
GalleryImages of the Paths of the Dead
"The way is shut. It was made by those who are Dead, and the Dead keep it, until the time comes. The way is shut."
The Return of the King, "The Muster of Rohan"

The Paths of the Dead was a haunted pass through the White Mountains and the route by which Aragorn travelled from Rohan to Gondor.


[edit] Description

The northern entrance to the Paths of the Dead was marked by lines of ancient stones leading to Dimholt, a wood of black trees wedged in between the mountains Írensaga (Iron Saw), Starkhorn, and the Dwimorberg. In a hollow stood a single mighty stone, before a sheer rock wall and the Dark Door. Here the path began in earnest, in a pitch-dark tunnel emanating fear. Within the tunnel could be heard a continuous whisper of voices in an unknown language. The wide road stretched on until it entered a great empty space. Within this cavern lay the skeleton of a man, richly garbed, with a golden helm. Before him were a stone door, shut fast where the man once attempted to enter; his notched, broken sword lay near and his bony hand still clutched at the cracks. The road continued past this point until finally a rill of water broke the silence and ran next to the path to the southern exit, which was broad and high arched. From this opening the path fell steeply between sheer cliffs until finally it issued sharp as a crack in a wall into Morthond Vale.[1]

[edit] History

In S.A. 3320 the realm of Gondor was founded.[2] At that time Isildur set upon the crown of the hill of Erech a black stone and called upon the King of the Mountains to swear allegiance to him, which he did.[1] However, when Sauron attacked Gondor in S.A. 3429[2] and Isildur called upon the Men of the Mountains to honour their oath, they refused. Isildur then cursed them and their king, proclaiming that they would have no rest until the oath was fulfilled.

The Men of the Mountains fled before Isildur's wrath, hid in the mountains away from other men, and dwindled away. Thereafter their haunts, the hill of Erech and the Paths of the Dead, became places of terror to living men.[1]

In T.A. 2569 Prince Baldor of Rohan, celebrating the completion of the great hall of Meduseld, vowed to traverse the Paths of the Dead. He never returned and his father, King Brego, died of grief a year later.[3] Baldor was probably wounded by the Men of Darkness beyond the Dark Door and left there to die.[4]

In the days of Arvedui, the last king of Arthedain, there lived Malbeth the Seer who foretold the following:

Over the land there lies a long shadow,
westward reaching wings of darkness.
The Tower trembles; to the tombs of kings
doom approaches. The Dead awaken;
for the hour is come for the oathbreakers:
at the Stone of Erech they shall stand again
and hear there a horn in the hills ringing.
Whose shall the horn be? Who shall call them
from the grey twilight, the forgotten people?
The heir of him to whom the oath they swore.
From the North shall he come, need shall drive him:
he shall pass the Door to the Paths of the Dead.[1]

On 8 March 3019, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and the Grey Company took the Paths of the Dead. A few days before Aragorn had told his two companions that he had used the Orthanc-stone and seen a grave threat to Gondor coming from the South. From Elrond Aragorn had received a reminder concerning the paths of the dead, and he related to them the prophecy of Malbeth.

Before the Door, only Aragorn's strength of will enabled his companions to overcome their fears and enter the Paths of the Dead. They found a skeleton in the central cavern, which they left behind as Aragorn summoned the Dead to follow him. Stumbling onward in the dark, Aragorn and the others emerged from the Paths above Erech, where they hurried to the Stone.

At the Stone of Erech, at midnight, Aragorn unfurled his banner, declared himself the heir of Isildur, and commanded the Dead to aid him.[1] They obeyed and defeated the armies of the Corsairs of Umbar who were attacking the landings in southern Gondor. When those foes were defeated and Aragorn could claim the black ships of the Corsairs for his own, he declared that the curse was lifted and the dead departed forever.[5]

[edit] Portrayal in adaptations

2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:

In the film the battle with the Corsairs occurred off-screen and the Army of the Dead accompanied Aragorn to Minas Tirith to defeat Sauron's orcs, after which Aragorn declared their curse lifted.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Passing of the Grey Company"
  2. 2.0 2.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix B, "The Second Age"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, "The House of Eorl", "The Kings of the Mark"
  4. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, "The Last Debate"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Last Debate"