Tolkien Gateway

Dead faces

"Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?" - Tom Bombadil
This article describes a concept which is mentioned in J.R.R. Tolkien's works, but was never given a definite name.
"The tricksy lights. Candles of corpses, yes, yes. Don't you heed them!"

The dead faces, or candles of corpses, were apparitions of ghostly faces of dead Elven, Mannish, and Orcish warriors in the Mere of Dead Faces in the Dead Marshes. The faces, rotting and twisted, with weed caught in their hair, appeared in dark waters being lit by pale and fell lights, as from unseen candles.

How the dead warriors came to be transformed into such undead beings is unknown, but Sam speculated about "devilry hatched in the Dark Land", likely referring to Sauron's dark arts in the nearby Mordor.[1]

[edit] Etymology

A corpse candle is defined as a "luminous appearance, resembling the flame of a candle, sometimes seen in churchyards and other damp places, superstitiously regarded as portending death".[2]

For a poem, Tolkien created the Qenya phrase ve kaivo-kalma, meaning "as a corpse-candle".[3]

[edit] Portrayal in adaptations

1982-97: Middle-earth Role Playing:

Corpse Candles and Corpse lanterns are seen as two variants of the same basic type of creature. The latter are said to be more powerful and intelligent, capable of a "more alluring web".[4] A related creature are the corpse-lights, which haunt underground areas of the Shire.[5]

1995-8: Middle-earth Collectible Card Game:

Cards depicting these creatures include "Corpse-candle" and "Wisp of Pale Sheen".

2002: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers:

While Frodo in the book only claims to have seen the dead faces, Peter Jackson's film version includes a dramatic twist: Frodo falls into the water as under a spell from the dead.

2002-5: The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game:

The faces of the dead are classified as phantoms, a subdivision of ghosts.[6]

2007: The Lord of the Rings Online:

Corpse-candles are a form of the Dead, floating balls of light that haunt marshes and grave-sites, swarming around the player.

[edit] External links


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Passage of the Marshes"
  2. "Corpse candle (in Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, published 1913 by C. & G. Merriam Co.)", (accessed 3 August 2012)
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Early Elvish Poetry and Pre-Fëanorian Alphabets", in Parma Eldalamberon XVI (edited by Christopher Gilson, Arden R. Smith, Patrick H. Wynne, Carl F. Hostetter and Bill Welden), p. 85
  4. Ruth Sochard Pitt, Jeff O'Hare, Peter C. Fenlon, Jr. (1994), Creatures of Middle-earth (2nd edition) (#2012)
  5. Wesley Frank (1995), The Shire (#2017)
  6. Scott Bennie, Mike Mearls, Steve Miller, Aaron Rosenberg, Chris Seeman, Owen Seyler, and George Strayton (2003), Fell Beasts and Wondrous Magic, p. 27