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  • Updated 23 May 2024
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Mere of Dead Faces

The Dead Marshes on the borders of Mordor

"Many faces proud and fair, and weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all rotting, all dead."
Words of Frodo Baggins
The Two Towers IV 2
The Passage of the Marshes

A broad region of fetid swampland that lay northwestward of Mordor, close by the plain known as Dagorlad. These marshes spread over a region more than thirty miles across, and were filled with deep and shadowed pools. They became known as the Mere of Dead Faces (or, more commonly, the Dead Marshes) because of the ghostly faces that could be glimpsed in the depths of their dark pools.

In the War of the Last Alliance, these marshes had played a part in the Battle of Dagorlad fought in II 3434. The Elves and Men of the Last Alliance clashed with the Orcs of Mordor on the plains eastward of the Mere, and the fighting in that great battle spread into the marshes. In particular, a great host of Elves of Lórien were driven into the swamps, and many never emerged. Over the long years that followed, the marshes grew, swallowing up the graves of others who had fallen in that War.1 By some mysterious power,2 the likenesses of the fallen were preserved, and could be seen as visions glimmering in the pools beneath flickering corpse-lights that drew the unwary into the watery depths.

When Gollum was released from Mordor in the closing years of the Third Age, he escaped into the Mere of Dead Faces, where even the servants sent by Sauron to follow him would not go. As he emerged from the swamp, however, he was captured by Aragorn, and carried away to be questioned by Gandalf. Gollum would later escape once again and begin to follow the Company of the Ring. Thus he eventually found himself guiding Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee back through the dark pools with their pale dead faces on their desperate journey toward the Dark Land.


Notes

1

The only battle specifically mentioned as a source of the dead faces is the Battle of Dagorlad at the end of the Second Age, but other battles were later fought in this same region. The largest of these was in the year III 1944, nearly two thousand years after the War of the Last Alliance. That year saw a great conflict between Gondor and the people known as the Wainriders, and as the fortunes of battle shifted, soldiers from both sides were driven into the Dead Marshes. It may be that these later battles added even more faces to the dark meres.

2

The reason that the dead faces were preserved in the Mere, even after thousands of years, is not clearly explained. Both Frodo and Sam guessed that they remained due to some art of Sauron, and though this is not expressly confirmed, it does seem to be a reasonable assumption. The mesmerising power of the lights and faces of the swamp to draw the unwary into the pools might perhaps be seen as part of the Dark Lord's outer defences of his land.

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About this entry:

  • Updated 23 May 2024
  • Updates planned: 2

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