Wight (W."Wiht", "Thing, Demon") was an old term for a person or being. In Eriador and other lands it was also used to designate the enigmatic occupants of the places of the dead. Elves knew these as "Gorthothlim" (S."Dwellers of the Dead"; Q."Firimardor") and even their loremasters were unsure of their origins, though many believed them to have been either fallen Ainur or other types of demons, powerful undead, bound spirits of deceased mortals similar to wraiths or - and Elves feared this possibility most - the disobedient souls of dead Elves who had refused to enter the halls of Mandos and had been tortured and twisted by the Dark Lord. Whatever might have been the truth, Gorthothlim were powerful spirits which could take possession of dead bodies, and often had great knowledge in Dark Sorcery, and were sometimes even able to turn their mortal victims into lesser undead. Wights appeared in a triadic hierarchy: the lowest were the Gorthothlim Nibin (S."Petty Wights") or "Grim Wights", which were indeed just soulless corpses or skeletons animated and under command of the true Wights; followed by the Gorthothlim Nuin (S."Under-Wights") or "Fell Wights", which were lesser, mortal undead, enslaved by the true wights as extensions of their power; and finally the Gorthothlim Goriaid (S."Great Wights") or "Wight-Lords", the true Wights or Dwellers of the Hills of the dead who ruled over the lesser undead like tyrants over their slaves and liegemen.
Depending on their realm, different kinds of Wights had appeared, including the Barrow-wights (also called Mound-wights or Tomb-Wights), Banner-wights, Blood-wights, Ice-wights or Frozen Wights, Mountain-wights, Plague-wights, Ringwights, Ruin-wights, and the Dievlig-wights of Dunland and Draugar of Rhovanion. However all of these had in common to be the lesser minions or acolytes of the Dwellers of the dead or true Wights or similar demonic beings.
Wights of Note
Wights are interpreted in various ways in non-canonical adaptions. In MERP they are a class of powerful undead much similar to Shades or Wraiths, but are mostly described as the spirits of evil men. In LOTRO Wights are the lowest form of Undead and incorporate Skeletons, Liches, Corpses, and Zombies of various kind. In many other adaptions Wights are similar to Mummies or classic D&D Liches.
Tolkien's Barrow-wights however are rooted in British folklore and Skandinavian and Celtic mythology. They are based on a class of entity which can be categorized as "the evil spirit of the hill" or "the evil ghost of the mound". These type of spirits can be either evil-natured spirits or ancestral spirits; both types were sometimes called "Elves". It has been suggested that the "evil spirits" from Angmar who took over rule of the Barrow-downs were never intended to have been mortal spirits or undead at all, but rather demonic beings, perhaps corrupted Maiar of some sort, or even spirits of corrupted Elves, such as the poltergeists Tolkien mentions.
To bring these contradicting ideas on the nature of Wights into account, the triple-hierarchy of the Wights from MERP has here been modified to correspond with the three different concepts of Undead mortals, corrupted Elven Souls, and demonic immortal beings.
- MERP: Arnor