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In The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King the Witch King of the Nazgul says that he can't be killed by a man, and then Eowyn says "I am no man" right before killing him. Why is he able to be killed by a woman?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

In the book of The Return of the King, an appendix relates that during the Third Age the elf Glorfindel prophesied that the Witch-king of Angmar (Lord of the Nazgûl) would eventually fall, but not by "the hand of man". By the time of the Battle of Pelennor Fields, word of the prophecy had apparently reached the Witch-king himself. Like so many seemingly favorable prophecies in literature, this one turned out to be very literal and limited and thus led him to be fatally overconfident.

Source: Wikipedia article on Glorfindel.

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Note, though, that it is arguable whether the Witch King fell by the hand of Eowyn (who delivered the killing blow) or by the hand of Merry (who unraveled the Witch-King's magic with his Numenorian knife). Either way, woman or hobbit, it fits the literal sense of the prophecy. – Avner Shahar-Kashtan May 30 '13 at 7:15
Reminds me of a more classical example of false confidence in too literal a prophecy: "Macbeth: Thou losest labour: As easy mayst thou the intrenchant air With thy keen sword impress as make me bleed: Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests; I bear a charmed life, which must not yield, To one of woman born." - "Macduff: Despair thy charm; And let the angel whom thou still hast served Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb Untimely ripp'd.". But I guess the witches had much more sinister and direct motives with this prophecy than Glorfindel had with his, but who knows. – Napoleon Wilson May 30 '13 at 9:19
@ChristianRau: The classical example would be the Delphic Oracle; e.g., telling Croesus that if he invades "a great empire will be destroyed". Do you believe he fell for that? – FredH May 30 '13 at 15:14

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