For some reason, I always equated the Barrow wights with the Black Riders chasing our band of hobbits through the Shire. I imagined that they were somehow related or in collusion. Perhaps it was just my way of simplifying the danger that the company faced, thinking that evil was a single, combined force instead of a multi-faceted and diverse set of challenges or opponents. It was not until much later, probably around a decade, that I began to realize that there were some textual reasons why I made this assumption as a first-time reader.
As a twenty-something, I wrote a word study focusing on Tolkien’s use of glimmer throughout LotR. This project led me to Shadow, which displays the development of the wights and Riders through several drafts. In a prior version of this text, J.R.R. Tolkien describes how Tom Bombadil “seemed to think that the Riders and Barrow wights had some kind of kinship or understanding.”
Perhaps this assumption which is present in the previous iterations of the text still lingers in some of the creative decisions in the published text. While the two dangers are not in collusion as-published, the characterization of the Riders and the wights is very similar, down to the word choice (as I argued, somewhat, in that earlier paper).
I am not naïve enough to suggest that I was able to detect Tolkien’s earlier intent as a young child. What I would assert, however, is that Tolkien revised his text in such a way as to leave this connection between the Riders and the Barrow wights as a possibility for readers to interpret into the text, even if he does not suggest the link outright.