Gimli: Most reproached character in Middle-earth

Gimli.jpg© New Line Cinema

It’s a tough life in Middle-earth for Gimli the Dwarf…

This is something I’ve noticed whenever re-reading The Lord of the Rings. I find myself thinking that he is the most reproached individual out of all the characters. He often serves as the audience’s bridge to the story, speaking the reader’s mind when interacting with other characters. For that reason, he finds himself reprimanded, sometimes quite severely.

I really empathise with Gimli and his fruitless attempts to try and win an argument or a conversation. His statements and questions are constantly put down by the other characters he finds himself with.

Take for instance this first example before the Fellowship leaves Rivendell.

‘Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,’ said Gimli.
‘Maybe,’ said Elrond, ‘but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.’
‘Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart,’ said Gimli.
‘Or break it,’ Said Elrond.

The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 3 – The Ring Goes South

Elrond may be wiser than the Dwarf, but Gimli tries his best to impress the Elf and offer some encouraging words. It’s a shame that he’s outwitted at every turn.


Another instance occurs when the Fellowship attempts to cross over the Misty Mountains.

‘Caradhras was called the Cruel, and had an ill name, said Gimli, ‘long years ago, when rumour of Sauron had not been heard in these lands.’
‘It matters little who is the enemy, if we cannot beat off his attack,’ said Gandalf.

The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 3 – The Ring Goes South


Or even when they journey towards Moria:

‘It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned,’ said Gimli.
‘I have not heard that it was the fault of the Elves,’ said Legolas.

The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 4 – A Journey in the Dark


And how can Gimli beat the knowledgeable mind of Gandalf? The wizard seems to know a lot more about dwarves and their ways than Gimli himself. Poor, poor Gimli.

‘Dwarf-doors are not made to be seen when shut,’ said Gimli. ‘They are invisible, and their own masters cannot find them or open them, if their secret is forgotten.’
‘But this Door was not made to be a secret known only to Dwarves,’ said Gandalf …

The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 4, A Journey in the Dark



In addition, following the tragic encounter between Gandalf and the Balrog, Gimli is almost forbidden from finding some much needed solace.

‘That is Durin’s Stone!’ cried Gimli. ‘I cannot pass without turning aside for a moment to look at the wonder of the dale!’
‘Be swift then!’ said Aragorn, looking back towards the Gates.

The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 6 – Lothlórien


At least he gets an outright apology from Celeborn, following some pretty nasty accusations from the Elf Lord. Tsk! Tsk!:

‘Let Gimli forget my harsh words: I spoke in the trouble of my heart.’

The Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 7 – The Mirror of Galadriel


Yet, reproaches become harsher as we move into The Two Towers.

‘S is for Sauron,’ said Gimli. ‘That is easy to read.’
‘Nay!’ said Legolas. ‘Sauron does not use the Elf-runes.’

The Two Towers, Chapter 1 – The Departure of Boromir

Meanwhile, the one question we the readers, and all members of the Fellowship, are desperately seeking an answer to, is put forward by poor Gimli…

‘Come, Gandalf, tell us how you fared with the Balrog!’
‘Name him not!’ said Gandalf, and for a moment it seemed that a cloud of pain passed over his face …

The Two Towers, Chapter 5 – The White Rider


Once more, Gimli attempts some wise wording in front of Gandalf … and  fails.

‘Deep is the abyss that is spanned by Durin’s Bridge, and none has measured it,’ said Gimli.
‘Yet is has a bottom, beyond light and knowledge,’ said Gandalf.

The Two Towers, Chapter 5 – The White Rider

Finally, who can forget the exchange between Gimli and Aragorn when the latter decides to look into the Palantír, the Seeing Stone, in The Return of the King?

‘You have looked in that accursed stone of wizardry!’ exclaimed Gimli with fear and astonishment in his face. ‘Did you say aught to – him? Even Gandalf feared that encounter.’
‘You forget to whom you speak,’ said Aragorn sternly, and his eye glinted. ‘Did I not openly proclaim my title before the doors of Edoras? What do you fear that I should say to him?’

The Return of the King, Chapter 2 – The Passing of the Grey Company

Jeez Aragorn! Give poor Gimli a break. Yes, we all know you’re called Elessar, the Elfstone, Dúnadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil’s son of Gondor, but he only expressed a rational fear we all felt, following those terrible events with Pippin.

There are many other such instances throughout the novel, but I have not the heart to continue going through all these reproaches. It’s just too much.

However, it speaks volumes on the character of Gimli. It is probably in the nature of a dwarf to be inquisitive and perhaps occasionally not be as subtle in his speech as others; but there’s a intriguing simplicity in his directness and way of conducting conversations.

So next time you sit down to read some The Lord of the Rings chapters, think of poor old Gimli and support him in his plight of Middle-earth conversations!

24 thoughts on “Gimli: Most reproached character in Middle-earth

  1. That’s an interesting compilation of quotes. I’ve noticed that a lot of characters have a lot to say against Gimli’s words, but it looks like a pattern.

  2. Wasn’t there an even ruder comment about Gimli by Aragorn in the 1st edition, which Tolkien removed from the 2nd edition?

  3. Interesting take on Gimli’s character and his relationships with the other members of the Fellowship. I have to disagree with you, though. I don’t think Gimli plays the role of punching bag for everyone else–I don’t think he’s the low man on the Fellowship’s totem pole by any means. I won’t refute all the quotes you point to, for the sake of some sense of brevity, but I’ll offer a different view on a few of them. The first quote is definitely a reprimand of sorts–though I would call it more a warning, coming from someone who has seen a lot of darkness. But I’m not sure that all the others are. The third quote seems more a petulant refusal of Gimli to admit a failing among the Dwarves, and of Legolas to admit a failing among the Elves. They don’t know each other very well yet, and they’ve got a very long history of quiet (or not so quiet) animosity behind them. Of course they won’t agree with each other. Quote five is simple common sense. They’re being pursued by the hordes of Moria. I don’t think it would have mattered who wanted to turn aside. It still would have been a bad idea to stay for long. Quote eight isn’t Gimli being picked on–it’s Gandalf reacting viscerally to some very bad memories. He died. That’s not a nice thing to think back on, I’m sure, and again, Gandalf would react the same way regardless of who was asking. As for the last quote, Gimli is definitely voicing a fear that many probably feel–but again, I’m not sure Aragorn’s answer is a reproach. It’s the way a king may speak to a follower who doubts and is afraid. It’s reassurance. Sternness is not equivalent with anger or another negative emotion. Aragorn takes Gimli’s concern and turns it around, reminding him that he is Gimli’s king, and that his bloodline gives Aragorn an authority that has not been seen in Middle-earth in a very long time.

    All that said, I do think that the Gimli of the films is used as comic relief and a punching bag a lot more than is his fair due. Film-Gimli does seem to get the short end of the stick rather often, and has a very good attitude about it nevertheless. That’s worth commending! But I do think it’s important not to conflate Film-Gimli (who is more shallow a character and mostly provides comic relief, like Film-Pippin) with Book-Gimli, for whom I develop a deeper appreciation, admiration, and respect each time I read LotR.

    1. Okay, yeah. Thanks for putting in words what I was thinking. But it is an interesting collection and makes me want to look up how Gimli reacts in each of these moments.
      But I don’t think James was saying he is put low on the “totem pole”… it’s just that he is a character presented as having less wisdom, saying what comes to mind…

      1. Exactly, wanderwolf, and by “less wisdom” I would carefully state that it’s in no way a reference to an ignorant character. On the contrary. Gimli’s less knowledgeable mind on certain things reflects those of the readers still wading their way through Middle-earth. They need a character who can ask the questions for them. Gimli serves this purposes wonderfully. 🙂

    2. Thanks for your thoughtful comments AnnaEstelle 🙂

      I’ve always seen these kinds of reproaches as a way to learn more about Gimli’s character. A character has to act as the reader’s mind in the story, and when no hobbits are insight to do so, Gimli seems to take over.

      As for a “shallow” character in the films, I don’t think I agree. To me, Gimli is probably one of the very few characters that has the same level of depth in both films and book. Whilst other characters are less developed in the book than in the films and vice-versa.

      1. Not as obvious as Dr Watson. Yet, he does, occasionally, echo a reader’s thoughts. The reunion with Gandalf and the events following his fall with the Balrog, would have remained obscure had it not been for the dwarf who inquired further.

  4. BUT, he does get three strands of Galadriel’s hair when he only asked for one! Feanor asked three times and couldn’t get even one. He is willing to say what is on his mind and in his heart which makes him the most approachable character in the fellowship. Yes, the hobbits are the ones we relate to, but they don’t have a world view. Gimli has that world view, even if it is a little dwarf biased, but I don’t think any more than Legolas’s views are elf biased.

  5. OK, here’s the offending passage. It was in the first edition, but Tolkien deleted it in the second edition. It comes after Aragorn is challenged for using the palantir. “What do you fear that I should say: that I had a rascal of a rebel dwarf here that I would gladly exchange for a serviceable Orc.”

    1. Oh dear, that’s bad! Now I seem to recall a member of the Tolkien Society mentioning this somewhere. I feel even more sorry for Gimli now, but thanks for sharing 🙂

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