Legolas and Gimli teach us about the Mystery of a Person

“No common recipe for children’s stories will give you creatures so rooted in their own soul and history as those of Professor Tolkien- who obviously knows much more about them than he needs for this tale.” So wrote C.S Lewis in his anonymous review of The Hobbit in a 1937 edition of The Times Literary Supplement. Lewis himself knew perfectly well that Tolkien knew far more about his creations than was required for The Hobbit for he was privy to his friend’s labours in the creation of a world that had already taken the best part of a quarter of a century.

What this means is that every character in Tolkien’s work has a depth that is almost unique in literature. For not only do we have the development of a character within each of his books but also the way in which each character has been shaped by a particular history, not just their own but that of their people, and not just of their people but the way in which their people’s history has interacted with a greater one.

So it is that Legolas and Gimli bring to each of their actions within The Lord of The Rings the kind of depth that any person brings when they walk into our lives. However, they may bring that depth but we may not ever perceive it because we choose not to make the effort to do so. Equally it is possible to read the stories of Legolas and Gimli within The Lord of the Rings as just being there to make up the numbers in the Fellowship or to set in some kind of relief the bigger figures in the story, such as Aragorn. Of course it is one of the features of all of our lives to set each other’s stories in relief. It is a humble and humbling feature of our lives that in relation to the story of an Other we may only be comic relief for example, but this kind of shallow reflection of one another is all too common. Tolkien does not make that mistake and in his description of the Battle of Helm’s Deep in which Legolas and Gimli’s participation does have comedic elements we know that both bring with them a long history with orcs and with one another that makes some sense of their counting game.

Gimli will not have forgotten that his father, Gloin was once the prisoner of Legolas’ father, Thranduil of Mirkwood. Dwarves keep long scores of wrongs done to them and their forebears. And Elves who have the longest memories of all would remember betrayals by Dwarves that went back to The First Age of Middle Earth and the wars with Morgoth of Angband. So it is that when Legolas and Gimli stand and fight together we know that a profound act of healing and reconciliation has taken place that that belongs not only to the pages of The Lord of the Rings but also other stories too.

We do not have the time to tell these stories now. I hope there may be other occasions when we are able to return to them. What we can see now is that all our stories are a mysterious weaving of personal and greater histories, of character and of archetype, of word and of flesh. We do wrong to ourselves and to one another when we reduce ourselves and one another to merely the personal or merely the greater. Gimli is not just a Dwarf nor Legolas just an Elf. I am not just English. Actually I know I am not just English because through my great grandparents on my mother’s side I am part Irish and through my great grandparents on my father’s side I am part Italian. But I cannot be reduced even to that bigger story, there are so many other layers too. I am a mystery even to myself and always will be. And if I am to do due honour to others then I am not permitted to reduce them to some small part of my own tale. They are far too big, far too mysterious for that. I must seek to give them the worthship to which they are due.

5 thoughts on “Legolas and Gimli teach us about the Mystery of a Person

    • I wonder if the beauty is because there is such depth in their characters. With due respect to Peter Jackson, Tolkien achieves a depth in his writings that Jackson might have drawn upon in the three films of The Hobbit. Jackson is right to bring Legolas into the story of The Hobbit which Tolkien does not do because at the time he writes it he does not even know that Legolas exists. But he misses the chance to deepen his character and even to begin to weave the story of Legolas and the Dwarves of Erebor. My own belief is that it is the welcome of Galadriel that opens the door of Gimli’s angry heart. What do you think?

      • I think the encounter with Galadriel opened not only Gimli’s heart, but Legolas’s as well. For Gimli, he finds welcome and generosity where he least expects it. Legolas sees, on the other hand, a great Queen of the Eldar treat a Dwarf with honor and friendship, and a Dwarf who responds in a way he would not have expected.
        It’s a pivotal moment, for sure. 🙂 They both have many assumptions shattered.

      • What power an act of giving has! Such acts are often turning points in The Lord of the Rings. Another that I have often thought about is the moment when Bilbo freely hands the Ring onto Frodo (with a little persuasion from Gandalf, of course, but don’t we need good friends at critical moments in our lives!) and Galadriel’s welcome is another one. Thank you once again for what you have shared.

      • Oh yes… Bilbo, the only creature to possess the ring for a long time, who manages to give it up of his own free will!
        Ach, how grateful I am for Tolkien, and his God-given inspiration.
        And thank you for this continually encouraging blog!

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