for the quiet night in ask: how did Grima make his way into your heart? And why do you ship him with Eomer? I've been meaning to inquire about this for long hehe (also I love your theme! think this is the first time I see it)
I am so sorry, you’re getting an ESSAY.
I’ve been wanting to talk about my Grima feels FOR SO LONG.
HE SNAKED HIS WAY INTO MY HEART.
Um, tl;dr I have a soft spot for the bad guys who clearly have a complicated history with those they are opposing and I think Eomer/Grima have a fun opposites-attract dynamic and I love a good redemption story.
I don’t touch on literacy and Grima in this because that’s strictly the films and it’s worthy of it’s own post entirely.
I’m trying to think best how to break this all out, because it gets a bit long and rambly. I’m using both book and films for this, as a note. Since I tend to mash up different aspects of those Grima’s in my head, give the guy some eyebrows, and call it a day.
So, first off, his history. Now, we don’t really have anything to go on in canon here. All we know, in both book and film, is that Grima “was once a man of Rohan” (ROTK). In the book, Gandalf says: “This here, is a snake. To slay it [Grima] would be just. But it was not always as it is now. Once it was a man, and it did you service in its fashion.”
Grima evidently has served Rohan for some years at this point. We know that Theoden’s enchantment/possession began three years prior to TTT. In the books there is no possession. Theoden’s enchantment relies on the powers of words and their suggestions. Something Tolkien was well aware of carrying great weight and import in Anglo-Saxon culture. You tell a man he is old and infirm, he will become old and infirm.
I understand why Jackson went the possession route - explaining Anglo-Saxon engagement with galdorcraeft/witchcraft and the power of words etc. and how that influenced the development of Rohan in the span of like 7 minutes of screen time wasn’t happening. Possession works for the same purpose, but in a language the modern audience is familiar with - especially in visual mediums.
Grima is circa 40 when TTT happens, same age as Boromir for reference. So, let’s say he’s been an advisor for 10/12 years at this point. He has therefore been a good servant of the king longer than he’s been a traitor.
Hence, the outreach. And, in Brad Dourif’s wonderful acting, Grima’s clear desire to go home to his king. In the book it’s more subtle. Grima chucks the palantir out the window at Orthanc and it’s stated that he wasn’t sure who he was aiming for, Saruman or Gandalf, because he couldn’t decide who he hated more.
Honestly? Legit. I would also hate the guy who reduced me to “it” pronouns. But maybe that’s my gender identity stuff playing up ;)
(Granted, in the full quote Gandalf reverts back to “he”, for context. And I’ve said this before, in another post, that it makes sense for Gandalf and as a writer, I agree with Tolkien’s decisions for that scene.)
Now, for some speculation. Not that I haven’t spilled a tonne already. MORE SPECULATION. This time bringing you long term effects of bullying and never having loving relationships modelled for you! Because LOTR, at the end of the day, is all about trauma and how maybe not to deal with it.
So - motives.
We know Saruman’s motives. Indeed, he tells them to us in FOTRK: “[to] have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see” and to achieve “the high and ultimate purpose: Knowledge, Rule, Order; all the things that we have so far striven in vain to accomplish, hindered rather than helped by our weak or idle friends.”
Great. Super straight forward. And from the man’s own mouth.
Grima’s though, always come to us second hand. In the books it’s Gandalf telling us (Gandalf can mind read, so yes, maybe he is accurate). In the films, it’s Eomer guestimating.
But Grima never actually tells us, himself, what his motives are.
(a quick aside: if some dude is shoving me up against a pole and threatening me, and I hear someone walking by, of course I’m going to look over at them and it by no means indicates my desire to shag that person. Now, of course, we know from other scenes this is the case. I’m just saying. It’s natural to look over at the person walking by while you’re being jumped by the Third Marshal of the Mark who is twice your size. anyway.)
So what are his driving forces for treason? What made him go to this point of no return then keep going even when people offered him a way back.
It is important to note that his treason required him to forswear his oath to his liege lord. I don’t know how to convey what a big deal that would have been, in modern terms. But it would have been huge. Forswearing/reneging on oaths was a massive cultural taboo in Anglo-saxon [AS] England (and general, early medieval Europe).
And, as Rohan is based on AS England (I forget if Tolkien was cagey about this. He was sometimes a dumb shit and coy about things so was like “noooo it’s not STRICTLY AS England….but it’s clearly AS England with more horses and a light dusting of vikings and the Danelaw”), we can assume it carried as much weight for them as it did for the historical people.
(Indeed, it’s implied, if not directly stated, in the text what a big deal oath breaking is. Don’t say “oath breaking” too loud or the Silmarillion fandom will come out of the woodwork)
The big takeaway: BIG DEAL TO FORSWEAR YOUR OATH.
And he did it! Which is why I don’t buy the “it was because of Eowyn and like some nice jewels.” You don’t betray your country, you don’t forswear your oath to your king, simply because you’re hot on the king’s niece and Saruman might give you a raise.
And, as a liege man to Theoden, he was part of Theoden’s household so would have eaten, worked with, lived with everyone else in the household (Eomer, until he becomes Third Marshal; Eowyn; Hama; Theoden’s guards etc.)
So, you live with these people, eat with them, drink with them, spend all your time with them, for circa 10 years then you do a bunk and betray them? Something happened. I suspect it was years and years of things happening.
Overall, I think it to be a combination of things. As is usually the case for these sorts of crimes. In this case, a nice mix of fear, desperation, greed, resentment, anger and desire.
Fear/Desperation: So, to Grima’s mind the world is ending. Why wouldn’t he think this? Hell, even the Wisest and the Fairest (i.e. wizards & elves) think it’s ending. Why wouldn’t this poor bloke from some small country nearby to Mordor not think it an existential threat to an unimaginable degree?
Grima is sat here in Rohan looking at Mordor going "oh fuck" then who are the leaders left? Denethor (slightly bonkers) and Theoden (past his prime and lacklustre, like his father and grandfather).
This is not a man with a strong moral fiber. Or...any moral fiber, let’s be real. He does not have the fortitude to stick it out through hopeless situations. And it would have been hopeless to his eyes. And those around him (see: Eomer’s do not trust to hope… Sure Saruman was a problem, but he wasn’t just talking about the white wizard).
Gandalf’s plan, which none of these people were ever wholly aware of, was a goddamn Hail Mary pass and it worked. Barely, but it did. NO ONE had reason to believe it would, though. And those are people in the know. Not someone like Grima who has no fucking clue what Gandalf et al is up to. He sees Gandalf then like … Nazgul torture him on the planes of Rohan (Unfinished Tales). He sees Gandalf then bad things happen.
Greed & Desire: I don’t think I need to go into these ones too much. They’re pretty self explanatory. Grima and Black Phillip hung out and the goat asked Grima if he wanted to live deliciously and Grima, like any normal person, said: um, yes please? Also, Eowyn was around being badass, beautiful and untouchable.
Resentment/Anger: Alright, more probing in the dark. I suspect, for one reason or another (and these reasons would vary depending if you’re looking at books or movies), he was someone who was always treated as other/differently, teased, picked on, isolated, overlooked, doesn’t measure up to Rohan’s military ideal of masculinity. All of which creates an underlying resentment issue.
And nothing festers quite like resentment.
On top of that, I also suspect he was always told he was a snake/untrustworthy/not worthy etc. and if you're told something enough, and you don't have anything or anyone else telling you the opposite, there is a strong chance you become that thing.
It's a chicken and egg: the face you wear to the world tells the world how to treat you; the world tells you what you are and that is how you shape your face.
THEN you add in Saruman. Who is clearly, in the text, abusive. Which, if there were any inferiority/bullied etc. issues that are informing Grima’s actions, Saruman is just going to amplify it.
“You are a traitor because you’re a snake, and you’re a snake because you’re spineless, weak, nothing more than a creature that crawls on its stomach on the ground. Snakes are bad, evil things. Which is all you’ve ever been. Barely deserving of the good treatment I give you etc.” <-- all of which is basically a summary of what Saruman has been saying to him for a few years at this point (in the book, it’s only tangentially implied in the movies).
So Grima sort of morphed himself into what he believed himself to be, fuelled by that perversity resentment causes: Oh you think I’m a snake? I’ll be the best goddamn most poisonous snake you ever did see. Just watch me.
He is trapped in this situation. A hutch to trammel some wild thing in.
Which leads me to an interesting point that I think gets lost sometimes: Narratively, he and Eowyn are similar in what they are experiencing. Isolation, being overlooked, misunderstood/misrepresented, don't fit into societal roles and expectations etc. They just go in very different directions in how they respond to it.
I think that's why, in the film, it was smart to have her give pause and listen to him because what he's saying resonates. He is, in some ways, speaking as much for himself as her. But then, of course, he's also just trying to shit disturb and make mischief so of course, at the end of the day, any sympathy he is attempting to convey is laced with poison.
I do wonder, too, if he's the first person to see her fear and her frustrations and acknowledges them out loud. Which is powerful. To have someone see you. Damn shame it's Grima. Still, Eowyn (in the film) paused and listened for a reason.
A brief aside on my idle, ill founded thoughts on gender and Rohan:
One of the reasons I think Eowyn and Grima go in diverging directions, is that Eowyn is performing masculinity, in her society's accepted interpretation of it. Masculinity, in Middle Earth, is clearly the norm. And in Rohan, it’s a very particular iteration of military-focused masculinity that is idealized (you can bet, men who killed like 10 orcs were awarded places in court above Grima who served as advisor for like ten years but hasn’t killed an orc ever).
Eowyn’s desire to live/perform this more masculine ideal caters to the subconscious thing of “Masculinity is Natural Neutral Ideal” so of course you would want to be more like A Man. Whereas Grima is the opposite, not performing masculinity according to Rohan's accepted view of it.
And gods, in Anglo-Saxon culture (therefore, Rohan’s, most likely. I see no evidence to the contrary) is that a difficult position to find yourself in. Back in AS England, being called argr, unmanly, or to be accused of ergri, unmanliness, was one of the worst insults you could throw at a man (indeed, some laws said you could kill a man in retaliation for calling you such things). I would bet my shirt that people used such insults about Grima in this world. Which is all kinds of messed up.
Now, my interest in him is my general love for a good redemption arc for the most hopeless of characters. It’s why I struggle to call Boromir’s arc, when he’s written as living, a redemption arc. Because I don’t know he has much to redeem himself for. In his own mind, sure, yes, but externally? Not in my view, at least. He has things he’s done wrong and needs to make amends for. But that’s different from redemption.
Grima, on the other hand, is one whose walk-back from evil would be a full on redemption arc. And I like it because he’s not nice, he’s not pleasant. He will never be nice or pleasant or cheerful. But learning how to love and be a good person doesn’t require niceness.
Saruman could be plenty nice. Sauron could be plenty nice. Look what they turned out to be.
And in my writing, I do hope I’m treading that line between creating an understanding of who Grima is without Kylo-Ren-ing him. Or, woobiefying him, as the old parlance was. That’s the line I’m really aiming for. I want people to not hate him. I want them to understand him. Oh, still condemn him, still judge him, disagree with him, acknowledge and know he did bad things and isn’t a nice person. But the end game is to add some understanding and nuance.
Shades of grey.
Also I’m a sucker for challenging redemptions.
Because I am an agent of chaos.
More seriously, I was never overly taken with the Grima/Eowyn approach, personally, which is obviously popular (um...within the Grima world), and closer to canon. There are some beautifully written fics and art out there for the two of them, so if you’re into that. The creators in that nook of fandom are top notch.
I always liked the drastic opposite of Grima and Eomer. As I noted above, Grima and Eowyn are two sides of the same coin. Both bitter and resentful and trapped. And that’s a lot of fun to play with, and i get it. But for me, I love a good strong contrast of personalities in my pairings. (If that uh … isn’t readily apparent.)
I think both Eomer and Grima would have a lot to teach each other and in some really interesting ways that neither would expect. I can see both getting under each other’s skin in that way where you’re sort of always thinking about them.
Grima is also someone who has had very little love in his life (I suspect he wants it, he just doesn’t know how to give or receive it). Eomer is someone who has lost a lot of people (parents, quasi-uncle for a few years there. I think it’s why he’s so controlling over Eowyn. Didn’t want to lose her). And I think there’s something in there where they could help each other grow. But I’m a sucker for some beauty to be there, in the end. Some hope.
Mostly, though, I think it boils down to their dynamic and the angst potential. Eomer is this brash, forthright, fiery third marshal of the mark who may or may not think things through. Big of heart, dumb of ass. Then there’s Grima who is quiet and reserved, cynical, critical, always has a plan or five, gets by via his wits etc. Lots of fun potential there.
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