LotRFI Pt. 29–Wormtongue

As you have no doubt gathered, I was not a very trusting child. Each time members of the Fellowship come across a character whose motives could be questioned, or where there was any vagueness whatsoever, I was quick to ascribe the worst to them. Finally, I found the kind of character I was waiting for in Wormtongue. He was deceitful, treacherous, and calculating: exactly what I expected from Maggot, Bombadil, and Aragorn when I first encountered them.

grima-wormtongue-by-suzanne-helmigh-d57tgmh
Image copyright Suzanne Helmigh

The way that Wormtongue manipulates the interaction between Théoden and Gandalf from the very beginning made me mistrustful of him. I always felt that the way Théoden stands to deliver his opening volley at Gandalf and then quickly sits again was reminiscent of someone reciting something from memory. In fact, I was reminded sharply of Sam, standing up to recite verse when he was amongst the trolls.

The fact that Wormtongue took over immediately after this speech and was the true opponent of Gandalf in dialogue made me wonder if he had written this speech for Théoden. I assumed that this was the typical modus operandi for Wormtongue. He would feed an opening monologue to Théoden, who would exclaim it from rote, and then Wormtongue would actually deal with conversations. This would lend him the king’s credibility and make it seem that they were in agreement on everything. Additionally, this process would allow Wormtongue to further his brainwashing of Théoden with every interaction, as he attempts to do when talking with Gandalf.

I think Gandalf’s power in dealing with Wormtongue is that he is quick to identify this technique and challenges it from the beginning. He ignores Wormtongue initially, and directly addresses Théoden around him. After Wormtongue’s tirade against Gandalf, Gandalf disregards the abuse, instead saying:

‘The courtesy of your hall is somewhat lessened of late, Théoden son of Thengel…[we] have passed through the shadow of great perils to your hall’ (TT, III, vi, 139).

Wormtongue tries to reassert himself into the conversation, disparaging that the traveler’s road took them through the Golden Wood. To this, Gandalf sings, and then castigates Wormtongue for speaking ill of things he has no knowledge of.

The interaction where Gandalf dismisses Wormtongue is interesting. As he cowers away from Gandalf, Wormtongue says:

‘Did I not counsel you, lord, to forbid his staff? That fool, Háma, has betrayed us!’ (TT, III, vi, 140).

This is the clearest indication so far that the power of the wizards is bound up in their staff. I think this is the point when the observation finally sunk in for me in my first reading. I did not know whether the power itself was in the staff, or if the staff was simply the most effective tool for channeling a wizard’s power. Perhaps I thought of the staff in the same way I thought of lightsabers in the Star Wars universe, something which I was incredibly familiar with. They were implements which harnessed the innate powers of the individual to a greater extent than could otherwise be achieved.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I think we will stop by Helm’s Deep, then take a look at Saruman!

What Do You Think?

What was your initial impression of Wormtongue?
What did you make of the importance placed on Gandalf’s staff?
Have I missed anything? Let me know!

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