LotRFI Pt.35–The Black Gate

In subsequent reads, the chapter around the Black Gate only keeps my attention in the description of the troop movements around the Gate. I must admit that this portion of the adventure has the lowest re-readability score from me. In my first read, however, this was a very tense scene. The stakes were so high: would Frodo dare to try to enter Mordor through such a crowded passage, and how could he possibly succeed?

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Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Sam accurately sums up my belief in their ability to pass the Gate when he succinctly posits:

‘Well, here we are…Here’s the Gate, and it looks to me as if that’s about as far as we are ever going to get’ (TT, IV, III, 637).

The two hobbits begin to despair of completing their quest, but also show determination to try. At this moment the hobbits portray what I have already mentioned as ‘northern courage.’ Although I could pick up on this kind of boldness in the face of death, and it resonated with me, I did not have the terminology or intellectual appreciation of what it was. I did have a visceral reaction to such moments in my gut, and I admired the courage in the sentiments.

Gollum’s revelation of a second way into Mordor was very complex. Instinctively, I wanted to jump at the opportunity, like someone who tries to take advantage of a flash of light in a dark room to gain a comprehensive look around. This impulse was checked by the wariness that the hobbits have of Gollum’s treachery. I must admit, though, that I was far more inclined to follow the one evil creature instead of trying to face the kind of army they had just seen. In the end, I was relieved at their decision to Follow Gollum.

Where Do We Go From Here?

One word: Faramir!

What Do You Think?

What was your first impression of the Black Gate?
How have your subsequent readings of this passage changed?
​Have I missed anything? Let me know!

Jane Patricia’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (33)

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Jane and the other participants for this.

To see the idea behind this project, check out this page

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Jane Patricia’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I was looking for fantasy books to read and stumbled upon the trilogy. Since I’ve heard about the movie, I decided to give it a read. Best decision ever

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

The way he managed to create new language and a world that is familiar but also wonderful. You can feel his passion towards it. His imagination is beautiful and a great place to be when you’re getting tired of real life. For the books I like Silmarillion the best, especially the way he told about the creation of the world.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

During The Hobbit movie trilogy, my longtime friends and I would make time to reunite in our hometown, get together and go to the cinema on those 3 years. It was before we all got busy with our work and family, so the movies were dear to me.

Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

I simply read it when I was younger but now when I re-read it, I began to look at it from a different side, he influences how I imagine things. Sometimes I’d discuss the books/movies with my other Tolkien loving friends. Well we might not get that deep, but it’s something ��

Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

Yes! Absolutely! I’ve been recommending it to my friends since the first time I found LOTR. His imagination and penmanship is a work of art. Something that is not to be missed in one’s lifetime.


You see more from Jane Patricia on Twitter!

LotRFI Pt.34–Sam and His Creature Comforts

I was always a very curious, some would say nosy, child. I was always trying to understand why things happened or why people made the choices they made. I was a big fan of “reading into” things ever since I discovered it as an activity. While this tendency led me into hot water many times, I had not yet learned to dull this passion by the time I read LotR. One of the activities I “read into” the most was Sam’s constant attention to Frodo’s needs and comfort—don’t get ahead of me here, or maybe you will end up in hot water.

Perhaps the most notable example where I uncovered Sam’s motivation is when Sam attempts to cook a nice stew for Frodo in Ithilien. The reader hears Sam’s thoughts in this passage, which make some clear indications about the emotions that inspire him to make the meal:

‘I love him. He’s like that, and sometimes it shines through, somehow. But I love him, whether or no’ (TT, IV, iv, 652).

‘Too thin and drawn he is…Not right for a hobbit’ (TT, IV, iv, 653).

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Image copyrights Sergei Yukhimov

Sam’s compassionate nature in general, and his affection for Frodo especially, are not disguised in the tale. What is interesting is how those feelings manifest themselves in, essentially, attempting to care for Frodo as if he were Frodo’s parent—more specifically his mother, as foreshadowed by David Craig, but I would not have made this more specific observation as a child. Sam is attempting to preserve Frodo’s sense of security and his sense of comfort: trying to remind Frodo of home and the good things which life has to offer. This was an interesting observation for me when I first realized it. It was probably easier for me to notice than some others because I grew up in the American south—where the stereotype is that a mother expresses love through food. In any case, I always had a soft-spot for affection expressed through quiet moments of understanding and small gestures of love (I did mention that Call of the Wild was one of my favorite books, remember).

This deep friendship between Frodo and Sam was something which I cherished as a young reader. While I frequently compared my relationships to the ones in the book, I do not know if I ever considered if I had a relationship quite like the one between Frodo and Sam, I do not think so. While I did not have a relationship like this, it did not seem odd to me that they should be so close. Many fans have questioned the feelings between Frodo and Sam, and many scholars have pointed out that the overtones that readers notice to make such assertions are indicative of a type of friendship between men that existed in a different time. As a young reader, none of this occurred to me. I thought their fondness a perfectly natural thing. I realized that I did not have a friendship like theirs, but it was not until I started growing up that I realized that men in my culture do not tend to have such close bonds or at least express affection as openly and deeply.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to journey to the Black Gate, then visit with Faramir!

What Do You Think?

What did you make of Sam’s tendency to, essentially, nurture Frodo?
How has your reading of their relationship changed over time?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

John David Cofield’s Experience–Tolkien Experience Project (32)

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to John and the other participants for this.

To see the idea behind this project, check out this page

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to John David Cofield‘s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I first came into contact with J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-earth in the summer of 1968. I was 11 and during summer vacation I subscribed to a newsletter for grade school children put out by the My Weekly Reader organization. One issue had a long feature article about these amazing books written by a professor in England. There were illustrations of hobbits and hobbit holes and one of Gollum watching Frodo at the Cracks of Doom. I was fascinated by what I read in that newsletter but the local library didn’t have any Tolkien books, so I put the newsletter aside and went on to other things. Then in April 1969 when I was 12 and in the 6th grade I spotted The Hobbit in my elementary school library. I checked it out and fell in love with it from the first page. That summer I bought paperback copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and I’ve never been without at least one copy of each ever since.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

It’s difficult to narrow down to a favorite part, but as a historian and former high school history teacher I know I’ve always enjoyed sections like The Council of Elrond where a lot of the background history is presented.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

Again its difficult to narrow down to a fondest experience, but I know that I first read The Lord of the Rings during an unhappy time in my family’s history. We had made an unfortunate move from one town to another where none of us were happy and where we only stayed for 6 months before moving back to the first town. So during those months The Lord of the Rings was a distraction and a source of happiness for me.

Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

As a twelve year old and as a teenager I read Tolkien for the adventure and the story. After nearly 50 years I still love the adventure and story, but I’m also much more aware of the deep values behind the surface plot. Additionally, so many years of reading has left a patina of memory on each page, and I can often remember reading a certain passage many years earlier, reminding me of some of the thoughts and reactions I had to it then.

Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

I would definitely recommend reading Tolkien, with the caution that it can become a central life theme. Not that that’s anything but positive, but people do need to be aware that “the book” is more than just a book to me and to many others.

Letters From Father Christmas

A few years ago, my wife and I began a fun tradition that we reenact every year during the holiday season: we read through Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R.Tolkien!

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We don’t just sit down and read the whole book cover-to-cover. Instead, we take turns reading a letter or two each day, spreading the fun of the event over a few weeks!

If you want as many letters as possible, you want to make sure to get a copy of the revised edition. Almost any book published after 2004 will have this added material. If you want a more interactive experience, though, you can’t beat the 1995 version, with removable letters!

(If you have to have your cake and eat it too, like me, you get both editions so you can have the pull-out letters, but still read all the ones left out of the earlier version!)

Why do we love reading this little book each year? To be honest, it is just plain fun! The character of The Great Polar Bear is hilarious and it is fun to see the little arguments that he and Father Christmas get up to! It is also fascinating to think about what is going on in the lives of the Tolkien family and in the larger world year by year and wonder how much that influenced the letters! So there are several levels that keep us coming back!

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I thought it might be fun to give an example of our typical reading schedule in case anyone else wants to give it a go! I also include a few thoughts/comments mixed in!

Day 1- Read letters from 1920, 1923, and 1924

–In these letters it is plain to see that there is no real story developed, just a fun activity of father writing to child.

Day 2- Read letter from 1925

–This is where the fun really begins. The introduction of the Polar Bear adds conflict and drama to the story, allowing plot to develop in subsequent letters!

Day 3- Read letter from 1926

–In this letter and the next the character of the Snow Man is introduced but nothing much comes of him. The letters are in dark envelopes with white writing. Did the story come before the envelopes, or was it an attempt to explain the envelopes Tolkien used?

Day 4- Read letter from 1927

Day 5- Read letter from 1928

–This letter and the next are a couple of my favorite letters! The Polar Bear is at his clumsy best, and the wordplay in the 1928 letter is delightful!

Day 6- Read letter from 1929

Day 7- Read letter from 1930

–The images fro this letter have an almost comic book quality in their storytelling ability!

Day 8- Read letters from 1931

–This year has multiple letters and shows Tolkien at his best! The letters start in October and employ many fonts and voices! The art is exquisite with one of my favorite illustrations of Father Christmas and a marvelous mountainscape!

Day 9- Read letters from 1932

–One of the longest letters comes this year! It details the harrowing adventure to find Polar Bear and also gives a copy of cave drawings by men and goblins!

Day 10- Read letter from 1933512652

–This year there is a large fight with the Goblins, and the art features one of the most iconic images of the Polar Bear!

Day 11- Read letter from 1934

–A shorter letter, but a stunning drawing of a tree all decorated for the holidays!

Day 12- Read letter from 1935

–The length picks up again, and there is more detail on the other bears, a favorite topic around our house.

Day 13- Read letter from 1936

–This letter employs the device of an elf scribe because Father Christmas and Polar Bear are too busy to write. This voice is very different from the others! Interestingly, a goblin alphabet is also included in this year’s letter!

Day 14- Read letter from 1937

–This is one of the most stylistically complex letters of the bunch. The voices of the elf scribe and Polar Bear argue back and forth throughout he letter, making for delightful banter!

Day 15- Read letter from 1938

–There are no flashy pictures in this letter (which is mentioned specifically), but we see Father Christmas try his hand at some poetry. Also included is some unflattering commentary by Polar Bear!

Day 16- Read letters from 1939 and 1940

— These years have some very short letters, but each has a remarkable picture. Enjoy!

Day 17- Read letter from 1941

–A longer letter than the previous years, it shows influence of war and conflict. There are some melancholy tones among the cheerfulness shown here. Is it all about the war, or is it also a note of a father who realizes that his youngest child is growing up?

Day 18- Read letter from 1942

–Priscilla didn’t send a letter this year. Father Christmas sends his last long letter giving updates about the goings on in his area and hoping the best for the Tolkien family.

Day 19- Read letter from 1943

— The final letter is a short farewell letter. Melancholy but sweet.

 

I hope you enjoy the book as much as we have! It is a great way to spend a few minutes each day getting into the holiday spirit!

Father Christmas and house 1920

LotRFI Pt. 33–Of The Dead Marshes

I like to credit Tolkien as the first author I ever read whose use of structure or style to elicit emotion I became aware of. I always knew that writers used plot to guide the reader, but this was something different. It started in the Shire. I became anxious that the hobbits should be off and that the story was taking so long. Then I realized that this was probably the same kind of emotion which Frodo must have: an anxiety of leaving, but an anxiousness to start.

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Image copyright Katrin Eissmann

This realization opened literature to me. I may very well have been projecting this back into the story, but it was a significant factor in my enjoyment of the story. I realized, for the first time, that the writer was trying to take my mood into account in his style or method of telling the story, not just with the plot itself.

This feeling redoubled for me as I went through the Marshes. The Dead Marshes were such a dreary place. I do not know if it took me longer to read the Frodo and Sam half of TT, but it certainly felt like it did. I felt like I plodded along through these sections at a miserably slow pace. I think the consistently dark landscape and the unrelenting sense of foreboding were tiring to me. Additionally, reading Gollum’s lines was difficult. There are a lot of linguistic complexities which made me slow down.

In all, my reading experience of book IV was very different form my experience of book III. I must admit that I enjoyed the story surrounding Rohan much more than I enjoyed the darker tale of the approach to Mordor. It is not until much later that I began to appreciate each book, and the latter grew in my estimation.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to talk a little bit about Sam and his emphasis of creature comforts.

What Do You Think?

Was your reading experience of the second half of TT different from that of the first?
How did you feel while reading these passages?
​Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Richard Rohlin’s Experience—Tolkien Experience Project (31)

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to Richard and the other participants for this.

To see the idea behind this project, check out this page

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to Richard Rohlin’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings a couple of years before the Peter Jackson films came out. I actually found a couple of old yellowed Del Rey paperbacks (of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring; I’ve always assumed they must have been left there by the previous owners) in the attic of the house we were living in at the time. I was nine or ten years old, and although I was a big Narnia fan at the time I’d never heard of these books. I took them downstairs to my mother, and she looked at them and said, “yeah, those are good.” Over the course of a summer family road trip from Texas to Tennessee, I read through both volumes. It was only when I came to the end of The Fellowship of the Ring that I realized there were at least two more volumes!

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I think Tolkien was vastly underappreciated as a poet, by which I mean specifically a versifier. I didn’t really get the poetry my first, second, or third time through, but that’s been one of the many ways I’ve “grown into” the books. And of course elves. I can’t get enough of elves.

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

One of the great moments in my life came when I was twelve years old and learned of the existence of The Silmarillion. My mom took me to the library to find a copy, and I ended up coming up with a copy of Unfinished Tales as well. There are certain books you read that set your tastes for the rest of your life, books that cause your imagination to turn a corner. The Silmarillion is one of those books for me.

Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

I am (thanks to Tolkien) a Germanic philologist, currently finishing my thesis on Eddic poetry and specifically an Eddic poem known as “The Waking of Angantýr.” My interest in philology began as an attempt to see Tolkien’s sub-creation through his eyes, and then discovering that I actually enjoyed this sort of work. I think there are lots of linguists and medievalists with similar stories. That experience, following in his academic footsteps as it were (or at least trying to – they’re rather large footprints), has certainly enriched my reading of his works. On the other hand, it’s freed me up to really read them again. There’s this phase that I think many Tolkien fans go through, usually right after they read The Silmarillion, where they are sure that they’ve got Middle-earth completely “figured out.” They know what categories and boxes to fit everyone into, they know what all of the allusions in The Lord of the Rings mean, etc. In that way the illusion that the Silmarillion creates is almost too effective. It’s only when you dig deeper into the complexity and the richness of Tolkien’s language creation, his mythmaking, his poetry, and the long and complicated textual history of the legendarium as it’s presented to us in The History of Middle-earth that you get a sense for how much there is. With that realization comes a certain freedom. I can relax. I can sit back and enjoy the story, the rich prose, the humor, the fullness that is there to be enjoyed. And I can know that I don’t have to get to the bottom of it all today. I probably never will. I don’t have to deconstruct it. I can set my mind free to rove “over hill and under tree.”

Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

Tolkien’s books are among the most life-changing works I have ever encountered. They set the trajectory for what my life, work, study, and faith have become. That said, I’ve found that it doesn’t always pay to recommend them too strongly to your friends. The sheer amount of investment which Tolkien “superfans” put into Middle-earth can be off-putting, even intimidating, to people considering their first casual read. Tolkien’s prose, which I find rich and lovely, does intimidate some readers of the “Harry Potter” generation (my generation)—no slander to Harry Potter intended! Oddly, I have found that the Generation Z kids (many of whom did not grow up with the films) are often much more excited and receptive about reading Tolkien. I wonder if his works are undergoing a “rediscovery” in a small way? I hope so. To children or adults, I would say simply this: Read these books. They may not change your life. They may not be your favorite thing in the world. But at the very least, you will leave Middle-earth richer than when you arrived.


To see more of Richard Rohlin’s thoughts on Tolkien, head over to his blog: http://blogonthebarrowdowns.blogspot.com/

LotRFI Pt.32–Saruman

Saruman was very mysterious to me as a young reader. I loved many of the passages surrounding him because I could understand their deeper significance or symbolism (a rarity for me when I was younger), but I had a very difficult time visualizing Saruman.

This confusion about Saruman began at the Council of Elrond, with Gandalf’s description of their interaction as his explanation of why he was late. During their interaction, Saruman proclaims himself Saruman of Many Colours, and Gandalf describes his garments as follows:

‘I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered’ (FR, II, ii, 259).

As a young child, I tried my best to picture this, but could not. Each time I tried, I ended up with an image something akin to the titular piece of clothing from a version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. I deeply enjoyed the symbolism of this description and Gandal’s commentary, but I could not visualize it.

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I was not alone in my preposterous imaginings. This image taken from https://catotheyoungerdotblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/29/saruman-a-tragedy-of-pettiness/

This same difficulty in imagining aspects of Saruman was true about his voice. Gandalf warns his companions that Saruman’’s voice is a great weapon and that it could daunt, soothe, coerce, and persuade very effectively. I must admit that I lacked this skill as a child, so it was very hard for me to make Saruman’s voice seem as convincing as it should, or as I thought it should, in my mind. In all, this made Saruman a very illusive figure to me. I still find him difficult to picture in my mind with as much clarity as the other characters.

Two quick side-notes:

Here again we revisit the theme of the staff, and this was the pay-off of my observation of this theme earlier.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, rather unbelievably, has shaped many of my later opinions about Saruman. Perhaps there is a paper here at some point.

Where Do We Go From Here?

To the Dead Marshes…where else?

What Do You Think?

How did you picture Saruman’s robes?
Did you struggle to find a voice to fit him?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!

grys03’s Experience –Tolkien Experience Project (30)

This is one in a series of posts where the content is provided by a guest who has graciously answered five questions about their experience as a Tolkien reader. I am very humbled that anyone volunteers to spend time in this busy world to answer questions for my blog, and so I give my sincerest thanks to grys03 and the other participants for this.

To see the idea behind this project, check out this page

I want to thank Donato Giancola for allowing me to use his stunning portrait of J.R.R Tolkien as the featured image for this project. If you would like to purchase print of this painting, they are available on his website!

If you would like to contribute your own experience, you can do so by using the form on the contact page, or by emailing me directly.

Now, on to grys03’s responses:


How were you introduced to Tolkien’s work?

This one was easy – 1971
I was a comic book collector & had made friends with a guy who ran a bookshop
He was an ex-literature/English teacher/private tutor in his 70’s
We had come to an arrangement whereby he would let me know when something interesting came in &
I would grade & value the comics
On one of these occasions I spotted a silly paperback in a box in the back room
It looked like fun & had even sillier name: Bored of the Rings by the Harvard Lampoon

About an hour later (I was a quick reader) I was hooked.

What is your favorite part of Tolkien’s work?

I was always fond of books/stories that filled in details via background data (e.g. Dune)
So Tolkien’s appendixes, family trees was a fascination for me
& eventually The Silmarillion, in particular, almost became far more important than LoTR
providing a rich history
inconsistencies I ignored – stories grow over time & the details can change
even in a well researched/laid out world such as Middle-Earth

What is your fondest experience of Tolkien’s work?

Reading LotR to my kids 4 & 5 as bedtime a series of bedtime stories
I would paraphrase a section of a chapter
We would talk about unfamiliar concepts etc
This led to many games of HeroQuest, Talisman (board games) &
eventually Dungeon & Dragons when they had matured at ages 5 & 6

Has the way you approach Tolkien’s work changed over time?

I always considered LoTR a grand adventure
It was the adventures of Hercules & Thor & other great tales all rolled into one
It was populated with heroes, ‘magicians’, evil demons, elves, dwarves, etc.
What more could you want

Except, as time went on I realized that the journey to Mordor, the reinstatement of Aragorn as king of Gondor
the travels through Middle-Earth, the destruction of the Ring etc were actually the back story

The real story was the ‘coming of age’ of the Hobbits – their growing confidence & their ability to decide their own future

Which is why, though I loved the movies, I was disappointed that the Homecoming was not handled properly
To me that was the most important chapter in the book

Not the most exciting or grandiose or epic but certainly most important

Would you ever recommend Tolkien’s work? Why/Why not?

It took me several attempts to get past the first 33 pages
Once I did I read the next 70 odd pages in the next day
But the rest of the book simply flowed very quickly

So, depends on the person. LoTR is a great book but to me it always felt like a book that thought it was a movie
Descriptive passages were almost written as if Tolkien was one of the Fellowship & described what he saw
similarly, Tolkien wrote as if he was an eavesdropper

Not everyone is interested in reading that style of book

LotRFI Pt.31–Gimli

My fondness for Gimli grew very much over the course of book III. Since the passages in and around Moria were the highlight of my prior experience with Gimli, there was not a lot of character development to him other than his obstinacy and tendency to argue against everything Legolas mentions. Basically, I did not read him as a well-defined character until book III.

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Image copyright Matt Stewart

I believe that this started in the passages of the Three Hunters. The fact that the Fellowship has shrunk to three characters allows for each of them to have more meaningful interaction, and I felt like Gimli’s character really benefitted the most from it.

I loved his indomitable spirit as the three run after the Uruk-Hai to rescue their abducted companions. He is not the punch line of every joke, as Jackson makes him out to be. He shores up the spirits of his companions. At the outset he proclaims:

‘Dwarves too can go swiftly, and they do not tire sooner than Orcs’ (TT, III, I, 420).

Even more, he is not as simple as Jackson would have us believe. He offers good counsel to Aragorn at a crucial decision:

‘Only by day can we see if any tracks lead away…even I, Dwarf of many journeys, and not the least hardy of my folk, cannot run all the way to Isengard without any pause…and if we rest, then the blind of night is the time to do so’ (TT, III, ii, 425).

So from this section on I always saw Gimli as a fully-formed character. What really made me like Gimli, however is his interaction with Merry and Pippin upon catching up with them at Isengard. His exasperation with the hobbits and his amicability after tobacco is offered as a means of amends endeared him to me. Gimli became a character that I truly enjoyed over this section.

Where Do We Go From Here?

A visit with Saruman, then on to the Dead Marshes.

What Do You Think?

Did you like Gimli’s character?
When did you develop your opinion of Gimli?
Did I miss anything? Let me know!