The King of the Golden Hall
Oh, that Gimli. We who live so far removed from what might be considered an “honor culture” may find the dwarf to be an endearing, old-fashioned character. Gimli berates Éomer for knowing little of Galadriel; he basically challenges the Third Marshall of the Mark to a duel if he does not name her fairest of all ladies; and the moment Wormtongue speaks ill of the Elven Lady and her land, the dwarf makes moves to defend her honor. There is a charm to this strange sort of chivalry for a much more noble (and already married) woman; yet perhaps in our times this might be deemed unwarranted and unwelcomed by some. Yet it is not so foreign – or so uncommon – as we might first believe.
For chivalry, in its purest and unadulterated form, is exactly what Gimli displays: honor, devotion, and defense of a lady for no ulterior motives than that she deserves it. Whether because of her beauty, her wisdom, her charity, or what she represents, such ladies have been the inspiration for knights and other chivalrous folk down the ages, challenging such men to be better than themselves for their lady’s sake. And such a devotion is all the more worth considering when there is no possibility of amorous passion or unfolding partnership: where a single token – say, three strands of hair – is all the defender has to remember and behold of the lady which he serves. Such a form of chivalry was and remains rare, and even the great bards and storytellers often point to its shortcomings, whether around the tables of Camelot or the halls of other kings. Of course, in our times, such set gender roles may seem frustratingly inflexible: perhaps now a great tale could be told about a marvelous woman who serves nobly for the sake of an unobtainable man.
Yet, there is wisdom to be had in reflecting on Gimli’s chivalry, and the defending of a lady’s honor, that bleeds across sexes and statuses. For one, it is interesting to compare his reaction to Éomer verses that of Wormtongue: where as the former allows for conversation and a future promise, for the other actions must immediately speak louder than words. To me it raises a similar questions to one I have long considered about the deliverance of God’s word: why was it that when Zechariah doubted he was made mute, while when Mary raised a question is was answered? Perhaps it had something to do with the interior considerations of the heart that we are not told; perhaps it relates to the tone of the question that cannot be conveyed via written text. But I also wonder if it had not to do with their relative positions and expectations of what they should know: Zechariah, as a priest and one in the immediate presence of the Lord, should have a better reaction than the poor and humble Mary. Yet their roles are reversed, and God responds in kind!
Similarly, Éomer is young and untested, a soldier who questions but clearly considers women with high regard given his relationship with his sister. Wormtongue, on other hands, as a counselor of kings, should possess greater “wisdom” that he displays, and should not speak ill of things clear to the wise as good, for it betrays his duplicity. We might consider where in our own lives we have the wisdom to speak well and for some reason refrain, or where our learning should raise our capacity to know.
And also, consider this: ultimately it is Gandalf who defends Galadriel’s honor, not Gimli, with those beautiful lines that must have been close to his heart:
In Dwimordene, in Lórien
Seldom have walked the feet of Men,
Few mortal eyes have seen the light
That lies there ever, long and bright.
Clear is the water of your well;
White is the star in your white hand;
Unmarred, unstained is leaf and land
In Dwimordene, in Lórien
More fair than thoughts of Mortal Men.
We are not alone in our defense of beautiful things: a lady may have multiple knights who serve her. When others step up to the defense of the things we love, we must refrain from the temptation of envy or pride, but instead embrace them as friends and compatriots: as others who see the truth of things, and are willing to sacrifice to defend another’s honor.