Anyone who is familiar with the story of The Lord of the Rings (book or film) will likely remember Gimli’s love for Galadriel. He constantly defends her to any who speak ill of her or her land. Éomer is the first to feel the brunt of Gimli’s wrath. The quarrel becomes a half-humorous, half-serious bone of contention between the two throughout the course of the story. In the end, Éomer admits that Galadriel is worthy of admiration but puts her as second to another lady–Arwen. He takes a similarly defensive position regarding the object of his devotion and is willing to fight any who contradicts him.
Many modern readers will conclude that Gimli is “in love” with Galadriel and Éomer is “in love” with Arwen. While the full nature of Gimli’s attachment to Galadriel is outside the scope of this post, examining it side-by-side with Éomer’s attachment yields some interesting ideas.
The Beginning of the Quarrel
Why did Gimli and Eomer almost come to blows? The argument begins at Éomer’s and Gimli’s first meeting. Éomer is suspicious of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli who have appeared unannounced in Rohan, taking Éomer’s men by surprise. Aragorn explains that they stayed in Lórien and have Galadriel’s approval.
The Rider looked at them with renewed wonder, but his eyes hardened. ‘Then there is a Lady in the Golden Wood, as old tales tell!’ he said. ‘Few escape her nets, they say. These are strange days! But if you have her favour, then you also are net-weavers and sorcerers, maybe.’ He turned a cold glance suddenly upon Legolas and Gimli. ‘Why do you not speak, silent ones?’ he demanded.
Gimli rose and planted his feet firmly apart: his hand gripped the handle of his axe, and his dark eyes flashed. ‘Give me your name, horse-master, and I will give you mind, and more besides,’ he said.
‘As for that,’ said the Rider, staring down at the Dwarf, ‘the stranger should declare himself first. Yet I am named Éomer son of Éomund, and am called the Third Marshal of Riddermark.’
‘Then Éomer son of Éomund, Third Marshal of the Riddermark, let Gimli the Dwarf Glóin’s son warn you against foolish words. You speak evil of that which is fair beyond the reach of your thought, and only little wit can excuse you.’
Éomer’s eyes blazed, and the men of Rohan murmured angrily, and closed in, advancing their spears. ‘I would cut off your head, beard and all, Master Dwarf, if it stood but a little higher from the ground,’ said Éomer.
‘He stands not along,’ said Legolas, bending his bow and fitting an arrow with hands that moved quicker than sight. ‘You would die before your stroke fell.’
Éomer raised his sword, and things might have gone ill, but Aragorn sprang between them, and raised his hand. ‘Your pardon, Éomer!’ he cried. ‘When you know more you will understand why you have angered my companions’ (TTT, 422).
Notice three things in this passage. First, as Éomer contemplates the possibility that the Three Hunters are sorcerers of some kind, he immediately turns to Gimli and Legolas. He is more suspicious of them than he is of Aragorn. He recognizes that they aren’t Men and thus are less likely to be trustworthy. Keep in mind that Éomer has been dealing with some real sorcery lately. Although he may not completely understand it, he recognizes on some level that what is happening to Théoden back at Meduseld is not normal. His king and the man who is as father to him seems to be under some kind of spell. When sorcery hits that close to home, it’s not surprising that Éomer is more suspicious of it.
Second, see how quickly this escalates. Éomer displays some suspicion, Gimli responds with discourtesy and several insults (which he did not even do in Lothlórien when initially forced to wear a blindfold). Éomer responds with a physical threat, his men advance menacingly, and Legolas prepares to kill Éomer. Clearly this difference between Men and Dwarves and Elves is a sore subject for all involved–one that very quickly devolves into potential slaughter.
Third, Aragorn is the one who intervenes. If he hadn’t been there, there certainly would have been bloodshed. It’s unfair to say that Gimli and Legolas are the only ones at fault. They’re suspicious of the Rohirrim just as Éomer is suspicious of them. Neither side is positive that they other isn’t working with the Enemy. Aragorn, who has a much wider experience than Éomer, Gimli, and Legolas combined, is the one who has to step in and keep things from getting ugly.
The Quarrel’s End
There are a few other references to this incident throughout the rest of the story. The most significant reference comes towards the end, shortly after Aragorn has been crowned king of Gondor.
…Éomer of Rohan came riding to the City, and with him came an éored of the fairest knights of the Mark. He was welcomed; and when they sat all at table in Merethrond, the Great Hall fo Feasts, he beheld the beauty of the ladies that he saw and was filled with great wonder. And before he went ot his rest he sent for Gimli the Dwarf, and he said to him: ‘Gimli Glóin’s son, have you your axe ready?’
‘Nay, lord,’ said Gimli, ‘but I can speedily fetch it, if there be need.’
‘You shall judge,’ said Éomer. ‘For there are certain rash words concerning the Lady in the Golden Wood that lie still between us. And now I have seen her with my eyes.’
‘Well, lord,’ said Gimli, ‘and what say you now?’
‘Alas!’ said Éomer. ‘I will not say that she is the fairest lady that lives.’
‘Then I must go for my axe,’ said Gimli.
‘But first I will plead this excuse,’ said Éomer. ‘Had I seen her in other company, I would have said all that you could wish. But now I will put Queen Arwen Evenstar first, and I am ready to do battle on my own part with any who deny me. Shall I call for my sword?’
Then Gimli bowed low. ‘Nay, you are excused for my part, lord,’ he said. ‘You have chosen the Evening; but my love is given to the Morning. And my heart forebodes that soon it will pass away for ever’ (RotK, 953).
Gimli is fairly passive at this point. Éomer is the one who seeks him out and brings up the quarrel again. He is the one who immediately frames the issue with the potential of a battle. Gimli is only reacting to Éomer. Gimli’s words at the end are filled with a sadness and resignation that is no where present in Éomer’s.
Most interesting, however, is how Gimli characterizes Galadriel and Arwen. Galadriel is the Morning and Arwen is the Evening. This is an obvious reference to their hair color (golden-silver and black, respectively), but there is more to it than that.
Galadriel was born millennia ago. She is a product and representative of the Elder Days of Middle-earth. In Lothlórien she seeks to preserve what the Elves have gained for themselves in Middle-earth. She offers protection and help to the Fellowship when they come to her. In a sense, her role in the story is more passive. She does not seek to influence any of the Fellowship nor even to offer them hope; she merely supports them.
Arwen, on the other hand, is known as the Evenstar–the evening star–of her people. She is widely recognized as the last great Elven lady of Middle-earth. Although she is the last, she looks to the future. She is the one who creates Aragorn’s standard in the hope that he will be able to unfurl it. She is the one who trains a horse for him to ride into battle. While her actions are certainly supportive, they are also full of hope. Notice also that she is connected to Aragorn–the one who had to step in at the beginning of the quarrel. He served as a bridge between Elves and Dwarves and Men. As his Queen, Arwen seeks to do the same.
In other words, Galadriel’s domain is the Elder Days. She seeks to help in the present and to preserve the past. Arwen, on the other hand, looks to the future, the Dominion of Men. That is where her hope lies because that is where Sauron is defeated and Aragorn crowned king. Arwen seeks to support in the present while pointing to the future.
Gimli recognizes, just as Galadriel does, that his time is ending–the time of Elves and Dwarves is fading as the memory of the Elder Days slowly disappears from Middle-earth. His heart is given to the Morning that is past and passing. Éomer, as a king of a people who are coming of age just before the dawn of the Dominion of Men, is full of hope for the next morning. His love is given to the Evening that precedes that dawn.
Photo Credit: Mike Fernwood