Tolkien's legendarium character
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Gríma, called (the) Wormtongue, is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. He appears in the second and third volumes of the work, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, and his role is expanded upon in Unfinished Tales. He is introduced in The Two Towers as the chief advisor to King Théoden of Rohan and henchman of Saruman. Gríma serves as an archetypal sycophant, flatterer, liar, and manipulator.

The name Gríma derives from the Old English or Icelandic word meaning "mask", "helmet" or "spectre".[1][2] It is also possible to link the name to the English word "grim", which among other characteristics means "ugly"[3] in Old English.


The Two Towers

Gríma, son of Gálmód, was at first a faithful servant, but he eventually fell in league with Saruman, and from then on worked to weaken Théoden and his kingdom through lies and persuasion.

Tolkien describes him as "a wizened figure of a man, with a pale wise face, and heavy lidded eyes", with a "long pale tongue".

He was widely disliked in Edoras; everyone except Théoden called him "Wormtongue", for his malicious words were like those of a serpent. Gandalf repeatedly compares him to a snake:

The wise speak only of what they know, Gríma son of Gálmód. A witless worm have you become. Therefore be silent, and keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a serving-man till the lightning falls.

See, Théoden, here is a snake! To slay it would be just. But it was not always as it now is. Once it was a man, and it did you service in its fashion.

It is implied that Saruman had promised him Éowyn, the king's niece, as a reward for his services. Her brother Éomer accused him of "watching her under his lids and haunting her steps".

His schemes were foiled when Gandalf the White and his companions arrived at Edoras. With a flash of light, Gandalf struck him motionless, and convinced the king that he was not as weak as his adviser had made him out to be. Upon Théoden's restoration, "many things which men had missed" were found locked in Gríma's trunk, including the king's sword, Herugrim. Théoden decided to go forth to battle at the Fords of Isen, and Gríma was given a choice: prove his loyalty and ride into battle with the king, or ride into exile. Choosing the latter, he went to dwell with Saruman at Orthanc.

Saruman had cause to regret this when, following the confrontation between Saruman and Gandalf, Gríma mistakenly threw a "heavy rock" — which was actually the palantír of Orthanc — at the Rohirrim accompanying Gandalf, or even at Saruman himself. The palantír struck the rail where Saruman was leaning, bounced off and fell down, almost striking Gandalf, an act for which Saruman seems to have punished him severely.

The Return of the King

Gríma accompanied Saruman to the Shire, where Saruman sought revenge for his defeat at Orthanc in petty tyranny over the Hobbits. During this time he gradually degenerated into a crawling wretch, and Saruman shortened his nickname to "Worm".

When Saruman was overthrown by a hobbit rebellion and ordered to leave, Frodo Baggins implored Gríma not to follow him, and even offered him food and shelter. Saruman countered by revealing to the Hobbits that Gríma had murdered and possibly eaten their accomplice Lotho Sackville-Baggins, a kinsman of Frodo, and kicked Gríma to the ground. This humiliation drove Gríma over the edge; he attacked Saruman with a knife and slit his former master's throat. Gríma was then shot down by Hobbit archers as he tried to flee.

Unfinished Tales

Gríma played a major role in the back-story to The Lord of the Rings, prior to his first appearance in The Two Towers. In Unfinished Tales Tolkien writes that on the 20th of September in T.A. 3018 Gríma was captured by the Nazgûl in the fields of the Rohirrim, while on his way to Isengard to inform Saruman of Gandalf's arrival at Edoras. He was interrogated and divulged what he knew of Saruman's plans to the Nazgûl, specifically his interest in the Shire, and its location. Previously, the location of the Shire had been unknown to the Nazgûl, but they knew it to be the home of "Baggins", who they thought still had the One Ring. Gríma was set free, but only because the Witch-king of Angmar saw that he would not dare tell anyone of their meeting and might do harm to Saruman in the future. The Nazgûl set out immediately for the Shire. Had the Nazgûl not captured Gríma, they would instead have pursued Gandalf into Rohan, and possibly not found the Shire until much later, giving the Hobbits and then the Fellowship a considerable head start. In another version within the same chapter however, this role is given to the squint-eyed southerner that the hobbits encounter at Bree.[4]

It is here where Tolkien intimates that Gríma may even have given Théoden "subtle poisons" that caused him to become frail and age at an accelerated pace.



Gríma, as portrayed in Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings

In Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, Gríma Wormtongue was voiced by Michael Deacon (and his name is pronounced as "Grime-a"). He's also Hobbit-sized, always hooded and has a moustache.

Paul Brooke played Gríma in BBC Radio's 1981 serialisation.

In Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, Gríma was played by Brad Dourif. According to Dourif, Jackson encouraged him to shave off his eyebrows so that the audience would immediately have a subliminal reaction of unease to the character.[5]

"The Scouring of the Shire" episode does not appear in the film version; the deaths of Saruman and Gríma were moved to an earlier scene, "The Voice of Saruman". This scene was cut from the theatrical releases of the films, but can be found on the Extended Edition DVD of The Return of the King.

Wormtongue (left) as portrayed by Brad Dourif in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

In this scene, the assembled leaders of the West ride to Ent-occupied Isengard to confront Saruman. Théoden offers Gríma clemency, but when he tries to accept, Saruman curses him and knocks him down. Enraged, Gríma stabs Saruman in the back. Saruman then falls from the tower and is impaled on a spiked wheel, a remnant of his war machines, and the palantír slips out of his cloak. Gríma himself is shot and killed by one of Legolas' arrows in a vain effort to stop him from killing Saruman, who was in the process of revealing vital information. In the DVD commentary, Jackson states that in further deleted material Saruman reveals to the company that Gríma had killed Théoden's son Théodred, casting new light on both his earlier reaction to Théodred's death and on Legolas' reason for shooting him.

Video games

In The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age video game, Gríma Wormtongue is a miniboss faced by the player in the village hall. He uses powerful spells that drain Action Points, injuring and disabling the target.

In The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, Gríma Wormtongue is a hero for the Isengard faction, and can weaken, assassinate, and convert enemy units.

In The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, Grima is a playable scout-type hero.

In popular culture

  • In Dougal Dixon's After Man a toad known as the Oak Leaf Toad, whose tongue is described as worm-like, is known by the scientific name Grima frondiforme.


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