‘…even now we learn from Gondor that the Dark Lord is stirring in the East. Such is the hour in which this wanderer chooses to return. Why indeed should we welcome you, Master Stormcrow? Lathspell I name you, Ill-news; and ill news is an ill guest they say.’ He laughed grimly, as he lifted his heavy lids for a moment and gazed on the strangers with dark eyes.

Gríma, son of Gálmód, called the Wormtongue. Who is more odious, slimy, clever, and handier with a knife than he? I wanted to use my first ‘Hasty Stroke’ article to talk about a character I’ve long been fascinated by and, in a more topical sense, one who’s just been added to our favorite card game. Join me as we take a quick look at master Gríma, where he comes from, and just how he got to be so sad.

 ‘Poor old Gríma! Poor old Gríma! Always beaten and cursed. How I hate him! I wish I could leave him!’
‘Then leave him!’ said Gandalf.
But Wormtongue only shot a glance of his bleared eyes full of terror at Gandalf, and then shuffled quickly past behind Saruman.

orthanc-guardWelcome to my first Hasty Stroke! I think Gríma will be a perfect target for this one, as there is a good deal of information on him, but nothing encyclopedic (like, say, Aragorn). My initial draw to him came from The Lord of the Rings Online game, in which he is presented in a flashback scene of the meeting between Gandalf and Saruman just before the former’s capture. It got me thinking on something that hadn’t really dawned on me before: there were, for many years, Men in the service of Isengard before Saruman turned traitor. Gríma had to have been such a man, along with other servants and guards, in the employ of the White Wizard. No doubt it was a prestigious job: Isengard had been a holdfast of Gondor until its occupants fell into evil, then again when Saruman offered to take up residence there. The steward Beren, in 2759 of the Third Age, handed over the Keys of Orthanc and since that time Saruman was counted a great ally of both Gondor and neighboring Rohan.

From the quote below, we learn that few Men of both Rohan and, presumably, Gondor served Isengard. We know also of the ‘squint-eyed Southerner’, who was one type of half-orc who brokered dealings between Isengard and the Shire, to say nothing of Saruman’s various spies (many spies have many eyes!). But the looming question is who and how many remained when Saruman’s treachery became more apparent and when half-orcs had to be seen on the grounds. It can’t be many as the few who served at Isengard were understandably tight-lipped:

This was the stronghold of Saruman, as fame reported it; for within living memory the men of Rohan had not passed its gates, save perhaps a few, such as Wormtongue, who came in secret and told no man what they saw.

In any case, the Gríma we first meet in the text is wholly corrupted. Once a man of Rohan, he is now completely committed to poisoning Théoden, in both mind and body, in the name of the White Hand. He manipulates the power of the King to ensure a weakened position for Rohan to be invaded. From there, the rest of the story is well-known: his deception is uncovered by Gandalf who tells him to keep his forked tongue behind his teeth. Théoden King offers him a chance at redemption, to ride into battle against Saruman. Instead, Gríma rides back to Isengard only to find it flooded and under the not-so-hasty management of Treebeard.

Saruman is Overtaken by Ted Nasmith

He remains with his master, Saruman, who abuses him, and they take to the road afterwards to stir up mischief in the Shire. In the end, even a poor, corrupted Man like Gríma can only take so much. Frodo, despite being the target of an attempted murder, offers words of kindness and forgiveness to Saruman. Stirred up after more abuse and the kindness of Frodo, especially after allegedly being forced to kill (and possibly eat) Lotho Sackville-Baggins, Gríma cuts Saruman’s throat before receiving an untimely end by hobbit-arrows there on the steps of Bag End.

But at that something snapped: suddenly Wormtongue rose up, drawing a hidden knife, and then with a snarl like a dog he sprang on Saruman’s back, jerked his head back, cut his throat, and with a yell ran off down the lane. Before Frodo could recover or speak a word, three hobbit-bows twanged and Wormtongue fell dead.

The more interesting fate of Gríma, however, we learn in the Unfinished Tales. Further background information, how he came into the employ of Saruman or which part of Rohan he hails from, is not granted but we do learn that he twisted the paths of many on one fateful day. The Nine were set loose in T.A. 3017 after receiving information from a rather forthcoming Gollum about a ‘Baggins of the Shire’. Trouble was that they didn’t know where this ‘Shire’ happened to be. On the road, these black riders came upon another rider: Gríma the Wormtongue, out in western Rohan on his way to report back to his master, Saruman. Then, it is said:

In that hour the Wormtongue came near to death by terror; but being inured to treachery he would have told all that he knew under less threat.

The Black Breath drove poor Gríma to a maddened terror and he spilled many a bean, about the Shire, about Saruman and his shady dealings, and who knows what else. From there the relationship between Gríma and his master began to crinkle and rot until their tragic end.

Gríma provides a nice counterpoint to Éomer as we begin our adventures into the Ring-maker Cycle and serve the White Wizard not knowing his evil designs. Like most of the characters in Rings who ride the ‘gray area’ of good and evil, Gríma is one of the more interesting. His is yet another sad story of redemption gone wrong: once a free man, he falls into forced subservience and co-dependency only to rise up again and remove Saruman from Middle-earth before he can do more mischief. A sad tale, but so are many tales in Middle-earth.


  1. TalesfromtheCards · · Reply

    Some say he fell for love, some say it was for greed, I say it was for the promise of a lustrous new head of hair.

    1. I didn’t even get into the whole Eowyn thing. I guess it’s played up a bit in the films and just gets a couple lines in the book:

      “‘Down on your belly! How long is it since Saruman bought you? What was the promised price? When all the men were dead, you were to pick your share of the treasure, and take the woman
      you desire? Too long have you watched her under your eyelids and haunted her
      Eomer grasped his sword. ‘That I knew already,’ he muttered. ‘For that reason I would have slain him before, forgetting the law of the hall. But there are other reasons.’ He stepped forward, but Gandalf stayed him with his hand.
      ‘Eowyn is safe now,’ he said.”

  2. I want a hobbit bow card! 🙂

    1. “Exhaust Hobbit-bow to discard Gríma from play.”

  3. I’m truly an apprentice of lore.

    Updated the third paragraph in light of that particular quote. Thanks to Casey over at Down the Anduin for posting it.

  4. There’s much more content to that quote if you read that section from The Two Towers. I used the beginning and the end only. It really paints a vivid description of Isengard, though, and stresses just how much it changed since Saruman converted it to a sprawling industry, complete with smithies, great furnaces, and night plumes of vapour steaming from the vents.

  5. anderslundqvist · · Reply

    Great article. Trying to build a deck with Grima using other heroes that would be a thematic fit. Any suggestions from the master? Perhaps Boromir or Beorn and another Lore hero (not Aragorn obviously)? Perhaps one of FFGs creations?

  6. That’s a tough fit! I think it depends on when we imagine these things happening. Aragorn is actually not a bad fit, as he rode with the Rohirrim ‘incognito’ many years before The War of the Ring, so there’s a chance he may have come across a young Grima.

    The other Rohan heroes make thematic sense as well, since it’s entirely possible that they knew Grima, or at least knew of him, before he went rogue. An argument could also be made for Beravor, as the Rangers did travel all over.

    Imagining it during the LOTR timeline opens things up. If Grima had accepted Theoden’s offer of redemption he might have been at Helm’s Deep with everyone!

    Ultimately it’s your choice and it hope I’ve given some options that aren’t too ‘fan fictiony’.

    1. anderslundqvist · · Reply

      Thought of King Theoden… Guess a trisphere Rohan/Isengard deck makes sense. Been playing Rohan for so long I was hoping for something different. Guess that will be more of an option when the APs start coming… The main reason for overlooking Aragorn was that that deck has been done.

  7. […] latter woman and man are, of course, Gríma and […]

  8. Grima and Saruman have always intriuged me very much. Especially Saruman, as my little brother and me have prayed for the days Saruman suddenly turned good and went along with Gandalf to fight against evil. (To much playtime of BFMEII may have caused us to believe in the power of Orthanc. ;)) I for one find the departing of Saruman (how his spirit is blown away) very sad. That part aknowledges that Saruman had failed and fallen into evil. Some times I wish things were different, but then I know that Tolkien wrote it like this with a purpose.

    Grima upon the other hand seems just a bitch on the surface, but indeed is just a sad person. Opportunities for redemption were given a lot of times, but Grima didn’t have the guts or most likely I think, didn’t know what else to do. He was a fool, that’s for sure, if not only depicted by throwing the Palantír of Orthanc at Gandalf and co. which may as well be his only good act in his bitter life.

    Before I really understood everything written (I still don’t) when I first read the book, I was quite young back then and may have skipped this part of Grima and Sarumans faith. I did read a book called “The Lord of the Rings – Weapons and Battles” written by Chris Smith in which stood that the end of Saruman was unknown.”Some say he was killed by Grima on the Tower of Orthanc (movie) or later (book). But there are also some scientists who say he travelled into the East and established some culture of iron and mechanics”. I always liked to dream and wonder about this last option. Sadly, the real truth has been revealed to me. 😉

    To quote my current study object, namely Goethe “In der Beschränkung zeigt sich der Meister” I should end this waytoolong comment right know. Thanks for the article! 🙂

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