The Evil Counsel of Gríma Wormtongue
“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.”
LOTR:TTT B3 C6
Gríma Wormtongue, son of Gálmód was chief councilor to King Théoden of Rohan in the last years of the Third Age. He was also in secret, under the thrall of Saruman, traitor to his King, his people and in the end himself. The voice of Saruman was ever in his mind and he had been promised treasure and his pick of the women he desired once Rohan had fallen, for ever his eyes had haunted the steps of Eowyn.
Long did he whisper into the King’s ear with crooked mind and forked tongue, until Théoden was bent nearly double… almost on all fours like a beast. So it was that Gandalf the White found him in the Golden Hall and freed Théoden from the bondage of mind under which he was chained. Wormtongue was brought forth, before King Théoden of Rohan and his treachery was unmasked.
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 words with a serving-man till the lightning falls.’
He raised his staff. There was a roll of thunder. The sunlight became blotted out from the eastern windows; the whole hall became suddenly dark as night. The fire faded to sullen embers. Only Gandalf could be seen, standing white and tall before the blackened hearth.
In the gloom they heard the hiss of Wormtonue’s voice: ‘Did I not counsel you lord, to forbid his staff? That fool Háma, has betrayed us!’ There was a flash as if lightening had cloven the roof. Then all was silent. Wormtongue sprawled on his face.
From The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in the Chapter ‘The King of the Golden Hall’
Given a choice between serving his master and fleeing to Saruman, Gríma took a horse and headed for Orthanc. However when he finally reached his true masters mighty fortress of Isengard, he found it all in ruins.
At that moment Háma came again from the hall. Behind him cringing between two other men, came Gríma the Wormtongue. His face was very white. His eyes blinked in the sunlight. Háma knelt and presented to Théoden a long sword in a scabbard clasped with gold and set with green gems.
‘Here, lord, is Herugrim, your ancient blade,’ he said. ‘It was found in his chest. Loth was he to render up the keys. Many other things are there which men have missed.’
‘You lie,’ said Wormtongue. ‘And this sword your master himself gave into my keeping.’
‘And he now requires it of you again,’ said Théoden. ‘Does that displease you?’
‘Assuredly not, lord,’ said Wormtongue. ‘I care for you and yours as best I may. But do not weary yourself, or tax too heavily your strength. Let others deal with these irksome guests. Your meat is about to be set on the board. Will you not go to it?’
‘I will,’ said Théoden. ‘And let food for my guests be set on the board beside me. The host rides today. Send the heralds forth! Let them summon all who dwell nigh! Every man and strong lad able to bear arms, all who have horses, let them be ready in the saddle at the gate ere the second hour from noon!’
‘Dear lord!’ cried Wormtongue. ‘It is as I feared. This wizard has bewitched you. Are none to be left to defend the Golden Hall of your fathers, and all your treasure? None to guard the Lord of the Mark?’
‘If this is bewitchment,’ said Théoden, ‘it seems to me more wholesome than your whisperings. Your leechcraft ere long would have had me walking on all fours like a beast. No, not one shall be left, not even Gríma. Gríma shall ride too. Go! You have yet time to clean the rust from your sword.’
‘Mercy, lord!’ whined Wormtongue, grovelling on the ground. ‘Have pity on one worn out in your service. Send me not from your side! I at least will stand by you when all others have gone. Do not send your faithful Gríma away!’
Wormtongue looked from face to face. In his eyes was the hunted look of a beast seeking some gap in the ring of his enemies. He licked his lips with a long pale tongue. ‘Such a resolve might be expected from a lord of the House of Eorl, old though he be,’ he said. ‘But those who truly love him would spare his failing years. Yet I see that I come too late. Others, whom the death of my lord would perhaps grieve less, have already persuaded him. If I cannot undo their work, hear me at least in this, lord! One who knows your mind and honours your commands should be left in Edoras. Appoint a faithful steward. Let your counsellor Gríma keep all things till your return – and I pray that we may see it, though no wise man will deem it hopeful.’
Éomer laughed. ‘And if that plea does not excuse you from war, most noble Wormtongue,’ he said, ‘what office of less honour would you accept? To carry a sack of meal up into the mountains – if any man would trust you with it?’
‘Nay, Éomer, you do not fully understand the mind of Master Wormtongue,’ said Gandalf, turning his piercing glance upon him. ‘He is bold and cunning. Even now he plays a game with peril and wins a throw. Hours of my precious time he has wasted already. Down, snake!’ he said suddenly in a terrible voice. ‘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 steps.’
Éomer 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.
‘Éowyn is safe now,’ he said. ‘But you, Wormtongue, you have done what you could for your true master. Some reward you have earned at least. Yet Saruman is apt to overlook his bargains. I should advise you to go quickly and remind him, lest he forget your faithful service.’
‘You lie,’ said Wormtongue.
‘That word comes too oft and easy from your lips,’ said Gandalf. ‘I do not lie. See, Théoden, here is a snake! With safety you cannot take it with you, nor can you leave it behind. To slay it would be just. But it was not always as it now is. Once it was a man, and did you service in its fashion. Give him a horse and let him go at once, wherever he chooses. By his choice you shall judge him.’
‘Do you hear this, Wormtongue?’ said Théoden. ‘This is your choice: to ride with me to war, and let us see in battle whether you are true; or to go now, whither you will. But then, if ever we meet again, I shall not be merciful.’
Slowly Wormtongue rose. He looked at them with half-closed eyes. Last of all he scanned Théoden’s face and opened his mouth as if to speak. Then suddenly he drew himself up. His hands worked. His eyes glittered. Such malice was in them that men stepped back from him. He bared his teeth; and then with a hissing breath he spat before the king’s feet, and darting to one side, he fled down the stair.
From The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in the Chapter ‘The King of the Golden Hall’
The very last stroke in the War of the Ring was delivered by Wormtongue at the very doorstep of Bag End.
‘Wormtongue!’ called Frodo. ‘You need not follow him. I know of no evil you have done to me. You can have rest and food here for a while, until you are stronger and can go your own ways.’
Wormtongue halted and looked back at him, half prepared to stay. Saruman turned. ‘No evil?’ he cackled. ‘Oh no! Even when he sneaks out at night it is only to look at the stars. But did I hear someone ask where poor Lotho is hiding? You know, don’t you, Worm? Will you tell them?’
‘Then I will,’ said Saruman. ‘Worm killed your Chief, poor little fellow, your nice little Boss. Didn’t you, Worm? Stabbed him in his sleep, I believe. Buried him, I hope; though Worm has been very hungry lately. No, Worm is not really nice. You had better leave him to me.’
A look of wild hatred came into Wormtongue’s red eyes. ‘You told me to; you made me do it,’ he hissed.
Saruman laughed. ‘You do what Sharkey says, always, don’t you, Worm? Well, now he says: follow!’ He kicked Wormtongue in the face as he grovelled, and turned and made off. 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.
To the dismay of those that stood by, about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill. For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing.
Frodo looked down at the body with pity and horror, for as he looked it seemed that long years of death were suddenly revealed in it, and it shrank, and the shrivelled face became rags of skin upon a hideous skull. Lifting up the skirt of the dirty cloak that sprawled beside it, he covered it over, and turned away.
From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘Scouring of the Shire’