What Legolas & Gimli Say About Racism

Well, today’s post is very timely. I’ve got a lot to say about what happened last week, and none of it’s kind, and all of it is more than I can put in even a single post, never mind an intro. I was hopeful that I wouldn’t have to do another intro like this after a summer full of them, but the US continues to prove that it’s overflowing with the worst of the worst kind of people, so here’s your reminder that if you disagree with anything in the following video, we’re probably not going to get along because we have massive fundamental differences that will make me think not even lowly of you, but not want to think about you at all:

If you support what happened on Thursday @ Capitol Hill, there is something seriously wrong with you.

Animated gif about gif in L o r d o f t h e R i n g s by alexandra

If you’d told me that I was going to come out of 2020 with a renewed love for Legolas & Gimli, but not even just renewed, rather total infatuation, I would have 100% believed you. I mean, I might have thought it a little odd, but, at this point in my life, there are very few Tolkien-related things that are going to surprise me.

Now, did I expect to be shipping Legolas & Gimli at any point in my life? Nope, but that’s where we’re at, and apparently, I’m nowhere near the only one. Y’all are amazing, and I hope you keep making beautiful fanart that I can weep over for the rest of time.

Anyway, that’s not what this post is about! I mean, kind of? But also not because we’re mostly here to talk about the very long hatred between elves & dwarves and what Legolas & Gimli’s friendship says about that kind of racism.

Art by Spader7

I know that we love Thranduil, and Lee Pace just made him utterly fabulous, but the dude literally walks away from an entire war because he hates dwarves that much. Like. That’s some racist bullshit right there.

(I feel like I need to have an aside here where I’m not calling Tolkien racist. That’s not what this is.)

And, truthfully, there’s no real starting point to why elves & dwarves hate one another. Yeah, there’s some disagreements along the way, and each side definitely could have handled a lot of things better, but it really just boils down to elves feeling superior and getting all gimme your shiny stuff, and dwarves being like hell naw ask nicer, and elves feeling unreasonably offended by that. I mean, really, all we have to do is look at The Silmarillion to prove this point because elves are The Worst. The literal worst. They’re the reason half of the horrible things even happened on Middle-earth, and while dwarves are by no means better than them because they’re all stubborn af and rude to a fault, I’m definitely gonna blame elves for this one.

I mean, literally just look at Fëanor. He burned an entire fleet of ships because his own kin pissed him off, never mind if they’d been dwarves. Thranduil is ready to turn away his adopted daughter just for caring about a few dwarves. Legolas truly believes he’s going to be banished just for going after Tauriel because she’s in the same vicinity as Thorin & Co. And yes, Legolas & Gimli do eventually become friends, but that’s after literal centuries of racist hatred.

Art by eravee

But there’s something pretty powerful about the Legolas & Gimli friendship. At the start of the Fellowship, they despise the sight of one another. I will die before I see the ring in the hands of an elf! Gimli goes as far as to say, and Legolas is immediately on his feet in response, ready to throw hands. They’re constantly at odds with one another, even without words, and it comes from hundreds and hundreds of years of disgust between the two races, but that’s not where it ends. Because, ultimately, when push comes to shove, Legolas is the first person to step in front of Gimli and threaten to kill another man should he even think about harming his friend. Gimli is quick to strike a bargain with Legolas so that he can show him the beauties of the caves because he wants to share that magnificence with his friend.

And, when you think about, it’s not just history that Legolas has been told. He’s lived two millennia by the time we get to the War of the Ring, so he’s been raised with these toxic, horrible thoughts for a long ass time. Gimli’s nowhere near as old, but Thranduil’s bitter disregard for the dwarves’ lives at Erebor is pretty recent history, and he’s been raised with that very same hatred. And yet, when they’re in Moria and Gimli is mourning the loss of such a great kingdom of dwarves, Legolas does something very interesting.

He doesn’t say a single negative thing. He doesn’t pick at the open wound, though that’s 100% what his father would have done. And when the goblins & orcs descend, he makes sure that Gimli, too, makes it safely out of Moria. And as they carry on, as it’s whittled down to just the three hunters, you can almost see Legolas & Gimli shrug away the last vestiges of their inherent hatred of one another and realize that it needs to take a backseat right now, that they need to come together and fight for a greater good.

All these Hobbit feelings reminded me of my original OTP.
Get the print!
Art by fayren

In the end, Legolas & Gimli are not only friends, they’re the best of friends. They go see each other’s respective wonders–caves of Helm’s Deep & forest of Fangorn–because they want to share something intimate and beautiful with each other. Legolas goes as far as to basically sneak Gimli onto a ship sailing into the West. They stand up against all odds and show just how powerful friendship can be. But it’s not just their friendship that’s powerful, but what that friendship challenges.

There is literally no difference between Legolas & Gimli, at their fundamental cores. They each have the same morals, the same yearning for a better life. They’re each dedicated to a good cause, and they want to see the world succeed. Yes, Legolas is older and Gimli is probably more stubborn, but, at their heart, there is no difference between them. This elves are better mentality that Legolas has been raised on is utter nonsense, and when he finally steps out of his sheltered life and actually meets people outside of his own small circle, he sees how baseless their entire history of hatred is.

And it’s not just Legolas, either, because Gimli was definitely too young to be fighting in the Battle of the Five Armies, so he’s likely never really met any elves, and there’s just this massive well of inexplicable hatred in him in all his responses to the elves that he does meet. Inexplicable because it’s such an automatic response because that’s what he’s been raised on, but when he, too, is finally able to step away from all that history and just exist alongside other people, he’s able to see how much damage such anger is doing to their two people.

Legolas, Gimli, & Galadriel
Art by heathlynnn

I’m definitely rambling here, and there’s so much more that could be said on this topic, but the core of it is this: Legolas & Gimli’s friendship develops once they’re removed from their racist households, one they’re able to see beyond the hatred and into the fact that they’re really not all that different from each other, and that just proves how senseless racism is. There are a lot of reasons for that hatred to have been built over the years, but there’s no reason for it to continue. When Gimli says, I never thought I’d die fighting side by side with an elf, there’s a last surge of that disbelief at where he’s at in his life compared to where he’s been, and when Legolas says, how about side by side with a friend, you can see that glimmer of hope and possibility and future in Gimli’s eyes. He’s going to live a different future than the entire history of dwarf past because he’s finally seen how toxic and terrible the way the dwarves have been living all along are.

I’d argue that the elves don’t really get that same opportunity since all of them leave, but Gimli definitely makes an impression on Galadriel, Elrond seems fairly okay with dwarves in general, and Legolas eventually brings Gimli with him into the West, so, really, we just don’t get to see the opportunity there, but rather have to use our imaginations to see what might have been.

And I love Tolkien so much more for giving us this friendship, for building this history between them that echoes back to our real world, and then for breaking that down and showing us how little our different races should matter when it comes to finding your best friend. In the end, it’s about what lies in your heart, not on your skin.

2 responses to “What Legolas & Gimli Say About Racism”

  1. waytoofantasy Avatar

    We can all learn a lot from these two. Great post, Mary!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] This comic was inspired by a course I am taking on Anti-Oppression and Inclusion in Program Design for heritage interpreters, and also this amazing essay from Mary and the Words: https://marydrover.com/2021/01/11/what-legolas-gimli-say-about-racism/ […]


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