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The Fellowship of Legolas and Gimli

"Fellowship" painted by Miriam Ellis

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is a perpetual font of inspiration for devoted readers, its Third Age wisdom evergreen in any era. I've just recently accomplished my first painting of the entire Fellowship (save Gandalf), all in one scene, and it was largely inspired by a storyline I find particularly applicable to the present: overcoming prejudice via one-on-one friendship. It is the unlikely fellowship of Legolas the elf and Gimli the dwarf that holds out a shining ray of hope for humanity.

"Following Haldir Over Celebrant" painting by Miriam Ellis

I must say that I find Haldir of Lórien extremely enchanting. His appearance at the edge of the Golden Wood, his service as guide across the rope bridge, are high Tolkien Faërie. Yet, the beauty of chapter six in book two of The Fellowship of the Ring is sadly diminished by the emergence of the narrative of prejudice between elves and dwarves.

"A dwarf!" said Haldir. "That is not well. We have not had dealings with the Dwarves since the Dark Days. They are not permitted in our land. I cannot allow him to pass."

The Dark Days to which Haldir refers encompass a long and dreadful history of treachery and war between these sundered kindreds. The scene deteriorates further when Gimli is told he must be blindfolded for part of the journey through Lothlórien. Indeed, things become so overheated that Gimli lays his hand upon his axe. Aragorn has to mediate to prevent what might have become an even uglier incident.

Detail of Frodo and Sam from a painting by Miriam Ellis

The title of books one and two of Tolkien's master work is apt because no other author has written more influentially on the subject of fellowship. Even first-time readers will immediately pick up on and celebrate the outstanding loyalty amongst the four hobbits and the death-defying devotion of Samwise for Frodo.

The Fellowship can be said to be founded in hobbit culture, which then expands to include a few trusty folk of other kinds as the story progresses. It is no small thing that the hobbits, who are normally uncomfortable around Big Folk, come to love tall Men, mysterious Elves, and doughty Dwarves.

Detail of Legolas and Gimli from a painting by Miriam Ellis

But it is what Tolkien does with Legolas and Gimli that may be most worthy of contemplation. For all it may be true that elves and dwarves once fought each other to the death over jewels, these Third Age traveling companions find themselves literally in the same boat on an epic journey which requires absolute fidelity to ensure the quest doesn't sink.

Legolas and Gimli walk, ride, run, paddle, and fight their way across Middle-earth as what the Beowulf poet would have termed 'shoulder-companions' or 'shield-companions'. They survive so much together that when their hard-won victory over the Enemy is accomplished, they do not wish to be separated. We learn that they visit Fangorn and the Glittering Caves together. They work side-by-side in the healing of Gondor. Most incredibly, we hear tell that, at the end of their days in Middle-earth, Gimli accompanies Legolas on a ship West. For this to be so, it would mean that not only do readers rejoice in their fellowship, but that the Valar and Eru, himself, must have delighted in it.

Study of Rivendell - Miriam Ellis

Before arriving at Rivendell, it is unlikely that either Gimli or Legolas had enjoyed the opportunity of spending much time in the company of one another's cultures. Legolas would have known all too well of the worst deeds of the dwarves, and it is highly likely that Gimli knew all about how his father had been held captive by Legolas' father. Like nearly all modern people, we see our ancestors engaging in terrible behavior when we look back in history. As a Norse-Irish woman, my own family story is fraught. But Rivendell - that refuge of lore and peace - becomes the starting point for one particular elf and one particular dwarf finding themselves obliged to bond over shared danger.

The Ring would have reveled in tempting the elf and dwarf to fall back into old enmity on the long road. Sauron's purposes would have been well served if prejudice eroded the Fellowship from within. But that isn't what happens. Legolas and Gimli discover, to the surprise of all, that they care deeply for each other. This is the kind of Faërie our world would do well with today. Divided from one another along lengthy fissures of mutual error, we are hard-pressed to come together for the defeat of our common enemies such as hunger, poverty, and climate change. Racism is a dastardly evil wherever and whenever it exists.

Meanwhile, the Internet is connecting us, one-on-one, in ways we've never before experienced. We have a friend in Gaza, a co-worker in Ukraine, a favorite podcast host in the United States. We see the lie of bigotry every time we look into the eyes of these cherished folk, just as Legolas and Gimli must have done to get into an elvish canoe together and pull for the same shore. We are almost all in the same boat, longing for peace and fellowship. 99% of humanity yearns for love to triumph over evil.

No matter how many times you open up Tolkien's legendarium, there is always something new and deeply worthwhile to learn! Please enjoy a few minutes with the Fellowship on the Great River in this short video.


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