Portrayed as the comic relief character in The Lord of the Rings film ranchise, the dwarf warrior Gimli is a fan favorite. But did you know of his trailblazing and progressive ways, or his capability to love? Did you know he has a sensitive side? What do you know about John Rhys-Davies, the actor who portrayed Gimli in the films? Did you know that he suffered physical pain while filming, or that he already had a breakout role long before partaking in the trilogy?
With his many axes and long red beard, it could be so easy to just think of Gimli as the funny, sort-of slow dwarf. But he’s so much more than that, and he deserves a better reputation than he currently holds. Read on for some untold trivia and details from the books, and have your mind opened to a much more multi-dimensional character than is often portrayed. Here are 20 Things You Didn’t Know About Gimli.
20. He Founded A Dwarven Colony In The Glittering Caves
Everyone remembers the great Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers. It was, after all, one of the greatest battles portrayed on film. Ever. Remember those caves behind the fortress where the women and children hid? Well, those were none other than the enchanting Glittering Caves, which Gimli still had time to admire for a moment, mid-battle. As an intricate and beautiful underground fortress, Gimli was not the first to be awe-struck by the magnitude of them; when Legolas first saw the Glittering Caves, he was speechless.
After the great war of the ring, Gimli returns to the Glittering Caves and, with the group of dwarves that accompany him, establishes a dwarven colony. Gimli is honored as Lord of the Glittering Caves.
19. His Name Means “Fire”
With Gimli’s striking red head of hair and long ginget beard, animated personality, and piercing eyes, “fire” seems a suitable descriptor for the rather fiery dwarf warrior.
The name Gimli originates from one of Tolkien’s Mannish dialects, meant to be based on the Viking language of Old Norse, and the remnants of which can still be found in Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and Icelandic languages today.
Although Tolkien never put too much thought into what Gimli meant, mentioning the name’s meaning as an afterthought years later, much thought was put into deciding on Gimli as a name at all. Prior to choosing the name Gimli, working names considered by Tolkien were Frar and Burin, according to Christopher Tolkien’s History of Middle-Earth Volume 1: Return of the Shadow.
18. He May Have Been In Love With Galadriel, Lady Of Lothlorien
Remember when the Fellowship, in the first installment, visit the forest elves and meet Galadriel, Lady of Lothlorien (aka the stunning Cate Blanchett)? Gimli certainly remembers. When the Fellowship departs, Galadriel goes around the circle, honouring each member with a gift. When she reaches Gimli, asking him what he might want, he asks for just one hair from her golden head. She gives him three.
He is clearly enamored of her grace and beauty, and this respect for her resurfaces throughout the three installments. Gimli is known as “Elf Friend” to many, and his care for Galadriel might partly explain how he could have gone to the Undying Lands years later.
Whether Gimli’s respect for Galadriel was just that—respect—or if it was something more is a matter of contestation amongst fans. Most don’t go so far as imagining the possibility of a Gimli-Galadriel relationship, but the adoration Gimli has for Galadriel could be interpreted by many as love, platonic or otherwise.
17. He May Have Been A Better Orc-Slayer Than Legolas
The Legolas-Gimli orc slaying count has also been a hotly contested debate for fans. Most take Legolas’ side for his swift arrow shots, over Gimli’s rather precarious axe rampages.
But is it true? Consider this: For close combat, Legolas’s flimsy bows don’t stand a chance next to Gimli’s massive double-bladed axe, nor does Legolas possess the passion and drive that Gimli has. Not to mention, while perhaps Legolas could outdo Gimli in a remote orc-slaying contest from high up on a hill, for on-the-ground fighting, Gimli’s axe has no equal.
The real proof, however, lies in the results of the Battle at Helm’s Deep, as seen in the extended version of The Two Towers. In this scene, Legolas claims he’s killed 43 to Gimli’s 42, and although the results are again debatable, Gimli’s axe is already embedded in the orc’s nervous system, switching the count from 43 for Gimli to Legolas’s 42.
16. Gimli Is a Desirable Character In The Video Games
Considering dwarf warrior Gimli’s effective close combat style, it should be no surprise that this translates to the virtual world as well. Indeed, in the video games, Gimli is at least one of the most popular, if not the most popular choice of characters to choose from.
While not the fastest, his brute force is unparalleled, and his health gauge beats that of Legolas and Aragorn. He’s short, which plays to both his advantage and disadvantage— he can dodge things better as a smaller character, but he also cannot see as much as his adversaries.
Since he is much slower than Legolas and Aragorn, if you’re looking to run instead of fight, the other two might be better choices. However, for gamers looking to get right into the center of things (which you are often forced to do anyway), Gimli is the real head-on fighter of the clan, and will slay orcs like no other.
15. This Was Not The Actor’s Break Out Role
You would think the actor who portrays Gimli, John Rhys-Davies, after taking part in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, would never be remembered for anything else. But this is definitely not the case for Rhys-Davies. Prior to playing Gimli, Rhys-Davies actually performed one of his breakout roles in the first installment of the Indiana Jones series, Raiders of the Lost Ark, in 1981. He appeared again in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989.
Rhys-Davies performed the part of Sallah: the jovial, loyal, enigmatic Egyptian friend to Indie, helping him in a few scrapes when Indie visits Northern Africa. The character Sallah has long been a fan favorite, rated on Entertainment Weekly’s list of top 50 best sidekicks of all time.
14. John Rhys-Davies Is Not Of Conventional Dwarf Height
Between Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Vigo Mortensen (Aragorn), and John Rhys-Davies (Gimli), Rhys-Davies is actually the tallest of the three amigos – coming in at just over six feet, with both Bloom and Mortensen a touch shorter at 5’11.
Considering Rhys-Davies was cast as the dwarf, this is certainly surprising. How did the producers pull it off, and why?
There were several techniques used. For one, in scenes where just dwarves and hobbits interacted, no adjustments needed to be made, as Rhys-Davies and the actors who played hobbits were of proportional height differences (hobbits should be 3’6, and dwarves should be 4’6). In fact, casting of dwarves was done with taller-than-average actors taken into consideration, so that only two scale sets, rather than three, would need to be used.
13. There Was Also An Elf Named Gimli
True to the “Elf Friend” nickname, dwarf Gimli was actually not the first of Tolkien’s characters to be named Gimli.
In The Tale of Tinuviel, there was a gnome/elf named Gimli, who was liberated with several other characters from slavery – now blind, but with a heightened sense of hearing. The story can be found in Christopher Tolkien’s The History of Middle-Earth Volume 2: The Book of Lost Tales. The Tale of Tinuviel was written in 1917 and later re-written and reformulated into the story The Tale of Beren and Luthien.
So, was the dwarf Gimli named after the elf Gimli from many years before that? Who knows, really. All we do know is that when it comes to being remembered, Gimli the dwarf has done a much better job of it. Maybe Peter Jackson should further explore these lost tale stories and turn them into another Lord of the Rings franchise, so we can learn more about the various side stories and secrets. We certainly wouldn’t complain!
12. He Should Have Only Had One Axe
In the books, Gimli was supposed to only ever carry one special battle axe, but we prefer the film adaptation where there are several axes to admire! Plus, without his massive collection of axes, he would likely be unarmed, as he destroys at least two—one when he attempts to break the ring at the Council of Elrond, and one when he mistakes Gandalf (The White) for Saruman.
In the movies, Gimli carries as many as six axes. These include a bearded axe, a walking axe, a battle axe, two throwing axes, and of course, the iconic double-bladed axe. The double-bladed axe is the one used by Gimli in most of the great battles.
Given the number of axes he carries with him, fans have been quick to point out the inaccuracies of Gimli carrying six axes with him throughout the three installments. But doesn’t that explain why he was always so slow?!
11. He Was From A Family Of Trailblazers
Most know that Gimli was the only dwarf to partake in the fellowship of the ring, making him a dwarven trailblazer for the ages. Really, though, it should be of no surprise, considering that his dad, Gloin, also belonged to a super cool adventure team. Indeed, with his brother Oin and cousins Dwalin and Balin, Gloin took part in the Quest of Erebor, recapturing the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug.
Gloin, like his son Gimli, has a fiery character and brings unbridled loyalty to his friendships. In The Hobbit, Gloin and Bilbo Baggins soon form a fast friendship, just as Gimli did with Frodo years later.
Gloin is also present at the Council of Elrond with his son Gimli, though the specific actor portraying that character is never made clear. Clearly, though, bravery runs in the family, and Gimli is inspired to partake in adventure just as his father was.
10. His Friendship With Legolas Was Socially Progressive
The bond between Legolas and Gimli will be remembered always as one of the best friendships in fantasy history. From jokes among friends to sassy, cutthroat comebacks to full-on fights, Legolas and Gimli entertain us beyond all measures. At the end of the day, we know that they will be friends for life.
But did you know that this friendship was actually rather progressive? While Gimli can be stubborn at times, and Legolas can seem slightly conceited, their initial resentment towards one another was natural.
Elves and dwarves have traditionally had bad blood between them, with war and deep-seated rivalry in their history. When Legolas and Gimli become friends thanks to the famous Fellowship, then, this is certainly considered unique and strange, and even socially progressive, given the two races’ history. The two sail off into the sunset together, as Gimli accompanies his dear friend Legolas to the Undying Lands.
9. He Was Related To Dwarf Royalty
The fact that Gimli is a total badass is pretty much agreed upon nowadays. But why is he so cool?! Well, apart from his orc-slaying skills, killer axes, and extreme beard, he also happens to be related to a pretty big name.
Specifically, Gimli is a remote descendent of Durin the Deathless, or King Durin I, the eldest among the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves, founder of the Longbeards (Durin’s Folk), and receiver of one of the great rings.
Durin is also the creator of Khazad-dum, or Moria, in the Misty Mountains. Remember when Gimli reminisces about the great kingdom in the Fellowship of the Ring, and praises his ancestors on his knees, overcome with emotion? It makes sense that this would be such a big deal to Gimli now, considering the founder of the once-beautiful city is one of his ancestors. Given Gimli’s regal roots, his accomplishments should really be no surprise.
8. No Fellowship Tattoo For John Rhys-Davies
When you take part in one of the most iconic casts in movie history, you’re sure to form a bond with your fellow actors. In fact, the cast was so tight that at the end of filming the first installment, nine members of the fellowship went out and got the elvish word for “nine” tattooed on their skin.
John Rhys-Davies, however, did not. Instead, he sent his stunt double in his place. This, then, technically still makes for a nine-person fellowship with the same tattoo. Rhys-Davies’ justification for not getting the tattoo is not wholly unjustified: he calls himself a coward, and did what any self-respecting actor would do— get their stunt double to take their place in times of danger!
We’re sad that Rhys-Davies chose not to participate, but his stunt double taking his place is pretty cute. The best part of the tattoo saga, however, is Peter Jackson’s choice: he got an elvish ten spelled out on his arm.
7. John Rhys-Davies Was Allergic To Prosthetics
Maybe Rhys-Davies’s aversion to tattoos makes sense, though, when you consider the rough ride he had had throughout the many months of filming.
If you look at a picture of the actor and compare it to a picture of his portrayal of dwarf Gimli, you can see that a lot of prosthetics were used to create the exact Dwarf-like look that was needed. Unfortunately, this did not bode well for Rhys-Davies, because he was severely allergic to the various prosthetics used. His eyes would swell to the point of being unable to see, and his face would get red and skin would peel off. Ouch.
In fact, when asked if he would return to film The Hobbit, Jackson cited the torture his face had to undergo in filming The Lord the Rings as why he would not be joining the cast. Yeah, we’re disappointed, but we get it—who would want to go through that!?
6. He Was Supposed To Have Been Taken More Seriously
Loyal book readers have long criticized The Lord of the Rings franchise for exaggerating the rather annoying, hot-headed character traits of Gimli, and downplaying the deeper aspects of his personality.
As we’ve seen, Gimli was capable of love, he was loyal, and he was fierce. Unfortunately, by the time The Return of the King came around, fans were calling out Peter Jackson on his unrealistic interpretation of who Gimli was. For example, when the Fellowship had the choice or not to travel through the caves of Moria, in the books, it was supposed to have been Gandalf who really pushed for this route, while in the films, it was Gimli.
To be fair to Jackson, playing up Gimli’s comedic traits were partly what made the fiery relationship between him and Legolas, and added comic relief to an otherwise very heavy storyline. Even so, Gimli as a character should have been less obnoxious and much wiser than he was portrayed in the films.
5. He Was A Record-Breaker
After the sad and disturbing experience at the Caves of Moria, Gimli emerges relatively unscathed, and enters the woods of Lothlorien. No big deal, right?
Actually, it’s a huge deal. When Gimli enters the woods of Lothlorien, he is the first dwarf there since the Balrog was first awakened, in 1980 of the Third Age. This partly explains the stir caused by the Fellowship upon arriving, and why the forest elves feel the need to take them in. How could a dwarf be trusted?
While there’s definitely some bad blood when the Fellowship first arrives, by the end, Gimli seems to have broken this long-time antagonism, at least to a point, as demonstrated by his reaction to Galadriel. Once again, Gimli shows us how he deserves the name, “Elf Friend,” highlighting again his bravery and strength in going places and doing things that had not been done in years—or ever, for that matter.
4. He Was Old
Born in 2879 of the Third Age, Gimli was a whooping 139 years old when the Fellowship departed from Rivendell. While still considered middle-aged for a dwarf, he was at least older than Aragorn.
Admittedly, the average life span of a dwarf is 250-300 years. Even so, it’s important to give credit where credit is due, and we must acknowledge that compared to man, Gimli was old!
Considering the stunts he pulled at 139 years, killing orcs right, left, and centre, and running at a sprint for days, this is commendable for anyone, and especially a middle-aged dwarf. To give some perspective though, at the time when Gimli’s father, Gloin, was embarking on the Quest for Erebor, Gimli was in his ripe sixties, and considered “too young” to partake in the adventure! Apparently, age is relative, but should that take away from his astounding feats? We certainly think it’s something to be proud of.
3. He Made A Cameo Appearance In The Hobbit
Remember when Gloin and Legolas have a showdown in the second installment of The Hobbit? It’s pretty intense, and Legolas isn’t nearly in this cuddly pre-Fellowship era.
In the interaction, Legolas receives the upper hand for moment, swiftly grabbing the photo frame that Gloin holds close to his chest. Legolas tauntingly asks him who the photos are of, and the camera briefly zooms in on Gloin’s wife, and his “wee lad, Gimli.” It appears to be a drawing of a young teenager – even then Gimli sported a great beard and squat nose.
Hinting at future interactions, which we can be sure was purposefully played up by Peter Jackson, Legolas bitingly calls Gimli a “horrid creature” and “goblin mutant“, but Gloin is loyal to the bones and proudly tells Legolas that the frame is private, and that those are his family members. Little did Legolas know the wee lad (or goblin mutant) would someday be one of his best friends!
2. Travelling To The Undying Lands Was Unprecedented
In the Fourth Age, after Gimli has established a dwarven colony in the Glittering Caves, he travels to the Undying Lands with his bestie, Legolas. The Undying Lands are a realm where only ring-bearers and immortals can live.
Once again, Gimli breaks records as he becomes the first dwarf to ever set foot in this realm. How did he do it?
There are a few theories pointing to how Gimli could have been allowed to travel there. For one, he was a part of the Fellowship, and Frodo, Bilbo, and Gandalf had already travelled there themselves. But then what about Merry and Pippin? Samwise Gamgee certainly travelled to undying lands as well in the Fourth Age, but not everyone went.
Another theory pertains to Gimli’s status as an “Elf Friend” to Legolas, of course, as well as to Galadriel, who had already travelled there in the Third Age. Whatever the reason, Gimli once again becomes the first.
1. Actors Who Almost Got The Part
Can we really imagine anyone else but John Rhys-Davies portraying Gimli!? Well the casting directors certainly did.
Billy Connolly was considered for the part, but in 2014 was finally cast as Dain in the second installment of The Hobbit movies. Full circle.
Warwick Davis auditioned for the role of Gimli, but perhaps the casting directors felt like Davis had already had his hay day, having already been cast in Harry Potter and in Star Wars.
Timothy Spall also auditioned for the role, but thankfully did not get it. Can you really imagine jovial Gimli as Peter Pettigrew!? No thank you.
Billy Bailey mentioned auditioning for Gimli in a stand-up routine, and fans soon created a petition to give him a role in The Hobbit, which was consequently sent to producers. Sadly, nothing ever came of it.
We’re sure that any of these actors would have done a good job in portraying Gimli, but it wouldn’t be Gimli, now, would it? Let’s just say, John Rhys-Davies was the man for the job.
Did we miss some Gimli trivia from The Lord of the Rings? Comment below with any additions you have!