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In LOTR: The Two Towers, Gimli and Éomer have the following dialogue:

Gimli: Give me your name, Horse-master, and I shall give you mine.

Éomer: I would cut off your head, dwarf, if it stood but a little higher from the ground.

That seems like a bit of an overreaction on Éomer's part. The People of Rohan are known to be master equestrians and are often referred to as Horse-Lords which admittedly is more flattering than Horse-master.

The H-word strikes again in LOTR: The Return of the King when Gandalf goes to Isengard with Théoden and the fellowship.

Saurman uses the same "insult" for Théoden King, among many others.

Saruman: A man of Rohan? What is the house of Rohan but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek and rats roll on the floor with the dogs?

Victory at Helm's Deep doesn't belong to you, Théoden Horse-Master! (Scornful emphasis at Horse-Master). You are a lesser son of greater sires.

The King looks upset but ignores Saruman and continues persuading Grima to come down from Orthanc.

However, it must be noted that Théoden might not have been upset at being called Horse-Master as there were a variety of other insults. And even if he was upset at that, it could just be that Saruman didn't accord him his regnal title and instead addressed him as a lowly Horse Master.

In any case, is there some history behind this term that I am missing due to watching just the movies? Is it considered offensive by the Rohirrim in the books as well?

What is the context of this term's usage in the books?

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    Éomer might be offended at Gimli’s refusal to give his name first. – Paul D. Waite May 9 '17 at 7:47
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    Maybe it's not the words, but the tone. You may make "your excellency" sound like an insult. – xDaizu May 9 '17 at 14:01
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    Why did you censor "Horse-Master" in the question title? Were you afraid of offending the Rohirrim among us? – Fabio Turati May 9 '17 at 14:28
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    @FabioTurati Well they do look pretty fearsome when mounted on a horse. On a serious note, Well it was just a gimmick. People see "H-Word" and they wonder what is the H-word so they come here and the question gets extra attention and therefore better answers – Aegon May 9 '17 at 14:29
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    Relevant DM of the Rings comic: shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=850 – Nzall May 10 '17 at 7:45
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What you're seeing here is Peter Jackson adapting the films to try to make the plot more interesting, detracting from the books.

This is common occurrence in the films as Peter wanted to change the tone of certain scenes to build the tensions quicker than those in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

The phrase itself is not meant as an offence to the Riddermark, however in doing so creates early tensions and suspense in the films. The term Horsemaster occurs many times in the earlier versions of the Legendarium as a name for the Riders of the Riddermark and is used by Tolkien himself to describe the people of Rohan 1

Firstly, the exchange between Gimli and Éomer. (Apologies for the long passage, and the emphasis is mine)

“The Rider looked at them with renewed wonder, but his eyes hardened. ‘Then there is a Lady in the Golden Wood, as old tales tell!’ he said. ‘Few escape her nets, they say. These are strange days! But if you have her favour, then you also are net-weavers and sorcerers, maybe.’ He turned a cold glance suddenly upon Legolas and Gimli. ‘Why do you not speak, silent ones?’ he demanded.

Gimli rose and planted his feet firmly apart: his hand gripped the handle of his axe, and his dark eyes flashed. ‘Give me your name, horse-master, and I will give you mine, and more besides,’ he said.”

“As for that,’ said the Rider, staring down at the Dwarf, ‘the stranger should declare himself first. Yet I am named Éomer son of Éomund, and am called the Third Marshal of Riddermark.’

‘Then Éomer son of Éomund, Third Marshal of Riddermark, let Gimli the Dwarf Glóin’s son warn you against foolish words. You speak evil of that which is fair beyond the reach of your thought, and only little wit can excuse you.’

Éomer’s eyes blazed, and the Men of Rohan murmured angrily, and closed in, advancing their spears. ‘I would cut off your head, beard and all, Master Dwarf, if it stood but a little higher from the ground,’ said Éomer.”
The Two Towers - Book Three: Chapter 2, The Riders of Rohan

From this passage, we can see that PJ has clearly adapted the scene, from a discussion (albeit tense) about Galadriel and the Golden Wood, led to the threat of Gimli's head being cut off. Being named horse-master had in no way insulted Éomer, however being told he had "foolish words" was clearly the trigger here.

As for the passage with Saruman, again it is PJ twisting the original scene. In this case it is likely to build up to the death-by-a-wheel he has planned for Saruman in the Original Cut and needs the tensions to be high enough for it to seem natural that Saruman has died. In the novels however, it is Théoden who declares himself "A lesser son of great sires".

“So much for the House of Eorl. A lesser son of great sires am I, but I do not need to lick your fingers. Turn elsewhither. But I fear your voice has lost its charm.”

[..]

“Now his voice changed, as he slowly mastered himself. ‘I know not why I have had the patience to speak to you. For I need you not, nor your little band of gallopers, as swift to fly as to advance, Théoden Horsemaster.”

Before Saruman's "voice change" he went insulting the Horselords and their ancestors saying "What is the house of Eorl but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek...". Saruman however collects himself from the outrage infused by Theoden breaking Saruman's spell and returns to trying to use his words to win them again. Whether "Horsemaster" in this case is insulting I am unsure. It seems as if Saruman has the intent of insulting Théoden, however whether Théoden takes offence or not is unclear, especially since he goes on to talk to Gandalf and the conversation moves away from Théoden.


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Trotter (Aragorn) uses it in its first instance to describe the land of the Riddermark after the three companions chase Merry and Pippin into the plains.

“You are looking out across the great pastures of Rohan, the Riddermark, land of the Horsemasters,' said Trotter”
Treason of Isengard: Chapter 17, The Great River

Some more instances of the term "Horsemaster" are listed below.

Of old all that lay between Limlight and Entwash belonged to the Horsemasters' (FR: 'all that lay between Limlight and the White Mountains belonged to the Rohirrim').
Treason of Isengard

In earlier drafts we see the above exchange to be slightly different.

“Give me your name, master of horses, and maybe I will give you mine, and other news,' answered Trotter.

'As for that,' said the rider, 'I am Eomer son of Eomund, Third Master of the Riddermark. Eowin the Second Master is ahead.”

There are more examples, but all descriptions of the Riddermark as opposed to insinuating insult.

  • 4
    Is "Trotter" a mistranslation? Or some sort of joke? Aragorn's alias in the books and films is "Strider". – Royal Canadian Bandit May 9 '17 at 8:33
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    @RoyalCanadianBandit Trotter was the equivalent to Strider in the early drafts. Back when Strider was still a Hobbit wearing wooden clogs! – Edlothiad May 9 '17 at 8:40
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    So PJ tried to make it "more interesting" to those of "little wit"? – Dronz May 9 '17 at 13:05
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    Whether Tolkien's original is more interesting to you is of no care to PJ, his job was to turn a 1000+ page epic into 3 films. With 1000s of words of descriptive text and in-depth discussion. He decided to cut and shift things around, as most people are interested in the general development of tensions in a story, as opposed to the rise and nature of the clash of manners, because they came to watch a fantasy film with, strange races etc., not a discussion of how glorious Galadriel really is. So if those of "little wit" is the general public. Yes he tried to make it "more interesting" for them – Edlothiad May 9 '17 at 14:31
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    @zod Just so you know my opinion; the films are awful adaptations of the books. – Edlothiad May 9 '17 at 15:41
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Éomer isn't offended by being called horse-master in the book.

The conversation goes slightly differently. Aragorn hails the Riders, and introduces himself as Strider. Éomer responds suspiciously, and asks if they are Elves; to which Aragorn replies:

'One only of us is an Elf, Legolas from the Woodland Realm in distant Mirkwood. But we have passed through Lothlórien, and the gifts and favour of the Lady go with us.'

The Rider looked at them with renewed wonder, but his eyes hardened. 'Then there is a Lady in the Golden Wood, as old tales tell!' he said. 'Few escape her nets, they say. These are strange days! But if you have her favour, then you also are net-weavers and sorcerers, maybe.' He turned a cold glance suddenly upon Legolas and Gimli. 'Why do you not speak, silent ones?' he demanded.

Gimli rose and planted his feet firmly apart: his hand gripped the handle of his axe, and his dark eyes flashed. 'Give me your name, horse-master, and I will give you mine, and more besides.'

'As for that,' said the Rider, staring down at the Dwarf, 'the stranger should declare himself first. Yet I am named Éomer son of Éomund, and am called the Third Marshal of Riddermark.'

'Then Éomer son of Éomund, Third Marshal of Riddermark, let Gimli the Dwarf Glóin's son warn you against foolish words. You speak evil of that which is fair beyond the reach of your thought, and only little wit can excuse you.'

Here clearly the offence isn't taken from the words "horse-master"; it's being accused of having "little wit" that offends Éomer.

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The Rohirrim are a warrior society that make use of horses, and horses are clearly a major part of their (to them at least) ancient heritage and economy. I believe there is even mention of Theoden resembling Orome on the field of battle.

That said, they are in proximity of other cultures that are seemingly more sophisticated and advanced (Gondor and the Elves), and sensitized to being viewed as 'only' some barbarian yokels or upstart bandits who sleep in barns and lead illiterate, barbarian lifestyles (like so many 'sleeps with the sheep' jokes that country people get). This in itself could fuel their intense hatred of the Dunlendings as well.

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