The choice of the Palantir as an object to throw seems strange.

The Two Towers, in The Palantir chapter, has this passage (Theoden speaking):

'(...) oft evil will shall evil mar.'
'That many times is seen,' said Gandalf. 'But at this time we have been strangely fortunate'

And in the previous chapter, "The Voice of Saruman", we hear the consequences of Grima's strange choice:

I guess that, even if we had entered in, we could have found few treasures in Orthanc more precious than the thing which Wormtongue threw down at us.'
A shrill shriek, suddenly cut off, came from an open window high above.
'It seems that Saruman thinks so too,' said Gandalf. 'Let us leave them!'

So we have that Grima picked for an useless retaliation (throw a stone to Gandalf? Come on...) of all things the worst possible choice and this is only explained by saying in essence that evil doers will suffer from their same evil.

Is there some reference/background explanation to this apparently unwarranted act by Grima in some commentary by Tolkien? I think maybe in his letters, notes, or Christopher Tolkien's commentaries...

  • 13
    Anyone foolish enough to hire someone named "Wormtongue" as an advisor deserves their fate.
    – zzzzBov
    Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 13:56
  • 7
    A Palantir being basically a softball, it was the perfect opportunity for Wormtongue to demonstrate his underhand slow pitch prowess. Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 13:58
  • I was considering to accept DVK's answer but after reading @Jack 's remark I am in great difficulty ;-)
    – Francesco
    Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 14:14
  • 2
    @JackBNimble - do you have canon proof that it was an underhand pitch? Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 15:27
  • 8
    Everything Grima did was underhanded....
    – Oldcat
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 23:20

5 Answers 5


No canon support for it, but the theme of actions and their consequences, and how seemingly random things take their place in the order of things according to Eru's plan, is shown elsewhere in LOTR.

As an example, witness Gandalf talking about the mercy shown to Gollum by Bilbo. In the end, it was quite an important consequence of a seemingly random choice/act.

It seems to me that Gandalf's quote about "strangely fortunate" makes this one of that set.

  • Interesting remark. This musical score which contains middle earth history...
    – Francesco
    Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 13:38
  • 3
    yes. I've always thought he just picked the heavy object closest at hand that wasn't bolted down and threw it, not realising what it was he was throwing (he wouldn't have recognised it anyway, most likely, as the value it had to Saruman).
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 9:56

The extent that any thought is given to it is when the Palantir was first lobbed from Orthanc in The Two Towers:

'The murderous rogue!' cried Éomer. But Gandalf was unmoved. 'No, that was not thrown by Saruman,' he said; 'nor even at his bidding, I think. It came from a window far above. A parting shot from Master Wormtongue, I fancy, but ill aimed.'

'The aim was poor, maybe, because he could not make up his mind which he hated more, you or Saruman,' said Aragorn.

Aragorn thinks it may have been aimed at Saruman, but either way it's just what it seems - an impetuous act, possibly of defiance or possibly of revenge at losing his most favoured position at Theoden's side. Definitely out of malice. Bear in mind Grima would most likely have not known what the Palantir was. Have you never done something dumb in the heat of the moment? :)

  • I have, but this is a bit too conspicuous :)
    – Francesco
    Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 13:36
  • I think you mean too "convenient". Commented Aug 24, 2012 at 2:24
  • Hi @wiliam thanks but I did mean conspicuous: en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/conspicuous
    – Francesco
    Commented Aug 24, 2012 at 6:55
  • 3
    the palantir was described as being in an otherwise empty room, so if he wanted to throw something at that moment (maybe on his way to the rooftop) it'd have been the only thing at hand, not a conscious choice to pick that and nothing else.
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 9:58
  • It is clearly aimed at Saruman: "It glanced off the iron rail, even as Saruman left it . . .". It only went anywhere near Gandalf because of a fluke.
    – m4r35n357
    Commented Jun 8, 2023 at 13:55

How many objects would you think are in that room that Grima can pick up and throw quickly, which are also small enough to go through the window and heavy enough to kill someone?

The Palantir is the perfect size for this - a chair would not do it, a table is too heavy, etc.

It was the most convenient thing he could lay his hands on to throw... possibly guided by the magic of Middle Earth?

  • This is a point, but the furniture of the tower is unknown to us and you could also argue about the presence of actual weapons, if Grima was really bold enough to try to kill. On the other hand the palantir resembles a precious item so something you don't throw away to your enemies...
    – Francesco
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 3:50
  • It is true it is unknown but off the top of my head I cannot think of something as convenient as a small, heavy bowling ball to throw down on someone which might be in there and not attached to anything. There might be weapons but would they just be lying around? Even if they were they are better in a melee but that does not make them better for being dropped/thrown. ISTR the Palantir just looked like an ornament and not a precious one (not gold or anything), unless you knew what it was it would not look that important.
    – Stefan
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 8:15

I have no factual evidence for this but the impression I get from this exchange is that Wormtongue is doing this to spite Saruman in some way. By the end of the book we know that Wormtongue is totally dominated by Saruman and hates him intensely. We also know the magnitude of the power that Sarumans voice has over Wormtongue (making him kill Lotho at the end of the book - seemingly against his will). I see the Orthanc exchange as Wormtongue grasping an opportunity to get back at Saruman in some way while Sarumans attention is diverted by the exchange with Gandalf.

I am sure there will be plenty of disagreement with this opinion, but I will just reproduce the following quotes from the books that make me view things this way.

Firstly there is the observation of Aragorn

'The murderous rogue!' cried Éomer. But Gandalf was unmoved. 'No, that was not thrown by Saruman,' he said; 'nor even at his bidding, I think. It came from a window far above. A parting shot from Master Wormtongue, I fancy, but ill aimed.'

'The aim was poor, maybe, because he could not make up his mind which he hated more, you or Saruman,' said Aragorn.

Then later (In the chapter Many Partings) during the encounter on the return to the Shire after Saruman has struck him with his staff we hear from Wormtongue:

The beggar turned and slouched past whimpering: 'Poor old Grima! Poor old Grima! Always beaten and cursed. How I hate him! I wish I could leave him!'

Finally we see that Wormtongue hates Saruman to the extent that he kills him outside of Bag End.

Clearly the relationship was on good terms in the beginning when they formed their alliance but soured from the point at which Gandalf arrived at Edoras and exposed Wormtongue as a traitor.

The pair of them are then locked inside of Orthanc and it is probably this that accelerates the breakdown in their relationship. It would be understandable for Wormtongue to see his failure to obtain his desire (Eowyn) as the fault of Saruman.

My impression of it all is that Wormtongue knows the importance of the Palantir (he is clearly a man of some intelligence as exhibited by his manipulation of Theoden) and discards the stone as an act of defiance against Saruman

  • This is one of those occurrences in the books that are totally down to individual interpretation, as all canon descriptions leave the reasoning of Grima ambiguous. Personally, I have always liked the idea that Grima threw the Palantir to Gandalf and his old master intentionally, as an act of defiance against Saruman and the voice that turned him from a man in to a worm.
    – Herbzical
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 23:33

from Book 1, Ch. 2:

‘There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was try­ing to get back to its mas­ter. It had slipped from Isil­dur’s hand and be­trayed him; then when a chance came it caught poor Déagol, and he was mur­dered; and after that Gol­lum, and it had de­voured him...So now, when its mas­ter was awake once more and send­ing out his dark thought from Mirk­wood, it aban­doned Gol­lum. Only to be picked up by the most un­likely per­son imag­in­able: Bilbo from the Shire!

‘Be­hind that there was some­thing else at work, be­yond any de­sign of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by say­ing that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an en­cour­ag­ing thought.’

Every now and then there's a helpful nudge from behind the scenes. There was more than just luck involved in Grima's choice of the Palantir to throw.

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