We had the pleasure of meeting Bruce Hopkins at a Lord of the Rings event last year. He is a warm, down to earth man who is very generous with his time and chatted with us throughout the evening. Middle Earth wine was flowing so we’re not too sure how it happened, but we ended up telling Bruce we would write a back story for Gamling. We dragged out old MERP books (Middle Earth Role playing) and scoured the internet for any thoughts and theories on this once important man of Rohan. We ended up falling more in love with the character. Gamling was a great man! With our research and the gift of imagination, we came up with is what we believe to be a beautiful and heart breaking tale of a man with so little screen time.
Gamling The Old
In the fourth circle of the white city, the Mundburg, there dwelt a weaponsmith of some renown. Bent over his forge all day, and often into the night, he created instruments of war. Though his creations did not have the beauty of Elvish craftsmanship the skill that he poured into each one withstood the test of time and battle. Into this shop in the year 2964 came a certain horse trader. Not a mere dabbler in the buying and selling of mules, but a breeder of Mearas in Rohan. He declared that he wished to make a purchase for his grandson who was just entering his eighth summer. After much searching and haggling, a price was agreed on, coins changed hands, and a small dagger with an emerald in the pommel began its journey to Rohan. North from Minas Tirith, along the northern edge of the Ered Nimrais, the fields of Gondor slowly changed to the plains of Rohan. Through the Eastfold and Edoras and on into the Westfold, where on a warm evening on the third day of Cerveth it was presented to a child by the name of Gamling.
He was not bred for war, and Erland, Gamling’s grandfather, wondered if he was too young for such a weapon. Just a few years before they had lost Gamling’s mother in a Dunlending raid which had also left his father crippled. To the northwest the Dunlendings continued to grow more bold and raids were more frequent. To the east smoke was seen rising from Mordor and rumors grew of strange happenings there. He himself was old and his son was ailing. Despite his best intentions that his grandson grow in peace, he knew he must face the reality that war could soon be upon them and if he wanted him to live then he must be trained as a warrior. It was time. His grandson would not be following in the footsteps of his father and his father before him. He soon would go the Hornburg and train to become a Rohirrim warrior under King Thengel.
In the summer of 2975, while on patrol along the banks of the Isen, Gamling came upon a young Dunlending girl. She had twisted her ankle and been separated from her clan who had fled when they heard the approach of horses. The roar of the fords had drowned out her calls for help to everyone except for a young Rohirrim rider. The gleam of the sun off his armor as he towered above her on his steed and the glistening of green on a sheathed dagger both terrified and filled her with awe. She cowered and tried to sink from sight but could not evade his gaze. Gamling’s heart was moved with pity for this beautiful, wild woman. He removed his helmet and knelt beside her as he tried to calm her fears in her native tongue. He bound her ankle and set her upon his horse. She would never again return to her clan. Her name was Ulla but Gamling would call her Unn, meaning Love. She would affectionately call him Strawhead, a Dunlending slur for Rohirrim. She had a wit about her and striking tongue. They were wed in the fall and as custom they moved into his family’s home where she bore him a son and a daughter.
When the War of the Ring began Gamling was a retired Rohirrim warrior of great esteem. His son had followed in his footsteps and joined the riders of the Riddemark and had also become quite skilled in battle. They were of both of great value to Rohan not only for their strength of arms but also for their wisdom in council. Erkenbrand, Marshall of the Westfold, requested he and his family join him for protection in the Hornburg at Helms Deep, where he became Erkenbrand’s Chief Counsel. There at the age of sixty-three he was known as “Gamling the Old.”
In early March, 3019 Saruman’s forces headed towards Helm’s Deep. Erkenbrand gathered his best and strongest to meet them in battle at the Fords of Isen. This left Gamling in command of the Dike when King Theoden and company arrived at Helm’s Deep. When the Ford of Isen were lost and the Uruk-hai were said to be marching towards the Deep, all that could bear arms were recruited including his grandson. His concern was felt by all who heard him say “Most have seen too many winter’s, as I have, or too few, as my son’s son here.”
Despite being Gamling the Old, his grandson witnessed that day the great warrior his grandfather was. He heard Gamling’s battle cry as he called
and saw him leap down the stairs to the Deep, with many men of the Westford at his back. Many orcs were slain and the rest were pushed towards the hidden caves where their death would be met. Together with Gimli the Dwarf, Gamling kept the Deep and the Glittering Caves virtually unscathed until Erkenbrand’s forces returned from the Ford with Gandalf the White, killing, capturing and chasing the remaining orcs and wildlings into the mysterious forest that had crept into the valley unseen . Though the battle was won, the war continued.
Gamling rode with his king to Gondor, to a fate that only Mandos could have foreseen. In the crisp morning air, as the sun crested the mountains in the east and the first glimmers of sunlight broke through the darkness and foul smoke of Mordor, the horns of the Rohirrim rang out. Bringing hope to their allies and despair to their enemies the cry of the Rohirrim echoed down into the valley, swiftly followed by more than six thousand riders. There, on the green fields of Pelennor, before the gates of Minas Tirith he would once more learn of glory and heartbreak, hope and despair. Bearing the Banner of the Westfold, and feeling very much worthy of his title “the Old”, he fought in the vanguard of Theoden. He witnessed the shadow move across the field and his king fall. He saw Lady Eowyn rise up then also fall, but of even greater personal tragedy he saw his own son and grandson struck down that day. Ultimately there was victory but his desire for war was forever gone.
He did not follow the fifteen day escort of the King to Edoras, as he himself was so filled with grief. It wasn’t custom, but he rode ahead with the bodies of his kin and laid them in the mounds next to his own ancestors on his family’s land. Ulla’s heart was heavy, but her Dundlending strength of character and will was great. She was proud of her warrior sons and the battle charge they had led. After completing their own mourning ritual she accompanied Gamling to Edoras to witness the burial of King Theoden. They stood hand in hand comforting each other as they wept for all the great losses in their lives and for the victories they had witnessed.
With heavy hearts they returned home to a house that felt all too empty. Summers came and summers went until in his seventy-ninth winter Gamling the Old joined his ancestors in the burial mounds. A mighty warrior among mighty warriors, Gamling had no songs sung of him. His passing was marked by tears from his kin, his daughter and grandchildren continued his line even as his story faded. No bards were there to tell the tale, no artisans to memorialize him in stone. His tale was one of countless heroes that lived and died in the time they were needed, glory called but did not come. And there silently, under the green grass of the rolling hills of Rohan, lays one of the horns of the Rohirrim, once echoing across the fields of battle but now forever silent on the chest of one her strongest warriors.