At roughly page 155 of The Two Towers, assuming that the English original follows roughly the same page numbers as my rather sloppy Swedish translation from 1970, king Théoden mentions that he now misses "both my old and new advisor", as Gandalf is away at the moment, rushing around on Shadowfax.

Since Gríma was his old advisor, I assume that he means that Gandalf is his new. So does that mean that he actually wishes for the evil traitor Gríma to give him advice, having just banished him from his land days before? Or is Gandalf considered his "old advisor" (since Gandalf did use to visit him every now and then to give advice), and he's referring to somebody else as his new one?

Gríma clearly did not give him good advice, so it seems unthinkable that he misses his "old advisor". This part, at least in my translation, is extremely ambiguous. Maybe the original is far clearer about who is being referred to, or I've missed some major plot point where he officially assigns somebody as his new advisor, and who is now also away.

Not too many things about the story is really confusing to me, besides the descriptions of the landscapes and areas, but this is one of them which I'd like explained.

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    I think it's doubtful that "Grima clearly did not give him good advice". Originally, i.e. before Grima fell under Saruman's sway, he clearly was a good counsellor if personally motivated (as most people are, in general). – gktscrk Aug 28 '20 at 18:16

The word "to miss" usually means "to regret no longer having". But it may mean simply "to no longer have", "to have lost", without experiencing regret. This seems to be the meaning here.

See definition on wiktionary:

[8] (transitive) To be wanting; to lack something that should be present.

The car is missing essential features.

Note also that Tolkien is using a (pseudo?) archaic language for his heroes' speech, so while a modern person would be unlikely to use the word "to miss someone" without emotional meaning, this might not be the case for Théoden.

The quote from "The Two Towers" actually could speak in favour of this interpretation:

‘Has aught been seen of Gandalf?’ asked Théoden. ... ‘It will go ill with Wormtongue, if Gandalf comes upon him,’ said Théoden. ‘Nonetheless I miss now both my counsellors, the old and the new. But in this need we have no better choice than to go on, as Gandalf said, to Helm’s Gate, whether Erkenbrand be there or no.

What could this mean? That he has warm feelings towards Grima (and Gandalf), but has to go to Helm’s Gate? Hardly makes sense. It looks like a statement of fact: a situation arose which would normally involve seeking advice from a counsellor, but none is present, so the King has to make a decision on his own.

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    Sounds right... but then this also means that the translator made the same mistake as OP, unless Swedish also has the same archaic second meaning for their word for "miss". – Nacht Aug 26 '20 at 12:23
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    @Nacht I don't speak Swedish but the answer by Paula implies that it also has the "non-emotional" meaning of the same word. Or the translator might have used the modern meaning without much consideration, also quite possible. – IMil Aug 26 '20 at 15:07
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    Nothing "pseudo" about it: Tolkein was a professor of historical linguistics, specializing in the history of the English language. – Mark Aug 26 '20 at 21:07
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    @Mark sure, I'm aware of Tolkien's profession, but I'm unqualified to decide whether he used genuine language constructs in his works of fiction, or simply made the heroes sound convincingly. After all, quite a few real scientists write sci-fi, this doesn't make the time machines and teleporters in their books closer to reality. – IMil Aug 26 '20 at 22:02

This is the original passage from the chapter Helm's Deep:

‘It will go ill with Wormtongue, if Gandalf comes upon him,’ said Théoden. ‘Nonetheless I miss now both my counsellors, the old and the new. But in this need we have no better choice than to go on, as Gandalf said, to Helm’s Gate, whether Erkenbrand be there or no. Is it known how great is the host that comes from the North?’

So that Swedish translation and your reverse translation are accurate. My interpretation is that having a counselor, even a bad one, takes away the burden of having to make a decision. So at that very moment Théoden misses even Grima, though it's indeed not plausible that he actually wants him back permanently.

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    I disagree slightly with your interpretation of "miss". To my reading it simply means that he now has no counsellor at all. More modern one would perhaps use "lack". – Stian Yttervik Aug 26 '20 at 9:51
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    I don't think it takes away the burden of making a decision, but rather helps in ordering thoughts before a decision is made. – gktscrk Aug 28 '20 at 18:14

Just to back up the existing answers, here is the Swedish quote:

-Det kommer att gå Ormstunga illa, om Gandalf råkar på honom, sade Théoden. Inte desto mindre saknar jag nu båda mina rådgivare, den gamle såväl som den nya. Men som det nu är har vi intet annat att göra än bara fortsätta till Helms portar, som Gandalf sade, antingen Erkenbrand är där eller inte. Känner man till hur pass stor styrkan är, som kommer norrifrån?

The word "sakna" can be used in two ways just like the original English "to miss". See definition on Wiktionary.

  1. Känna sorg eller längtan (för något eller någon man tidigare hade)

Brevet sa: Du saknas av oss alla, hoppas du kommer hem snart!

  1. vara utan någonting

Den här artikeln saknar rubrik.

Théoden is without doubt talking about Grima and Gandalf, and I think the ambiguity might be intentional, since Théoden is both without advisors and missing their advice. If either one had been there they would have helped him be sure about what to do, instead of just trusting that what Gandalf told him before is still valid.


The modern English interpretation could work here, as well. We only see Grima as a traitor to Theoden, but according to Gandalf, "once [he] was a man, and did you service in [his] fashion" (pg 125). Theoden lost the counsel of the old, faithful Grima to Saruman's seduction, and Gandalf (temporarily) because the latter was now busy elsewhere, and could easily have wished he had one or the other to advise him still.


I've read it in English, and what I assumed he meant was that "missed" meant a "lack" of any advisor, both new (Gandalf) and old (Grima), and now he has no advice at all, neither good nor bad, and not really in a sense of "missing with his heart" for the old advices of Grima. I guess because some advice, whether it's good or bad, is better than nothing as it would lift some weight from the king's heart.

  • Hi @Elazar, welcome to Literature SE! Your answer might be improved by backing it up with some sources. In particular, you'll note that other answers cover the same ground in more detail. Do take our short tour to know more about how our site functions. – user5387 Aug 26 '20 at 19:47
  • Hi, thanksfor the welcome. I think even though some other comments said about the same thing, this is not stack overflow, its literature, and there is room for several opinions that are the same, because when an opinion have only one owner its most likely not the intention of the original writer, but when a common opinion resides within several people it gives it more strength and is more likely closer to the truth. so I would see same opinions as welcomed in this community. thanks. – Elazar Zadiki Aug 27 '20 at 13:01
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    I'm unable to agree fully with what you're saying, because it sounds like an endorsement of "me too!" answers... But please don't mistake me, my previous comment was only meant to point some lines of improvement as I see it, not to mean that your answer(s) here are unwelcome. :) – user5387 Aug 27 '20 at 13:12

I would say that yes, Théoden was saying he ‘misses’ Gríma in both senses that others have pointed out: he wishes he had someone to advise him and he misses Gríma personally.

I base this on two passages in Chapter VII, ‘Helm’s Deep’, that I see no-one else quoting. The first is just after Gandalf has ridden away:

‘What does that mean?’ said one of the guard to Háma.

‘That Gandalf Greyhame has need of haste,’ answered Háma. ‘Ever he goes and comes unlooked-for.’

‘Wormtongue, were he here, would not find it hard to explain,’ said the other.

‘True enough,’ said Háma; ‘but for myself, I will wait until I see Gandalf again.’

‘Maybe you will wait long,’ said the other.

I interpret this passage as saying that Théoden’s guard didn’t fully trust Gandalf and thought maybe he was deserting them. Even though this individual uses the negative nickname ‘Wormtongue’, he seems at least to think Gríma had the right idea in talking Gandalf down.

The second is after the wall is taken and Théoden is trapped in the Hornburg. He says:

‘Had I known that the strength of Isengard was grown so great, maybe I should not so rashly have ridden forth to meet it, for all the arts of Gandalf. His counsel seems not now so good as it did under the morning sun.’

Théoden is certainly doubting Gandalf now. It is plausible, then, that he had doubts already when they turned aside to Helm’s Deep, and wished he had Gríma to advise him as he had done for a long time.

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