View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Gimli Digs Deeper, Looms Larger

John Rhys-Davis, the Welsh actor who played Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, got himself into a little trouble last month with his defense of Western Civilization. Now, it seems his words have been appropriated by a racist British political party, the BNP. Rhys-Davis's proper response is an echo of Ronald Reagan's back when he was governor: they endorsed me, I didn't endorse them.

In digging a little deeper, myself, I ran across the following bit from an interview he did with the online science fiction/fantasy magazine, Crescent Blues. Gimli comes across as thoroughly, er, grounded. He manages, in a few sentences, to discuss our cultural assumptions about class, our ignorance of others' history, our romanticizing of the Aztecs, and Europe's narrow escape from Islam 1000 years ago. All the while dealing with an interviewer who'd rather argue her own comfortable prejudices than listen.

Crescent Blues: The scope of your background and reading is immense. Tonight the conversation's gone from Stone Age burials to space cadets. Do you ever find that the breadth of your background interferes with your pleasure in acting a script?

John Rhys-Davies: There are one or two scripts that are so blatantly wrong -- generally, in terms of class. Americans have no idea of class or status in earlier societies. They regard "Hey, we're all equals here" as self-evident in every society and try to insert that into the convicts of the Irish Famine or something like this. What you end up with is a contemporary little fable that allegedly is set in the past. It has no real depth or power or resonance. Yes, that does irritate me sometimes. Then, on the other hand, sometimes you see things and go: "Wow. I didn't know that." Then you go off and read something about China -- of whose history we know nothing, for God's sake.

I did a wonderful series called Archaeology on The Learning Channel, and it gave me a splendid overview of history. It was like a grand crib of world history. It left me with some very unfashionable views. Oh God, if I open my mouth now, I'll be condemned forever. I ended up, actually, sort of agreeing with the Inquisition.

Crescent Blues: [Yelps.] No!

John Rhys-Davies: I agreed that the gods and demons of Meso- and Central America were devils. I think [Aztec society] was the most monstrous and vicious and cruel and sadistic society. I wholly understand why those Dominicans came and looked around and thought, "These people are in hell. They've got to be delivered from hell." Because it was hell.

Crescent Blues: However, I do argue with the Inquisition going after "lapsed" former Jews and Moslems, confiscating their property and, in many cases, their lives.

John Rhys-Davies: Well, of course. Moving Islam out of Europe was a pretty important thing to do, but the dispersal of the Jews was a radical and awful thing.

But you have such a polarization of faith. There are two problems we're going to face in this century. One is coming to terms with the emerging great power of China and doing so amicably and peacefully. Actually, I'm pretty sure it can be done. The second is how we come to terms with Islam, and I do not know that we have an answer for that.

Crescent Blues: Extremists are the problem.

John Rhys-Davies: And perhaps the only way you can counter extremism. In the siege of Montrieux in 1570, the Muslim forces captured one of the outer castillians and caught three Knights of Malta, crucified them and floated the crosses into the harbor at Valletta on the tide. And the response of the Grandmaster [of the Knights of Malta] was to behead three thousand Muslim prisoners and fire their heads back in cannons to the enemy. The only way you come to terms with absolute extremism is by becoming more fanatical yourself. The knock-on effect is that the whole world becomes warped with that fanaticism. But if you do not… Remember, Roland of Ronceveaux and Charlemagne are guys who stopped a very violent and convulsive transformation of Europe.

Here's the full interview.

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