Khazâd Part I: Aulë

And now I will begin to explain my take on J. R. R. Tolkien’s Dwarves, or the Khazâd, as they call themselves. It has taken me this long to gather my thoughts, dig up my evidence and organize my reasoning. I assume that most of my readers are familiar with Middle Earth and its inhabitants. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments section, or check out the Tolkien Gateway and its handy search engine.

I begin with what is, for the Dwarves, the beginning.

As far as I know, the Dwarves are the only race of Arda to be created by a single Ainu. The others arose from the Music of the Ainur, or from the corrupting influence of Melkor on existing races.  There are other races closely associated with specific Ainu (like the Ents and Yavanna, or the Eagles and Manwë),  but only the Dwarves were the work of a single mind. Therefore understanding them must begin with understanding something of their maker, Aulë the Smith.

In the Valaquenta Silmarillion, Aulë is said to be the third-mightiest of the Lords of the Valar, and the most similar in talents to the Enemy of the Valar, Melkor.  He is shown to be a smith and the shaper of the “substances of which Arda is made.”

He is … a master of all crafts, and he delights in works of skill, however small, as much as in the mighty building of old. His are the gems that lie deep in the Earth and the gold that is fair in the hand, no less than the walls of the mountains and the basins of the sea. … Melkor was jealous of him, for Aulë was most like himself in thought and powers; and there was long strife between them, in which Melkor ever marred or undid the works of Aulë, and Aulë grew weary in repairing the tumults and disorders of Melkor. Both, also, desired to make things of their own that should be new and unthought of by others, and delighted in the praise of their skill. But Aulë remained faithful to Eru and submitted all that he did to his will; and he did not envy the works of others, but sought and gave counsel. Whereas Melkor spent his spirit in envy and hate, until at last he could make nothing save in mockery of the thought of others, and all their works he destroyed if he could.” Valaquenta, Silmarillion

And there you have it. Aulë contained the fire and will to create and this made him great, but also led him into trouble. From what Tolkien writes, the desire to create is both wonderful and perilous. Many of his most destructive characters are either akin to Aulë  or else were his disciples. Fëanor, so talented and so catastrophic, and even Sauron, himself, learned craft from the Smith. It would be easy to assume that Tolkien considered craftsmanship a road to evil. He certainly represents the dangers of creativity in materialism and delusions of godhood. A closer look, though, reveals a very different message. Tolkien’s take seems to be that the paramount wonder and power of creation is balanced by great risk.

But for all the dangers of this creative drive, Aulë is represented as a good being. He is patient (save in one instance that I will discuss shortly), even-tempered, generous, strong, hard-working and artistic. Of the Lords of the Valar, he and Oromë are my favorites, but the Smith wins by a nose. I guess I identify with smiths. No surprise there.

I also identify with being patient in some regards and impatient in others. Of Aulë’s impatience, the Quenta Silmarillion, chapter 2, has this to say:

…so greatly did Aulë desire the coming of the Children, to have learners to whom he could teach his lore and his crafts, that he was unwilling to await the fulfillment of the designs of Ilúvatar. And Aulë made the Dwarves even as they still are…

Aulë, however, had his limits. He could make only puppets, for he was unable to give his creations souls of their own. Ilúvatar, Aulë’s creator, confronts him with this, and asks if Aulë wishes to be lord over things that do not have the power of movement or speech unless his thoughts are on them. Aulë replies:

“I did not desire such lordship. I desired things other than I am, to love and to teach them, so that they too might perceive the beauty of Eä, which thou hast caused to be. For it seemed to me that there is great room in Arda for many things that might rejoice in it, yet it is for the most part empty, still, and dumb. And in my impatience I have fallen into folly. Yet the making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee; and the child of little understanding that makes a play of the deeds of his father may do so without thought of mockery, but because he is the son of his father. But what shall I do now, so that thou be not angry with me for ever? As a child to his father, I offer to thee these things, the work of the hands which thou hast made. Do with them what thou wilt. But should I not rather destroy the work of my presumption?” Quenta Silmarillion, chapter 2

I find that a compelling speech. My desire to create things, not in mockery but in celebration of what is, puts me in keen sympathy with Aulë.  Recognizing that his actions were selfish, Aulë moves to destroy his creations, but Ilúvatar has already given them souls and they shrink from Aulë in fear. Ilúvatar tells Aulë that he will adopt the Dwarves, but he makes this caveat: “when the time comes I will awaken them, and they shall be to thee as children; and often strife shall arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice.” Quenta Silmarillion, chapter 2

This quote dissatisfies me. It is as if Ilúvatar has no warmth of love for the Dwarves and takes them on reluctantly. It is something I would like to ask Tolkien about. Is it a shade of his own heart, reluctant to love the Dwarves? Or did he intend it to be part of the Elven slant of the Silmarillion? But knowing a little of Tolkien’s background and faith, there is another possibility. Perhaps he intended the quote to echo another adoption: that of the gentiles in the Bible.

Being a gentile, this may explain some of my sympathy with the Dwarves. Ilúvatar is the father of the souls of the Dwarves, and in giving them souls adopts them as his children. It is interesting, to me, that Tolkien drew some of his ideas of the Dwarven culture (and their language) from Jewish cultures. For, to me, they seem like the Gentiles of Middle-earth. This possibility raises a myriad of questions, none of which I would dare to answer, but I find it intriguing.

To sum up: Aulë created the Dwarves from stone and he intended them to share his creative spirit with its inherent wonders and dangers, to endure and resist the destruction and corruption of Melkor and to love and enjoy the world.  Ilúvatar adopted Aulë’s creations and gave them souls, making them independent of their original maker, free agents in the world. Ilúvatar put them to sleep until the other Children should wake, and perhaps from the inherent difference between communal creations and singular creations, Ilúvatar said that there would be strife between the Dwarves and the other races.  That is the background of the Dwarves.

Next, I will explore the environment that shaped them after their waking.

For the rest of the series, look here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On

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Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

17 responses to “Khazâd Part I: Aulë

  • K

    The story of Aulë raising his hand to destroy his children reminds me of Abraham when he was told to sacrifice his son Isaac. He did all that he was told, though it grieved him, and the Lord did not stop him until he raised his hand against his son. At which point came the “eucatastrophe” of which Tolkien was so fond.

    An interesting notion that the dwarves are “gentiles”. Because they are not the majority or the dominant society. The world is a world of elves and men in which the dwarves live. But I’ve never thought of it that way round, so I’d have to think long and hard before arguing for or against the idea.

    Marvelous post; can’t wait for part II.

    • jubilare

      Indeed! I hadn’t thought of that, but there certainly are echos of Abraham and Isaac in the story. Hmm…

      The Dwaves = Gentiles doesn’t fit perfectly, but I find it interesting food for thought. Tolkien, as you probably know, liked to have what I call “echoes” in his stories without having allegories. For instance, several characters in LotR have Christ-symbolism associated with them, but there is no full-on Christ-figure. The Dwarves are no different, and in some regards they seem to echo the Gentiles, while in other aspects (their relative isolation and intensely distinct culture, their minority status among the races of Arda, their repeated exile) echo the history of the Jews. It is in their relationship with Eru that reminds me so much of the gentiles.
      :) I’m having a lot of fun with the next post.

  • Rob

    I’ve always enjoyed the creation stories of different cultures. I know Tolkien borrowed from various myths in his writing. Any idea if he borrowed from anything in this creation tale?

    • jubilare

      I hesitate to say, as I haven’t researched it, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Have you read the first chapter of the Silmarillion? If not, I suggest you do. The Silmarillion as a whole isn’t for every Tolkien fan, but that chapter adds a great deal to my reading of anything Middle-earth related.

  • bekindrewrite

    I don’t relate to the dwarves as much as you do, but there’s a special place in my heart for them, which has perhaps grown after reading this. I think I love the languages more than anything! Valar, Eru, Iluvatar. Don’t you just want to bathe in those names???

    • jubilare

      Hopefully, by the time I’ve finished ranting (there are three more “parts” of this rant to come) you will love ‘em as much as I do. My aim is to corrupt as many hearts and minds as I can. Muahahahahah!

      And yes… Tolkien’s gift for languages seems to have touched everything he wrote. It’s amazing!

  • Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World « jubilare

    [...] The Dwarves of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Arda are closely associated with the caves of their world. If you delve into the Silmarillion, you will find that they (the caverns as well as the Dwarves) were originally shaped from stone by Aulë of the Valar. [...]

  • Of the Free Peoples of Arda « jubilare

    [...] capable of learning and capable of changing his mind. Mind-changing may not be rare among writers, but as most of what usually remains unpublished for other writers has been exposed to the world in Tolkien’s case, I get to see the process [...]

  • Khazâd Part III: Creation « jubilare

    [...] case, that spirit becomes grasping and possessive, but Aulë remains free and generous. Even in his clandestine making of the Dwarves his actions stem from a desire to share the wonders of Arda, his knowledge, and joy in [...]

  • “The Hobbit” Read-Along, Chapter 19: “The Last Stage” « The Warden's Walk

    [...] talk about Tolkien and his creatures, check out Jubilare’s fantastic series on the Dwarves! Part I, Part II, and Part III are already [...]

  • Dwarves in The Hobbit « Grimmella

    [...] race from Tolkien. Check out the posts here: Of the Free Peoples of Arda, Contrariwise, and Khazad Parts I, II (my favorite one so far- who knew caves could be so beautiful?) and [...]

  • Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On « jubilare

    [...] the end of a series. Find the earlier installments here: Of the Free Peoples of Arda Contrariwise Khazâd Part I: Aulë Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World Khazâd Part III: [...]

  • Contrariwise « jubilare

    [...] the rest of the series, look here: Of the Free Peoples of Arda Khazâd Part I: Aulë Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World Khazâd Part III: Creation Khazâd Part IV: The Road [...]

  • Brenton Dickieson

    Reblogged this on A Pilgrim in Narnia and commented:
    One of my favourite things about The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit is the world in which they exist. Tolkien has created an elaborate speculative universe with layers and layers of back story, legend, history, geography, myths, folktales, and, of course, languages. With more than a dozen volumes in the Middle Earth library, I am far from seeing all the patterns in the framework.
    A blogger I follow, Jubilare, has drawn together for us a number of lines to tell us the history of Tolkien’s Dwarves. They call themselves the Khazâd, and Jubilare has wonderful 4-blog series on the subject. I’m posting here Part I, and there are links at the bottom to the remainder. Enjoy the richness of this history!

  • Liss

    One of my least favourite moments in The Silmarillion was Aulë’s offer to destroy the dwarves. It killed my childish affection for him, there and then, and I must admit I haven’t much cared for him since (I always liked Nienna). I wasn’t too thrilled about what I saw as Ilúvatar’s spiteful aside about the favourite kids always fighting with the poor seconds, either – how on earth was any of that the dwarves’ fault, and why should they be punished for it?

    For me it just recalls the whole, mercifully dead “born as a bastard” societal stigma. And I think it helped put me on the side of the dwarves (don’t even mention the supposed ‘petty-dwarves’ to me, and all the Elizabethan contempt that went with that!) ;)

    That is an interesting parallel to draw between dwarves and gentiles. Tolkien is quoted as saying he couldn’t stand allegory, but that doesn’t exclude unconscious influence, though I guess the theme of a “chosen people” is also a relatively common mythological tradition going back to the Greeks …

    You make me want to go back and read the Silmarillion again!

    • jubilare

      Aulë’s offer to destroy the Dwarves did not bother me too greatly because I think he realized, at that point, that they weren’t really living things. They were puppets. I obviously have some issues with Ilúvatar’s words, though. I do wonder if Tolkien intended that to be Elven projection, though. Whatever the cause, it helped put me on the side of the Dwarves, too. The Petty Dwarves make me sad. Being hunted like animals by the Elves… *shudders*

      The Silmarillion is one of those books I have to take in stages. I read it like a collection of stories, otherwise I get bogged down. I love it, though!

  • I Love Dwarves: a recap | jubilare

    […] the Free Peoples of Arda Contrariwise Khazâd Part I: Aulë Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World Khazâd Part III: Creation Khazâd Part IV: The Road […]

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