Of the Free Peoples of Arda

I have considered writing this post for a long while. Now, I see, that it cannot be a post. A series of posts it is, then. I will try and keep each one short and to the point, so as not to bore you silly. I would love some discussion, even debate on these matters.

Readers and lovers of the writings of J. R. R. Tolkien are varied set. We are almost as interesting and varied as the peoples and creatures which populate Tolkien’s rich mythologies. Everyone seems to have their favorite race or creature, favorite characters, tales and songs.

My brother’s heart, and seemingly Tolkien’s as well, belongs first to the Elves. My own heart took a very different turn the first time I read the words:

“Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To seek our pale enchanted gold.”

That’s right. I am one of the relatively rare people whose heart belongs first to the Dwarves of Arda. In following posts I will expound on why.

Tolkien himself did not always love his Dwarves. In his early scribbles they were, at best, materialistic and insular, and at worst, brutal, greedy and cruel. One of the many reasons J. R. R. Tolkien is one of my literary heroes is that he was 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 Mind-changing may not be rare among writers, but as most of what usually remains unpublished for other writers has been exposed to the world in Tolkien’s case, I get to see the process on paper.

So, Tolkien coming to understand and love his Dwarves was a process. I do not think it was a simple process, either. It encompassed a growing appreciation for the “deep places of the world,” and an understanding that love of craftsmanship and precious objects does not always translate into greed, small-mindedness or a hardened heart, and may even point to something far more eternal than wealth and riches. But more on that later.

I am not sure he ever came to love his Dwarves as much as the rest of his Free Peoples, but the fact that I cannot say for certain is comforting. That a Dwarf is welcomed into Valinor speaks volumes and warms my Dwarf-loving heart.

Tracing Tolkien’s journey might be beyond me. There are certainly greater scholars of his work than I. What I can do is show my own journey: how I fell in love with the Dwarves of Arda and what I learned about myself along the way.

In the mean time, have a recording of me reading the Dwarves’ Misty Mountains song from The Hobbit. We shall see if I can get better at it when the time comes for me to record my all-time favorite verse from Arda. :)

The rest of this series can be found here:
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On

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About jubilare

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

18 responses to “Of the Free Peoples of Arda

  • David

    Aye, I do remember thinking it curious, while reading the early drafts of his mythology in the Unfinished and Lost Tales, how little sympathy he could have for the dwarves. But that definitely seemed to change. I wonder if Beowulf influenced him much. Haha, silly question. Hard to believe it didn’t. While you can see some direct influence for the dwarves in Germanic sagas, like the Nibelungenlied, the valuing of treasure in Beowulf also seems very dwarven. There, it’s not so much greed for the sake of greed, but a desire to become wealthy so that one may effectively reward those who help you. Tolkien’s dwarves are never described as charitable to other races, to my knowledge, but perhaps Tolkien’s studies into Beowulfian culture softened his attitude towards them.

    Thus far this is mere speculation on my part.

    • jubilare

      There’s certainly support for his early ideas of the Dwarves in the mythologies he studied. Thinking in terms of modern stock-fantasy-races, I think it is Tolkien that placed the Dwarves on the “Good” side of the line. If he hadn’t, I wonder if they would be a stock-evil-race, or at least a stock-neutral one. Pop culture is so weird, when I think about it.
      A number of things may have softened him towards the Dwarves, and you are right, it seems probable that Beowulf was one. I can see a lot in common with the men in Beowulf and the later iterations of the Dwarves. There is thesis, or even dissertation-level research to be done here, I think. I wonder if it has been done. I also wish I had the time to do it myself, because it fascinates me.
      The Hobbit seems to be a transition, of sorts, where he is starting to appreciate the Dwarves, while still being wary of them. It’s not until Gimli that I see his appreciation for them really flower.
      Tolkien was pretty anti-industrialist, and he more easily sympathized with the hearts of Elves, Hobbits and Men. In the Dwarves he seemed to realize that he did not have to fully understand something to recognize that there is virtue and worth in it. That realization is very near to my heart. :)

      • David

        That’s a good way of putting it; the worst dwarf I remember in his mythology is Mim the Petty Dwarf from the Children of Hurin, who callously betrayed Turin and lived in the ruined halls of great Nargothrond (which were ruined due in part to his betrayal, as I remember), until he was slain mercilessly by Hurin. Mim’s death is so cold and heartless that I was shocked by it, but more for what it signified about Hurin than out of sympathy for Mim. The dwarves’ desecration of Doriath infuriated me, too. But in The Hobbit they are suddenly the heroes, and even friendly. There is some troublesome greed and anger in Thorin, but it’s used as an exploration of his character rather than as merely a catalyst for tragedy. In Tolkien’s early mythology, I think his dwarves more closely resembled the dangerous tricksters of real old-world mythology, whereas in his novels they started to become actual characters, actual people.

        • jubilare

          I think he also amended his earlier portrayal of Dwarves, or at least softened them, but I need to do a lot of re-reading to recall the details. Some of the Dwarves, I think, opposed the sack of Doriath, for instance, and part of their increased greed was attributed to the Rings, which otherwise failed to corrupt them.

  • emilykazakh

    The dwarves have grown on me, although I like individual dwarves, not really the entire group. I also picked up on Tolkien’s feelings toward the dwarves, and I agree with you. It is admirable of Tolkien to change his mind.

    As for myself, I have long wished I could live in Rohan. Sigh.

    • jubilare

      I love many of Tolkien’s people, and the Rohirim have a big place in my heart. I am not sure I wish to live there, as I am more a woodland creature, personally, but yeah… gotta love the Horselords.

      I hope to help you love the Dwarves as a whole, or at least to help you understand why I love them so very much. :)

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  • Urania

    Oh, Mim. So, the kids of a professor at my university put on a stage production of the Children of Hurin which they adapted from the book themselves. There was this little kid playing Mim; he was hilarious and adorable in a huge cloak and goofy fake beard. His best line was “It WILL bite again!” as he stalked off stage. So cute.

    The truth is, the elves always have been and always will be my people, with their love for trees and stars and beautiful things. For me, they represent the unity with the natural world that we humans lost in the fall, but still yearn to regain. Also, I really just want pointy ears. I did eventually cave and buy some prosthetic ears to go with my renaissance festival wood elf costume, which you can see on my DA gallery via my link in that other comment. Though the ears don’t exactly show through my hobbit hair in that photo.)

    But I’m coming to appreciate the dwarves and what they represent as a people, even if I don’t exactly fully understand it, either. I’m not a craftsman; I’m not so good at making things with my hands, so I don’t quite get that aspect of them. The only smithing I do is wordsmithing, which is probably rather more elvish…though the dwarves, like all Middle Earth people, do clearly have their own songs and verbal histories. Also, I suppose I exhibit a rather more elvish predilection for silver and white gems (I love moonstones).

    The beautiful thing about Tolkien’s world is that, in a sense, each of his races represent some aspect of human nature. My sister definitely identifies with the hobbit because she loves cosy, homey, down-to-earth things. In Middle Earth, Tolkien truly does mythologize all the good and beautiful things about the world.

    • jubilare

      That does sound terribly adorable…

      “The truth is, the elves always have been and always will be my people, with their love for trees and stars and beautiful things. For me, they represent the unity with the natural world that we humans lost in the fall, but still yearn to regain.” Ah, read on my friend. The Khazad may have more of a place in that unity than you hitherto realize. ;) Though, I will admit that the pointy ears are cool. I like the elves, too. And I absolutely love the Hobbits. For me, it’s hard to choose between Dwarves and Hobbits…

      “The beautiful thing about Tolkien’s world is that, in a sense, each of his races represent some aspect of human nature.” I fully agree! And each of us may be able to identify with more than one of the races or powers at any given time. There’s no need for us to be purely partisan! Just as you are coming to appreciate dwarfdom, I love the elves, and the ents, both of which are decidedly un-dwarf-friendly (except for Legolas and Galadriel, bless ’em!)

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