Contrariwise

Let me get my least-justifiable reason for loving the Dwarves of J. R. R. Tolkien out of the way first.

Like many people, I have a contrary streak. Often, when a storyteller (author, film-maker, etc.) tells me what to think, my mule ears lay back and my heels dig in.

That said, I know that being contrary for the sake of being contrary is as thoughtless as being blindly led. I do not consistently root for the villains in a tale, I do not accept atrocities whilst jeering at characters who make the hard, noble choices. It’s not easy to express what, exactly, I do, so I will give examples. Don’t worry, I will get back to Tolkien in a moment.

The Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling:   I root for Slytherin. I don’t root for them because I like them, but because they are systematically demonized by most of the other characters in the books and largely unredeemed by their author. I don’t desire them to get their way, either.  I want, instead, to see the redemptive qualities I stubbornly believe exist. I cannot accept that they are simply a “bad House.”

James Cameron’s Avatar:  “Nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure” (Aliens, 1986).  …well, not really, but I flatly refuse to like or sympathize with the Na’vi because of the two-dimensional characterization of their antagonists and the patronizing way the film tells me exactly what to think. I would like to corner Cameron and scream at him for several hours for trying to bludgeon me into submission with plot.

Most of Western Mythology: Dragons. Why are dragons always manifestations or symbols of evil? I was so upset by this as a child that my imaginary friend was a dragon.

Obviously this is all highly subjective and has little, if any, basis in logic or reason.

Back to Tolkien. From the above, I ought to be talking about Goblins, Orcs, Dragons and their ilk from Tolkien’s mythologies. I do have some similar feelings about them, but that is a rabbit-trail. As far as Tolkien is concerned, I find myself rooting for the protagonists. With few exceptions, Tolkien does a good job of making his characters and his peoples complicated and convincing. He soothes my contrary spirit by giving me what I want: room to make up my own mind.

What first stirred my instincts in defensive favor of the Dwarves was Tolkien’s attitude toward them in The Hobbit.

The Hobbit forms a transition between some of his posthumously-published scribblings in which Dwarves appear rather unsympathetic, and Lord of the Rings which solidifies their place on the Good Side. He obviously likes the Dwarves in The Hobbit, but he also judges their avaricious and insular tenancies harshly without trying to delve deeper.  Until the end, they are also largely ineffectual. I surmise that Tolkien, being pastoral in his tastes, had to stretch himself to understand and sympathize with mythological  Dwarves, whereas he felt very like-minded towards Hobbits and Elves.

I first read The Hobbit as a child and I wanted to defend the Dwarves from the indignant treatment  they suffered at the hands of their author.  For one thing, he seemed to place the Wood Elves more on the side of right than I liked.  I take the book less seriously now, but that first impression set the foundation for my love of Tolkien’s short, bearded delvers.

To recap, I am aware that none of this is logical. I speak merely of first impressions and biases that laid a foundation. Now that my slant is in the open, I will move forward and show why I now love the Dwarves apart from any comparison with other races from their mythos, or from their author’s opinions on them.

For 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 Goes On

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About jubilare

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

34 responses to “Contrariwise

  • Mary

    Hooray for Slytherin! It always bothered me that they were all just automatically bad. Why did Hogwarts even bother to have the House if they were all going to be evil wizards anyways?

    And I perfectly understand your contrariness. I have a healthy streak of it myself (can’t be helped, I guess, when your name is Mary…)

    • jubilare

      I’m also prejudiced in their favor because I love snakes, but that’s a different line of reasoning. Good question! I didn’t want much, really… just a few more glimpses of their non-evil potential, and a little less kicking them when they were down and I would have been satisfied.

      If you were really contrary you would be horribly un-contrary just so that you could defy the nursery rhyme. ;)

      • Mary

        There was Professor Slughorn, I suppose, not that he was much to be admired.

        Haha! Ack, now I don’t know what to do! Super sweet and agreeable or my normal contrary self. *sigh*

        • jubilare

          Better than most, but no, not much to be admired. And Snape, as much as I love and admire him, was a nasty piece of work, all told. What I wanted to see were some Slytherin students who were decent people. Some subversives, some actively and covertly (as they would) working against Voldemort. I wanted to see those sly traits of theirs set to good purpose to show us why Slytherin belongs in Hogwarts. It wouldn’t have taken much to satisfy me. But… I suppose I should stop grumbling, as I do enjoy the books.

          Hehehehe

  • emilykazakh

    On Slytherin: I understand and agree with you. I was rather sad how the series ended without any redemption for the house. I think we’ve talked about that before. It’s just illogical that not one of them is “good.”

    On Avatar: I spent the whole film comparing it to “Ferngully.” I still think that cartoon was far better than anything Cameron could make. I found Avatar to be boring, too, and like you mentioned, too determined to manipulate me. I honestly don’t understand why it was so popular.

    On Dragons: What about Puff the Magic Dragon? ;) I never really thought about it like that, but you’re right, and I wonder why that is? However, we’re also fascinated with dragons, too, aren’t we? I always thought of dragons as being a sort of exotic and even seductive creature. Hmm…

    I’m going to be honest with you: I disliked the dwarves for a very shallow reason. Being short and hairy, I thought they sounded ugly and disgusting. :( I like the dwarves in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but it was not love at first read.

    I don’t really get Tolkien’s fascination with the elves either. They annoy me.

    Be as contrary as you wish. :)

    • jubilare

      Yep.

      Avatar was very predictable, too, which made it boring, I agree. The one entirely positive thing I can say about it is this: It was beautiful. I loved the visuals.

      As an adult, I “get it” better than I did back then. I understand the purpose Dragons serve in the Western story-telling tradition. They are an archetype, and a useful one. As such, I think I am a little more tolerant of evil dragons in some contexts. There is still a little part of me that objects, though, and always will. Dragons are, indeed, fascinating. It is somewhat ironic that I stand on the flip-side when it comes to vampires. This is, perhaps, due to the fact that I don’t see them as their own species, but rather as a corruption of another species. I like my vampires to be monsters.

      I like honesty :D The Dwarves aren’t very attractive, and I think that may be a big reason for their low popularity. Faramir, for instance, is much more appealing ;) But my initial interest and fondness for the Dwarves has only increased over the years.

      I like Tolkien’s elves and I feel the allure of their beauty, mystery and sorrow. I should qualify that I like them in the Silmarillion and in LotR. I am not fond of the elves in The Hobbit. I can see how they can be annoying (and Jackson didn’t do them any favors in his films), but I felt genuinely sad at the end of LotR. They are probably my least favorite of the Free Peoples, but that isn’t saying much, as they still have a firm place in my affections.

      Oh, I will! ;)

      • emilykazakh

        Oh, that Faramir. :)

        I was sad at the end of LotR, too, but I expected the elves to leave. It was Frodo’s departure that broke my heart.

        As for Peter Jackson, I thought his interpretations of the elves (particularly Elrond and Arwen) were good. Different than I had expected, but I liked them. Galadriel was my favorite, but that might be because she was played by Cate Blanchett. I’m a little afraid to see how they are in The Hobbit. I haven’t liked what I’ve seen in the previews.

        • jubilare

          Mmhm

          I was dreading the elves leaving throughout. Frodo… that was heartbreaking too, though. I wanted him to get to enjoy the Shire again.

          I don’t like their speech-patterns. Visually, they are excellent. I liked the otherworldliness he gave them, but I wanted more vitality and less slow speech. Galadriel was well cast, though. :)

  • K

    Once upon a time, long ago on the boards at TORN (before the Sundering), I did one of the chapters in a Hobbit discussion. It mostly ended up being about how the dwarves got a bad rap, and the elves and men were really to blame for the stand-off/confrontation in front of Erebor.

    • jubilare

      Heheheh.
      I think there were faults on both sides, but I do tend to put the most blame on the elves and men. Thorin was wrong not to want to deal generously with the men. He owed them a lot. I do not, however, see that he owed the elves anything. Also, coming up to someone’s doorstep in arms and demanding payment… let’s just say that I get why Thorin didn’t take well to that. He did get a bad rap, and it always hurt me that, in the battle of 5 armies, Bilbo chose to stand with the Elf King rather than the companions with which he had come so far. :(

  • Rob

    If you ever DO get to scream at Cameron, put in an extra minute or two for me, will you? Arrrrghhh!!!

    Contrary is good.

    • jubilare

      Hah! Sure thing. If all the people who feel the same pooled their resources and hired one screamer, we might avoid a queue. Of course, such concentrated screaming might not be legal under the Geneva Conventions…

      It is certainly helpful sometimes. ;)

  • wispywillow

    Thankfully most of my dragon-y influences have been pretty good. A Flight of Dragons being my first :) My newest favorite is in the Saiyuki anime–Hakkai’s little white dragon companion that perches on his shoulder and transforms into a Jeep.

    • jubilare

      I think if I’d had mostly good dragony influences, I might have taken the opposite tack and liked my dragons nasty. As it is, I love a good balance. *hugs* how is Brandi?

      • wispywillow

        In that case, I’m glad you had bad dragony influences because I love Karren the way he is!

        Brandi is still in the same ol’ same ol’ routine. Busy, but mostly happy :) How is my Anne?

        • jubilare

          :) Me too.
          Mostly happy is good. I am ok, but there’s been a lot of death around in the past three weeks. Two grandmothers of close friends and then the last of my grandparent figures. It hasn’t knocked me off balance, but it has been a bit stressful and sad.

  • palecorbie

    Heh, I remember lampooning the Bad House thing in a serial fic sent to a friend at boarding school, waaay back when the books first came out – Warthog Academy’s Sorting Salon just put all the bad pupils in Slobberin so that they could keep track of them and give them career options in supervillainy, magical jobs involving moral grey areas, and law…

    It horrifies me that Avatar was ever made, frankly. The shiny scenery never gets over the logical faults, dodgy ecology or the awful underlying concept that if only the natives’ god was real/gave a damn, genocide wouldn’t be possible, for me.

    St.George converted his dragon in the earlier versions of the tale – it got mobbed to death by fearful townsfolk (who probably didn’t know what to feed it)…I was raised with good Western-mythological dragons, but that might be down to a combination of a Welsh godfather and early exposure to Noggin the Nog… [pause] Now I miss my stuff’ toy Welsh dragon (James) from when I was small.

    • jubilare

      That would make more sense, really. Supervillain Academy.

      It’s problems are manifold… and the effective rape of the flying creatures left me more than a little traumatized. I love the bio-luminescence so much, though!

      Alas, I envy you that. Not the missing of your Welsh dragon, but of having more positive dragons in your early study. I would have liked that. I did have a Chinese fable in which, of course, the dragon was Good.

  • Of the Free Peoples of Arda « jubilare

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  • bekindrewrite

    I think it’s kind of a rebel-underdog-hipster thing. Appreciating the under-appreciated. Everybody loves Elves. It is natural and easy to love them. But it takes a slightly more philosophical perspective and an ability to appreciate a different kind of beauty to love the Dwarves.

    • jubilare

      Hah! I think that is the first time I have been described as “hipster.” It is a hipsterish quality, though.
      Ah, Dwarves. Loving the underdog makes a good starting point sometimes, but the fantastic thing about Tolkien’s Dwarves, to me, is that they sustain and reward my interest in them by their own merit. Unlike Slytherin, I love Dwarves for themselves, and their being underdogs only adds a defensive poignancy to my feelings.

  • Liss

    Easy. You are a beautiful rarity. You inevitably ask “why?” whenever you’re told something, however entrenched in culture or accepted by the majority.

    All genres in literature and movies alike are prone to it, but fantasy in particular suffers under that exceptionally ugly tyranny of “just because”. Orcs are violent just because. Trolls are evil just because.

    The problem doesn’t lie in acknowledging the very true fact that some people are wrong, bad or ‘evil’ (however much I despise that last lazy word), but in acknowledging the fact that there is always, always, always a reason behind what is done and what a personality becomes. Does any reason excuse terrible actions? No. But there are not enough people able to distinguish between human sympathy and moral approval. Sympathy keeps you human. When you lose it, you lose any ability to prevent its decay in others, and you start to lose what separates you from the person you look down on.

    Nothing has convinced me more firmly of this than my job. I have seen ‘innocent victims’ do grubby things. I have seen ‘criminals’ commit some very ordinary human kindnesses. In the end, I believe in nothing but the existence of people – the SAME people.

    *belated AnneAnne hug* C pointed me in this direction over a month ago – glad I finally made it, I do love me my dwarves. I can see you haven’t changed, but I hope you’re well, too! ;D

    • jubilare

      Brace yourself for some serious exclamation point abuse. Alyssa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *hugs* I am sorry that I haven’t dropped by your livejournal page in so very long. I still haven’t managed to shake my irrational reaction to that site. Starting a blog is a step in that direction, though. Great to see you! ‘ly has kept me somewhat appraised of your doings. Are you well? Enjoying your life? How is writing?

      Ah, I owe my question-asking patterns to my parents. They taught me that, and I am very grateful. It opens up the world, don’t you think? Even the most curious and unconventional of us still make assumptions, though, even without realizing it. It’s a never-ending struggle, trying to see.

      I think, in fantasy, the fairy-tale patterns of allegory, monsters representing certain human behaviors, got divorced from its allegorical context, giving us “evil races” in ways that make no sense. Tolkien at least gives us some explanations, but many authors don’t bother.

      “But there are not enough people able to distinguish between human sympathy and moral approval.” There you smack that nail right on the head. :)

      I am well, thank you! I’m glad you love Dwarves.

  • I Love Dwarves: a recap | jubilare

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  • Urania

    It’s interesting that you mention dragons, as I was thinking about them myself after reading your earlier post this morning. I loved dragons as a little girl; I even had several plush dragon puppets that I was very fond of. To me, dragons were just another cool mythological creature that I wanted to be friends with and was sure could be good (although, of course I knew there could be monstrous, evil dragons, too). One of my favorite cartoons as a kid was a short of the Reluctant Dragon story. Not the Disney version, though. I tried, a week ago, actually, to find the one I remember watching, but the internet was no help.

    Anyway, I realized at some point in my teens that my idea of good, friendly dragons had been largely replaced with the notion that dragons were evil. It may have been from reading the Silmarillion, actually. And also maybe Beowulf. I remember being initially sorry at discovering that all Tolkien’s dragons were servants of Morgoth and pretty bad. And then I mostly forgot again that I had ever thought of dragons any other way. This spring, when I read book 1 of the Faerie Queene again, in which the Red Cross Knight defeats a dragon that is an allegorical representation of sin, I found myself kind of indignant all over again about evil dragons. I’m still not really sure what changed my mind. Somewhere along the line I kind of lost my child’s wholehearted love of them, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just one of those growing up things. But it doesn’t have to be, does it? It’s a bit of a mystery.

    • jubilare

      No, it doesn’t have to be. But sometimes these shifts in our perception have a purpose, I think.
      I still adore dragons, and I am indignant that in most Western work, at least until recently, they were all evil. I understand why, what they symbolize and all that, but harumph.
      I don’t want them to be all nice and fluffy, either. They are DRAGONS! They should be terrifying! Just… not necessarily evil. I do love Smaug, and the mystique of Ancalagon the Black, and Scatha, and the dragon in Beowulf. But in my own writing, dragons are a race… some good, some bad, and many in between. Whatever they are, though, they are definitely not “safe” as Aslan would say. Not even the little ones. ^_~

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