Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World

If you are claustrophobic, remind yourself that you are free in the open air where you may appreciate, from afar, beauty that you never need see in person.

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.

In some ways, the Khazâd are very like the caves in which they dwell. I find that both are often misunderstood and dismissed as unlovely. Now, I am a lover of nature; of forests, flora and fauna. I can understand that, from a cursory look, caves seem dark, cold, dull, and confining to people who share my love of sunlight and living things. However, one only has to take a closer look and the subterranean world becomes a place of overwhelming wonder and beautiful fascination.

If you do not already know what I mean, follow these links to the National Geographic website and browse the photographs of caves.

The Dwarves, like their underground homes, seem one thing from an outside perspective, but have quite a different character when one delves deeper. They remind me of geodes. On the surface they are hard, rough and unlovely. Within at least some of them (or more likely most of them) there is astounding beauty. If you do not believe me, take a closer look at Gimli in The Lord of the Rings (the books, not the films. Gimli’s character in the films just represents the stereotype most people expect from fantasy Dwarves). He is, after all, the Dwarf we come to know best and we witness more of what is precious in him than in any of his kin.

It is said, in the Silmarillion, that “since they were to come in the days of the power of Melkor, Aulë made the Dwarves strong to endure. Therefore they are stone-hard, stubborn, fast in friendship and in enmity, and they suffer toil and hunger and hurt of body more hardily than all other speaking peoples; and they live long, far beyond the span of men, yet not forever.”

This is the rough, tough crust of the Dwarven geode and gives us insight into why all their strength and hardness is apparent, while their beauty is hidden. This is what we see most often as we read Tolkien’s writings. Dwarves in battle, hewing their enemies with axes, Dwarves being insular and secretive, or pragmatic or greedy and most of all, stubborn.

There is good rock here. This country has tough bones… Give me a year and a hundred of my kin and I would make this a place that armies would break upon like water. -Helm’s Deep, The Two Towers

The above is Gimli, and an example of the kind of talk most people seem to expect from Dwarves. But see, this too is Gimli:

…when the torches are kindled and men walk on the sandy floors under the echoing domes… gems and crystals and veins of precious ore glint in the polished walls; and the light glows through folded marbles, shell-like, translucent as the living hands of Queen Galadriel. There are columns of white and saffron and dawn-rose… fluted and twisted into dreamlike forms; they spring up from many-coloured floors to meet the glistening pendants of the roof: wings, ropes, curtains fine as frozen clouds; spears, banners, pinnacles of suspended palaces! Still lakes mirror them: a glimmering world looks up from dark pools covered with clear glass; cities such as the mind of Durin could scarce have imagined in his sleep, stretch on through avenues and pillared courts, on into the dark recesses where no light can come. And plink! A silver drop falls, and the round wrinkles in the glass make all the towers bend and waver like weeds and corals in a grotto of the sea. Then evening comes: they fade and twinkle out; the torches pass on into another chamber, and another dream. There is chamber after chamber, Legolas; hall opening out of hall, dome after dome, stair beyond stair; and still the winding paths lead on into the mountains’ heart. … Happy was the chance that drove me there! It makes me weep to leave them.

Strange to see such different speeches from the same character… or is it? When characters, and with them fictional races, are people rather than stereotypes, then it becomes possible for them to be this complex. And if you think that Gimli, being a Dwarf, is too biased towards subterranean beauty to be a reliable witness, here is the reaction of Legolas, the Wood Elf, after seeing Aglarond in The Return of the King:

…he was silent, and would say only that Gimli alone could find fit words to speak of them. ‘And never before has a Dwarf claimed a victory over and Elf in a contest of words,’…

Tolkien gives us only pieces of the subterranean glories of Middle Earth, with the above being, as far as I am aware, his longest description. But if Arda’s caves are anything like the world we live in then the Dwarves are in love with cathedral halls stone forests, underwater chambersliving ghosts, minerals waiting to flash or glow, skies with living stars, natural murals, tunnels, rivers, artistic colors, stone lace, smooth “pearls” and infinitely more.

Now, the underground of Arda is not a safe or gentle place. It harbors ugliness, fear and death as well as great beauty. As Gandalf says in The Two Towers, “The world is gnawed by nameless things… but I will bring no report to darken the light of day.” Just as the woods of Arda hold beauty, ugliness and terror, so do the Deeps. The Dwarves have need of their rough exterior to survive in such places. Yet they are often well-rewarded for their endurance, and I do not simply mean by wealth. Too often are the Dwarves charged with valuing only gold, jewels and mithril. Gimli speaks of how he expects his people to react to Aglarond in The Two Towers:

None of Durin’s race would mine those caves for stone or ore, not if diamonds and gold could be got there. Do you cut down groves of blossoming trees in the spring-time for firewood? We would tend these glades of flowering stone, not quarry them. With cautious skill, tap by tap-a small chip of rock and no more, perhaps, in a whole anxious day-so we could work, and as the years went by, we should open up new ways, and display far chambers that are still dark, glimpsed only as a void beyond fissures in the rock. … We should make lights, such lamps as once shone in Khazad-dûm; and when we wished we would drive away the night that has lain there since the hills were made; and when we desired rest, we would let the night return.

Could a people with such feelings possibly be prosaic or ultimately materialistic? I think not. No.

Yet, how often are they represented as such? Many readers of Tolkien’s scribblings see the hard surface of the Dwarves and look no deeper. They do not realize the world of imagination they are missing. They cast a geode aside, assuming that something so plain and rough could not possibly harbor anything extraordinary within. The other races of Arda often do the same.

And yes, I am well aware that I have dived into the deep end of the nerd pool. Onwards! Next on the list is my take on the Dwarven drive to create.

For the rest of the series, look here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On


About jubilare

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

35 responses to “Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World

  • Mary

    Wow! I can’t say that the dwarves will ever be my favorite (my heart belongs to Rohan) but you make some really good points in their defense. And those pictures are beautiful!

    • jubilare

      Ah, well, that’s like Gimli considering Galadriel the fairest, and Eomer preferring Arwen. Neither would deny that the other has good taste. ;)

      My aim here isn’t to make the Dwarves anyone’s favorite race (though that would be fun too) but to give people a more rounded understanding of them. If I can get anyone who has never really thought past the Fantasy-Dwarf stereotype to take a second look, then I will consider this mission accomplished.

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  • emilykazakh

    Legolas’ reaction was one of those quiet moments in LOTR that stuck out to me & stayed with me. It’s such a beautiful moment, & I was so pleased to read it. It gave me the warm fuzzies, & I wanted to see it myself. Ah, Tolkien, you fantastic writer.

  • Rob

    I’ve always fancied that caves, fissures, caverns and gullies were somehow symbolic of the human subconscious. Deep and dark and yet very beautiful in some places.

    But residing in the earth can be a safe, warm environment. After all, look where Bilbo lives! Not very deep perhaps, but cozy and somewhat safe none-the-less. And great insulation. Talk about environmentally friendly!

    “I have dived into the deep end of the nerd pool.” Nice.

    • jubilare

      It’s a good symbol, in many ways, both the good and the bad. Jewels and clear water, but also monsters gnawing away below.

      I am the opposite of claustrophobic. Close spaces, shadows, and darkness make me feel safe, whereas large spaces and too much brightness make me uneasy and tense. For part of my life this made some of the traditional symbols of Christian theology uncomfortable for me. What is so bad about darkness? Why would I want to live ever in the light? When I grew older, of course, I came to understand that the Light of God, and the Darkness without God were something more. That physical darkness and light are equally God’s, and neither in this world is uncorrupted or wholly bad. That was when I was able to start embracing both the teachings, and my own God-given love of the dark.
      Sometimes it’s little things that can be stumbling blocks. Misunderstanding born in unexpected places.
      Anyway, that’s one of the reasons I love caves so much. I would love Bilbo’s hole too.

      Those who know me well know I’ve been in the deep end for a looooong time. I figured the rest might need fair warning. ;)

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  • David

    I did like the dwarves before, but I love your celebration of their uniqueness. It also helps explain why the dwarves can often be touchy or annoyed with the other races — they know all the beauty of the caves and rocks in the roots of mountains and near the heart of the earth, and perhaps they cannot understand why other races overlook such things. I think of how annoyed I can get when someone is dismissive of something I think very beautiful, whether a movie or a book, a song, a painting, or anything. This is such a wonderful thing, I feel like saying, how dare you not appreciate it! Of course, such a reaction is not a good one, and fortunately God often tempers it in me. But the dwarves seem to have that reaction too, I think. Would make sense, at least.

    A friend reminded me of another beautiful fact that I had forgotten. In “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn” in Unfinished Tales, Tolkien tells that “Feanor beheld the hair of Galadriel with wonder and delight. He begged three times for a tress, but Galadriel would not give him even one hair.” (241) And then in the trilogy, we have Gimli begging a single hair from Galadriel, and she gives him three. If I recall correctly, in the movie when Gimli says it, Legolas gives him a brief slightly-amazed smile, or something to indicate that he knows the significance of such a gift. The trilogy’s moment is beautiful on its own, but I love it when Tolkien’s history enriches moments like this.

    I cannot wait to reread the trilogy! So much I missed when I was a young lad.

    • jubilare

      Somehow I missed this comment! Ah well, better late than never, I suppose.

      :) I am glad you like! There are a lot of reasons for the Dwarves to be touchy, and that is probably one of them. I certainly sympathize with them, though as you say, reasons shouldn’t be excuses. What I love about Tolkien’s eventual understanding of the Dwarves is that not all of them share the same strengths or failings. They become people. I like people!

      Mm… I don’t recall that moment with Feanor, but I will look it up. That does make the gift even more special. Presumably the manner of Gimli’s request, and perhaps his heart in asking, made all the difference. The moment Galadriel welcomes Gimli and he responds, is one of my favorites in the trilogy. I also love Eomer’s mention of learning gentle speech under the loving strokes of a Dwarf’s axe. XD

      I have a good unabridged recording, and I listen to it from time to time. I love getting to sit down and read with my eyes, though. I scarcely have the time at present, but I mean to find the time soon.

      • David

        People are neat! +)

        I saw the movie yesterday, and have some very mixed feelings about it. Dwarven culture seems to be pretty fantastically celebrated in it, though. I picked up The Return of the King today to read again through the appendices, which I haven’t really looked at since the original trilogy came out, or perhaps even before that.

        • jubilare

          They are. :)

          I have very mixed feelings, too.

          Spoiler Alert to anyone who hasn’t seen the film!
          I am liking what they are doing with the Dwarves. They still stumble little on the stereotypes, but they’re fleshing them out (in some cases more than Tolkien did). I like getting to see more of Thorin’s motivation, and some of the tragedy that the Dwarves struggle with. So far, much better than poor Gimli. Also, the scenes in Bilbo’s house were great.

          My biggest peeves so far have to do with unnecessary alterations to the mythology in the beginning, and mucking with Bilbo’s character arc. Especially the latter. What’s he doing attacking orc chiefs?! Especially pre-Mirkwood!
          Some of the other changes I can handle, but that one rankles.
          On the whole, though, I enjoyed watching it, and enjoyed the Dwarves. I’ll hold my final verdict for now. I’ve only seen it once, and I am willing to wait and see if they’ve shot themselves in both feet by forcing the plot.

          Is it just me, or do you get the impression that they either trust their audience less now, or trust this story less than LotR, or both?

          • David

            I’m withholding a final judgment until I see it again (in normal 2D 24 fps, as I saw it already in the fancy-dancy high frame rate 3D) — and then will take some time to write a review, I suppose — but I’m a bit more disappointed than I expected in his changes, and also in other things like the pacing and early reveal of some big set pieces. Of course the sets and costumes all looked fantastic, but that prologue showed off Dale, the Lonely Mountain, and all the dwarf kingdoms way too much, too early, such that there is little to look forward to now because we’ve alreadyseen what they look like. I really feel like Jackson sold out by changing crucial parts of the text and adding long, boring, unnecessary action sequences. He should know better than this, both as a director and as a Tolkien fan. *sigh* Ah well. I’ll get more detailed in my review. There was lots that I liked, just…not enough. I do think they didn’t trust the story very much, although it sounds weird in the case of such a focused, simple story as The Hobbit. Also, I think PJ, having committed again to a huge project, thought to himself “Hey, this is the last chance I’ll get to make movies in this world, so why don’t I just film every piece of Middle Earth stuff they’ll let me get away with.” His choices don’t serve the art of the story, but I don’t think it’s purely a money-grab either. More of it should’ve been left for the inevitable extended edition DVD/Blu-Rays, though. And…I have more to say, about characters and other things, but that’ll wait.

            It was indeed awesome to see the dwarves in their glorious halls, though.

          • jubilare

            Hmm… I have to disagree with you about the sets. We won’t get to see Erebor in much full-inhabited glory later on, I don’t think, so I was hungry for that chance. I expect the place, abandoned, will be quite different.The same goes for Dale, as it is in ruins (or should be).
            Whether it was selling out, over-indulgence, or what, there are serious problems with the pacing. The story is sloppily done, with much that doesn’t contribute to the story. And yes, I kept thinking to myself “this feels like it should be in the extended version.”
            But at least in my first viewing, I enjoyed it. The casting, I feel, is wonderful, there is good character development going on, and the tone is, while not exactly what I would want, still very good.
            Erebor was awesome. I was a bit perplexed by what the prologue said about it, though.

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  • bekindrewrite

    This goes right along with my last comment. Also, I though “geodes” right before you said it!!! Frodis power!

    Remind me to explain to you someday what Frodis power is.

    Now, onward!

    • jubilare

      I think the time to explain Frodis power is here. Explain!

      • bekindrewrite

        The word “Frodis” is from an episode of The Monkees – one that actual Monkee Mickey Dolenz wrote himself – about an alien who has the power to control men’s minds (and who appears to be a potted plant with a cardboard football for an eye). Mickey named it the Frodis after Frodo, as he was (is) a huge LOTR fan. My two best friends and I went through a Monkees phase in junior high, and picked up the phrase “Frodis power” to herald any time two or more of us have the same thought at the same time, which is so coincidental it almost seems psychic (usually saying something at the exact same time). We acknowledge such instances of Frodis power by “doing the Frodis” at each other, which is to touch the back of your hand to your forehead whilst wiggling your index finger in the other person’s general direction.

        Now my whole family does it, and when I’m in mixed company, I sometimes forget that other people don’t know the Frodis. They give me strange looks when I wiggle my finger at them.

        Long explanation. But you asked for it! : )

  • Liss


    I grew up with limestone caves 3 hours’ drive from me. (Google ‘Lake Cave, Western Australia’ if you want to see!) I adore caves. My #1 Tourist Destination in Middle Earth would be Aglarond, and there was a reason I spent my early teens on an online Tolkien game roleplaying as one of the Nargothdrondhrim. CAAAVES!

    Glorfindel was my favourite character in The Lord of the Rings, though technically that was probably more because I loved him from The Silmarillion. My hands-down second favourite, and probably my technical favourite, was Gimli. The Noldor may outdo the Dwarves in my affections – largely because they were MORE crafty and MORE heroic-but-flawed – but to me Gimli was always more genuine, more real and more admirable than his companions (-> fond of Legolas & BFFs, but not a Legolas fangirl).

    One of the things I feel saddest about is how very sketchily realised Dwarven society is in Tolkien’s works. I think if he had lived longer (or written faster XD), we would have seen a lot more of it, and there might have been an additional dimension to add to the stereotypes that bleed into modern high fantasy.

    • jubilare

      Oh, those pictures are gorgeous! Absolutely gorgeous. Limestone caverns can produce such amazing formations.
      I was blessed to grow up around caves, too. My state actually has the largest number of known caves in the U.S.. This one: is in my state, though I’ve not seen it in person. We have a fungal plague killing off a lot of our bats (I can’t express how horrified I am) and in an effort to retard the spread, a lot of our caves are closed to visitors right now.

      The Noldor are fascinating and heartbreaking, but I guess it is my personality that leads me to the Dwarves. I identify with them. As much as I love Tolkien’s Elves, I never relate to them as much as to the other races. Not that that prevents me from getting attached to them.

      Mm, I would have loved to have more of the Dwarves from him. I also like, though, that he didn’t try to shine lights in all the shadows of Middle Earth. He left so many questions and so much room unexplored. In short, he left space for us to let our imaginations roam.

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  • Urania

    This post reminds me of the phase my sister and I went through as kids when we were really crazy about caves. I think it was due to some documentaries that we watched on Discovery or Learning channel. I’ve always wanted to visit the Mammoth Caves. I’ve crawled through some smaller ones, and it’s fun, though I still get a little uncomfortable if things get too tight.

    • jubilare

      Mammoth is well worth a visit. I want to go back. I’m the opposite of claustrophobic, whatever that would be (I’d say claustrophilic, but that… could be taken the wrong way…) but I am still not fond of places where my chest is restricted. Eek.

      My love of caves, though, I place at George MacDonald’s feet, bless him. Tolkien just increased it. I had a hard time trying to read LotR the first few times, but when I finally made it as far as Moria, I was hooked and read right through the series. ^_^

  • stephencwinter

    What a wonderful piece of writing! I am so glad that you sent me these links. One of the things I love in The Lord of the Rings is the way in which Tolkien seeks to marry difference. That the Elves should love all that grows is not enough. The Earth is also a part of nature and the Dwarves love that. The dialogue between Gimli and Legolas over the Caves of Aglarond and the Forest of Fangorn is beautiful.

    • jubilare

      I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the series! I put a lot of work into it.
      The friendship between Legolas and Gimli, and all that it entails, the growth of understanding, the appreciation and acceptance of unlikeness, is one of my favorite relationships in Lord of the Rings. ^_^

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