Tag Archives: Dwarves

I Love Dwarves: a recap

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In anticipation of Peter Jackson’s second “Hobbit” film, I thought I would pull together some quotes from my series on the Khazâd for those who don’t want to suffer through reading the whole thing. High-Fantasy Dwarves have, and probably always will have, a bad rap that I do not think they deserve. The equation seems to go something like this:

Ugly = unimportant

What a great message for us. Instead of delving into the complexity  that Tolkien eventually created for his Dwarves, the film industry settles for the stereotype that everyone expects, believing that almost no one cares. The unspoken consensus seems to be that, regardless of who we are and what we contribute to the world,  it is our appearance that matters most.

What is it, in human nature, that makes us reluctant to be interested in someone who is, on the surface, unlovely? We preach against judging people by appearances, and yet we do it, often without realizing what we are doing.

Anyway, enough internal examination for one day. If you are curious about my full reasons for loving Tolkien’s Dwarves, scroll to the bottom and take on the full series. Otherwise, I hope you find these excepts interesting.

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… 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).

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.

Tolkien’s words suggest a people who, while rugged and shielded in other regards, are hyper-sensitive when it comes to the properties and beauties of the inanimate part of Arda.

From the outside, fascination with the material can look a lot like materialism. Now, some Dwarves from Tolkien’s writing are avaricious and materialistic. There is no denying that. After all, love of matter can become materialism if taken too far. But I believe there is a pure and healthy love of the physical that is not possessive, or hedonistic, or materialistic, and I believe that love is an underlying theme in the character of the Khazâd… It is a short step from loving creation, to wishing to create.

In my recent delving into Tolkien’s work, I kept a record of the objects and places shaped by the Dwarves. I have chosen a few to mention. Some you may know. Some might surprise you.

Angrist: the knife Beren used to cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown

Narsil: Sword of the Númenórean kings, broken in cutting the One Ring from Sauron’s hand,  later to become Andúril

Menegroth:  a cooperative effort of Dwarves and Elves

“The pillars of Meneroth were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë, stock, bough and leaf, and they were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sang there as in the gardens of Lórien; and there were fountains of silver, and basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones. Carven figures of beasts and birds there ran upon the walls, or climbed upon the pillars, or peered among the branches entwined with many flowers.” – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 10

Nauglamír:

“It was a carcanet of gold, and set therin were gems uncounted from Valinor; but it had a power within it so that it rested lightly on its wearer as a strand of flax, and whatsoever neck it clasped it sat always with grace and loveliness.”  – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 13

This is a people who hang “flowering stars” on silver necklaces, create “metal wrought like fishes’ mail,” carve stone halls like beech forests, and treasure natural beauty deeply. The pop-culture ideas of elf-craft are probably closer to Tolkien’s idea of Dwarven works than the chunky and rigid images we always see. Not that there isn’t a place for stereotypical Dwarf-architecture. I like that too.

In many “fantasy” books, films, and games, Dwarves are either comic relief; gruff, warlike side-characters; or else the “Big Guy” of the story.  Because the clichés have roots in Tolkien, some assume that Tolkien wrote according to these pop-culture images. His Khazâd are not pretty or dashing enough to garner much attention, and so their subtle complexity is overlooked. In contrast, his equally-complex Elves have gotten so much attention that many people are sick of them, which is also sad.

The Khazâd are secretive. They do not teach their language to others and their true names are never written or told to outsiders. That’s right, we only have nicknames for the Dwarves! It may not help their relationships outside their own people, but I find the secretive aspect of Dwarven society mysterious. I like a little mystery.

The Khazâd are passionate beneath the surface. Cliché Dwarves seem to have three settings: wrathful, dour or rollicking. Tolkien’s writing gives a more balanced picture. His Dwarves show a full emotional range expressed in subtle, sometimes elegant, ways.

Far from the stereotypical “angry Dwarf shout of grief and rage!” that we get in the films, this is Gimli’s reaction on finding Balin’s tomb in Moria:

“Gimli cast his hood over his face.”

And when time came to escape:

“Gimli had to be dragged away by Legolas: in spite of the peril he lingered by Balin’s tomb with his head bowed.”

He breaks my heart, then gives it back to me whole and makes me smile:

“Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram… and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them soon.” – The Fellowship of the Ring

Music and song are mentioned repeatedly in relation to the Khazâd. And this from a people in exile whose story, like that of Arda itself, is one of devastating loss and victories that come at great cost. But the Dwarves are resilient, using their outward toughness to protect the gems beneath. Gimli makes me cry and laugh, and his whole race makes me smile.

Original series of Khazâd posts:

Of 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 Goes On

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Tagging Thyme Meme: 11 Random Questions

It seems that Raewyn Hewitt was tagged in a meme, but as she is sensitive to the fact that some folks don’t like being tagged (I don’t like being tagged for memes, for the record) she left it up to volunteers. The questions amuse me, and I have nothing else in line for this week, so here you have it! If you want to check out Raewyn’s answers, they are here.

1. What is the strangest thing you have ever eaten in public?

Um… this is a harder question than one might think. I ate a penny, once, but that was an accident. If only things eaten intentionally count, it depends on what one considers strange. I’ll leave it up for a vote. The candidates are:

fried scorpion

jellyfish

air potatoes

Spicebush berries

Syrup made from hickory bark

2. If you had to go on an adventure, with elves, dwarves, or hobbits, who would you take and why?

Most of you might expect this to be a no-brainer for me. In truth, though, it’s not as easy as it might be.

Despite the fact that “Thyme” is in the title of this blog, elves (even my own elves) would be my last choice. Even in the best of circumstances, I would feel isolated.

Dwarves would be my second choice because, as much as I have in common with them, I am not a Dwarf, and they can be insular. I hope I would be able to break into their good-graces eventually, but that cannot compete with Hobbits.

Hobbits, though not usually adventurous, have a good track-record for not giving up and for rising to the occasion. I have not seen many reckless hobbits, and they share my love of sleep, food, and natural beauty. Also, on the whole, they are more personable and accepting than the other races.

Ideally, of course, it would be nice to have a mix of traveling companions. Can you get a nerdier answer than that?

3. You are at a rural retreat lodge somewhere deep in Wisconsin or Canada. You are approached by a taxidermist who hands you a stuffed badger and asks you to put it in your lap. What do you do next?

I think my first reaction would be to ask why…

4. If you were given biscotti, would you prefer it with coffee, tea, or hot chocolate?

It depends… is it a good biscotti or a cardboard-like one? If the former? Tea. If the latter, then coffee.

5. In your opinion, who is the funniest man or woman alive today (comedian)?

Tough one. I don’t watch a lot of comedians, but I really like Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert.

6. If you were given thirty seconds on television to say something, what would it be?

I’d probably either ignore the camera or attack its operator…

7. What is your idea of the most romantic date setting ever?

Either the Walls of Jericho or Miller’s Cove on a spring night when the blue ghost fireflies come out beneath the hemlocks like will-o-the-wisps.

8. If you could go on one date with a movie or television star, who would it be and why?

I hate questions like this. The thought of going on a date with any film or television star on whom I actually have a crush is horrifying, so that’s out. Once my brain stopped reeling from that unpleasantness, the first thing that came to mind was Hugh Laurie because he seems to have a high regard for one of my favorite authors of all time (P. G. Wodehouse) which would give us something fun to talk about. Also, I grew up on his Bertie Wooster, and I’d like to thank him for that. Obviously, for multiple reasons, this would be a purely platonic date.

9. What is the worst song you have ever heard?

There are a lot of contenders, but my brain collapses in abject horror every time I encounter this one: Friday  .

10. If you could live anywhere else, where would it be?

Three or four hours’ drive east of where I live now. If I ever find a place that sinks into my bones the way the Appalachian Mountains do, I will be very surprised. I’ve seen some lovely places across the world. Nothing has come close.

11. Who – in your opinion – was the greatest person to ever live?

Jesus, but he is a given, considering my faith. Other than him?  Hm… there are too many contenders. I would really love to meet George MacDonald, though. ;)

As Raewyn, before me, I am not going to tag folks, but if any of you want to join in, please do!


Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On

This post is 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: Creation

I’ve tried to wrangle this post down to something (possibly) reasonable. I hope you have enjoyed the series and that the Khazâd, if they haven’t before, now spark your curiosity and imagination.

Stereotypes, pernicious over-simplifications based on seeds of truth covered with lies, are as pervasive in our literary worlds as they are in the world we inhabit. I will spare you a full rant, but one of my objects in life is to smash the boxes we form around each-other that prevent us from truly seeing our fellows. If I could do it with an axe, I would. Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!

The more time J. R. R. Tolkien spends with a character or a race, the more stereotypes fade. It is ironic that numerous clichés have arisen from the reading and subsequent glossing-over of his work.  It makes me wonder how many people actually read him. My intent is to highlight often-overlooked aspects of Tolkien’s Dwarves and break down some of the popular clichés. However, there is always a danger of creating new ones, and that is just as bad. I dislike even “positive” stereotypes because they insulate us from seeing.

Therefore, assume Tolkien wrote exceptions to everything I say about the Khazâd. They are not all alike.

In many “fantasy” books, films, and games, Dwarves are either comic relief; gruff, warlike side-characters; or else the “Big Guy” of the story.  Because the clichés have roots in Tolkien, some assume that Tolkien wrote according to these pop-culture images. His Khazâd are not pretty or dashing enough to garner much attention, and so their subtle complexity is overlooked. In contrast, his equally-complex Elves have gotten so much attention that many people are sick of them, which is also sad.

The seeds at the heart of “Tolkienesque”  Dwarves can be found in Tolkien’s work. He, however, does not take the acorn for the oak, and neither should we.

The Khazâd, like all of Tolkien’s races, have their cultural weaknesses. I share many of these, which adds sympathy to my other reasons for loving them. Excessive pride is probably the cause of their worst moments (Thorin, anyone?). This is not surprising for a people whom the elves call “Naugrim,” meaning “Stunted People,” and who face attitudes such as this:

…Caranthir was haughty and scarce concealed his scorn for the unloveliness of the Naugrim, and his people followed their lord. Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 13

While the scorn of others doesn’t excuse pride, it helps explain the defensiveness of many Dwarves. They are also stubborn. The Silmarillion states that Aulë made them stubborn in defiance of the Enemy. It stands them in good stead, but it also gets between them and those who would be their friends were they more yielding.

…they were made…  to resist most steadfastly any domination. Though they could be slain or broken, they could not be reduced to shadows enslaved to another will… All the more did Sauron hate… and desire to dispossess them.” -Appendix A

Though it was sometimes destructive in other ways, I love that the stubborn nature of the Dwarves kept them from coming under the dominion of Sauron.

The greedy Dwarf is a stereotype all it’s own, isn’t it? Perhaps Tolkien understood that fierce love of the beauty of the world, though good in its way, leaves the heart vulnerable. I certainly find it so in myself.  It is a difficult balance to love without coveting; to be in the world and not of it. Like the Dwarves, sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail. But I am very fond of this quote of Galadriel’s from The Fellowship of the Ring:

Let none say again that Dwarves are grasping and ungracious!

There is evidence throughout Tolkien’s scribbles that Dwarves are not as greedy as they are painted by the other races. For the sake of length, I will have to let you find it on your own.

The Khazâd are secretive. They do not teach their language to others and their true names are never written or told to outsiders. That’s right, we only have nicknames for the Dwarves! It may not help their relationships outside their own people, but I find the secretive aspect of Dwarven society mysterious. I like a little mystery.

Like their weaknesses, the strengths of the Dwarves are usually blown out of proportion or, if they do not fit cleanly into the clichés, forgotten. Loyalty is common in stock-fantasy Dwarves, but it is also very present in Tolkien’s representation. This resonates deeply with me. I believe friendship should be fast (in the archaic sense) and enduring. Love and promises should bind. The Khazâd, in general, seem to agree with me. This, however, ties in with an aspect of Dwarves often completely ignored: romantic love.

Because they are not beautiful, Dwarves in love seems off-putting to many. Even Tolkien says little on the subject. According to the Appendix A, only about a third of Dwarves are women (how are they not extinct?). Not all Dwarf women desire marriage, and neither do all Dwarf men (which is good, given the discrepancy in numbers!). But when they do marry, they take only one wife or husband in a lifetime. It is said that often a Dwarf woman, on failing to win the heart she desires, “will have no other.” I expect the same is true for Dwarf men. This suggests that when they do love it is with a passion similar to their craftsmanship: a powerful, single-minded, and loyal love.

The Khazâd are passionate beneath the surface. Cliché Dwarves seem to have three settings: wrathful, dour or rollicking. Tolkien’s writing gives a more balanced picture. His Dwarves show a full emotional range expressed in subtle, sometimes elegant, ways. Elegant Dwarves!

Far from the stereotypical “angry Dwarf shout of grief and rage!” that we get in the films, this is Gimli’s reaction on finding Balin’s tomb in Moria:

Gimli cast his hood over his face.

And when time came to escape:

Gimli had to be dragged away by Legolas: in spite of the peril he lingered by Balin’s tomb with his head bowed.

He breaks my heart, then gives it back to me whole and makes me smile:

“Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram… and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them soon.” – The Fellowship of the Ring 

I will not quote his interactions with Galadriel, but any who have read the books will know them.

As I have said in earlier posts, the Dwarves have a passion for beauty and for craftsmanship. They are creative as well as industrious. This is a people who hang “flowering stars” on silver necklaces, create “metal wrought like fishes’ mail,” carve stone halls like beech forests, and treasure natural beauty deeply. The pop-culture ideas of elf-craft are probably closer to Tolkien’s idea of Dwarven works than the chunky and rigid images we always see. Not that there isn’t a place for stereotypical Dwarf-architecture. I like that too.

Tolkien and the clichés seem to agree that the Dwarves are strong. Tolkien’s Dwarves, at their best, have not only physical power and toughness, but deep roots to weather storms.

Last of all the eastern force to stand firm were the Dwarves of Belegost… And but for them Glaurung and his brood would have withered all that was left of the Noldor. But the Naugrim made a circle about him when he assailed them, and even his mighty armour was not full proof against the blows of their great axes; and when in his rage Glaurung turned and struck down Azaghâl, Lord of Belegost, and crawled over him, with his last stroke Azaghâl drove a knife into his belly, and so wounded him that he fled the field, and the beasts of Angband in dismay followed after him. Then the Dwarves raised up the body of Azaghâl and bore it away; and with slow steps they walked behind singing a dirge in deep voices, as it were a funeral pomp in their country, and gave no heed more to their foes; and none dared to stay them. ” Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 20

Wisdom is more associated with the Elves in Tolkien’s tales, but I think the Dwarves have their share. Here is what the surviving Dwarves have to say to Thráin when, after the battle against the orcs of Moria, he claims victory and wishes to reclaim Khazâd-dûm.

Durin’s Heir you may be, but even with one eye you should see clearer. We fought this war for vengeance, and vengeance we have taken. But it is not sweet. If this is victory, then our hands are too small to hold it. -Appendix A

That does not sound like the impulsive behavior so often portrayed in Dwarf stereotypes. I am tired of Dwarves being fools. Gimli, in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films, shows less than half the intelligence and wisdom of the same character from the books. But the Khazâd are an intelligent race:

…the Dwarves were swift to learn, and indeed were more willing to learn the Elven-tongue than to teach their own to those of alien race. – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 10

Apart from some of the silliness in The Hobbit, I do not recall Dwarves doing stupid things, or having sub-par intelligence.

Thankfully, (for I dearly love to laugh) the Dwarves have their humor and joy as well. Thorin is probably the most “serious” Dwarf we meet (unless one counts Mîm), and the rest like to joke and laugh when they can. The plate-breaking song in the beginning of The Hobbit is an excellent example. There is a difference, though, between having a gift for humor and being comic relief.

Music and song are mentioned repeatedly in relation to the Khazâd. And this from a people in exile whose story, like that of Arda itself, is one of devastating loss and victories that come at great cost. But the Dwarves are resilient, using their outward toughness to protect the gems beneath. Gimli makes me cry and laugh, and his whole race makes me smile.

And finally, I give you an amateur reading of Gimli’s chant within Moria: My favorite of the verses in The Lord of the Rings.


Khazâd Part III: Creation

Photo by Jubilare

Photo by Jubilare

Ever since I was a child the three dimensions, our perception of them, and our ability to change things within them have fascinated me. Texture, shape, matter, color, shadow, highlight, space, distance! And that is only where the realm of the physical touches two of our five senses.

Stop. Right now.

Wipe your mind of all that you take for granted and try to understand how bizarre and wondrous the material world really is. Consider the possibility that nothing has to be, yet here it is. Think about the space between you and the nearest object and try to feel how strange your perception of that space, and that object would be if your senses had only been awakened this moment.

If you haven’t tried this before, it may be hard at first. We’ve been swimming in the physical from our earliest memories. We are so used to this that anything else would seem strange and exciting to us, but we are capable of realizing how awe-inspiring this world is.

Think about the things you see every day. Your bed, a blanket, a cup of water, a tree with texture so meticulously detailed that it stretches from a forest to the atoms of its inmost ring. Your own body, even with its flaws, so knit together that you live and move, with cells constantly dying and being reborn. How shadows change a surface, and light can make things glow.

Photo by Jubilare. Often it is the simple things that awe.

Photo by Jubilare. Often it is the simple things that awe.

If you think about this too long and too deeply, it can overwhelm you.

It’s best to find a balance where you neither take the physical for granted, nor allow yourself to be overcome by the incomprehensible vastness and detail of it all. I think it is good for us to pause and run our hand over a desk, or breathe in winter air, taking time to feel, taste, smell. So many gifts are wasted on us when we don’t pay attention.

You may be wondering what this has to do with J. R. R. Tolkien’s Dwarves.

I think (and yes, I may be projecting) that the Dwarves, in general, share my instinctual wonder of the world. Tolkien’s words suggest a people who, while rugged and shielded in other regards, are hyper-sensitive when it comes to the properties and beauties of the inanimate part of Arda. Even though they lack my passion for trees and plants, they appreciate them enough to use them as common themes in their works.

From the outside, fascination with the material can look a lot like materialism. Now, some Dwarves from Tolkien’s writing are avaricious and materialistic. There is no denying that. After all, love of matter can become materialism if taken too far. But I believe there is a pure and healthy love of the physical that is not possessive, or hedonistic, or materialistic, and I believe that love is an underlying theme in the character of the Khazâd.

My theory is supported by one of the Dwarves’ most well-known traits.  It is a short step from loving creation, to wishing to create. I find myself compelled, through my awe of matter, to shape small pieces of my world. This is why I identify so strongly with the Dwarven love of craftsmanship.

In the Silmarillion it is clear Aulë and Melkor have a great measure of Eru’s creative spirit.  In Melkor’s 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 existence.

Whether the creative nature of the Dwarves comes from Aulë or from the spirits bestowed on them by Eru, there is no doubt that they posses it. Throughout Tolkien’s work we see the intense and sensitive appreciation for beauty in the Dwarves. None of the other industrial or quasi-industrial races have this eye for beauty or the smoldering desire to carefully enhance it.

Ultimately, the Dwarves are lovers of nature and that love manifests in their works. Many of their number even abandon all other pursuits, devoting themselves to their craft with monk-like singleness of mind.  They are industrious, both from a practical standpoint and from a creative one. It boggles my mind that this focused creativity is sometimes perceived as prosaic and even dull. But then I suppose the makers of illuminated manuscripts of ages past are sometimes seen in a similar light by modern society. Have we lost some of our ability to appreciate that kind of focus?

In my recent delving into Tolkien’s work, I kept a record of the objects and places shaped by the Dwarves. I have chosen a few to mention. Some you may know. Some might surprise you.

Angrist: the knife Beren used to cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown

Narsil: Sword of the Númenórean kings, broken in cutting the One Ring from Sauron’s hand,  later to become Andúril

Menegroth:  a cooperative effort of Dwarves and Elves

The pillars of Meneroth were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë, stock, bough and leaf, and they were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sang there as in the gardens of Lórien; and there were fountains of silver, and basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones. Carven figures of beasts and birds there ran upon the walls, or climbed upon the pillars, or peered among the branches entwined with many flowers. – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 10

Nauglamír:

It was a carcanet of gold, and set therin were gems uncounted from Valinor; but it had a power within it so that it rested lightly on its wearer as a strand of flax, and whatsoever neck it clasped it sat always with grace and loveliness.  – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 13

Dale:

You should see  the waterways of Dale, Frodo, and the fountains, and the pools! You should see the stone-paved roads of many colours! And the halls and cavernous streets under the earth with arches carved like trees; and the terraces and towers upon the Mountain’s sides!  -Many Meetings, The Fellowship of the Ring

And that is just a smattering. Pay attention as you read and you will find more. I would love to step into these stories, if only briefly, to see and perhaps touch some of the marvels Tolkien imagined.

Last, and perhaps most telling of the hearts and minds of the Khazâd, I mention their own idea of what lies in store for them.  According to the Silmarillion, they believe that when Arda is remade they will work side by side with Aulë in the reshaping of the world. Imagine the beauty and wonder, care, imagination, focus, and labor involved in such a feat. I am glad Tolkien included such a beautiful legend in his tales of Middle Earth.

We are near the end of my ramblings on this subject. I will have worn it, and myself out, I think, but hopefully I will have achieved my goal. One post left.

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

Photo by Jubilare. Water showing how to carve a rock.

Photo by Jubilare. Water showing how to carve a rock.


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.

PublicDomain-Pictures.com

PublicDomain-Pictures.com

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
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On


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


Happy Hobbit Thanksgiving!

Lets face it, Thanksgiving is a very Hobbitish holiday. Food, family, thankfulness, and more food.

It seems appropriate, therefore, to have one of our chapters from The Hobbit Read-along fall on this day. Here we are, at the next to last chapter, “The Return Journey”.

We have been in the midst of a chaotic battle, but the dust has settled and dear Bilbo, invisible, wakes from unconsciousness, cold, and alone. He wakes to find victory, but not a joyful one. “Well it seems a very gloomy business,” he says. Yes, Bilbo, it is a very gloomy business.

Last chapter, the Dwarves  showed some real character. Now, so near the end, we get more. We see Thorin, faced with death, gaining perspective. Forgiveness and friendship finally outweigh material things to him. This death, and the deaths of Fili and Kili (I am so sad for their parents, if they still live!) bring home to Bilbo the painful reality that adventure and tragedy are closely related.

They buried Thorin deep beneath the mountain, and Bard laid the Arkenstone upon his breast.

“There let it lie till the Mountain falls!” he said. “May it bring good fortune to all his folk that dwell here after!”

Upon his tomb the Elvenking then laid Orcrist, the elvish sword that had been taken from Thorin in captivity. It is said in songs that it gleamed ever in the dark if foes approached, and the fortress of the dwarves could not be taken by surprise.

There are some interesting details in this chapter, and, in my opinion, some of the best quotes in the book.

In the “interesting” category, I place the fact that Gandalf has his arm in a sling. Gandalf, who will one day fight a Balrog! I know he can be injured, but I really want to know how it happened.

Also interesting is Tolkien’s more relaxed use of language. Just look at his description of Beorn’s roars:

The roar of his voice was like drums and guns.

No shying from modern lingo here!

Now I will conclude with some of my favorite quotes from the chapter.

“How I should have got all that treasure home without war and murder all along the way, I don’t know. And I don’t know what I should have done with it when I got home.”

Bilbo has become a much wiser hobbit over the course of his adventure. And much more generous, too:

“If ever you are passing my way,”  said Bilbo, “don’t wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome to come at any time!”

Could there be a more hobbitish farewell?

There is some nice, probably unintentional foreshadowing:

“Farewell! O Gandalf!” said the king. “May you ever appear where you are most needed and least expected!”

Tolkien taunts us with:

“He had many hardships and adventures before he got back.”

And yet he tells us so little! Why, Tolkien, why?!

And finally we have this:

“So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending!”

Have a happy Thanksgiving day!


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