Tag Archives: Gandalf

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.

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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


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!


The Hobbit Read-a-long Chapter 8: Flies and Spiders

My first contribution to The Hobbit Read-a-long!

Ah, Mirkwood.  Stop for a moment to bask in the deep shadows and fill your lungs with that heavy, still air.

Mmmm. It has been too long. There are some places I reach through books to which I return again and again out of sheer love and awe. Mirkwood is one of my favorites. I wonder how many of you who read this, if any, feel the same.

Even in this book, brimming with some of the best fairy-tale elements, this chapter stands out.  We have:

  • Dark enchanted forest
  • Instructions not to stray from the path
  • Water that puts one into an enchanted sleep
  • Enchanted dreams
  • Fey lights in the darkness, luring travelers off the safe path
  • Elven hunt and white deer
  • Eerie voices and laughter echoing in the woods
  • Vanishing faerie banquets
  • Giant spiders

The makings of a fantastic folktale! And it is fantastic!

Tolkien conjures a very ominous place for us, but unlike the realm of Mordor it is not ominous and barren. Mirkwood is filled with life as much as with darkness. It is a beautiful, mysterious, cursed thing, enduring under great oppression. We have a glimmer of green among the shadows, ivy-grown trees, black squirrels in the canopy, a dark hart, a brilliant white hind and fawns, giant oaks, hanging cobwebs, velvety-black butterflies and “endless lines of straight grey trunks like the pillars of some huge twilight hall.”

There are so many wonderful images. This is one of my favorites:

Their feet ruffled among the dead leaves of countless other autumns that drifted over the banks of the path from the deep red carpets of the forest.

Bilbo and Thorin & Co. do not share my enthusiasm, but then I was never forced to travel through the forest, nor have I gotten lost, been attacked by spiders or been imprisoned by elves in it, so I sympathize. Still, I am puzzled by the effects it has on the dwarves.  That they dislike dense forests makes sense, and as they fill their homes with light I assume they are not creatures of darkness. But the fact remains that they live mostly deep underground. Tolkien even mentions this, but passes by it, simply saying that they felt oppressed.

Being of claustrophilic tastes, this stretches my imagination a bit. I can only consider their reaction to Mirkwood stemming from the corruption under which it suffers. No other explanation satisfies me.

The elves in this chapter are more fey-like than in any other. While they irritate me later, I love the ethereal, magical and elusive side they show us here. The whole feel of this section is mysterious and magical.

Apart from my obsession with the setting, I love this chapter for what happens to our hero. This is where Bilbo truly discovers that deeply buried, slow-to-rise courage and daring that Gandalf was so confident he possessed. After this he is never quite the same either in his eyes, or the eyes of his companions.

Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, confronted with a terrifying death, kills a giant spider. Shortly thereafter he rescues 12 of his companions from an entire nest of the same. He kills at least ten spiders, doubtless more. How is that for our little hobbit who, at the words “may never return”, had a fear-induced fit at the beginning of the book!

“I will give you a name,” he said to it, “and I shall call you Sting.”

Bilbo’s experience reminds me of another hobbit who, all alone, in a place even more grim, faces the ancestor of the Mirkwood spiders with the same “sword” and a shining light. Sting, indeed.

Some other thoughts:

Humor continues merrily along in this chapter against all odds, rather like Bilbo (though I wouldn’t call the hungry hobbit “merry”).

Bilbo’s vocabulary seems to be rubbing off on the dwarves. “Confusticate”!

Also, when I first read this chapter I learned several new words for spiders and discovered where “cobweb” comes from.  Who knew?

In this, his first venture into his own Middle-earth, Tolkien calls what will become Valinor, Faerie. I love this!


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