This post is the end of a series. Find the earlier installments here:
Of the Free Peoples of Arda
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.