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The Hobbit > So, Dwarves, What's Wrong With Them?

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message 1: by Daran (new)

Daran | 599 comments Since we've complained about wizards and elves, I'm going to bring up my pet peeve from this book. The Dwarves.

They don't act like Dwarves should. In stead of shouting Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!, their battle cry seems to be Let the Hobbit go first!, or Leave the Hobbit behind!

For Dwarves that have had to claw their way up in the world, they don't seem to be good adventurers. Some of their problems are from pride, and I get that from Dwarves, but often times they seem to be cowards(view spoiler). They often seem to be using Bilbo as a hobbit-shield, and that seems very undwarven behavior to me.

Also, their complaining, while in character, starts to bother me around Mirkwood, and doesn't stop until the end of the book.

Since ostensibly it's Bilbo that is writing this adventure in the red Book of Westmarch, I think there's an important lesson for the dwarves here. Don't mistreat the guy with literary ambitions.


message 2: by P. Aaron (last edited Dec 10, 2012 10:02AM) (new)

P. Aaron Potter (PAaronPotter) | 585 comments Overall, the dwarves have a nasty entitlement complex until they finally learn their lesson after the Battle of Five Armies. Thorin is one of the few who even remember the Lonely Mountain, and none of them really did much to earn the treasure of Smaug. Not that Smaug deserves it, of course.


message 3: by Fyrienwood (new)

Fyrienwood | 4 comments the dwarves do feel like they have been robbed of what is rightfully theirs, they also have the idea that Gandalf provided Bilbo to do all of the dirty work for them and they shamelessly use him as such. Also interestingly, Tolkien was one of the first, if not the first, to portray dwarves as somewhat good characters and not complete monsters. Perhaps we should be more impressed that they actually do anything honorable and even pay Bilbo his share!


message 4: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (SeanOHara) | 2276 comments Daran wrote: "They don't act like Dwarves should. In stead of shouting Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!, their battle cry seems to be Let the Hobbit go first!, or Leave the Hobbit behind!"

Are you basing this assumption on Gimli's behavior? Because the other dwarves to play a role in LotR got their asses handed to them in Moria thank's to Balin's half-brained plan, and the few who show up in the Silmarilion don't seem like mighty warriors either.


message 5: by Daran (new)

Daran | 599 comments Sean wrote: Are you basing this assumption on Gimli's behavior? Because the other dwarves to play a role in LotR got their asses handed to them in Moria thank's to Balin's half-brained plan, and the few who show up in the Silmarilion don't seem like mighty warriors either.

It was a host of dwarves that stood against the dragon Glaurung at the battle of Unnumbered Tears. Then, closer to the Hobbit, there's the War of Dwarfs and Orcs, to kill the Orc King Azog--really the whole giant quagmire that is Khazad-dum. You say Balin's idea was half-brained, I'd say it was prideful. Something I expect dwarves to be.

In fact it's becuse of Moria that I don't understand Thorin's behavior. He's this awesome warrior in the battle of Azanulbizar, and then he's a whiny coward just a few decades later?


message 6: by Gord (new)

Gord McLeod (mcleodg) | 347 comments Seems to me that there is no one way dwarves should act. They are people, right? They aren't embodied stereotypes, or shouldn't be. They are intended to be individuals with individual personalities. They'd be far less interesting if they were simply stamped out of the "Dwarf personality" mold and replicated as many times as necessary to fill out a cast.


message 7: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (SeanOHara) | 2276 comments Daran wrote: "It was a host of dwarves that stood against the dragon Glaurung at the battle of Unnumbered Tears. "

Dwarves have thick hides that weather fire better than men and elves, that's all. Once their leader died, they ran away.

Then, closer to the Hobbit, there's the War of Dwarfs and Orcs, to kill the Orc King Azog--really the whole giant quagmire that is Khazad-dum.

A war started by yet another dwarf behaving foolishly. And really, killing one king, declaring victory and going home isn't any more impressive than what the dwarves do at the Battle of Five Armies.


message 8: by Daran (last edited Dec 10, 2012 12:31AM) (new)

Daran | 599 comments Sean wrote: Dwarves have thick hides that weather fire better than men and elves, that's all. Once their leader died, they ran away.

No, their leader wounded the dragon as he was crushed, and he dragon ran away. And that's missing my point. Dwarves are, in part, a warrior culture. They have a tendency to run into battle without thinking. Why are these twelve so reluctant to fight?

The answer of course is that these were never intended to be Middle Earth dwarves. Tolkien had to do extensive rewriting, and then come up with the Red Book of Westmarch to explain the radical shift in tone between he two works, but it doesn't quite gel.

But why make them so insufferable in the first place? I get why Bilbo is complaining, he is a fat hobbit who has never left home before. Some of the dwarves at least are more worldly adventurers. When Kili and Fili get scared, it makes sense. Less so when Balin or Bofur do. To say nothing of Thorin.

Tolkien goes to great pains to give each dwarf an individual personality. But they all seem untied in the maxim "When you find yourself in the company of a halfling and an ill-tempered Dragon, remember, you do not have to outrun the Dragon...you just have to outrun the halfling." You'd think there's be some dissension, they seem to argue about everything else.


message 9: by P. Aaron (new)

P. Aaron Potter (PAaronPotter) | 585 comments Dwarves have +1 to their constitution and strength scores, a -1 to charisma and intelligence, and are immune to poison and knockback effects.

Point being, we get a lot of our impressions of what dwarves ' are like' from the games and media which followed in Tolkien's footsteps. It's rather enlightening to see them here, before that ossification set in.


message 10: by Sean (last edited Dec 10, 2012 08:01AM) (new)

Sean O'Hara (SeanOHara) | 2276 comments Daran wrote: "No, their leader wounded the dragon as he was crushed, and he dragon ran away."

The dragon ran away, but the battle was still going on and the dwarves decided to take their leader's corpse and go home. Compare that to how the Rohirrim reacted to Theoden's death and you'll see that the dwarves aren't just tiny Klingons. They're more like Ferengi, only willing to fight if it's to their advantage and they can't find anyone foolish enough to do it for them -- and perfectly willing to betray their allies for riches and even ally with the forces of darkness if its to their advantage.


message 11: by David (new)

David | 17 comments One possible explanation for the dwarves' behavior is that they're "gun-shy". They're the last survivors of their people, who got smacked around by a single dragon. They know the dwarven histories, and that they're supposed to be great warriors...but their people got trounced by Smaug. So they've got the proud boasting of untold generations of awesome, but it's covering up the crisis of confidence brought on by the recent, major loss. They've got lots of brag, but when it comes to it, they struggle to perform.

Kind of the dwarven version a guy struggling with ED, now that I think about it. o_O


message 12: by Louise (new)

Louise (louiseh87) | 352 comments From what I can remember, I thought the whole point was that the dwarves weren't the same. They've been acting as mercenaries and wandering about homeless for years. Isn't the idea that Gandalf encourages them to go and reconquer their own lands, as a practice in self-confidence? Gimli is a product of success, where the ones in the Hobbit are not.


message 13: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (masupert) | 207 comments Agreed. I was surprised at how inept the whole party was. I don't remember that from the last time I was reading. Thorin was initially portrayed as a great warrior, but even he comes across as a selfish oaf at times.

Although I don't have a good idea of where the Lonely Mountain stands in terms of the dwarven population in this world. How many Dwarven kingdoms are left and what are their numbers? The initial description of the Lonely Mountain didn't make it sound like it was that critical of a kingdom, if a kingdom at all.

I have always wanted to learn more about the dwarves in this universe.


message 14: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 372 comments The dwarves in the hobbit are descendants of a proud race, that IN THE PAST was a force to be reckoned, but - at the time the events depicted happen- is in decline. The dwarves's fierce nature has been cooled by years of failures. They want to bring glory to their kind but don't know how. And suddently a wizard shows up and tells them to go on an epic adventure; the wizard himself chooses their last companion. and if a wizard choosed him, it was logical for the dwarves to believe Bilbo was some powerfull hero like the ones from the stories...
Gimli on the other hand grew up into dwarfhood when the dwarves rised their heads from the grass and showed the world what they're worth. And Balin's expedition was another booster for the dwarves. it's not like he didn't plan it well. He just couldn't predict the strenght of the enemy's army. If not for the balrog and saruman's betreyal the orcs would never conquer Moria (the riddle at the gate would probably stop them like it was about to stop the fellowship of the ring). Gimli could become a fierce axeman because he didn't knew about the expedition's failure.


message 15: by JohnViril (new)

JohnViril | 36 comments Again, this book was written for children, so Tolkien paints with a broad brush to both entertain and retain the interest of children. "Subtle" personalities wouldn't work, they'd have to have flaws understandable by kids whose level of social interaction is what happens on the playground.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2186 comments I just read the Hobbit and haven't read LotR, but was discussing dwarves with a friend last night. I pointed out the passage where Tolkien says that dwarves are "not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money," then goes on to say that some are good and same are unpleasant.

My friend took issue with this reduction. He feels that dwarves appreciate and create beauty, they are just most comfortable in stone and underground, so they are hardly in their element in The Hobbit, and only doing what is necessary to get to that treasure! I thought it was an interesting perspective.


message 17: by Nils (new)

Nils Krebber | 91 comments I like that this is actually one of the few reads where dwarves are more than short, beer drinking, axe swinging scotsmen. Yes, they are not very nice to Bilbo, and they have some serious planning issues.

Honestly, they start the expedition unarmed, but with musical instruments!

But then again, this makes it a bit easier for Bilbo to actually become a hero, otherwise he would have been quite useless in this adventure.


message 18: by John (new)

John (kilowog42) | 27 comments There seems to be a great deal of stereotyping going both ways, but to me the answer is fairly obvious as to why the dwarves act the way they do. They are not actually a group of adventurers. They are dwarves who haven't probably seen each other in a long while. Daran mentions that it takes several decades to make Thorin into the dwarf who shrinks back, but over those several decades I bet he has had the snot kicked out of him by life. These are not the dwarves who grew up everyday drinking and arm wrestling, these are the dwarves who have been doing whatever they can to survive and have been doing so somewhat separately. If they stayed together and became a roving band of dwarf mercenaries who fought everything they could see, then they wouldn't have shown up at Bilbo's house in waves but all at once.

The Hobbit has always had a fond place in my heart, first because it is an awesome story, then because Tolkien understands how to write real characters and provide good counterpoints. Smaug is not all that different from the dwarves in many respects. Both have seen better days, both once were hailed as mighty, both have lost more than a step, both know they have lost a bit, and both want to reclaim some of their former glory. Essentially, they are both fighters who have long left their prime, but still hold onto the glory days of their past. Thorin knows he is a great warrior, but he also knows he has had sand kicked in his face by life for the past few decades so he has become more prudent than prideful in situations that are unwinnable. Did you want Thorin to (view spoiler)? I personally like the fact that these dwarves seem to be more than an axe swinging arm and show some cunning in dire situations.


message 19: by Joe Informatico (new)

Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 845 comments Nekroskop wrote: "I like that this is actually one of the few reads where dwarves are more than short, beer drinking, axe swinging scotsmen."

I agree. I'm still not entirely sure where that characterization originates from, though my biggest suspects are Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman for the ale and axes, and Raymond E. Feist for the Scottish thing. (Although a bit of digging suggests the latter might come from Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions.)

They surely didn't come from JRR. From what I understand, his dwarf languages are closer to Hebrew and other Semitic languages than to anything Northern European.


message 20: by Frank (last edited Dec 11, 2012 08:45AM) (new)

Frank | 13 comments Sean wrote: "and the few who show up in the Silmarilion don't seem like mighty warriors either. "

Not to be nitpicky here (but of course I will...) but there are examples of both types of Dwarves in the Silmarilion. The Petty Dwarves that Turin meets seem very similar to Thorin & Co., but the Dwarves who fought in The Battle of Unnumbered Tears and played rearguard versus Glaurung were very brave. But then the Dwarves of Nogrod killed Thingol over the Nauglamir, an act motivated by pure greed. So just like humans and elves they are a mixed bag.


message 21: by JohnViril (new)

JohnViril | 36 comments Frank wrote: "Sean wrote: "and the few who show up in the Silmarilion don't seem like mighty warriors either. "

Not to be nitpicky here (but of course I will...) but there are examples of both types of Dwarves ..."


Wait, you mean we shouldn't have races and nations like David Eddings where all members of a particular group act the same? Eddings' popularity always has puzzled me. I couldn't even read half of "Pawn of Prophesy".


message 22: by MarkB (new)

MarkB (Mark-B) | 69 comments I don't know much about Thorin's backstory beyond The Hobbit, but from the book itself, I never got the impression that these particular dwarves were warriors in origin.

The kingdom of the Lonely Mountain was a stable one before Smaug arrived, and one built upon commerce. Thorin and co. are more like the sons of merchants than anything else, and have spent their time since Smaug's invasion doing whatever jobs they could find, amassing reasonably comfortable fortunes along the way.

They feel obligated to avenge their forbears, but they aren't really professional adventurers at all.


message 23: by Paul R (new)

Paul R | 43 comments Daran wrote about the dwarves in the Hobbit: They don't act like Dwarves should. In stead of shouting Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!, their battle cry seems to be Let the Hobbit go first!, or Leave the Hobbit behind!

So Funny

Keep in perspective this was a children's book and written very early on, Tolkien had glimmers of what the world but at the time was writing for amusement of his children. this was sent by post to his children in sections.

I always look at his works with the hobbit first, then watch the evolution as his mind crafted the world.


message 24: by Rocky (new)

Rocky Perry | 13 comments I alway think their are some hipster elves out there carrying war hammers and trying to grow thier beards out. Sad.

Rocky Perry


message 25: by Christine (new)

Christine (FlutterSparkle) | 14 comments Daran wrote: "Sean wrote: Dwarves have thick hides that weather fire better than men and elves, that's all. Once their leader died, they ran away.

No, their leader wounded the dragon as he was crushed, and he d..."



Gandalf was just as frightened of the wargs and goblins as the rest of the dwarves, and he's a wizard, not to mention a Maia. This is a kid's book,written before LOTR was even conceived. I think we should cut Tolkien some slack.


message 26: by A.L. (last edited Dec 19, 2012 10:21AM) (new)

A.L. Butcher (ALB2012) | 313 comments Nekroskop wrote: "I like that this is actually one of the few reads where dwarves are more than short, beer drinking, axe swinging scotsmen. Yes, they are not very nice to Bilbo, and they have some serious planning ..."

The dwarves are pretty rude at the beginning. I think they say there are not the warriors of old, they lost that when the dragon took the mountain. Only a couple of chapters in so far and it has been a while since I read it.

By the way if you get the chance to see the stage show, do so. It is great.


message 27: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 372 comments Markb wrote: "I don't know much about Thorin's backstory beyond The Hobbit, but from the book itself, I never got the impression that these particular dwarves were warriors in origin.

The kingdom of the Lonely ..."


Thorin Oakshield rings a bell? if that's not a warriors surname....


message 28: by P. Aaron (last edited Dec 19, 2012 10:42AM) (new)

P. Aaron Potter (PAaronPotter) | 585 comments A warrior surname just means your ancestors were warriors...or at least wanted everyone else to think so.

Sadly, I know nothing about ceramics.


message 29: by Daran (new)

Daran | 599 comments P. Aaron wrote: "A warrior surname just means your ancestors were warriors...or at least wanted everyone else to think so."

Middle earth is more the kind of place where, if your last name is Erikson, your father was probably named Erik. In this case Thorin is called Oakenshield because he carries an oaken shield.(view spoiler). Actually, I thought they mentioned his shield in The Hobbit. Ahh well, everything bleeds together after a while.


message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

The females have beards and quite possibly hairy nipples.


message 31: by David (new)

David | 17 comments Stephen wrote: "The females have beards..."

I don't believe that's from Tolkien; certainly, the only time I can remember reading about female dwarves having beards is from Pratchett's Discworld series.


message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

Yeah it's from Tolkien, think we could both agree they'd be less than desirable.


message 33: by Nick (last edited Dec 20, 2012 06:52AM) (new)

Nick (Whyzen) | 1291 comments All I know is that dwarves are wasted on cross-country. They are natural sprinters and very dangerous over short distances.


message 34: by [deleted user] (new)

Don't forget "and the eyes of a hawk" lol


message 35: by Mapleson (last edited Dec 20, 2012 10:41AM) (new)

Mapleson | 94 comments Daran wrote: "P. Aaron wrote: "Middle earth is more the kind of place where, if your last name is Erikson, your father was probably named Erik. In this case Thorin is called Oakenshield because he carries an oaken shield.(view spoiler). Actually, I thought they mentioned his shield in The Hobbit. Ahh well, everything bleeds together after a while. "

I just did a search of my electronic text and there is no mention of an 'oak shield' or 'oaken shield'. In fact, Thorin is the only dwarf in The Hobbit to have a surname or appellation. As we have other tales that describe Thorin gaining his appellation, we know that he is/was a warrior. However, that does not imply anything about the nature of the other dwarves in the party.

I did a bit of re-reading of the first chapter for another thread and came across a few interesting quotes. (view spoiler)This implies both what the dwarves were doing before coming to Bilbo's hobbit-hole and that they are not natural fighters.

As to the nature of dwarves, Thorin has a rather long exposition on the nature of there crafts: (view spoiler)

So the dwarves of Erebon were primarily toymakers and the dwarves of the expedition were coal miners. Music to Tolkien's dwarves is very innate, rather than the modern picture of battle loving fighters. To a dwarf with limited money, they'd rather have a viol than a weapon.


message 36: by Skut (new)

Skut L | 11 comments I see Professor Tolkien's Dwarves as being the first to embody the archetype that other authors have taken and built upon. I love dwarves, they're my favorite fantasy race and I have idealized versions of them that I always judge them by those. I've always liked the idea that they were made to look less honorable and for Bilbo to look more clever and wiser and kinder because, as someone said above, he was the writer. Tolkien even provided clues of that here and there.


So my stance is that while Thorin's Company are by no means my favorite examples of fantasy Dwarves, you wouldn't have the archetypes we do today.


message 37: by P. Aaron (new)

P. Aaron Potter (PAaronPotter) | 585 comments Aware as he was of the Germanic literary tradition, I wonder if the rather nasty, greedy craftsman dwarves of Wagner's Ring cycle and Norse myth were the central influence...


message 38: by Skut (new)

Skut L | 11 comments He did in fact acknowledge this, in correspondence. His son has also commented on this I believe.


message 39: by James (last edited Dec 21, 2012 12:08PM) (new)

James Ward | 9 comments I think this has been mentioned by others but it bares repeating. Tolkien wrote the Hobbit with the conceit that Bilbo himself was the author. Bilbo's personality colors the book's tone, narrative and descriptions. The later books were written without this conceit so the tone is Tolkien's.


message 40: by Daran (new)

Daran | 599 comments James wrote: "I think this has been mentioned by others but it bares repeating. Tolkien wrote the Hobbit with the conceit that Bilbo himself was the author. Bilbo's personality colors the book's tone, narrati..."

The Lord of the Rings is ostensibly written by Frodo, and some of the later material by Sam. I love that this epic story is told by Hobbits! It makes it seem more real somehow.


message 41: by Mach (last edited Dec 21, 2012 02:31PM) (new)

Mach | 46 comments What i remember most about the dwarfe's negative side is their greed. They sure love gold and gems. Thorin pretty much died for that diamond.


message 42: by Michael (new)

Michael Sommers | 57 comments P. Aaron wrote: "Aware as he was of the Germanic literary tradition, I wonder if the rather nasty, greedy craftsman dwarves of Wagner's Ring cycle and Norse myth were the central influence..."

Absolutely. Both the Hobbit and LOTR are infused with Germanic, particularly Norse, mythology. For a single example, look at the so-called Dvergatal from "Voluspa" in the Elder Edda:

http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/V%C3%B...


message 43: by Michael (new)

Michael Sommers | 57 comments Kamil wrote: "Thorin Oakshield rings a bell? if that's not a warriors surname.... "

It's not a surname at all, any more than "Lionheart" is Richard I's surname.


message 44: by Michael (new)

Michael Sommers | 57 comments Daran wrote: "In stead of shouting Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-m..."

That's because they didn't normally speak Dwarvish, but the language of Dale, which was rendered as Old Norse. See

http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/The_Ap...


message 45: by Michael (new)

Michael Sommers | 57 comments Joe wrote: "From what I understand, his dwarf languages are closer to Hebrew and other Semitic languages than to anything Northern European."

See
http://www.forodrim.org/daeron/md_khu...


message 46: by Daran (new)

Daran | 599 comments Michael wrote: "Daran wrote: "In stead of shouting Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-m..."

That's because they didn't normally speak Dwarvish, but the language of Dale, which was rendered as Old Norse. See

http://tolkie..."


Yes, but they're battle cry was one of the things the said openly.


message 47: by Michael (new)

Michael Sommers | 57 comments Daran wrote: "Yes, but they're battle cry was one of the things the said openly. "

It's not a question of open or not, it's just that the Lonely Mountain dwarves normally spoke the language of Dale, which Tolkien rendered as Old Norse. Their names, for instance, are right out of the Elder Edda.


message 48: by Daran (new)

Daran | 599 comments Michael wrote:"It's not a question of open or not, it's just that the Lonely Mountain dwarves normally spoke the language of Dale, which Tolkien rendered as Old Norse. Their names, for instance, are right out of the Elder Edda. "

Their names are pseudonyms. Dwarves don't tell outsiders their true name, and they don't speak Dwarvish, even to each other, unless absolute privacy is assured (LotR, Appedndix F). They were so secretive about their names and language, that they put a pseudonym on Balin's Tomb in Moria.

All their names show is that they are originally from around Dale. They would have spoken Dwarvish to each other if Bilbo had not been around.


message 49: by Michael (new)

Michael Sommers | 57 comments Daran wrote: " Dwarves don't tell outsiders their true name, and they don't speak Dwarvish, even to each other, unless absolute privacy is assured (LotR, Appedndix F). "

See the link I provided earlier. App. F as published was stripped-down from earlier versions. The information about the Lonely Mountain dwarves apparently appears in a note by Christopher Tolkien to the longer version. The information in App. F may be generally true, but apparently there were exceptions not noted.

The whole issue of Middle Earth languages vs. Real World languages is complex, and not a little confusing.


message 50: by Lucky (new)

Lucky | 1 comments I'm not sure why but everytime I picture the dwarves I see them in Keystone Cops uniforms


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Books mentioned in this topic

Three Hearts and Three Lions (other topics)
The Hobbit (other topics)
The Lord of the Rings (other topics)
The Silmarillion (other topics)
Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Raymond E. Feist (other topics)
Rocky Perry (other topics)