In which we talk about how Peter Jackson wronged the Dwarves

I really promise this entire site, blog, whatever isn’t just going to be me bashing LOTR movies and the poor creative decisions they made. Also I understand that many many people love the LOTR movies. However I think criticism is valid even for something you like. Especially for things you like. I could also go off about all the weak parts of the LOTR books (I mean be honest, did anyone besides me actually read ALL of Two Towers book IV?) but that’s not as fun as talking about the version that pretty much everyone is now familiar with and has a lot of nostalgic value. Also not everyone has read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings (and honestly you might not like it but you should read it.) so they might not be familiar with how the books present a very different view of some of our favorite characters.

Alright dwarves. Let’s talk about dwarves. In the books the dwarves are presented as artists, laborers, kings, princes, musicians, enchanters. The gifts of dwarves lie in their artistry, their heartiness, loyalty, and stubbornness as granted to them by their creator Aulë. They were granted knowledge of crafting by Aulë, the Valar of craft smiths, and he made them hearty and stubborn as they would be born into a world assailed by the Shadow of Morgoth and would need to be resilient.

Now some of you might be looking at that paragraph and thinking to yourselves “Artist? What? I thought dwarves were miners, jewelcrafters, and hoarders of gold. Yeah okay you know who else hordes golds? Everyone. even the elves like gold and have started several wars over the stuff. But dwarves tend to mine deeper and seek out more and more riches than other races. But I do not think it is just greed alone that drives the dwarvish heart as is so quickly suggested by most scholars of Tolkien or even from a broader fantasy sense. Within Tolkien we have several key moments that in fact push back against the idea that only greed is what drives the interests of dwarves.

The first comes from none other than Thorin Oakenshield himself. Now in the movies Thorin, played by the ever brilliant Richard Armitage, was certainly given into the greed of dwarves motif that they are often associated with. So much so that the movies introduced a concept called “Dragon-sickness” or “Gold sickness” to further the point that “gold is bad”. Pretty big concept coming from a company that is literally cashing in and dragged out a wonderful single book into three movies because of …money. Based on the movies you’d think the only thing Thorin’s entire line cares about is money and Thorin is saved because of love. (Side note: if your entire way of overcoming your scary magic is the power of love, your scary magic/disease/whatever sucks). But in the books Thorin is a musician as well having a fine harp and when they first enter into the Lonely Mountain when Smaug was gone, they come to the treasure horde and Thorin specifically is attracted at first not to look for the Arkenstone, but to the harps and comments on how they are still in good condition. It is with music that the dwarves use to cheer Thorin during the siege of the Lonely Mountain, not with gold. 

“Yes but he was still a jerk and didn’t share the gold with the Men of the Lake and started a war over it.” Of course I’m aware of that, but I would like you to really stop and think about the position Thorin found himself in at the end of the Hobbit. He was in the Mountain with a small company well outside was a host of men and elves (I believe it is stated somewhere there’s about a thousand elves and some five hundred men of the lake?). He has spent almost two hundred years living, for the heir of Durin, in relatively poor conditions with his energies, goals and resources aimed at retaking his home and restoring his people to their power. Now some might say “oh yes retake their home and get all that money, see money” but remember that as the heir to Durin it is basically Thorin’s life purpose to make sure that his people are strong and prosperous, the goal of any good ruler. 

Thorin is now in a position of finally getting home and the major hurdle in his mind, Smaug, is gone. He is now faced with a rather overwhelming force of which he knows could wipe him out. If he acquiesces to their demands they very well might demand more of him later. Thorin’s point of view is he is defending his home, defending the sacred land of his people. The presence of the wood elves only inflames his belief that he is trapped as he was held prisoner, in his mind unjustly, and having a host of elves show up at your door to demand reparations for another would probably feel threatening to anyone. I am not saying the Men of the Lake do not have just cause, but it is worth looking at things through the lens of Thorin as a ruler and someone who is proud of his lineage having been forced to be homeless for so long to suddenly have people, none of whom save Thranduil, were alive when Smaug attacked the first time, making demands of him for what he sees as the key to his people’s future. 

Thorin does cast off claim to gold in the end, telling Bilbo that he wishes that more people valued good friendship and company and a simple life thus showing us the noble spirit we all knew he had in him from the start. But I think it’s notable that the dwarves in The Hobbit book are all musicians, all bringing instruments to the party to play as a matter of course and culture. Indeed Thorin places the singing of song in a chief position, before even delving into the purpose of the gathering he feels song is important enough, perhaps as a mood setter, maybe as a sort of enchantment of binding on the group’s purpose. So moving was the music that even small Bilbo who had little interest in adventure, war, fame, or gold (being already quite wealthy himself) was moved by their song and awoke the Tookish side of him up. Remember also that in Middle Earth it is Music that is the foundation of all creation.

Our second and chief argument about the artisan aspect of dwarves comes from possibly the most celebrated dwarf of  the Third Age, Gimli son of Gloin. It is a shame this part was cut from the movies (maybe it’s in the extended editions but I honestly don’t remember it) as it’s one of my favorite moments of description in Tolkien, and anyone who knows his prose and ability to transport you into the world of Middle Earth knows this is high praise. After the Battle of Helm’s Deep the three companions, with Gandalf and an escort of Rohirrim, ride through Fangorn Forest that has been shepherded by the Ents to the battlefield. Legolas is taken aback by the trees and ancientness and wishes to spend time there. But Gimli counters with a description of the Glittering Cave of Aglarond, so beautiful the he describes them as one of the wonders of the Northern World:

    “Here they have one of the marvels of the Northern World, and what do they say of it? Caves, they say! Caves! Holes to fly to in time of war, to store fodder in! My good Legolas, do you know that the caverns of Helm’s Deep are vast and beautiful?

‘And, Legolas, when the torches are kindled and men walk on the sandy floors under the echoing domes, ah! then, Legolas, 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, Legolas, 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. Caves! The Caverns of Helm’s Deep! Happy was the chance that drove me there! It makes me weep to leave them.’

‘Then I will wish you this fortune for your comfort, Gimli,’ said the Elf, ‘that you may come safe from war and return to see them again. But do not tell all your kindred! There seems little left for them to do, from your account, maybe the men of this land are wise to say little: one family of busy dwarves with hammer and chisel might mar more than they make.”

‘No, you do not understand,’ said Gimli. “No dwarf could be unmoved by such loveliness. None of Durin’s race would mine those caves for stones or ore, not if diamond and gold could be got there. Do you cut down groves of blossoming trees in the springtime 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 new ways, and display far chambers that are still dark, glimpsed only as a wood beyond fissures in the rock. And light, Legolas! We should make lights, such lamps as once shone in Khaza-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.’

-Gimli, The Two Towers, Chapter 8, The Road to Isengard

A description so moving that it stirs the heart of Legolas Greenleaf into wishing to descend and explore the caves to see the underground world as a dwarf sees it, and really marking in my mind the moment that Legolas and Gimli truly became friends making a pact to travel to both Fangorn and the Glittering Caves. This entire Gimli speech, his longest in the books, shows that for the dwarves there is a love of beauty in the caverns and halls of the dark places of the world, not something to be exploited. Legolas even claps back the idea that a family of dwarves would destroy a beautiful spot of the world; to Gimli though the idea of doing the wholesale mining Legolas believes only dwarves capable of as abhorrent. 

It is key to Tolkien that in many ways the dwarves are the least explored of the races, that even their language is held secret so that few men, elf, orc or hobbit would know more the war cries of the dwarves. This is interesting in that Tolkien in many ways built his languages first and then the world and the stories around those languages. But throughout The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings only Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu! (Axes of the dwarves! The dwarves are upon you!) are shown as examples of the dwarven language within the main text at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. As such we have much more limited examples of dwarven culture then that of Elves, Men, or Hobbits. 

Now let’s talk about the movie dwarves. *sigh* I hope that in my discussion of dwarves in the books you’ll have noticed a very important missing factor. For everything else, if dwarves are greedy, if dwarves are stubborn, mean, unwilling to work with others, whatever it is, dwarves are not comic relief. The Fellowship of the Rings (being the best of all the Jackson movies) is probably the best handling and least comical relief from Gimli. relying on Merry and Pippin to provide that. By The Two Towers however with Merry and Pippin hanging out with Treebeard it seems the producers and director decided that the trio of heroes needed a comic relief man. Who better to provide that than the dwarf. “We can make short jokes!” you can almost hear the writers exclaim as they write the Battle of Helm’s Deep.This continues on through Return of the King with a lot of comic relief coming from Gimli with Legolas as the foil with Aragorn apparently being the only one focused on the task at hand. 

Then came the Hobbit movies. 

Okay the Hobbit movies are trash can we just all agree with that and move on? Please? Please? 

I just am too tired to dissect the utter bullshit and nonsense of those movies. Suffice to say the dwarves outside of Thorin and Balin and Kíli are comic relief. I’m not even going to start on the love triangle involving Kíli because…ehh. It makes it hard to get into the seriousness of the world when you’re on a journey with 13 dwarves and a hobbit and 10 of them are more like an acrobatic troupe than the chosen companions of a king. All the stories of Middle Earth, as Aragorn told four hobbits once, are sad. If there is nothing else you can take away from Tolkien’s Middle Earth is that they aren’t grimdark, they aren’t the grittiest, but they are sad. They should leave you feeling sad inside because it’s a world that feels Doomed, the heroes feel Doomed even as they fight and you know they will “win” it comes at a cost. Thorin will win back the mountain but never live to see his people restored to their glory. Balin will see the Mountain retaken and even reestablish a colony in Moria but will still fall to the Balrog. Frodo will save the Shire, and the world but is wounded and suffering from PTSD and won’t know peace in the Shire and has to leave. Arwyn will get Aragorn but gives up her immortality and will never see her family again. It is the recurring theme that the heroes might win, but the victories seem hollow. By introducing these comic relief moments you take away from the theme, and you reduce a noble and proud race to short jokes and barely above fart jokes (though I’m pretty sure there are a few from Bombur at least in the first movie). 

My conclusion to all of this ranting (hey he ranted, WesRants he said the thing!) is that dwarves are more than greedy misers. They are craftsmen, musicians, and artists. They have just as much love for natural beauty as any elf, but their interest lay in the caves and mountains of the world, not the forests and oceans. So if you are planning on including dwarves in your fantasy works I’d encourage you to think more then just smiths and miners and think what other elements you can add in to make them feel special and unique beyond the standard stereotypes.. 

2 thoughts on “In which we talk about how Peter Jackson wronged the Dwarves

  1. Excellent! And yes, The Hobbit movies were awful. It’s been so long since I read LotR, and I do remember the basic exchange between Gimli and Legolas but not Gimli’s entire speech, so that was neat to read. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Never a bad time to dive back into a classic. I’m reading the Prydain books with the boy right now and it’s like having a conversation with an old friend I haven’t seen in awhile. It is a disservice I think to ignore one of the most poignant speeches any dwarf in fantasy gives about their view of the world and I try and call it out to people whenever possible so I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Liked by 1 person

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