Despite their diminutive height, the Dwarves of Middle Earth prove their mettle time and time again in the quest to destroy the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings and in Bilbo’s unexpected adventure in The Hobbit.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s high fantasy masterpiece has a rich and complex lore. The history of the Dwarves is elaborate but hardly touched upon in the first of the epic trilogies brought to our silver screens. Gimli, son of Glóin, is a stalwart of the fellowship in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings but it is The Hobbit which gives us a more rounded sense of Dwarven culture and introduces us to more of the secretive race.
Although not as widely loved as The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit movie trilogy gave viewers the chance to delve a little deeper into the mythology of Tolkien’s world. Lucky for us, one of the aspects we are able to explore in more depth was the Dwarves.
Only the most die-hard of Tolkien’s fans can recount fully the complex history of these bearded, treasure-loving heroes. Regardless of whether you are a hardened Tolkien scholar or a new fan of the franchise, there is a lot to be explored in Middle-earth’s vivid history.
Here are 16 Things You Didn’t Know About Dwarves.
16. They Were Created By An Angel
Tolkien’s The Silmarillion recounts the creation of Middle-earth in lyrical style.
We discover that the Dwarvish race was created by a Vala named Aulë the Smith. Classified below Eru Ilúvatar, who serves as Supreme Being and Creator, the Valar are akin to angels.
Aulë was impatient for the promised coming of the Children of Ilúvatar, who would be the Elves and Men. In his impatience, he created his own race, so he could teach them his craft and smith’s wisdom.
When Ilúvatar discovered his actions, he wasn’t pleased. Aulë could not bring the Dwarves fully to life; that power rested with Eru only. Eru agreed to help but his price for assisting with Aulë’s creation was to demand that the Dwarves sleep until after the Elves had woken.
15. Tolkien invented the term “Dwarves”
Tolkien was not responsible for inventing the dwarf. They are based on Germanic myth, where the dwarf was already established with many of the famed facets we would associate with them; their diminutive size, dwelling place in mountains, association with mining, metalwork and craftsmanship.
Tolkien’s real contribution was in purposefully misspelling the plural, changing it from dwarfs to dwarves. At the time of his writing, the most famous dwarfs of fiction were the cartoonish Disney offering from Snow White and Tolkien was keen to distinguish from these clownish sidekicks.
As a scholar, he would have been aware that the correct archaic plurals were dwarrows or dwerrows. He felt dwarves paired better with elves.
In many early editions, his editors corrected this plural but Tolkien was adamant and now the plural is as commonly used as the original one. This is just one of the ways that Tolkien has left an indelible mark on the English language.
14. Not Everyone Appreciated The “Hunky Dwarves” in The Hobbit
When you imagine a dwarf, an image of a short, thick-set, bearded, axe-wielding, surly fellow comes to mind. In fact, The Lord of the Ring’s Gimli defined the race for our generation.
When Peter Jackson announced the casting of British heartthrob Richard Armitage as Dwarf King Thorin Oakenshield and the dashing Dean O’Gorman and Aiden Turner as dwarf brothers Fili and Kili, not everyone was thrilled.
The plan to make the Dwarves “hunky” did not sit well with all fans. It is understandable that Jackson wanted to give the thirteen Dwarves in Thorin’s Company distinguishable features and personalities, but having some resembling traditional Dwarves and others serve as elf-love interests was controversial.
When a book is adapted for the big screen, there are bound to be changes. Inevitably, every fan is not going to be happy with those changes and it is difficult to please everyone. Whether you like it or not, it is undeniable that Richard Armitage made a hunky King Under the Mountain.
13. They Never Go Bald
An indignant Gimli, son of Glóin, was forbidden to join Thorin and Company on their quest to Erebor because of his young age – he was only 62 at the time of the quest.
Dwarves have extended lifespans and age in an unusual manner. Of course, they are not the only race in Middle-earth to live beyond our expected lifespan as mortals. Elves are near immortal and even the race of Men can live well into their centuries. As with all races of Middle-earth, dwarves’ lifespans lessened by the Third Age, meaning they only lived to be around 250 years old. One of Thorin’s Company, Balin, lived to the ripe old age of 340 before he passed on, but he is a rarity.
Dwarves reach their conventional adult appearance at around 40 and then would look the same for most of their lives. Dwarves only get obviously “old” around 10 years before their deaths, at which point they age rapidly.
12. Dwarf Females Have Beards
In the extended edition of The Two Towers, Gimli complains that Men think there are no female Dwarves and Aragorn replies, “It’s the beards.”
The joke runs that female Dwarves are indistinguishable from the males because all Dwarves have beards. Surprisingly, this is actually canon.
In The War of the Jewels, Tolkien describes how female Dwarves were in garb, voice and appearance just like male Dwarves, down to the beards. He says: “No Man nor Elf has ever seen a beardless Dwarf – unless he were shaven in mockery, and would then be more like to die of shame… For the Naugrim have beards from the beginning of their lives, male and female alike…”
This really is perfectly normal for a race like the Dwarves, written to be somewhat alien to Mankind.
11. They Have A Secret “Inner” Name
When the Dwarves first met other races of Middle-earth, they spoke a harsh language named Khuzdul and were impossible to understand.
Each dwarf has a Khuzdul name, which they keep secret. The name is not revealed to anyone else, nor does it appear on their tombs. Most of the language itself is secret as well and the Dwarves are reluctant to reveal it to other races, with the exception of a few place names that Gimli explains when the Fellowship travel into Moria.
10. They Will Only Bury Their Dead In Stone
Dwarven burial is as particular as their other customs. The Fellowship find the great stone tomb of Balin, one of Thorin’s Company, when they explore Moria. This is a traditional Dwarven tomb, made of one single oblong block, about two feet high, with Runes revealing his outer name and his title “Lord of Moria”. The Dwarves refuse to bury their dead in earth, choosing only to bury them in stone.
When they are unable to bury their dead in the preferred manner, they will burn them. For example, this occurs after the Battle of Azanulbizar when there were too many dead to build the required stone tombs. It is normally an unfortunate thing for a dwarf to endure, but in the case of those Dwarves burned following the battle, it was a symbol of respect.
9. They Are Based On Medieval Jews
Tolkien has written at length about the inspirations for the various inhabitants of Middle-earth.
The Dwarves’ desire to reclaim their ancestral home, while retaining their culture living amongst other races, all come from a medieval image of Jews. Their secret language and “inner-names” were also based on the Jewish habit of using the language of the culture they were living alongside, while speaking their own language in private. Not to mention Dwarves’ craftsmanship and love of beautiful things, which is linked to the Medieval perception of Jews.
Even Dwarven flaws, such as their greed, were also based on this perception. Although their names come from Nordic Legend and their language is represented by Anglo-Saxon runes, Tolkien based their language very consciously on Semetic languages.
8. The Rings of Power Failed to Corrupt Them
The failings of the Dwarves are well-known. In nature, they are often stubborn and secretive, with long memories that lead to lengthy grudges.
Dwarves are prone to greed, as Thorin’s “dragon-sickness” in The Hobbit illustrates. A large chunk of the conflict in The Silmarillion is because the Dwarves murdered the Elf King Thingol over the the Necklace of the Dwarves, Nauglamir, which had been set with the last remaining Silmaril, an Elf-made jewel.
Despite these failings, their very stubborn nature gave them resistance to many external influences, including the evil of Sauron’s Rings of Power. When the Lords of Men were given their nine Rings, they fell to corruption, becoming the Nazgûl.
7. They Fear The Ocean
In The Silmarillion, it is stated that Dwarves generally lived far away from the sea and disliked the sound of the ocean. They generally avoided getting on boats, as they were afraid of the sea.
However, throughout The Lord of the Rings, Gimli does not seem more afraid of getting into the boats they use to travel than the other members of the Fellowship.
At the end of their journey, it is said that Gimli and Legolas both eventually boarded a ship that sails out to sea and across to the Undying Lands. This made Gimli the only Dwarf to ever be permitted to cross to the Land of the Valar, meaning he was an exception to the normal Dwarven rule.
6. Their Names Comes From an Old Norse poem
Tolkien took almost all the names of the Dwarves from the same Old Norse poem.
Voluspa (The Prophecy of the Seeress) is the first poem in the Poetic Edda. It recounts the creation of the world and its end, and is one of the most important sources for Norse Mythology. There is a section named Dvergatal (The Catalogue of Dwarves) from which Tolkien took the names of Thorin and his Company, including Fili, Kili, Dwalin, Oin, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur.
5. Thorin’s Father Possessed One Of The Dwarf Lords’ Seven Rings Of Power
“Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne,
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.”
The Rings of Power were twenty magical rings used by Sauron to seduce the rulers of Middle-earth to his evil point of view. Seven rings were given to the Dwarves, one for each of the Dwarf Lord.
When the rings failed to corrupt the Dwarves in the same manner as they did the Lord of Men, Sauron struggled to gather the rings back.
Dragons successfully destroyed four, but Sauron regained possession of two. The last one was in the hands of Thráin II, father of Thorin Oakenshield. He was imprisoned by Sauron in the dungeons of Dol Guldur, and the ring was taken from him.
Afterwards, he was left to die but before he passed away he met Gandalf, to whom he entrusted his remaining possessions – the key and map to the Lonely Mountain. These items were passed on to Thorin when Gandalf met him near Bree and began the Quest of Erebor.
4. They Are Made Up of Different Tribes
Just as the race of men are disparate and divided, the Dwarves are not one unified collective.
There were seven distinct clans, descended from the Seven Dwarf Fathers created by Aulë. The most famous were the Longbeards, known as Durin’s Folk, originally from Gundabad. Then there were the Firebeards and Broadbeams, originally from Mount Dolmed, as well as the Ironfists, Stiffbeards, Blacklocks, and Stonefoots – all ST in the East.
The various Dwarven tribes took different paths. Some even aligned themselves with evil. Although they are usually resistant to the insidious power of the Dark Lord, some Dwarves do combine powers with orcs and goblins. These are referred to as “Wicked Dwarves” in The Hobbit.
Our heroes are almost all Longbeard Dwarves and descendants of Durin. Little is known about some of the other tribes, especially those from further East, save that they participated in the War of the Dwarves and Orcs.
3. Gimli Founded A Dwarf Colony
The Glittering Caves are a beautiful, ore-laden system inside the White Mountains.
In Elvish, it is called Aglarond, which means “Caves of Glory” or “Caves of Light”. Gimli saw them first during the Battle of Helm’s Deep and thought it one of the wonders of the northern world. Legolas was speechless when he saw the jeweled caves.
After the War of the Ring, Gimli returns to the Glittering Caves to establish a colony. He took a group of Dwarves from Durin’s Folk to settle there and they honored him as Lord of the Glittering Caves.
2. They Believe In Reincarnation
King Durin I, known as Durin the Deathless, is the oldest of the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves.
He was known as the Deathless because he lived longer than any other known dwarf or, perhaps because the dwarves believed that Durin would be reincarnated six times, each as a Durin with memories of their past lives.
Although it is never explicitly stated to be true or false by Tolkien, it is referenced in his work that the dwarves at least believe in reincarnation. If not believing in reincarnation for every dwarf, they certainly held a belief that their great forefathers would return.
1. Dwarves And Elves Were Destined To Hate Each Other
The enmity between the Dwarves and Elves is an accepted trope of fantasy. In Tolkien’s world this hatred is carved into their very core.
Certainly, blood feuds were inspired by the conflicts of The Silmarillion and the murder of the Elf King Thingol by Dwarves, over the precious Necklace of the Dwarves and the Silmaril. Yet, the conflict goes back even further than this.
The dwarves were created by Aulë since he desired for a people to teach his craft to and was impatient for the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar.
Ilúvatar was not happy about Aulë’s premature actions but brought his creation to life for him. His price was to demand that the Dwarves sleep until after the Elves had awakened. Ilúvatar warned Aulë, in the The Silmarillion, that: “often strife shall arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice.”
In short, the Elves and Dwarves were competing creations, destined to be rivals from the very beginning.
Do you have any trivia to share about the Dwarves in The Lord of the Rings universe? Leave it in the comments!
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