A Dwarf-guide for Beginners

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“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” will be out in UK cinemas on December 13th. If you still can’t say who’s who here’s a handy guide – plus some dwarven trivia. Note: it should be said that “The Hobbit” contains very few descriptions of the dwarves. When Peter Jackson embarked on the project, the writers had to give each of the dwarves some distinctive characteristics, sometimes based on information contained in other Tolkien’s works, sometimes by inventing anew. The following guide is a mixture of the two.

First, some general dwarf-knowlege:

Origins:Like in the Norse myths, Tolkien’s dwarves were created by the gods and in particular by the Valar called Aulë. At first there were seven Fathers of the Dwarves, the eldest of all was Durin and his city was Khazad-dûm. The others inhabited various parts of Middle Earth; their clan names were Broadbeams, Firebears, Ironfists, Stiffbeards, Blacklocks, and Stonefoots.

Characteristics: Tolkien’s idea of the dwarves changed slightly over time. At first he conceived them as evil beings created by the fallen Valar, Melkor. Subsequently he gave them more benevolent features although even in “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” they are often depicted as more incline to evil and corruption. Described as strong and proud warriors they took great pride in their craft and immense riches. Their lust for gold led to a series of quarrels with the Elves which ended up in open hatred between the two races. The dwarves were mortal although their life span was around 250 years. Female dwarves were said to have beards the same as dwarf-men.

Language: Dwarves were very secretive and often communicated in their secret language called Khuzdul. Khuzdul was written in Cirth, a runic alphabet which was invented by Tolkien. Little is known about this language since Tolkien never provided a grammar for it and the only complete sentences we have are the battle cry Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu! (meaning “Axes of the Dwarves! The Dwarves are upon you!”) and the inscription on Balin’s tombstone, reading: BALIN FUNDINUL UZBAD KHAZAD-DÛMU (meaning “Balin son of Fundin Lord of Moria”).

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Thorin (II): He is the leader of the company of dwarves. His father was Thràin II, son of Tròr, the last King under the mountain. Thorin is the heir to the throne of Erebor, the dwarven kingdom founded by Thràin I, direct descendant of Durin – one of the seven Fathers of the Dwarves. During the battle of Azanulbizar Thorin fought to reclaim Moria and earned the epithet ‘Oakenshield’, as he used nothing but an oak branch to defend himself from the orcs. Orcrist is the name of his sword which in the Sindarin language means ‘Goblin-clever’ and was forged in Gondolin, one of the great cities of elves founded in the First Age of Middle Earth. A substantial departure from the book is Thorin’s age – based on the book he would appear more like a 70-80 years old man.

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Fili & Kili: Fili is Thorin’s eldest nephew and therefore second in line to the throne. His mother was Dís, Thorin’s sister (the only female dwarf named in Tolkien’s works). Kili is Fili’s youngest brother and one of the fittest warriors in the company. In the film his weapon of choice is a bow. Peculiar for a dwarf is also his fascination for the elves.

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Balin & Dwalin: Balin, son of Fundin, is too of royal descent. He fought alongside Thorin during the battle of Moria and subsequently followed him in his exile in the Blue Mountains. Many years after the Battle of the Five Armies he lead a small company of dwarves to their ancestral home of Khazad-dûm but died during an orc attack. His tomb was discovered in the Chamber of Mazarbul by Gimli and the rest of the fellowship before being attacked by the orcs of Moria. Dwalin is Balin’s younger brother. During the Quest for Erebor he was the first to arrive at Bag End. He died at the venerable age of 340, after Sauron’s defeat.

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Gloin & Oin: Gloin is the youngest son of Groin, of the royal line of Durin. He too fought in the battle of Azanulbizar and subsequently followed Thorin in exile. After the Battle of the Five Armies he settled in Erebor. He travelled to Rivendell for the council of Elrond along with his son, Gimli, who then became part of the fellowship of the ring. Oin is Gloin’s eldest brother. After the Quest of Erebor he went with Balin to retake Moria but died killed by the Watcher in the Water – the monstrous octopus which attacked the fellowship in front of the gates of Moria.

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Dori, Nori, Ori: Although we do not know who their parents were it is said that they were remotely related to Thorin. Ori, the youngest of the three brothers, went with Balin to re-colonize Moria. Before dying he wrote the last entry in the Book of Mazarbul which Gandalf read before the fellowship was attacked by the goblins.

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Bifur, Bofur, Bombur: Bombur and Bofur are brothers whereas Bifur is their cousin. In the film Bifur speaks only Dwarvish since he was hit in the head with an axe.  Unlike the other dwarves they are not from a royal bloodline.

Have you lost track? Check out this interactive family tree.

Elisa was born in the small town of Udine, Italy, where she made her first short films. Aged 18 she moved to London where she achieved a degree in Film & Broadcast Production with her film "A Tragedy", based on William Shakespeare's "Macbeth". She recently pursued a Master degree in Screenwriting for TV and Film thus joining the group of struggling writers. Ssst! She's brainstorming.