The Hobbit Reread 1: Of Dwarves and Men

The History of Middle-earth Vol. 12: The Peoples of Middle-earth - Of Dwarves and Men

Okay, before I jump into the first of many rereads, I thought I'd explain the format. Each week I'll present a summary of the chapter or essay I'll be discussing, and then move into my 'discussion' of the piece. If the piece I'm rereading is not part of the main body of the Hobbit I'll give a bit of background on it as well (mainly applicable for the first couple of weeks). In each section I'll try to include any incredibly important quotations as necessary. Here we go!


This first essay is titled Of Dwarves and Men, and can be found in volume 12 of The History of Middle-earth: The Peoples of Middle-earth. In addition to the essay, Christopher Tolkien included two excerpts, one from the Silmarillion and one from Appendix F at the end of Return of the King. Both the excerpts and the essay spend a great deal of time focusing on the development and history of the dwarvish language, Khuzdul; however, the essay also provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of the Longbeards, especially during the Second Age, which (as far as dwarves are concerned) is glossed over in the Silmarillion. It's probably important to note that the full essay was never found, and so the surviving piece of the essay begins mid-sentence.


Excerpt 1: The first essay comes from the Quenta Silmarillion, and deals exclusively with the origins of the Dwarvish language. Khuzdul was taught to the Seven Fathers of the dwarves by Aulë, and is not related to any of the Elvish languages (e.g. Quenya). Dwarves do not willingly share their language with other races and have purposely made it difficult to speak and understand. When alone, dwarves converse in Khuzdul, but they are adept at learning other languages and use the tongues of Elves and Men to communicate with other races. Khuzdul has hardly changed since it was first invented. Many of the languages of Eastern Men were influenced by Khuzdul.

Excerpt 2: This second essay comes from Appendix F. In the Third Age, some communities of Men and Dwarves were still friendly with each other. When traveling, dwarves used the tongues of men. In secret they spoke Khuzdul, which had become a "lore speech" or dead language. Gimli reveals only place names to the Fellowship of the Ring, and speaks the well-known phrase:
"Baruk Khazad! Khazad ai-menu!" 
 Translated: "The axes of the dwarves! The dwarves are upon you!"

All dwarves have a secret "inner name" that they never reveal to any other race. These secret names are not even put on their tombstones.

Of Dwarves and Men, section 1: Longbeard children were taught Khuzdual at an early age, and the language was used in all of the dwarves' important writings and histories. However, dwarves were not "skilled linguists", and always had a distinct dwarvish accent. Additionally, dwarves never invented a writing system of their own . . . instead they adopted the various elven systems for their own use. Because of their fondness for inscribing messages in stone, the dwarves mainly used the Daeron Runes, which they eventually modified into their "own" rune system, the Angerthas Moria, which eventually became known as "dwarf-letters".

Dwarves first learned the Common Speech by ear, so their spelling was usually bad. Even in "official" or important documents, like the Book of Mazarbul, spelling was often incorrect because the dwarf scribe would have spelled words phonetically, leaving out any silent letters.

The "outer" names used by the Erebor dwarves (including Thorin and Company) would have been Dale-ish in origin. In fact, Tolkien chose the 13 dwarf names from Norse mythology, and only later based the language of Dale on Old Norse.

Of Dwarves and Men, section 2: Relations of the Longbeard Dwarves and Men: Dwarvish traditions identifies the waking places of all Seven Fathers; however, only three of those locations are known to Men and Elves. The Firebeard and Broadbeam dwarves awoke in the Blue Mountains west of the Shire during the First Age. Durin, father of the Longbeards, awoke in the Misty Mountains at Mount Gundabad (which was originally a dwarvish word). The four other clans (Ironfists, Stiffbeards, Blacklocks and Stonefoots) awoke far in the East (Tolkien states that the distance was at least as far as the space between the Blue Mountains and the Misty Mountains). All of the clans communicated with one another and would send aid in times of need. Dwarves avoid migrating at all costs, and will only do so under extreme duress; however, they are "hardy" travelers and excellent road-makers. The enmity between Dwarves and Elves has its roots in the death of the elven King Thingol and the fall of his kingdom Doriath, for which the dwarves of the Blue Mountains were at least partially responsible.

Relations between the Longbeards and Men first began in the First Age when men first settled around the river Anduin, east of the Misty Mountains. Commerce between the Longbeards and dwarves went as such: men provided food and livestock for the dwarves, while the dwarves gave men weapons and tools of metal and helped in building their houses, towns and roads. This arrangement left the dwarves free to spend more time developing their craft. During the First Age, the Longbeards regarded all of the land from Moria north and east to the Iron Hills as their own, and they made allies of their human neighbors to help defend their territory against orcs.

At the beginning of the Second Age the Longbeards were outnumbered by the bands of orcs fleeing the fall of Beleriand, and it was only through the aid of their human allies that they managed to defend themselves. These men were fair-haired for the most part (think Rohan), and related to the great Elf-Friend Houses that had aided the elves in Beleriand. The dwarves provided these men with weapons and armor (of which they had little) and in return the men scouted far and wide on their horses (of which dwarves had none) to spy out the movements of orcs. In the early part of the Second age this alliance between the Longbeards and Men became a powerful  force, and friendship developed between the two races. Also, it was during this time that the Longbeards first began learning the language of their human allies.

Despite this friendship, the Longbeards still refused to share their true names with Men, instead using names from the human languages. Of all the Longbeards, only Durin was known by his true name. In fact, the word 'durin' came to mean king in some human languages. For thousands of years the Longbeards used (and reused) certain names, so that by the Third Age, some names that were originally human had become de facto dwarf names.

Only  midway through the Second Age, Sauron invaded Eriador and destroyed Eregion and the gates of Moria were shut. From this point on, relations between the Longbeards and elves and men began to deteriorate.


Wow. There is a whole lot of info packed into this essay. I think the main point that came across again and again was that dwarves are a close-mouthed, secretive bunch. I mean, can you imagine being so secretive that you would never, ever share your true name with one of your friends? Another point the first excerpt made was that the dwarves had purposefully made their language difficult to speak. For whatever reason, these guys were really going out of their way to exclude "others".

It will be interesting to see if in the movie any of the dwarves (Dwalin and Balin, perhaps?) converse together in private using Khuzdul. There have been rumblings that due to that unfortunate ax buried in his head, Bifur will only speak in the dwarfish language . . . but who knows if that is true?

The second excerpt pretty much just emphasizes what we learned in the previous one, but does underscore just how little we know about the dwarvish language . . . Gimil's battle cry is pretty much the only bit of Khuzdul we have, aside from place-names like Khazad-dûm. Despite that fact, we already know that a lot of the inscriptions on Thorin & Co.'s weapons (and Dwalin's tattoos) are in "Neo-Khuzdul". Some people have complained about this, arguing that according to Tolkien's own writings Khuzdul would be a better-kept secret than that, and that the dwarves wouldn't parade their language about for all to see. Now, this is a perfectly legitimate argument; however, Tolkien never said that the dwarves kept Khuzdul a secret, only their inner names. So as long as the tattoos and inscriptions don't reveal dwarvish names (which they don't, so far as we know), then technically Tolkienites should have nothing to complain about.

Now, the real meat of this first piece is the essay, Of Dwarves and Men. Like the material in Appendix A, this essay is chalk-full of information about dwarves. I'm going to skim over the opening paragraphs of the piece, since they mostly just review what the excerpts already told us: dwarves are a secretive bunch. Speaking of which, why the heck are dwarves so secretive? Any ideas? I mean, it's not like all the other races are dying to dig endless tunnels underground (except Hobbits, I guess . . . and they seem to have a firm No Dank Tunnels rule). It probably has something to do with their love of treasure. I'd probably be pretty secretive too if I was worried every bum I met was trying to steal my gold. Whatever the reason, I think Mr. Jackson has done a good job of really playing up this "dwarvish secrecy". For example, take a look at this post by Dark Jackal which translated the bulk of the contract Thorin gives to Bilbo.

The real meat of the essay begins with the section titled Relations of the Longbeards and Men. One of the reasons I think so many people are fascinated by Tolkien's dwarves is the mystery surrounding them. Of the seven different Houses, only the Longbeards' history is well known, and we get only the barest sketches of the Firebeards and Broadbeams. We know next to nothing about the other four Houses. To me, the great thing about this essay is how much information we get about the early history of the Longbeards, which don't play a great role in the Silmarillion. What's more, the things we learn play directly into the events of The Hobbit, which take place in the Third Age.

Apparently, the alliance between the Longbeards of Erebor and the men of Dale had its roots in a much older relationship. All the way back in the First Age the ancestors of the men of Dale had begun to settle the lands between the Misty Mountains and the Great River. The description of how trade developed between these men and the Longbeards helps clear up a lot of questions I've always had, like how the heck did dwarves grow food down in their caves. Well, apparently they didn't. Men grew food and then traded it to the dwarves for metal and stonework. I really appreciated this explanation, because it helps explain why the Dale in the movie is built of stone, even though every other group of humans with no connection to Númenor seem to prefer wood. Dale was built by dwarves for humans. Hats off to Mr. Jackson and crew for getting that detail right.

Another thing that caught my attention was the fact that the enmity between the Longbeards and orcs goes back much further than the War of the Dwarves and Orcs. Orcs have been impinging on Longbeard territory since the beginning of the Second Age, sacking dwarvish mansions and even claiming Mount Gundabad as their own. This essay goes a long way in explaining the deep-rooted enmity between the Longbeards and orcs.

So, to end this (overly) long first part of the reread, let me explain my reasons for starting it all out with this essay: first, this piece gives us a good overview of Longbeard history; second, we get introduced to the concept of the dwarves' intensely secretive nature; and third, this essay lays the groundwork for a lot of the themes we'll see running through the Hobbit (the ancient alliance between the Longbeards and Men, the enmity between dwarves and elves, and the Longbeard's hatred for orcs). All in all, this essay really helps place all the events of Bilbo's adventure into the larger narrative of dwarvish history.

Tune in next week for The Hobbit Reread 2: Durin's Folk


  1. This is an excellent way to start your in-depth look at Longbeards!

    1. Thanks! I just got the second part up . . . it took me longer than intended