For anyone who got chills the first time hearing the Misty Mountains song, for anyone who loves the dwarves of The Hobbit, for anyone who’s tired of saying “that one dwarf with the beard,” or for anyone who’s bored and happened on this post by mistake, I present this Dwarvelogue, a guide to the dwarves of Thorin & Company. It’s not an earthshaking character analysis; it’s just what I find interesting about each dwarf that helps distinguish him from the rest. I’m not writing this for literary or philosophical purposes—I’m writing this because after reading the book three times and seeing the movie four, for crying out loud, I still get some of the dwarves mixed up.
I’ve used pictures from the films, but I’ll touch briefly on both the characters’ original presentations in the book and variations on and interpretations of them in the films (the first film installment, anyway, since it’s the only one out yet). By way of disclaimer, as far as Middle-earth goes, I love both the books and the movies. In other words, I dabble in both the purist circle who revel in elven languages and spend hours studying the history of Middle-earth and may or may not throw temper tantrums every time Peter Jackson varies from the text, and the cult-following circle who own extended-edition DVDs and stay up all night watching interviews with the actors and stand in lines for midnight premiers dressed up as Gandalf.
Anyway do put on the tea and get comfortable, because it seems dwarves are better talked about, or read about, or thought about, over a cup of hot Earl Grey.
Without further ado, a Dwarvelogue.
Youngest and funniest first. Fili and Kili are a solid fifty years younger than any of the other dwarves, and that fact combined with their sharp eyesight usually gets them assigned errands and small jobs that no one else wants to do. They also happen to be Thorin’s nephews. For the record, as far as the films go, Fili’s the one with the ash-blonde hair, while Kili’s the brunette. Highly confusing sometimes. (Also, I said I wouldn’t go into character analysis, but Fili and Kili often parallel Merry and Pippin of The Lord of the Rings in comedic-relief duo action, which leads to an interesting study on comedic pairs in heavy epic fantasies—but that’s another blog post.)
With Oin, we come to the first of the dwarves with little material distinguishing him from the others in the company. In his defense, though, like each of the others he came when Thorin called and is now prepared to fight with him to the end. He also contributes to their lucky number fourteen, which Gandalf helps them fulfill by adding Bilbo to their numbers in the beginning of the story. [Edit: as fellow WordPresser Marc kindly brought to my attention (see comments below), film-version-Oin is partially deaf. He’s the one who uses a cool dwarvish hearing aid—a little metal ear pipe deal—that sadly gets trampled on by goblins. I’d love to find out whose very clever idea that was, because in the book Oin hears fine.]
Gloin starts off in the book (not so much in the movies) with a rather nasty attitude toward Bilbo. He’s got some harsh things to say, including the famous line “He looks more like a grocer than a burglar,” which is given to Thorin in the film. Most importantly, though, Gloin is father to none other than the legendary Gimli, who will sixty years later venture forth with one Frodo Baggins as a part of, you know, some fellowship that watches out for a magical ring or something.
Dwalin’s another who tends to be just one of the mix in the book, but actor Graham McTavish interprets him in the films in light of a brilliant backstory: that Dwalin and Thorin grew up together, sparred together, talked together in their young dwarvish days. Therefore, he’s intensely loyal to the Thorin, his childhood friend and the one he believes ought to reign as King under the Mountain.
Balin’s the oldest besides Thorin, if you can believe it, and he’s a scrapper. Canonically he’s the company’s permanent look-out man, which I believe is because he tends to think quickly on his feet in high-pressure situations. He’s curious and persistent in his questions, and more than once he figures things out more quickly than the rest. He’s the one, for instance, to figure out the scheme Bilbo is trying to explain to them for escaping from the giant spiders who are about to kill them, or to snatch a retreating boat in time for the dwarves to flee across the perilous enchanted river in Mirkwood. He’s also got a special soft spot for Bilbo and is the only one to offer him help in first exploring the secret passage into Smaug’s lair or to encourage the hobbit after the frightening interview with the dragon. We’ll have to see how the films do with his development in the future, since none of these instances have had a movie-appearance yet.
Bifur’s textually mostly just one of the company. In the movies, though, whenever he talks he spouts off in a comedic accent so heavy you can’t understand a word he’s saying. James Nesbitt, who plays Bofur, says that Bifur never speaks understandably “because he’s got an axe in his head.” Bifur’s actor William Kircher describes him as “slightly deranged,” largely due to the piece of Orc-axe that is indeed stuck in his head, and explains that he’s only able to speak in ancient Dwarvish. An interesting take on the character, since Tolkien’s original Bifur speaks perfectly intelligibly and without any language difference. He’s also cousin to Bofur and Bombur.
Bofur is Bifur’s cousin and Bombur’s brother. Since he’s not textually overly fond of Bilbo, it’s interesting that he’s one of the dwarves in the movie to have a specific connection with the hobbit. James Nesbitt, who plays him in the movie, describes him well as “a bit of a clown” and “one of the first to get close to Bilbo.” He also wears a really, really cool hat. I want his hat.
In the movies, Bombur is something like a quieter, ginger Santa Claus plus weapons. And he’d rather be eating than fighting. Or talking. Or doing anything else, for that matter. In the book he’s a good deal crankier, especially because he’s always shuffled to last on everything and makes a point to complain about it.
Dori’s actually the strongest dwarf of the company. Interesting, since in the first movie, at least, he’s a posh chap who offers Gandalf tea in Bilbo’s hobbit-hole. But in the book, he’s a “decent fellow” who actually saves Bilbo’s life in the heart of the Misty Mountains by hoisting the hobbit up to his shoulders and carrying him away from pursuing goblins. That’s not as gutsy as what he does shortly afterwards, though: when the company flees up into the trees away from the goblins and Wargs, Bilbo gets left on the ground, running around the bases of the trees in fright, not tall enough to get into any of them. Dori is man enough to climb all the way down from his safe perch to the ground and let Bilbo climb up onto his shoulders, standing there long enough for Bilbo to jump up into the tree even when the Wargs are approaching. He barely escapes the demon-wolves’ fangs as they snap at his feet when he finally gets to leap back up after Bilbo.
Nori is on Bilbo’s team when it comes to believing in large and frequent meals, and that’s about the only specific Tolkien gives. But Nori’s actor Jed Brophy goes on to interpret him, as he says, as “a little bit of a kleptomaniac.” All through the filming process, Brophy’s Nori was slyly pocketing anything unclaimed and within his reach. I haven’t been able to catch him doing so in the movie yet, which may be because I keep forgetting to look for it, or also could be because his moments have been cut and will be revealed in the extended edition. Which incidentally will be released in November. And will be about eight thousand hours long. (And inexpressibly wonderful, all eight thousand hours of it.) Actually it will only be thirteen minutes longer than the theatrical release, but anyways, on a more serious level, Brophy and fellow Dori and Ori actors play the characters as half-brothers, with the same mother but all different fathers. That’s a creative solution to the reason for their extremely similar names, since their relationship isn’t delineated in the book.
Ori, mostly just one of the company in the book, is altogether an odd little fellow in the movies. In the first film installment, his character seems best summed up by one of his earliest lines: “Excuse me—I don’t mean to interrupt—but what should I do with my plate?” He stands up at Bilbo’s table to (comedically) declare his warlike lust for vengeance on the dragon Smaug, but then he balks at eating salad in Rivendell.
And Thorin Oakenshield. Official leader of the company and rightful King under the Mountain. Canonically he’s one of the last four dwarves to arrive at Bilbo’s home, all of them falling in onto the hobbit’s floor—quite a different character introduction from his fashionably late, ominously serious, long-brunette-locks-blowing-in-the-night-wind arrival in the first movie. Don’t get me wrong; I love movie-Thorin. Pretty difficult not to like a Thorin played by Richard Armitage with his throaty northern-English accent and luscious silver-streaked dark hair. But he’s definitely a variation from book-Thorin. Book-Thorin is older and less ruggedly handsome; more pompous, less darkly mysterious; more haughty and long-winded, less brusque and reserved. In fact, in the book Thorin remains a more or less flat character, and though brave and dedicated not especially noble or inspiring, until the Battle of the Five Armies near the end of the story. And then some serious character development does happen, but that’s spoiler material if you don’t know how it all ends. Suffice to say Armitage’s heroic Thorin is definitely not unfounded. I’m in favor of his interpretation, in fact.
In Tolkien’s words, “There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don’t expect too much.” And since Tolkien is basically an all-time master of understatement, by that less-than-favorable estimation we may infer what quickly proves true as the story unfolds: that dwarves can indeed be heroes and do have the capacity to be lionhearted at their core, though it may take the desolation of Smaug to demonstrate it. Both to us and also to them.
Four cups of Earl Grey were consumed in the writing of this post.