Tuesday, 19 July 2011

So, about that dwarf movie...

"Farewell, Balin!" he said; "and farewell, Dwalin; and farewell Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur! May your beards never grow thin!"
 - Bilbo, The Hobbit, Chapter 18, "The Return Journey"

I've made a concerted effort not to talk about the recent character reveals from the upcoming Hobbit film adaptations, mostly because I couldn't really think of anything to say at the time. Everything I suspected would happen has happened: when they do it right, they do it brilliantly, but when they do it wrong, it looks preposterous.  Just like the adaptations of The Lord of the Rings.

Still, now that we've seen all thirteen dwarves, I might as well comment on them, based on my observations.

No, don't run away: I have praise as well as criticisms. I'm as surprised as you are!

I don't hate the Lord of the Rings films, nor do I have any intention of belittling their incredible achievement and success.  I think they're really quite excellent achievements, with great acting, production values, visual design, and lovely music.  I still very much enjoy The Fellowship of the Ring, and love watching it as a fantasy flick inspired by Tolkien.  It's just I think the books are far, far superior.

However, at the same time, I don't think they're the best adaptation that could be done with the books - I've been sent  an unproduced script, and though I've only read through a small part of it, I think it would've made a far more faithful adaptation - and I think they have significant flaws as independent cinematic works.  While they're astronomically more faithful adaptations of the source material than Conan the Barbarian was, I find my greatest enjoyment of them derives from a similar separation from its derivation.  It's mostly as an adaptation that I find faults - though these aren't exclusive, of course. I still can't stand Aragorn's Magical River Tour in The Two Towers.

Nonetheless, it's my hope that the upcoming Hobbit films will be more reminiscent of what made Fellowship such a joy to watch: that sense of adventure, excitement, mystery and awe. The expansions to include Dol Goldur and other material from the appendices and The Lord of the Rings will likely be more akin to the stuff from the other two films, but it's my hope that the parts of The Hobbit films that are actually from The Hobbit have that same rip-roaring fun from Fellowship.

References to beards in The Hobbit

It's been said that Tolkien was vague in regards to the dwarves' beards in The Hobbit. Some even say there's the possibility some, like Fili and Kili, don't have beards at all. However, Tolkien does make great pains to point out that the dwarves as a collective are bearded, and you would think that if he did intend any of them to be beardless, it would be an anomaly worth pointing out.
That's how they all came to start, jogging off from the inn one fine morning just before May, on laden ponies; and Bilbo was wearing a dark-green hood (a little weather-stained) and a dark-green cloak borrowed from Dwalin. They were too large for him, and he looked rather comic. What his father Bungo would have thought of him, I daren't think. His only comfort was he couldn't be mistaken for a dwarf, as he had no beard.

They were elves of course. Soon Bilbo caught glimpses of them as the darkness deepened. He loved elves, though he seldom met them; but he was a little frightened of them too. Dwarves don't get on well with them. Even decent enough dwarves like Thorin and his friends think them foolish (which is a very foolish thing to think), or get annoyed with them. For some elves tease them and laugh at them, and most of all at their beards.

You would have laughed (from a safe distance), if you had seen the dwarves sitting up in the trees with their beards dangling down, lik old gentlemen gone cracked and playing at being boys.

The dwarves listened and shook their beards, for they know that they must soon venture into that forest...

These were inspired largely by the Master and they did not particularly please the dwarves, but in the meantime they were well contented and they quickly grew fat and strong again. Indeed within a week they were quite recovered, fitted out in fine cloth of their proper colours, with beards combed and trimmed, and proud steps.

Quickly Bilbo explained. They all fell silent: the hobbit standing by the grey stone, and the dwarves with wagging beards watching impatiently.
This is not including all the other references to dwarf beards in The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, or The History of Middle-earth, which would be far beyond the boundaries of this post. The important thing is that Thorin's company, as a group, are described as bearded. That should be the end of the matter.

Beards in Dwarven Oaths

However, there is more. Beards appear to be a matter of pride among dwarves. Compare these oaths said at various points during the story:
"If you mean you think it is my job to go into the secret passage first, O Thorin Thrain's son Oakenshield, may your beard grow ever longer..." - Gandalf
 - Gandalf, The Hobbit, Chapter 12, "Inside Information"
"Not that I venture to disagree with Thorin, may his beard grow ever longer..."
 - Bombur, The Hobbit, Chapter 16, "A Thief in the Night"
"By the beard of Durin! I wish I had Gandalf here! Curse him for his choice of you! May his beard wither!"
 - Thorin, The Hobbit, Chapter 17, "The Clouds Burst"

"Farewell, Balin!" he said; "and farewell, Dwalin; and farewell Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur! May your beards never grow thin!"
 - Bilbo, The Hobbit, Chapter 18, "The Return Journey"
"May your beard grow ever longer" and "may your beards never grow thin" suggest, of course, that the thickness and length of a dwarven beard is a matter of great pride, and that short or thin beards are undesireable. Similarly, "by the beard of Durin" implies that Durin's beard is more worthy of note: rather than another of Durin's eponymous artefacts, say, "by the axe of Durin," "by the doors of Durin" or "by the ring of Durin," it is his beard Thorin choses to swear by. Most telling of all is Thorin's curse, "may his beard wither," aimed at Gandalf - given the emotion he was feeling, evidently the greatest injury one can wish on a dwarf, or anyone according to them, is to wish ill of their beard.

Something important to keep in mind

Now, a common complaint about the adaptation's dwarves can be summed up in three succinct words: Not Enough Beard.  (Alternatively, Needs More Beard, Dworff Not Elffy)  Certainly Aidan Turner's Kili has received most of this comment for his almost complete lack of facial hair beyond a stylish five-o'clock shadow. How can you have a dwarf without a beard, Tolkien fans quite rightly say? There's also notable lack of the colour-coded hoods, seen as they set off on their journey: why would the adaptation eschew one of the most easily recognizable distinguishing factors of the dwarves?  Finally, many of the dwarves are wielding weapons, when none are specifically mentioned in the book: why do they have them here?

Well, here's my theory: these publicity photos are taken from later in the story - specifically, from Chapter 10 ("A Warm Welcome") onwards. This is after some significant events which might explain why the dwarves don't sport the great beards we're accustomed to in these pictures:

Somehow or other Fili got onto the branch, and then he did his best to help the hobbit, although he was feeling very sick and ill from spider-poison, and from hanging most of the night and the next day wound round and round with only his nose to breathe through. It took him ages to get the beastly stuff out of his eyes and eyebrows, and as for his beard, he had to cut most of it off. Well, between them they started to haul up first one dwarf and then another and slash them free. None of them were better off than Fili, and some of them were worse.
 - The Hobbit, Chapter 8, "Flies and Spiders"

In addition, the river barrel escape likely left many of the dwarves' clothing and equipment soggy, tattered and ruined:

First of all a barrel was cut loose by Bilbo and pushed to the shore and opened. Groans came from inside, and out crept a most unhappy dwarf. Wet straw was in his draggled beard; he was so sore and stiff, so bruised and buffeted he could hardly stand or stumble through the shallow water to lie groaning on the shore. He had a famished and a savage look like a dog that has been chained and forgotten in a kennel for a week. It was Thorin, but you could only have told it by his golden chain, and by the colour of his now dirty and tattered sky-blue hood with its tarnished silver tassel...
 - The Hobbit, Chapter 9, "Barrels Out of Bond"

However, by "A Warm Welcome," we find that the dwarves have cleaned up and dressed up in Laketown, half-way through the story, and ready for the journey to the Lonely Mountain, as well as the eventual Battle of Five Armies:

... but in the meantime they were well contented and they quickly grew fat and strong again. Indeed, within a week they were quite recovered, fitted out in fine cloth of their proper colours, with beards combed and trimmed, and proud steps. Thorin looked and walked as if his kingdom was already regained and Smaug chopped up into little pieces.
 - The Hobbit, Chapter 10, "A Warm Welcome"

It's just a theory, now. There's every possibility that Jackson & company have decided to make the dwarves more action-oriented from the beginning. However, in the original story, one can see there's a clear evolution in the dwarves from bumbling, cowardly, avaricious little adventurers into heroic, steadfast, stout warriors. These same dwarves go from cringing in the shadow of cave trolls, to taking part in the Battle of Five Armies with vim and vigour.  And if there's anything I've learned from Jackson & company's Lord of the Rings adaptations, it's that they love their characters to "go on a journey."

In a future post, I'll be looking at each dwarf, one by one, and commenting on them: whether the design could be considered a reasonable enough extrapolation, or is a massive divergence from the original descriptions from Tolkien.  I'll also offer up examples of what I consider the best illustration or interpretation of the individual dwarf - or, if none exist, my own.  If I can get my lazy drawing-arm in gear, that is...


  1. you might find this interesting.


  2. Someone needs to do a 'needs more cowbell" spoof, but with dwarves and beards instead of BOC and cowbell.

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  4. By my beard's nads, will these spambot attacks never cease?

    (and yes, they have them)

  5. Possibly old news at this point, but a recent production video says that they at least use the weapons to fight the trolls they meet early on.

    This does not sit well with me.