Dwarven Culture (Tolkien)

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Related: Dwarves
See Also: Hobbit Culture
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Dwarven culture is the collection of canon and fanon elements that provide setting, plot, and relationship building blocks for fanworks involving dwarves. In Tolkien fandom, dwarven cultural elements are mostly developed from Tolkien's works, but expanded far beyond the limited information given there. Tolkien himself took his dwarves from from Norse/Germanic sources, but he considerably altered them for his works, with regards to their history and culture.

Tolkien Canon

Some elements of dwarven culture were established by Tolkien himself and have been regularly adapted within fanworks. These include elements such as:

  • Strength - Dwarves tend to be stronger than even beings much larger than they are. In fanworks, this may be referenced in battle as fierceness, in injury as unnaturally high endurance and quick healing, or in sexual activities.
    • Some fans point out that dwarven crafting means that they also have a great deal if fine motor control and finesse. This is used to humorous effect in Once you've had dwarf... by hibbary, where Gimli has great skill as a masseuse.[1]
  • Gold and Jewels - Dwarves are enamored of any beautiful metal or rock. They also mine baser metals, but they're generally associated with wealth. Many fanworks either focus on this aspect or assume it as an elemental backdrop for the rest of the plot and characterization.
  • Crafting - Dwarves in Tolkien's works are generally the best metalworkers and stonemasons in Middle Earth. Some fanworks focus almost entirely on the craftsmanship of jewelry or weapons. These may be heirlooms or they may be crafted by a particular dwarf. The giving of well-crafted gifts to someone else is almost always the focus of such works, and they frequently involve romance and courtship.
  • Stone Sense
  • Khuzdul and Iglishmêk - Tolkien invented two languages for dwarves: Khuzdul, which is spoken and written, and Iglishmêk, which is a sign language. Online dictionaries of Tolkien's invented language have sprung up, and the use of Khuzdul in works, with a gloss in the notes at the end of each chapter, has become quite common. Iglishmêk is also commonly used, but it is rarely described. In fanworks, Bifur is the dwarf most likely to use this language, due to his injury.
  • Dwarven Women, aka dwarrowdams or just dams - According to Gimli, "it was said that there are few dwarf-women, probably no more than a third of the whole people. They seldom walk abroad except at great need. They are in voice and appearance, and in garb if they must go on a journey, so like to the dwarf-men that the eyes and ears of other peoples cannot tell them apart."[2] Fandom has taken this to mean that male/male romances are often depicted as common. This also sometimes feeds a trope where only dams are allowed to initiate sexual contact, particularly in works involving Fíli or Kíli with a woman of another race, but also in gender-change works involving Bilbo, Ori, or other dwarves.
    • Daughters - As a result of the rarity of Dwarven women, many fanworks depict the birth of a daughter as particularly noteworthy and a great cause for celebration.
  • Aulë - Dwarves were created by the Vala Aulë, who they call Mahal, the Maker. In fanworks, this tends to result in dwarves swearing by Mahal. He also appears as a character in works about the afterlife.
  • Halls of Waiting
  • Born from Stone
  • Durin the Deathless - Tolkien had the oldest father of the dwarves, Durin, reborn seven times. This has happened six times before the beginning of The Hobbit. Some fanworks have the seventh coming of Durin be born into the royal family during The Hobbit or between it and the events of The Lord of the Rings.
  • Dwarves vs. Elves - The feud between dwarves and elves was bookverse canon, only resolved when Gimli and Legolas became friends. The Jackson movies brought the theme out even stronger, making it a major thread through all six movies. Fanworks often focus on how this feud affects both groups or on how it's overcome. This is often a trope associated with Gimli and Legolas, Thorin Oakenshield and Thranduil, or (in movieverse works) Kíli and Tauriel.

Jackson Movies Canon

In order to flesh out the dwarves in The Hobbit, the Peter Jackson movies added costuming and backstories to the characters that further contributed to ideas about Dwarven culture.

  • Hair Braiding - Based on the complex hairpieces of the dwarves in the movies, this is a very common culture trope in the fandom, nearly universal in Dwarf/Non-dwarf works. Braiding is usually explained as something only done between immediate family members or during courtship, with the usual cultural mishaps being common in works. Courtship beads are often involved; these are intricately designed beads that act as clasps to hold the end of a braid in place. There are several artworks focused on braiding or hair washing/brushing. Non-braiding hair-related cultural elements have also been invented, such as personal combs.[3] In the books, removing beards was a sign of shame.[2]
  • Libraries - Jackson included scenes in a library in Erebor and made Ori a scribe. Many fans have taken this to mean libraries are important to dwarven culture and have associated Ori and sometimes Balin and Bilbo Baggins with them.

Fanon

Some concepts are almost pure fanon, with little or no canon support, but are widely used anyway. These include elements such as:

  • Courtship Rituals - Following the traditional romcom style of awkward relationship development, dwarves are often depicted as having complicated courtship rituals that even they often struggle to follow. Anyone not a dwarf tends to bumble badly or have no idea what's going on. Hand-crafted gifts are a common theme.[4]
  • Ones - Similar to the soulmate trope, dwarves (and other beings of Middle Earth) are sometimes depicted as having a One, someone who is basically their one true love and half their soul. How Ones find each other, whether they're both aware of the situation, and how many times they fumble the situation varies from work to work.
  • Hammer and Anvil - Instead of Top and Bottom, some dwarf works use "Hammer" and "Anvil" instead. Examples include Cream Tea and Scones by Sam Ptarmigan and Layers by werpiper.

Archives and Resources

References

  1. "Dwarves seem to have earned a reputation for being brutish and rough which I hotly contest. Yes, they're fierce warriors and like to bash and hack the shit out of enemies, but they're also metal smiths and let me tell you, metal smithing is the FIDDLIEST FUCKING THING ON THE PLANET. Until you've spent hours precariously balancing a ring on a firebrick, poking a tiny prong setting into place, applying flux and a microscopic piece of solder, and then fighting to keep it all exactly as you placed it until the solder melts, you cannot understand what otherworldly patience and finesse dwarves must possess. Even blacksmithing requires a lot of minute and careful maneuverings as well as some serious bashing power. Stout stature might suggest otherwise, but immense strength is very useful for delicate work because your body doesn't get tired so easily and slip up. Smithing also requires an unusual attention to detail because one tiny little setback might mean a hundred hours of cleanup. That is why, whether dwarves are cutting gems, settings stones, making knives, or massaging elves, they are probably the most gentle, careful, detail-sensitive people in Middle Earth." ~ hibbary, notes for Once you've had dwarf...
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lord of the Rings, Appendix A
  3. The Hair Braiding tag on AO3 had 67 works in Hobbit fandom as of February 28, 2015. The same date, Hair had 143 works and Beards had 56. These are only the works which explicitly used those tags, meaning they were major elements. The number of works with minor references is much higher, especially in fanart.
  4. Dwarf Courting tag on AO3, with 137 works as of February 28, 2015.