I'm with the Quendi

The 6th Largest Army

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The Thorin Oakenshield Defence Squad
magsbeach
maelipstick
That sounds a bit Hermione Granger doesn't it?

I am supposed to be moving house. I am supposed to be crawling to my tutors to resuscitate my neglected study. I am supposed to be writing a fic, in fact there is so much stuff I'm letting go over my head that right now I think I could rightly title myself Queen Under the Mountain (of stuff I should be doing).

Which brings me to this. Apparently, the heir of Durin has been having a bad press in fandom recently. Now I am not much in the Hobbit fandom but I'm always ready to jump to a maligned character's defence. It's why I keep Maeglin around. Indeed, the Mole and Tyelperinquar are so vociferous in their protests against the sullying of Thorin they are refusing to comply with my further attempts at Silm-fic until their rant has been heard.



Firstly, if you are reading any of Tolkien's work with a view to demonise, you are probably reading the wrong author. Remember Gandalf's speech to Frodo? "Then do not be to eager to deal out death in Judgement?" The ethos of Tolkien's world was that judgement belongs to Eru Illuvatar alone. In Arda marred, excepting the true demons (Morgoth, Sauron) many characters operate in shades of grey; Maedhros, Maeglin, Isildur - they are a hero in one tale and a villain in the next. The whole quest of ring ultimately hinges on Bilbo's act of mercy in refusing to judge Gollum as deserving death. Tolkien was so tied to the ideal of withholding judgement he struggled to explain Orcs; he couldn't bring himself to believe in a people who were irredeemably evil.

What Thorin is is a tragic character, that is a basically good character with a fatal flaw, who is forced into circumstances where that one flaw brings about his downfall.

He also comes across as ill-mannered at times, but if Tolkien's world judged people by the niceties of their speech, then Saruman and Grima would be the heroes. Time and time again, the gruff and the grim are vindicated and the smooth talkers are revealed to be cowards and spies.

Thorin should be a sympathetic character, although this is somewhat hidden by the nature of the story. The in-world literary agent hypothesis had The Hobbit as Bilbo's adventure tale, first told to an orphaned and semi-delinquent hobbit child, it is even admitted in-world that it is unreliable, with Bilbo later stating that the original left out major details. As a story first told to amuse a child (and possibly later - a whole gaggle of children, and with Bilbo's fondness for dramatic flair), the Dwarves are often played for comic value, Thorin's pompousness is fore-fronted and caricatured, just as the Dwarves sing foolish songs about smashing dishes.

~*~

Maeglin: But that is how a child would expect dwarves to behave because that is how dwarves behave around them.

Me: Eh?

Maeglin: Dwarves rarely have children, so they treasure them, all children - even elf-children. They made a great fuss over me when I was first taken to Belegost, and I thought they were very silly.

Tyelpe: Also, being a dwarf-apprentice means you pay for the wisdom the Master craftsmen give you by doing all the menial jobs. So making light of endless washing up is something every apprentice craftsman would be familiar with.

(This interjection is brought to you by my head-canon that Celebrimbor trained as a dwarven craftsman under Telchar in the First Age.)

~*~

So Thorin's true nature in the Book Verse is rather hidden by the tale being originally told to amuse. He's a tradgic character hiding in a comedy. You have to go to footnotes and appendices to find his true nature.

Thorin had barely reached adulthood when he was exiled from his home by Smaug. At 31 he watched his homeland destroyed and his people decimated, fleeing with his two siblings (including a ten year old sister, who I headcanon him being very protective of, as he is of her sons,) into a life of depravation. He knows the value of money, because he had had to live without it. Post-Eribor Thror is "old, poor and desperate," so maddened by the poverty he endured that he undertakes a two-dwarf suicide mission to the Mines of Moria.

Thorin watches this proud king's mind crumble; they go from town to town, begging for labouring or blacksmith work, Thorin sees people lock their doors and hide their coins as they pass, he watches human men nudge and tease his little sister over her newly sprouting beard. Is it any wonder if he develops resentment towards "gentle folk"?

Despite this, we next see him earning his title of 'Oakenshield', fighting in the battle of Azanulbizar, with a oak branch replacing his cloven shield. His younger brother Frerin died. (See how close Fili and Kili are. Imagine if one died and one survived?) He proves himself fierce in battle and no less fierce in peacetime, "a great dwarf of proud bearing" who by his strength of will, hard work and good sense brings together the exiles of Erebor and lifts them out of poverty, securing food and shelter. "Now they had fair halls in the mountains, and a store of goods, and things did not seem so hard." If Thorin is proud, it is because he has had to be, he has had to cultivate an image of dwarven pride to instil hope and self-respect into a bedraggled people.

Frankly, at this point all I can say is let's hear it for the dwarf. His will (and I like to think maybe his sister's will also) brought his people out of a misery so crushing it had maddened his grandfather and father.

~*~

He does have the advantage of not having one of Sauron's rings:

Tyelpe: My rings.

Me: Um - I think you find Sauron helped...

Tyelpe: Sauron gave me the formula, but he had little to do with Durin's ring. It was not in his nature to understand the magic in it. He had little interest in dwarves in general as they had proved ill-suited to Morgoth's attempts at domination. It was me who wanted to include the dwarves.

Me: So what was the magic in it?

Tyelpe: It was the first ring I used fire-writing on. It's magic is in the secret written around it. It was after the forging of Durin's ring that Sauron started watching me, because he was aware I was not sharing all my arts with him, and it was the ring he desired most to reclaim, but it was safe while Khazad-dûm stood.

Maeglin: Being stalked by Sauron cannot have been much fun.

Tyelpe: No it was not

This interjection is brought to you by my headcanon that the dwarves knew Celebrimbor better than the scholars; he gave Durin VI the seventh ring himself. My other head-canon is Celebrimbor was the only elf to be given a name in Khuzdul, and that name is written on Durin's ring. What that name was Celebrimbor is not telling.

~*~

Unfortunately, the very weapon Thorin used to rebuild the fortunes of his people, Pride, will also be the fatal flaw that will surface just at the wrong moment and earn him his tragic status.

I know pride is supposed to be a sin, but it can also be a virtue, as anyone who has marched beneath a rainbow banner will tell you.

Thorin next appears nearing two hundred years old. By this time, mortality was creeping up on him. Although he still had his physical strength, Thorin would have known its days were numbered. Dwarves live to around 250, but decline rapidly in their final ten years. He has done all he can for his people, everything bar restore their homeland to them. It is understandable that he feels he should at least attempt this final task before the waning of his strength.

Thorin meets Gandalf (BTW does anybody else call BS on Gandalf's inability to read Cirth Ithil? My guess is the crafty old bugger was deliberately trying to get the dwarves to Rivendell, both to soften Thorin's harsh opinion of elves and as a statement of intent to the White Council.)

~*~

Maeglin: I also call khakfe on swords of Gondolin being found in a troll hoard.

Tyelpe: Well, a halfling found the one ring.

Maeglin: I think it is more likely the story teller added that to evoke the magic and mystery of the ancient city.

Tyelpe: As if saying Gondolin in the Third Age was like invoking Atlantis or Avalon today.

Maeglin: Also, forged by High Elves of the West my Avarin backside. If it glows blue in the presence of orcs, it was made by one particular elven smith who was dragged into a curse on the High Elves but was very much Middle-earth born.

Tyelpe: These swords were forged by the traitor of Gondolin does not have the same effect does it.

Interjection brought to you by more head-canon.

~*~

We meet proud Thorin next asking for advice from Gandalf. Thorin feels an inherited duty of revenge on Smaug. The loss of their home maddened his Father and Grandfather, it falls on Thorin to avenge them. "Dwarves take such duties very seriously," Gandalf reminds us. Thorin thinks of open war, but is dissuaded by Gandalf. Thorin takes in all of Gandalf's advice, stiff-necked though he is, he can be reasoned with and is not afraid to concede to a greater wisdom. I'm really not getting much of a flavour of villainy here, I am seeing a dutiful dwarf willing to risk his life for his people. I am also seeing that unlike Thrain and Thror' mad wanderings, this is a well planned mission.

But perhaps the most convincing evidence against Thorin's villainy is how Gandalf persuades him to accept Bilbo:

"Gandalf: I am fond of this Hobbit and wish him well, treat him well and you will have my friendship to the end of your days.

Gandalf [Narrating] I said that without hope of persuading him; but I could have said nothing better. Dwarves understand devotion to friends and gratitude to those who help them.


This seems solid evidence that Thorin is essentially a good character. Villainous characters are not moved by friendship and gratitude. To Dwarves, it is their world. They were made to endure the domination of Morgoth, and were it not their devotion to one another, their loyalty and selflessness they would never have made it.

Thorin takes himself very seriously, but he also takes his duty very seriously, his duty to protect his people, to bring them prosperity, and to protect those who join him in his company of adventurers. He is entrusted with the safety of twelve other dwarves, including his sister's sons. Is it any wonder he is hostile to Bilbo, this weak link, being added to the party, potentially risking the lives of those in his care with his ineptitude.

~*~

Tyelpe: It was three years before the dwarves trusted me enough to enter the great hall, where the lore-mistresses tell all the secrets of the history of their people.

The great hall is the sacred inner space of the dwarves. It is said wherever they travel, they keep it in their hearts, the place where they gather together in love and kinship. They are so unguarded there; it was the first time I saw dwarven lovers touch, Telchar gently coiling his fingers through his wife's beard, their hands meeting over the swelling of their unborn child.

The most sacred story they tell is that of how Mahal brought them to life, but it is told differently to the version in elven lore. As the dwarves tell it, when Mahal lifted his hammer to smite them, Durin stood before his brothers, as if to shield them from the blow.

In dwarven lore Eru did not gift them with the flame imperishable, the flame imperishable sprung to life within them with this act of love whether Eru willed it or not. They do not tell this story to any other than a dwarf; but that is why they value comradeship, and they consider protecting one another a sacred duty.

Interruption brought to you by the head-canon that it is the dwarven women who keep the history of the Dwarves, and their own take on their creation.

~*~

So I have difficulty understanding why anyone set up like this could be seen as a villain. It seems to me Tolkien has gone out of his way to flesh Thorin out with a sympathetic backstory. I also think Peter Jackson has made an excellent job on Thorin, fore-fronting his concern for his comrades, even adding a scene where he risks his life for Bilbo, despite at that point in time considering him nothing but a burden. "I cannot guarantee his safety," he tells Gandalf at the Unexpected Party. He cannot, but if Bilbo joins his Company, he will fulfil his duty to protect him to the best of his abilities.

I think the films make an excellent job of turning a caricature into a character, while keeping the air of a fireside tale hinting at half-known fragments of a much older mythology. Well done PJ.

(Although Thorin hates you forever for portraying him with such a feeble beard. That is the ultimate insult to a dwarf. I understand the choice from the point of view of aesthetics, but Thorin - well if the director suddenly dies of axe-wounds in mysterious circumstances, you know who is responsible.

As for Kili, my elves think Tauriel is a paedophile.)

I haven't seen BOFA and I'm guessing almost everyone knows how it plays out in the book, but this next bit could be considered spoilers.

Of course, events play out so Thorin's fatal flaw is exposed and it is his undoing.

If events had played out differently, it is easy to imagine Thorin being magnanimous to the people of Esgaroth. If they had asked him for help, he would have discharged his Kingly duty and taken pride in it.

Unfortunately, the people of Laketown try to force the King's hand by marching on him with an army. That is not how you negotiate with a dwarf. Dwarves were made stubborn, they had to be. Had they been more persuadable they would have joined the ranks of men beneath the sway of Morgoth. They are so stubborn that the Seven Six Rings of Power corrupted by Sauron do not subdue them.

The downside of this is that if you try and force a dwarf's hands, you will be met with a fist. And that is exactly what the people of Laketown do. The more they threaten, the more they wheel out Gandalf to lecture the harder his will, his stubbornness, the stubbornness that has dragged his people from penury to prosperity, sets against conceding anything.

~*~

Tyelpe: A king is he who can hold his own.

Maeglin: This is a children's tale, they usually come with a moral lecture.

Tyelpe: But if you are a King, if you rule, you have to face down situations like this.

Maeglin: I still think this is contrived, someone has tried to add a lesson in humility into a tale of a dwarf who died trying to reclaim his Kingdom.

Tyelpe: I never got morally improving tales as a child.

Maeglin: That must be the one advantage of being raised Fëanorian

~*~

So I am not going on a let's blame Professor Tolkien, because my gratitude to him for creating this world is boundless. But he was writing in the genre of children's fiction, and, rather like telling a child they must eat their spinach to get desert, children's fiction, especially at the time he was writing often came with the rider: yes you can have your battles, your elves and dwarves, your greenwood under enchantment, but your journey to this hidden realm must be profitable, something must be learnt from it.

Now the Hobbit is less heavy handed than many children's stories of the time, but the actions after the death of Smaug do have the flavour of 'and now here is the lesson' (especially the orcs et machina saving grace.) That aside, it still remains thoroughly believable that Thorin's pride, his lack of statesmanship, and maybe his sheer shock at his elevation from an exile operating in survival mode to the power of Kingship undermine his position as morally legitimate king. (Compare and contrast King Elessar's magnanimous actions on ascending the throne. Aragon thinks like a King. Thorin still thinks as the dispossessed, desperately clinging to all he has.)

There is a lesson that a ruler should deserve his power by the wisdom in which he dispenses it in tough situations. Thorin fails because every facet of his personality prevents him from acting in the way he needs to in order to avert disaster. He has lived his life embattled and does not know what to do when asked to make peace. That makes him a tragic hero, not a villan.

The more Thorin digs his heels in, the more he alienates himself from the reader. Even some of his company doubt his judgement, and his treatment of Bilbo is the last straw in his tragic fall.

(Although that too is inevitable. Betrayal is the worst kind of crime a dwarf can commit. After Thorin giving Bilbo the rare honour of complete acceptance into a band of dwarves, in dwarven eyes Bilbo betrays his comrades, the brothers who would die for him. Thorin's ugly display of anger is deeply unappealing, but how else would a dwarf react. The true wonder is that Thorin manages to step outside his culture and forgive him. Dwarves are not known for their empathy for non-dwarves.)

Thorin is given a chance to redeem himself when the orcs attack and does so impressively. He rallies the army to him, surrounded by enemies, fighting against the odds, he is once again in his element, inspiring all around him to fight on. Fili and Kili, the dwarves who most doubted him, prove their loyalty "shield and body". Contrasted to the evil of the orcs, he is shown as one misguided, not an agent of darkness.

And he gets to say his goodbyes. Villans generally die horribly, Thorin clings to life until he gets to make peace with Bilbo, passing away with a dignity befitting a tragic hero. There is an echo of Frodo's last speech to Sam in Thorin's fate:, "I have tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them."

Without Thorin's steely determination and stubborn pride, the dwarves of Erebor would still be homeless. He took on the mantle of Durin's heir when his people were despairing and desperate. He left them with a homeland of their own once more. And yet, the qualities it took to re-establish Erebor made him completely unfitted to rule it. He had to lose it so that others may keep it.

Initially, I was a little horrified that PJ was trying to stretch the Hobbit to a trilogy, but having seen two of the films, I am glad. There is too little said about the remarkable race of Dwarves in Tolkien's writing, generally they are only mentioned when they make something remarkable or kick ass in battle. Then they disappear from the story, back to the shadows.

Whatever one thinks of the add-ins and clip ons of PJ's invention, the fact remains the dwarves now have three films in which their fortunes are fore-fronted, and it fills a gaping hole in canon. I am glad the dwarves finally get their moment in the spotlight, and the quest of Erebor reveals all facets of dwarven nature, good and bad.

My elves are total dwarf fanboys, and you should be too. They are a people born to survive, fiercely loyal, resistant to corruption, makers of things of wonder. They are the embodiment of strength in a tough spot, and they can laugh even as they face mortal danger. Celebrimbor claims he was the most awful princely brat before the tender hammers of the dwarves knocked it out of him. He claims he would have grown into a replica of his father had he not persuaded Telchar to take him on as an apprentice. He reckons his twenty years in Nogrod as the happiest in his life, despite the fact that a beardless smith was regarded as the greatest jest ever told, that 'get the elf drunk' was the most popular game in Nogrod that year, the constant speculation about the state of his genetaila, and the drunken apprentice that pissed in his boot. You have to dig through a lot of crap to get to the goodness of a dwarf, but once you are there you find a heart so big and steadfast it will nearly break yours.

And that is true of Thorin. There was a lot that was rough about him, he had the covetousness and jealousy of one who has lived as an exile while believing himself better than that, by believing his people better than that. But he would give his life for a friend in a heartbeat, and villains do not do that.

Finally, on the elves versus dwarves thing, it is rubbish. Tolkien was pretty clear it was mostly rubbish in-Universe, so I do not see how it is any less of a pointless argument in fandom. I know canon is individual and some people work only in the movie-verse, which does posit elves as superior beings who somehow sprung from the world without history as "immortal, fairest and wisest of all."

For everyone else I recommend The Silmarillion for Noobs. The elves of the Third Age earned their wisdom the hard way, by First Age elves committing every crime in the book. They are equally as flawed as dwarves, and so just as interesting.

Which is why I like writing about morally dodgy elves. My own morality is probably as far removed from Tolkien's as it is possible to be, Left-wing, feminist, atheist with a fondness for science and technology. But we agree one thing, sitting in judgement sits uncomfortably with us. I find it hard to condemn characters for failings that I have. Would I swear vengeance if my father was murdered? What secrets would I give up under torture? Would I trust Annatar? Would I give in to the lure of the ring?

Have I refused to back down out of pride even when I knew I was wrong - of course I have. In Arda marred we are all beings of good and bad and the darker side of our nature is always waiting in the shadows to trip us up. Thorin is no more flawed than I am.

Let me finish with a lady dwarf. Because I'm still hoping Dis gets a cameo in BoFA. If there aren't enough Dwarves in canon, there is that x1000 for dwarven women.

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Who are these people who are down on Thorin? I felt like the movies (which I have seen) did present him in a (Bilbo-infused) sympathetic light.

It came from a conversation with my Secret Santa and I love an excuse to rant. I'm not majorly into hobbit fandom, so I'm not quite sure where it came from, but I had fun doing it. There aren't enough dwarves in Silm fandom.

I agree, Peter Jackson et al did an amazing job of making Thorin into a gruff hero rather than a pompous ass.

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