[LMB] OT: Dwarf-women speculations

John Cowan cowan at mercury.ccil.org
Wed Jan 2 23:46:04 GMT 2013

Katherine Collett scripsit:

> Though if dwarf women look male ("it's the beards") and the custom
> is to use the masculine pronoun and son and father meaning child and
> parent, I don't know how we can tell from canon.

By "canon" I mean the book here, and the pronouns are masculine.  But it's
Bilbo who wrote the book (though Tolkien transcribed it into the third
person), and what does he know, really?

For reference, here's the passage in Appendix A III, which is explicitly
said to get its information from Gimli, who certainly should know:

    Dis was the daughter of Thrain II [Thorin's father]. She is the
    only dwarf-woman named in these histories. It was said by Gimli
    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. This has given rise
    to the foolish opinion among Men that there are no dwarf-women,
    and that the Dwarves ‘grow out of stone'.

    It is because of the fewness of women among them that the kind
    of the Dwarves increases slowly, and is in peril when they have
    no secure dwellings. For Dwarves take only one wife or husband
    each in their lives, and are jealous, as in all matters of their
    rights. The number of dwarf-men that marry is actually less
    than one-third. For not all the women take husbands: some desire
    none; some desire one that they cannot get, and so will have no
    other. As for the men, very many also do not desire marriage,
    being engrossed in their crafts.

> Ooh, ooh, an alternative to the Everlasting Casting Thread; we can
> try to work out which four (or so) dwarves are likely to be female!
> We were thinking that as so many of them come in pairs and trios,
> maybe they are brother-and-sister groupings.  

Okay, let's explore that.  I'll look at them in the order they show up
at the Unexpected Party, and then search for textev.

We are told right away that "as a matter of fact" (that is, true even
though Bilbo doesn't know it) Dwalin and Balin are brothers.  Male,
both of them.

Thorin says in Chapter 10 that Fili and Kili are "sons of my father's
daughter" (whose name is given in the Appendices as Dis), so they have
to be male.  They are also explicitly called his "sister-sons" in the
Appendices.  Thorin is talking to the captain of the Wood-elven guard,
and he is far too stiff-necked to lie about such a minor point.

It's possible that they were his heirs (although they don't outlive him,
so they don't get to inherit the Kingship under the Mountain), in which
case the Dwarves might have been at least partly matrilineal, like the
Jews to which Tolkien often compares them outside the books.  In any
case, they are the youngest (they are about ten years older than Gimli,
who is considered "too young" for the job) and have the best eyesight.

Then there's Dori, Nori, Ori.  The 1/3 rule suggests to me that one of
them is female.  Dori is said in Chapter 8 to be the strongest, so let's
suppose he is male.  They all play flutes, so that proves nothing one
way or another: the flute is a very epicene instrument.  Dori ends up
carrying Bilbo a lot, and Nori snipes at him about doing a bad job of it
in a rather sisterly way.  So I'll say that Nori is the female.  They have
two purple hoods and a gray hood, suggesting similarity plus contrast.

Oin and Gloin are next.  Gimli is Gimli son of Gloin, and Dwarf-names are
patronymic (again like Jewish names).  They are said to be especially good
at fire-making, when they have not lost their tinderboxes (which seem to
come and go as needed), but Gloin does all the actual work.  Their hoods
are brown and white, again suggesting contrast.  Speculatively I will
say that Oin might be female.

On Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur we have some definite word.  They are distant
relatives of the rest (per the Appendices), not descendants of Durin
the Deathless (Thorin's lineal ancestor) at all, but descend from other
Dwarves of Moria.  Supposing that Bombur is male (he's the fat one who
has to be carried by the rest sometimes), we are explicitly told that
Bofur is his brother (hence male) and Bifur his cousin (could be either,
so we'll assume female by the "rule" of male-male-female triads).  Two of
them have yellow hoods and one pale green; perhaps Bifur doesn't think
yellow is her color.

Thorin is of course male, as King under the Mountain.

So I say we have three dwarf-women here out of thirteen, Nori, Oin,
Bifur.  Since the women are said to travel only "at great need", that
seems a reasonable number of them.  But what about Dis being the "only
dwarf-woman named in these histories"?  Well, we'll say that means she
is the only one named as a dwarf-woman, which is certainly true.

Hurrah, no more bloke-fest.  When I watch the movie, I'll try to keep
this in mind and be on the lookout (like Balin) for subtext.

John Cowan        http://www.ccil.org/~cowan          cowan at ccil.org
Please leave your values                Check your assumptions.  In fact,
   at the front desk.                      check your assumptions at the door.
     --sign in Paris hotel                   --Cordelia Vorkosigan

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