Of Elves and Dwarves: The Clashing of Cultures

Elu Thingol and the Dwarves of Nogrod, Unknown Artist

Greetings, everyone. I hope that all has been well this summer, despite the continuation of the quarantine and the brutal heat. This next piece on The Silmarillion has come at unlikely with the protests taking place, and that is Chapter 10: Of the Sindar. In this chapter, the Dwarves are awoken from their slumber and meet with the Elves for the first time in the land of Beleriand. Here, we will be covering the origins of these two races meeting and the early signs of their bitter rivalry in the ages that followed.

Chapter 10: Two Peoples, One Land

As anyone can notice in books and movies of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the Elves and Dwarves do not get along very well; Thorin vs. Thranduil, Gimli vs. Legolas, and so forth. In this chapter, we see moments that we may be familiar with in LOTR and The Hobbit. To quote Tolkien himself,

“…To the north of the great height of Mount Dolmed was Gabilgathol, which the Elves interpreted in their tongue Belegost, that is Mickleburg,; and southward was delved Tumunzahar, by the Elves named Nogrod, the Hollowbold. Greatest of all the mansions of the Dwarves was Khazad-dûm, the Dwarrowdelf, Hadhadrond in the Elvish tongue, that was afterwards in the days of darkness called Moria…”

I bring this up because can reveal just how impactful and heartbreaking this moment was for Gimli after the Fellowship discovered the grave of the Lord of Moria, Balin Son of Fundin. This tomb was not just of the Third Age that Dwarves claimed back from the Goblins, but one that has been part of Dwarvish history for generations.

Based on my research of Dwarves for this piece, it has been known that Dwarves were stubborn people and while they could be forgiving, forgetting was something they never did. In previous chapters after Eru Illúvatar spared Aulë’s Dwarven creations, he warned him in saying,

“But when the time comes, I will awake them, and they shall be to thee as children; and often strife shall arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice.”

Even before their first meeting, they were destined to be against each other or have some sense of rivalry. Upon meeting the Sindar Elves,

“From Nogrod and Belegost, the Naugrim came forth into Beleriand; and the Elves were filled with amazement, for they had believed themselves to be the only living things in Middle-Earth that spoke with words or wrought with hands…But they could not understand no word of the tongue of the [Dwarves], which to their ears was cumbrous and unlovely; and few ever of the Eldar have achieved the mastery of it. But the Dwarves were swift to learn, and indeed more willing to learn the Elven-tongue than to each their own to those of alien race.”

This was but a taste of the rivalry that was to come. As we saw in the third chapter, Illúvatar stated that the Elves would come first into Middle-Earth, for they were his creation. While he extended grace onto the seven Dwarf Fathers of Aüle, they were not chosen or within Illúvatar’s plan. Being the first race of Middle-Earth, Elves may have seen themselves as the better in being the direct reflection of Illúvatar. The result of this type of thinking and be pride, such as the pride of comparing themselves to Dwarves, both in culture and stature.

In our history, how often do we read or hear stories of some people seeing themselves as the better race? Unfortunately, too often. I don’t want to dig too deep into how racism has plagued the entire world, but my first thought was the rivalry between the Irish and English. I don’t want to go to deep into their history, but to keep it short, the Irish suffered under harsh British Empire rule. From their culture to their strong Catholic beliefs, the British Empire treated them as second-class citizens, especially during harsh times such as the Potato Famine of the 19th Century.

Keep in mind that I am not equating fictional races to ours in the area of slavery and bitterness, I am merely making connections that significantly stand out, and more of this subject will come as the readings continue.

It wasn’t always a rivalry or difficult relations, however. During the First Age, King Thingol of the Sindar welcomed the Dwarves, who worked gladly worked with him in providing great jewels and craftsmanship,

“In the darkness of Arda already the Dwarves wrought great works, for even from the first days of their Fathers they had marvellous skill with metals and with stone; but in that ancient time iron and copper they loved to work, rather than silver and gold.”

Next to Fingolfin, Thingol so far is my favorite Elf of the First Age, particularly due to his kindness with the Dwarves. Though we are told that relations would sour in the future, to read that his first interaction with them welcoming and inviting warms my heart. In height, culture, and language, the two could not be more different from the other, and it would be understandable (though not approved) as to why some Elves may have saw themselves as better later on. But with King Thingol, this was not so.

“Ever cool was the friendship between the [Dwarves] and the [Elves], though much profit they had one of the other; but at the time those griefs that lay between them had not yet come to pass, and King Thingol welcomed them. But the [Dwarves] gave their friendship more readily to the Noldor in after days than to any others of Elves and Men, because of their love and reverence for Aulë; and the gems of the Noldor they praised above all other wealth.”

I believe that there is something unique about King Thingol’s relationship with the Dwarves simply due to the dark days that would arrive. As previously mentioned, Elves saw themselves as superior in language, culture, and probably as a chosen people. To see that relations between the two races were on good terms brings me a sense of comfort that Gimli and Legolas’ forefathers welcomed each other. It comes to the point where King Thingol approaches the Dwarves to build him a strong dwelling place,

“Now Melian had much foresight, after the manner of the Maiar; and when the second age of the captivity of Melkor had passed, she counseled Thingol  that the peace of Arda would not last for ever. He took thought therefore how he should make for himself a kingly dwelling, and a place that should be strong, if evil were to awake again in Middle-Earth; and he sought aid and counsel of the Dwarves of Belegost. They gave it willingly, for they were unwearied in those days and eager for new works; and though the Dwarves ever demanded a price for all that they did, whether it was with delight or with toil, at this time they held themselves paid. For Melian taught them much that they were eager to learn, and Thingol rewarded them with many fair pearls….Therefore the Naugrim laboured long and gladly for Thingol, and devised for him mansions after the fashion of their people, delved deep within the earth.”

What makes this even better regarding the two races was that they even worked side-by-side on King Thingol’s halls. Their results were both magnificent and beautiful.

“But the Elves also had part in that labour, and Elves and Dwarves together, each with their own skill, there wrough out the visions of Melian, images of wonder and beauty of Valinor beyond the Sea. The pillars of Menegroth were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë, stock, bough, and leaf, and hey were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sang there as in the gardens of Lórien; and there were fountains of silver, and basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones. Carven figures of beasts and birds there ran upon the walls, or climbed upon the pillars, or peered among the branches entwined with many flowers. And as the years passed Melian and her maidens filled the halls with woven hangings wherein could be read the deeds of the Valar, and many things that had befallen in Arda since its beginning, and shadows of things that were yet to be. That was the fairest dwelling of any king that ever been east of the Sea.”

I think it is significant to know that King Thingol of Noldor sought after the wisdom of the Dwarves for his great hall. Imagine that: two races that grew in bitterness and even hatred for the other had forefathers who worked alongside one another, seeing the other as wise and skilled. And as if King Thing seeking their council wasn’t enough, he even heard their plea of fear and stood by them to fend themselves against Melkor and great beasts.

“But as the third age of the captivity of Melkor drew on, the Dwarves became troubled, and they spoke to King Thingol, saying that the Valar had not rooted out utterly the evils of the North, and now the remnant, having multiplied in the dark, were coming forth once more and roaming far and wide. ‘There are fell beasts,’ they said, ‘in the land of the mountains, and your ancient kindred that dwell there are flying from the plains to the hills.’…Therefore, Thingol took thought for arms, which before his people had not needed, and these at first the Naugrim smithied for him; for surpassed the craftsmen of Nogrod, of whom Telchar the smith was the greatest in renown. A warlike race of old they were all the Naugrim, and they would fight fiercly against whomsoever aggrieved them: servants of Melkor, or Eldar, or Avari, or whild bests, or not seldom their own kin, Dwarves of other mansions and lordships. Their smithcraft indeed the Sindar soon learned of them; yet in tempering of steel alone of all crafts the Dwarves were never outmatched even by the Noldor…”

Any greedy king could have merely used another race for help and then deliberately ignored or abandoned them during their time of need or worry. But for King Thingol, he saw the value in the Dwarves craftsmanship and warfare. What saddens me about this knowledge is that in time, the Dwarves and Elves will become bitter and hateful towards one another. Generally speaking, this can go back to a previous post about the importance of genealogy and remembering your ancestors. You may learn a thing or two that can be applied to your current situations with something or even someone.

And that concludes my take on chapter 10 and will be jumping into chapter 11 very soon. Until next time, stay safe and keep reading!

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