Friday, January 14, 2011

The Odd Case of the Missing Dwarves

One thing that has always struck me as strange in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was that we had this vast evil that was threatening to take over everything, yet almost all races were just blithely going about their normal business without a care in the world. Gondor had no choice but to get involved. Rohan didn't seem interested until Saruman took that choice away from them. The hobbits would have done nothing at all if it weren't for Bilbo and his ring. No other humans did anything (except for the ones who joined in with Sauron!). The great hero races of past ages, the elves and dwarves, seemed content to send off a single representative apiece while the rest of them went on with their lives as if nothing much was happening.

I wonder if this was Tolkien's perception of the rest of the world while World War I was raging? Did it bother him that this horrific conflict was tearing up much of Europe while the rest of the world's citizens went about their daily lives? I still think the blasé approach to the end of the world by all the races in Middle Earth is simply incredible. There should have been alliences, leading to armies of dwarves, elves, and men marching toward Mordor, but we all know that this would have undercut the strength of the story that Tolkien wished to tell.

I can kind of understand the elves, as they were in their twilight years in Middle Earth and were basically marking time until they all hit the Gray Havens and departed. But, on the other hand, this Sauron fellow had been far more than a mere thorn in their side for thousands of years. You would think that they would have some final settling to do with him.

Were the Middle Earth dwarves really so dense as to think Sauron would leave them in peace once he had conquered Gondor and Rohan? I guess all I can imagine is how the US must have looked to the European countries during both WWI and WWII when we sat back and tried not to get involved while much of the civilized world was drenched in blood. Any thoughts?


  1. i think this is an excellent interpretation.
    even not specifically for that time... people tend to do nothing in the face of injustice- sure they may fret or complain, but how many actually do something about it...

  2. Actually, there's a couple throw away lines where he says "Oh yeah, and everyone else is fighting too." When Mordor rises, all the other baddies rise up, too. All the goblins issue out of the Misty Mountains, etc. So the Dwarves and Elves are, actually, fighting. But Tolkien does sort of ignore it, as it doesn't fit within the scope of the story he's trying to tell (which is long and complex enough already). Though he could have made it a lot more clear.

    Tolkien's interesting, though, in how much he lets happen off-stage. Lots and lots. Gandalf and Saruman? Off-stage. I doubt many modern writers would do that.

  3. You make an excellent point, and I think the parallels with the war are pretty obvious.

    I hate to mention this, but another major question about LOTR (which I don't like to think about) is why didn't Gandalf just call on the Eagles to fly he and Frodo over to Mount Doom and just drop the ring in from high above the crater? It does have a crater, right?

    Today's guest blogger is K.M. Walton!

  4. Matt, I had a discussion about that once. I forget what the answer was, but I heard that there was a logical explanation for it. I still didn't quite buy it.

    Bryan, you are right, I am sure, but at the Council of Elrond why would the dwarf and elf leaders at that point not address the need to mobilize? It still rings false to me.

  5. Never underestimate the self-deception people will practice when difficult choices must be made. Willful ignorance is a powerful force, no?

  6. Very interesting to think about. I think as an evil mastermind I might have promised this or that group something, or fed them bad information that made them think they were really on my side. As an author I think you can play around with the misinformation/false promise angle. Or you can send them another foe that for reasons of immediacy, may seem more relevant (if say, the dwarves were busy fighting on another front and so were too distracted to take up the battle)--I think you can fairly easily explain an absense so that the higher tension story has to come out like it does...

    I can sort of understand the US in WWI thinking it wasn't our problem for a very long time... (at least from my somewhat limited knowledge of the matter) I mean the instigating facts LOOKED like internal stuff. WWII on the other hand, I find our reluctance fairly abominal.

  7. I think that goes back to how evil triumphs - by good men doing nothing.

  8. Yeah, Ted, I agree. Frankly, I just don't think it fit his story. He was focused on the fellowship and that's about it. I think the throw-in later was probably because readers picked up on that and were asking your question - what's going on everywhere else? Why isn't anyone doing anything?

    I actually thought one of the interesting changes in the movies was having the elves arrive instead of the Dunedain. Jackson, at least, answers your question, and does so poignantly, with the elven soldiers giving up eternal life in paradise to sacrifice themselves for Middle Earth. (though Elrond did send his two sons)

  9. Great points made here, it's something I didn't think about, but I'd assumed that (especially after Moria) that the Dwarves were fighting on their own front and couldn't lend much of a hand to the main battles between men and the orcs of Mordor.

    The Eagles thing is an interesting one though. Maybe the power of the Ring would not allow Frodo to use the Eagle...

  10. i've always sort of related lotr to the christian faith... and thought that the eagles represented prayer. and the tendency we have to try to struggle and crawl and call upon our friends' help and try with all our own might to defeat our own burdens- and ignore the obvious option to pray to God and have faith...
    but then that interpretation is probably just what i see in the novels based on my specific beliefs and not what mr. tolkien intended...

  11. It's much to easy for people to think "Well, it's not MY problem" and let everyone else sort it out. Until something specifically affects people (*cough* Pearl Harbor *cough*), they'll try and stay out of it. News services will even simulate kidnappings of children in busy areas, and people just walk on by without doing anything, except maybe stare at the commotion. So the fact that it took so much to rally the different realms isn't surprising, and, yes, much like what happens with any war, including WWI (and WWII).

    Not to say it hasn't been done, but just that I haven't read any, it would be awesome to see a novel interpretation of all of the political bargaining and alliance making similar to what happened both before WWI and between the wars. It was all such a mess. As you said, Tolkein's work was complicated enough, though, without it.