July 16, 2015

Hobbit Origins: The Catalog of Dwarves

An Unexpected Party by John Howe
During the semester-long course on The Hobbit that I taught earlier this year for middle-schoolers we looked at many of the real historical sources that inspired Tolkien's own mythology.  Every few weeks here on Musings of a Tolkienist I've been summarizing our discoveries on specific topics and posting what we learned.  Earlier this spring we took a look at the postcard that inspired the character of Gandalf and last month I shared what we learned about trolls.  This month's topic features the dwarves...




Characters and stories in Tolkien's mind almost always started first with a name.  (If he made up the word himself it really often began with a sound.)  In many situations Tolkien borrowed names from the ancient European mythologies that he loved and studied.  Not only did it save him time and energy by using existing words, but it immediately gave his own stories context and a historical grounding that connected them to our own legendary past.  The names of the members of Thorin's Company in The Hobbit are a perfect example of this.  Almost all of the 13 dwarf names (Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Nori, Dori, Ori, Bifur, Bofur, and Bombur) appear in an Old Norse poem dating back to around 1000 A.D. called the Elder Edda (also known as the Poetic Edda).  Within the Völuspá (the first poem of the Elder Edda) is a passage known as the Dvergatal or, the "Catalog of Dwarves." The Völuspá itself is a creation myth and the six stanzas known as the Dvergatal simply catalog the names of the first dwarves.  But, in Tolkien's story some of these early dwarves became seeds for very different characters his charming children's story.

Below you'll find the "Catalog of Dwarves" in the original Old Norse with a translation side by side.  In the English version members of Thorin's Company are marked in blue while names used for other dwarf characters in Middle-earth are marked in red.  Below the texts I've also provided a few notes about each of the marked names explaining their final position in Tolkien's mythology.     

An Unexpected Party by the Brothers Hildebrandt

Original
10. Þar var Móðsognir mæztr of orðinn
dverga allra, en Durinn annarr;
þeir mannlíkun mörg of gerðu
dvergar í jörðu, sem Durinn sagði.

11. Nýi, Niði, Norðri, Suðri,
Austri, Vestri, Alþjófr, Dvalinn,
Nár ok Náinn Nípingr, Dáinn
Bívurr, Bávurr, Bömburr, Nóri,
Ánn ok Ánarr, Óinn, Mjöðvitnir.

12. Veggr ok Gandalfr, Vindalfr, Þorinn,
Þrár ok Þráinn, Þekkr, Litr ok Vitr,
Nýr ok Nýráðr, nú hefi ek dverga,
Reginn ok Ráðsviðr, rétt of talða.

13. Fíli, Kíli, Fundinn, Náli,
Hefti, Víli, Hannar, Svíurr,
Billingr, Brúni, Bíldr ok Buri,
Frár, Hornbori, Frægr ok Lóni,
Aurvangr, Jari, Eikinskjaldi.

14. Mál er dverga í Dvalins liði
ljóna kindum til Lofars telja,
þeir er sóttu frá salar steini
Aurvanga sjöt til Jöruvalla.

15. Þar var Draupnir ok Dolgþrasir,
Hár, Haugspori, Hlévangr, Glóinn,
Dóri, Óri Dúfr, Andvari
Skirfir, Virfir, Skáfiðr, Ái.

16. Alfr ok Yngvi, Eikinskjaldi,
Fjalarr ok Frosti, Finnr ok Ginnarr;
þat mun æ uppi meðan öld lifir,
langniðja tal Lofars hafat.
Bellows translation
10. There was Motsognir | the mightiest made
Of all the dwarfs, | and Durin next;
Many a likeness | of men they made,
The dwarfs in the earth, | as
Durin said.

11. Nyi and Nithi, | Northri and Suthri,
Austri and Vestri, | Althjof, Dvalin,
Nar and Nain, | Niping, Dain,
BifurBofur, | BomburNori,
An and Onar, | Ai, Mjothvitnir.

12. Vigg and 
Gandalf | Vindalf, Thrain,
Thekk and Thorin, | Thror, Vit and Lit,
Nyr and Nyrath,-- | now have I told--
Regin and Rathsvith-- | the list aright.

13. FiliKili, FundinNali,
Hepti, Vili, | Hannar, Sviur,
(Billing, Bruni, | Bildr and Buri,)
Frar, Hornbori, | Fræg and Loni,
Aurvang, Jari, | Eikinskjaldi.

14. The race of the dwarfs | in Dvalin's throng
Down to Lofar | the list must I tell;
The rocks they left, | and through wet lands
They sought a home | in the fields of sand.

15. There were Draupnir | and Dolgthrasir,
Hor, Haugspori, | Hlevang, Gloin,
DoriOri, | Duf, Andvari,
Skirfir, Virfir, | Skafith, Ai.

16. Alf
and Yngvi, | Eikinskjaldi,
Fjalar and Frosti, | Finn and Ginnar;
So for all time | shall the tale be known,
The list of all | the forbears of Lofar.



Note: Click on each character's name below to pull up their page on tolkiengateway.net.

Durin - Durin the Deathless, one of the original 7 dwarves created by Aule, is often named as the "Father of the Dwarves" and is a direct ancestor of Thorin Oakenshield.

Dvalin - later changed to Dwalin by Tolkien, is brother of Balin and relative of Thorin.

Nar - Not much is known about Nar, but he does have an interesting place in dwarven history as he was the last dwarf to see to see Thror (grandfather of Thorin) alive. He traveled with the crazed king from Dunland to the eastern gates of Moria where Thror was captured and beheaded by Azog.

Nain - This name was given to three different dwarves from the Third Age. Nain I (1832-1981) was the last king of Khazad-dum (Moria) and was killed by the Balrog. Nain II (2338-2585) ruled Durin's Folk from the Grey Mountains and Nain (2665-2799), Son of Gror and father of Dain Ironfoot, fought and died at the Battle of Azanulbizar outside the East Gate of Moria.

Dain
- This name too belongs to multiple characters in the legendarium. Dain I (T.A. 2440-2589) was King of Durin's Folk until his death at the hands of a cold-drake. Dain II Ironfoot (T.A. 2767-3019), cousin of Thorin Oakenshield is the one most Hobbit fans are familiar with as he was a leader in the Battle of Five Armies and King Under the Mountain.

Bofur, Bombur and Bifur - (two brothers and their cousin) are the only members of Thorin's Company that aren't related to the royal line of Durin (i.e. Thorin's family).

Nori - Brother of Ori and Dori, is a member of the Company.

Gandalf - The inclusion of this name may puzzle most Middle-earth fans. In pop culture the name is practically synonymous with the wise old wizard cloaked in grey. However, in the earliest version of The Hobbit the character we now know as Thorin was actually named Gandalf. The wizard in these early manuscripts was instead named Bladorthin.

Thrain - Thrain I (T.A. 1934-2190) was the first King under the Mountain while his descendant, Thrain II (2644-2850), was the father of Thorin Oakenshield and died in the dungeons of Dol Guldur.

Thorin - Many well-versed Middle-earth fans know that Thorin Oakenshield (T.A. 2746-2941) of The Hobbit is really the second dwarf king of that name.  His ancestor, Thorin I (T.A. 2035-2289), left Erebor too, but on his own choice (he left in favor of the Grey Mountains).  However, there was a third Thorin, Thorin III Stonehelm (T.A. 2866), who ruled as King Under the Mountain during the Fourth Age.

Thror - Grandfather of Thorin Oakenshield and King Under the Mountain.  Perhaps an example of one of the more tragic tales in Middle-earth, Thror (T.A. 2542-2790) lost his father and brother to a cold-drake in the Grey Mountains before leading his people back to Erebor (the mountain his forefather Thorin I left).  After Smaug came decades later Thror uneasily settled down in Eriador before trying to return to Khazad-dum as a crazed and weary old man dwarf.  His was later beheaded by Azog the Defiler by the East Gate of Moria, a horrific event that started the bloody War of the Dwarves and Orcs. 

Fili and Kili - Nephews of Thorin Oakenshield and members of the Company - they later died during the Battle of Five Armies

Fundin - father of Balin and Dwalin, died at the Battle of Azanulbizar.

Nali - was a dwarf of Erebor and was part of Balin's company that set out to reclaim Moria. When the expedition went awry and the dwarves were hemmed the the Second Hall, he and his companions Far and Loni (see below) bravely stood their ground.

Hannar - was one of four dwarves that stayed in Bag End before and after Bilbo's famed birthday party, though you wouldn't know it by reading The Lord of the Rings. In earlier versions his character was much more developed and even had some dialog, but by the publishers got it he had been reduced to one of the four dwarves that stayed with Bilbo.

Frar and Loni - were dwarves of Erebor that travelled with Balin when he went to reclaim Moria. They were companions of Nali (see above) and both died alongside him in Moria while bravely defending their retreating comrades from swarming orcs.

Lofar - Like Hanner, Lofar was one of the four dwarves who stayed at Bad End, but was later left unnamed in the published version.

Gloin - was one of the 13 members of the Company and father of Gimli.

Dori and Ori - brothers of Nori, were members of the Company.


The only members of the Company whose names aren't on this list are Balin and Oin. However, the name Ai in the Dvergatal above appears as Oin in some other versions of the poem.

The members of the Company of Thorin Oakenshield as seen in An Unexpected Journey 

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