Thursday, December 26, 2013


So, thanks to now having further explored a link someone sent me in a comment (thanks Allan), I not only discovered a fellow fan of the great but underappreciated ADandD modules L1 (The Secret of Bone Hill) and L2 (The Assassin's Knot) but also came across an amusing solution to the too-many-dwarves problem.

One of the things both Tolkien, in writing THE HOBBIT, and Peter Jackson's scriptwriters, in adapting it, has to deal with is the problem of a having a dozen or so similar characters: the dwarves. Tolkien solves this by giving them a sort of corporate identity; there are plenty of places in the narrative where they speak in plural (some said . . . others argued . . . ). This he leavens by highlighting a few among them: Thorin, Balin, and Bombur, mainly, plus to a lesser degree Dori and the pairs Fili-Kili and Gloin-Oin. Dwalin, Ori, Nori, Bifur, and Bofur pretty much fade into the background.

Now along comes Timrod, aka the "Unfrozen Caveman Dice Chucker, who proposes, only half-seriously, that maybe there's no Nori at all. That is, when Gandalf or Thorin or somebody is taking rollcall, Ori puts up his hand when his name is called, and then again a moment later puts up his other hand when "Nori" is called out, his goal being to get an extra share of the treasure, extra rations, or what-not. Here's the link:

Sad to say this ingenious proposal breaks down when you look at the text of THE HOBBIT closely enough (Nori and Ori appear side-by-side in the two-dwarves-at-a-time approach to Beorn's house in Chapter VII: Queer Lodgings). What's amazing, though, is that there's actually precedent for something like this in Tolkien's own work.

The passage in question comes in an odd passage Tolkien wrote late in life (1968 or ff) about the fate of Feanor's youngest sons, Amrod and Amras. Part of a larger unfinished piece on the various elven names of royal elven house called by Christopher Tolkien "The Shiboleth of Feanor", it was published in the last volume of The History of Middle-earth (Vol. XII: THE PEOPLES OF MIDDLE-EARTH -- cf, specifically HME.XII.352-355).

In this, it's revealed for the first time that one of Feanor's sons dies in the Ship-burning, without ever setting foot on Beleriand. Since Feanor forbids anyone to ever speak of his accidental murder of his son Amrod, the fiction is carried on throughout the next five centuries or so that Amras and Amrod, the twins, are acting as one in their various deeds in the wars of Beleriand -- when in fact it's only Amras, acting alone but crediting his deeds jointly in his name and in that of his long-dead brother. Quite possibly the most bizarre concept Tolkien came up with during those philological and metaphysic essays he sketched out late in life.

So, the idea of a faux-member of a largish homogenous group (Thorin's Company, the Sons of Feanor) does have genuine Tolkien precedent -- it's just not so in this particular case.

--John R.
current audiobook: MOCKINGJAY (just started)

1 comment:

Paula Marie said...

Hi John,
Interesting idea, but it’s not clear to me that Feanor actually forbade that anyone speak of Amrod’s death. Tolkien wrote that no one dared speak of the matter but couldn’t this also be due to the harsh response of Amras (Feanor’s favorite of his twin sons) in calling him ‘fell and fey’ or to Feanor’s well-known bristly nature or just the horribleness of the event? {And even if he did forbid it, Feanor dies soon after this event, so why would this stop anyone else from speaking/hearing about the death of Amrod (“the fiction is carried on throughout the next five centuries”)?}

Also, given that Tolkien was still working on this story, is there any evidence that he was thinking along these lines, i.e., that Amras would undertake a ruse for five centuries? Or is it possible he was thinking solely of how this event reflected Amrod’s other name (Fated) and not the repurcussions to the rest of the story, especially since the essay ended without addressing this?