Tolkien's "Jewish" Dwarves

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Extollager

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#1
An unusual and interesting article, which avoids the pitfalls I would have expected to see if the topic had been covered in the usual literary outlets.

The Secret Jews of The Hobbit - Commentary Magazine

There seem to me to be several points in the article that could invite worthwhile discussion. However, from my years with Chrons, I do wonder whether we have Jewish participants or even Gentile participants who take a wholesome interest in Jewish matters. At the least, I know we have a lot of Tolkien readers, and this piece should be worthy of attention from some of them.
 

Toby Frost

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#2
Interesting that you say that. I was also struck by a particular bit in the first Hobbit film a couple of years ago, where one of the dwarves sings a sad song about being driven from his homeland. Recently, perhaps owing to computer and tabletop games, the dwarves have begun to look like little Vikings and sound like comedy Scotsmen, but I'm sure that along with the Scandinavian influence there's an element of Jewishness to Tolkien's dwarves, especially in their diaspora. Out of interest, in the early days of Warhammer, there were little enclaves of dwarves in many of the cities of the Empire, its equivalent of the German states.

There is a stereotype of dwarves being very fond of gold, which has an unfortunate overlap with the Jewish stereotype, but I don't remember that being stressed much in Tolkien. The only thing that I can think of in LOTR is the mention of them digging too deep in Moria, perhaps out of zealousness to build their city rather than greed. I suspect it comes from dwarves living underground, hence being miners, and hence digging up precious metals, and from being skilled craftsmen.

I don't know much about Jewish matters (I'm not Jewish and nor were my ancestors as far as I can tell), but politically the Jews do seem to be something of the proverbial canary in the mineshaft: when things are bad for the Jews something has gone wrong.
 

Extollager

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#3
There is a stereotype of dwarves being very fond of gold, which has an unfortunate overlap with the Jewish stereotype, but I don't remember that being stressed much in Tolkien. The only thing that I can think of in LOTR is the mention of them digging too deep in Moria, perhaps out of zealousness to build their city rather than greed. I suspect it comes from dwarves living underground, hence being miners, and hence digging up precious metals, and from being skilled craftsmen.QUOTE]

And of course Tolkien's getting the connection between dwarves and gold from Norse mythology and legend--Andvari, etc.
 

The Ace

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#4
I'm sorry, but this is one of those;

"Teacher - The curtains were blue, because the author's depression ....... (20 minutes of earnest discussion of the meaning of a set passage.)

Author - The curtains were blue because I like blue curtains !"

moments.

Tolkein probably neither knew nor cared that people would link his Dwarves with Jews - he stated categorically that there was no, "Message," in his writings, and is well-known for his distaste of allegory.

Some people will do anything to fill a few column inches.
 

Brian G Turner

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#5
From the article:

To someone like me, who grew up loving The Hobbit, the discovery that Tolkien had based his dwarves on Jews was startling—and the cause of some concern.
Certainly I can agree with that, but even in the article Tolkien makes no such statement that dwarfs=Jews. The quotes given read as taken out of context, and there's a lot of conjecture between those given.

For example, there's nothing unique to Judaism in thinking of a far-off home.

IMO the dwarfs and their personalities (including greed for gold) are clearly drawn from Viking influences - even as a non-linguist I struggle to see how the name "Thorin" can be described as Semitic and not Old Norse - ie, derived from "Thor". (EDIT: Wikipedia describes this as the case: Thorin Oakenshield - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
 

Nick B

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#6
Tolkien took a huge amount of his inspiration from Norse mythology, the dwarves the elves, even the name Middle Earth is in fact after Midgard, our plane of existence. Many, many names were taken from Norse mythology too. In fact, if I remember correctly, Gandalf was a dwarf.
As is often the case, it looks as though questions were asked, then his answers selectively disected and quoted in order to make it look how the interviewer or writer wanted it to look.
I'm sure if someone tried hard enough, they could make it look like Tolkien made any of his races look as though they were based on some Earthly nation, for good or ill.
 

The Big Peat

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#7
Gandalf - wand elf - was the name of a legendary king. Apparently.

As an interesting tangent on an interesting article, exile and the perils of greed are fairly common themes in Tolkien's work. Feanor's compulsion in seeking the Simarils and Thorin's behaviour in seeking the Arkenstone are not so different. Boromir dies because of his attraction to the ring; Aragorn returns from exile; Frodo ends up going into exile. And so on.
 

aThenian

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#8
Interesting, but I can't help feeling that Tolkien would have intensely disliked this article, given that he was very firm that he was not writing an allegory, and not inspired by contemporary events.

It's not just the dwarves who are exiles in Middle-earth - so are the Elves, who are returning to the lands over the sea, so are Aragorn and the other rangers - who then return to Gondor. So to say that the dwarves are representative of the Jews because they are in exile - that doesn't make much sense given the ubiquity of the theme. Furthermore, if Tolkien was making a parallel, then why would he use the idea of exile and return twice: first the Dwarves are exiled from the Lonely Mountain, and then they are exiled from Moria? And their return to the Lonely Mountain is successful and their return to Moria is not - why is that, what would that indicate if the analogy was correct?

I suppose it's a characteristic of great literature that it is possible to find many possible interpretations and analogies within it, but I think in this case it's a real stretch.

I'm not sure what you mean by "wholesome interest in Jewish matters" Extollager.
 

Extollager

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#9
aThenian, there are people who obsess over what they regard as sinister influence of Jews in culture, politics, etc. That's unwholesome. There are a great many people, including people in liberal arts studies in universities, who claim great interest in various multicultural authors, but who (so far as one can tell) avoid--aren't interested in, and know almost nothing about--Jewish contributions to culture. I don't know where you hail from, but in the U. S., someone can go through kindergarten to high school graduation, then take a liberal arts degree in college, and know almost nothing about Jews other than that they were objects of Hitler's extermination efforts in the Holocaust.* Some might know a little of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament, but I think one can hardly underestimate the ignorance of most Gentile Americans in that regard. This strange state of affairs is so entrenched that if one does take some interest in Jews with regard to world history, literature, the arts, etc. one wants to be sure that the nature of one's interest isn't misunderstood, because it may seem to be a strange departure from the norm.

I wanted to respond to your comment, but any further discussion on this matter should probably be under the Current Events heading elsewhere at Chrons.

The article doesn't say Tolkien said dwarves=Jews, by the way, but that Tolkien perceived something in his conception of them that reminded him of the centuries of experience of Jewish people. The article also took occasion to mention some of Tolkien's remarks indicating his sympathy and admiration of Jewish people. That seems interesting biographically, in itself. This isn't a matter of allegory, which everyone knows Tolkien rejected. He did, as is less often noted, allow that his writing might have what he called "applicability" (see paragraph 8 of his Foreword to the Ballantine edition).

*Some of the more leftist students may espouse fashionable anti-"Zionism" directed against the modern state of Israel.
 

Toby Frost

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#10
I think that's a fair point. It's one thing to write a downright allegory, but another to be influenced by your own view of the world. Decades ago Michael Moorcock was deducing that Tolkien disliked industrialisation, was a parochial Tory and half a dozen other things from his work. I've seen the same sort of thing said about Peake, Philip K Dick and others who didn't write allegory. However, the author may go too far in linking Tolkien's respect for the Jews to the dwarves as strongly as he does.
 

The Big Peat

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#11
The author undoubtedly goes far. That Tolkien sought inspiration from them is proven by his own words. But I'd say its equally certain that they're not the sole inspiration. Not everything about the dwarves is meant to remind one of the Jews. But its still a fascinating article.

One could take it further. Perhaps Tolkien, someone who was orphaned early and saw people suffer for his faith, felt a natural affection for the faithful separated from their natural place of being. You see the possibility of it in his work; maybe he admired the Jews in part of this. But one would be speculating and speculation should not be presented as fact. The curse of the secondary school English teacher and the journalist alike.
 

galanx

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#12
I'm sorry, but this is one of those;

"Teacher - The curtains were blue, because the author's depression ....... (20 minutes of earnest discussion of the meaning of a set passage.)

Author - The curtains were blue because I like blue curtains !"

moments.

Tolkein probably neither knew nor cared that people would link his Dwarves with Jews - he stated categorically that there was no, "Message," in his writings, and is well-known for his distaste of allegory.

Some people will do anything to fill a few column inches.
From the article ( and I've read the original Tolkien comments before; they're fairly well-known)

The dwarves of Middle Earth, the central characters of one of the most beloved books of all time, are indeed based on the Jews. This was confirmed by Tolkien himself in a 1971 interview on the BBC: “The dwarves of course are quite obviously, [sic] couldn’t you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews?” he asked. “Their words are Semitic obviously, constructed to be Semitic.” Similarly, in a letter to his daughter, Tolkien reflected, “I do think of the ‘Dwarves’ like Jews: at once native and alien in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue.”
 
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