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Discussing: Dwarven kingdoms: Sawa's "Short History"

Dwarven kingdoms: Sawa's "Short History"

A past discussion over on the forum devoted to Dwarves drew my attention to Hubert Sawa's 1995 piece in the Tolkien Centenary volume: "Short History of the Territorial Development of the Dwarves' Kingdoms in the Second and Third Ages of Middle-Earth."

As a scholar with professional interests in trade and political organization--and a fondness for Dwarves--I cannot recommend this work, not even as a useful extension of canon.

It did not inspire confidence to find that Sawa begins by getting a critical part of the dwarven origin myth wrong in the first paragraph.

As we know, the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves were the first intelligent beings created by the Gods.  However, the Gods realised that the world was still too wild, and sent the Fathers to a well-hidden place, somewhere in Middle-earth.

Perhaps this is meant to be the Dwarves' "spin" on Eru's rebuke of Aulë, but I do not think Dwarves would admit that anything was too wild for them.

I was also rather dismayed to see that Sawa has Durin VII (who will be the Last) restoring the kingdom at Khazad-dûm in Fourth Age 124.  One would like to think they had a longer run.

These, however, are trifles.  My strongest objections are to his conception of the nature of the dwarven kingdoms.  Sawa continually refers to them annexing this area or siezing that piece of land, as if they were territorial states and the Dwarves had some use for all that real estate.  He describes some as many thousands of square miles in extent.  (The highest figure given, 15,750 square miles for Forodor in the Iron Mountains during the First Age, is nearly twice the size of Wales.)

This does not fit with the descriptions of dwarf kingdoms given to us by Tolkien.  All of the ones discussed in any detail in canon were close neighbors and allies with Elves or Men during the height of their power: Khazad-dûm with the Men of the North (descendants of Hador) in the east and Eregion in the west; Erebor with Dale.  One can also look at the proximity of the Dwarves in the southern Ered Luin to the Elves around Lhûn, and Gimli's mansion at Aglarond amidst the Rohirrim.  I do not doubt that there were more isolated and independent dwarf kingdoms, but Tolkien clearly states that Dwarves prefered to let others do the laborious business of getting food, so they could attend to their crafts--and nowhere does he imply that Dwarves held lordship over folk of other races.

Dwarves forge commonwealths, not empires.

I do like Sawa's use of "city-state" to describe dwarven kingdoms, at least the larger, more powerful ones.  It is a shame that he doesn't seem to understand what that means in structural and functional terms: small, densely populated centers without direct control of extensive hinterlands, competing for resources through trade and, when necessary, war.  I would expect Dwarves to be willing to fight for direct control of areas with rich mineral resources (the essential raw materials for their craft), especially if there was also good rock for delving their halls and ready access to major trade routes and/or markets (i.e., a customer base).  But all that flat land between Erebor and the Iron Mountains (Sawa 1995: maps VII, VIII)?  Pah--they are not farmers, and who could prevent them from crossing it to their kin if they wished?  Whoever settles there will want smithcraft.

Does anyone know Hubert Sawa's area of expertise?  I see the article was translated, and a quick Google suggests he is Polish.



Re: Dwarven kingdoms: Sawa's

I do not doubt that there were more isolated and independent dwarf kingdoms, but Tolkien clearly states that Dwarves prefered to let others do the laborious business of getting food, so they could attend to their crafts--

Yes.  I agree. I have this long running plot bunny about the Dunedain having to reopen their own coal/iron mines, after the Dwarves move en masse back to Erebor, just to keep themselves supplied with metal.

It just seems so unlikely that grain shipments over the High Pass to Erebor to trade for worked metal would make it past the orcs. And the Dwarves, of course, would have a market in Dale and down to Dorwinion (Dorwin?) and wouldn't actually need supplies, caravanned in at great expense, from over the Misty Mountains.

 The Hobbits and the Breelanders would also be hurting for worked metal. While some trade obviously continued, it could not have been on the previous scale and metal would probably have been more expensive than previously.




Re: Dwarven kingdoms: Sawa's

I think you can lay that bunny to rest, Gwynnyd.  There were Dwarves in the Ered Luin before the refugees from Erebor came there, and those Dwarves woudn't have all rushed off to the Lonely Mountain after the Battle of Five Armies.  Tolkien has two of the Fathers--of the Firebeards and the Broadbeams--awakening in the Ered Luin, and they are almost certainly the founders of Belegost and Nogrod.  Conservative creatures that they are, a few stubborn holdouts are sure to remain.

If the Ered Luin Dwarves were less wealthy and powerful than those of Erebor--as grumbles about working iron rather than gold at least keeping the arm strong would imply--that is probably only a reflection of the rather sorry state of Eriador after the breaking of Arnor.  What have you got for customers but the few Elves still hanging about the Lhûn, the Shire, the Breelanders, and the Rangers?  A living, but not much profit there.

On the bright side, however, things should pick up again once the King returns.





Re: Dwarven kingdoms: Sawa's

I think you can lay that bunny to rest, Gwynnyd.

You are a cruel woman, but I don't think I will abandon it just yet.   I have other plans in mind for that mine! I just need an exuse to get them in there.  If the Dunedain try an abortive attempt at mining... I think I  can pull it off.    ;-) 




Re: Dwarven kingdoms: Sawa's

Oh, if you want to have them scratching around, go for it!  Smile

There are plenty of ways to explain it: the Dwarves get their noses out of joint about something and won't come across/raise their prices is probably the simplest, although you could also have things going on elsewhere that make trade unreliable at that time--brigands, trolls, bridges washed out, someone else placing a giant order. . . .

From a purely technical point of view, most pre-industrial ironworking used low-grade ores (especially bog iron); but you might have them see what they can do with a mine the Dwarves consider tapped out or were forced to abandon.  Smelting and forging was done with charcoal; real-world humans only began using coal for ironworking in the last few centuries.  I suspect that the legendary quality of dwarven metalwork is due to the fact that they use coal, but that would probably be a closely guarded trade secret.




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