Why are the dwarves better at mining and building now?

Slight look-back. But this has bugged me since we got to & through it.

Why did Tolkien give the dwarves any greater achievements now than they had previously made? As I best understand it, this is I think *unique* in LOTR? Tolkien the Medievalist seemed very content to have his sub-creation's history descend from heights that it could never reach again. It seems to be part of the basic thread weaving all of Middle-Earth together: It is going downhill. The past cannot be preserved, it cannot be reachieved, it certainly cannot be bettered. The slide may be halted temporarily, and some of the loss even reversed briefly, but nothing is getting *better*.

So Question for Narnion: Why are the dwarves getting better at doing anything than they had been in the past?
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Active Member
I think it may have to do with mining and building being more utilitarian and technology-based instead of being works of art. Just as nowadays we can build larger and more efficiently than Medievals due to technology, but today's buildings don't have the same sense to them as a Medieval cathedral or castle.
If Gloin had only been talking about pure utilitarianism, that could be feasible. But he talks about their mining and building in the context of the incredible new waterways, fountains, multi-colored roads, underground halls with "arches carved like trees," and terraces & towers. In the context, Gloin seems clearly to be saying that the dwarf craft of construction has gone to new heights of beauty as well as function.


Well-Known Member
Maybe it's a reflection of how Dwarves are kind of outside the timeline of the rise and fall of Elf/rise and fall of Man. They are sort of crammed in to Arda after the fact (no matter how much Illuvatar might claim he had them in mind all along, they are clearly an afterthought without a proper pre-ordained place in the mythology).
Maybe? But Tolkien was so clear on why his other various races aren't seen in "modern" times anymore. The elves have faded. The hobbits have become fearful of "the Big People" and skitter away at a moment's notice. The Men of Numenor mixed their bloodlines in with "lesser" men. Each of those, you can say, "Huh, yeah I can see why we don't see them around anymore except as whispers & legends." But with the dwarves, the last we learn of them is that they are bold, growing again, learning, building new & more beautiful things than they ever have. So it's even more jarring to be in the modern world where there's no more sign of them than, well, elves or hobbits. It sticks out.

The fact that Minas Tirith has disappeared of course also sticks out. But at least there's a line of reasoning there: Minas Tirith, even after Sauron's defeat, was a part of the slow downhill slide of the Men of the Golden Age of humanity. With the dwarves, there's now a disconnect. Something happened to change them, to break their forward progress, and to make them virtually disappear. At some unknown time & unknown reason after the early Fourth Age. It just, well, sticks out.


Maybe Gloin is just wrong. Perhaps not intentionally dishonest, but a nation's diplomat--one with a role in its (re)foundation myth, no less--could be forgiven for putting things in the most positive possible light.
Yeah that, on first glance, would be the easiest explanation. But (as Prof Olsen would say) I’m resisting it — for some reason. It would get really easy to say that every statement in the book that doesn’t “fit” the world is just a mistake by either speaker or scribe. (Or by Tolkien!) But Tolkien put those words in Gloin’s mouth for a reason, and I just wonder if there is a more satisfying one.
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The dwarves didn’t decline, they continued their rapid technological progress until they developed interplanetary space vehicles and left Middle Earth to build a better civilization among the stars.
As Erebor was only occupied in TA 1999, is it not possible that the Dwarves of Erebor in 3018/9 have surpassed the skill in mining and building of 1000 years prior, without surpassing the skill displayed in Beleriand in the Second Age?

That would fit the overall downward trend, with this being one of those brief reversals. We don't really get much information on the fate of Erebor after the War of the Ring, beyond Dwarves of Erebor helping to rebuild in Gondor and Rohan. Could this dispersal of Dwarves have contributed to the overall demise of the Dwarves as a people?
So you're suggesting that Gloin is "thinking locally." There's a certain commonsense to that -- that he's saying simply that the building works at Erebor were never that good before. But even so, it's still striking to me for the casualness of it. How are they better than the most brilliant dwarves of Moria who created it a thousand years before? That kind of thing just isn't done in Tolkien.

Like, for Gondor, the Return of the King is an enormous, momentous time, a rebirth after nearly 1000 years. And yet even it is framed as a hopeful restoration of an earlier plateau of peace & knowledge. A memory rather than a launching pad. (Reflected by the new White Tree, which is really just another memory, once-more-removed from its original source.)

So I agree Anthony that your suggestion is a plausible reading, but it still is a momentous thing.
The hobbits are also showing signs of societal progress and expansion at the end of the story. Granted, they’re not nearly as industrious as the dwarves or territorially aggressive as men, but they are growing. Given the evidence of co-habitation at Bree, it’s even possible that they gradually merged and intermarried with the Big Folk. Not sure if that would work with the dwarves and their more insular culture, but we can’t rule it out.
Was a great conversation last night and my appreciation to Prof. Olsen for the discussion!

Ardent Crayon, I was thinking a lot about hobbits after your post yesterday. I'm of two minds...

On the one hand, they seem to have been actually regressing through the later 3rd Age. At the Battle of Fornost a thousand years earlier, they were so intertwined into the wider world that they sent a host of archers to fight. But by the time of the story, hobbits don't even seem to remember that Arnor existed, outside a wispy legend here & there. Nothing in the outside world matters to them. And the small size of their villages suggests that they haven't done much population growth, etc.

On the other hand, *some* hobbits do definitely seem to be awakened again to the wider world, and to adventures. The friendship and notice of the King of Gondor is no small thing after all. :) And the gardens and trees that Sam planted throughout the Shire at the end of the story suggest that their local world will become lovelier than it has in living memory. Plus of course their land does grow when they annex the western lands up to the elvish towers.

But do any of those steps mean that they're becoming more than they ever were? It doesn't seem it. The fact that a few hobbits go off on adventures nowadays just harks back to when they were a roaming and wandering peoples who traveled across the mountains and interacted with the wider world.

And I think the King's edict banning Big People from the Shire after the war is a big mistake. They're still being treated like children and worse, they seem to like it -- a group of little, inconsequential people living in a bubble, fully cut off from everything around them. Eventually fading away to shadows and furtive tiny forest-dwellers who skitter away at the approach of human feet.

I *do* like that idea that maybe some hobbits & humans might intermarry, have kids, and blend their bloodlines. I think that's pretty charming and it feels right & fun. But I don't think that means that they're progressing from any kind of Iron Age back up through Silver and Gold. As a whole, by the start of the 4th Age, it seems like the hobbits' best generations are behind them. Just like all the other races in Tolkien.