🧙 The Tolkien Forum 🧝

Welcome to our forum! Register a free account today to become a member! Once signed in, you'll be able to participate on this site by adding your own topics and posts, as well as connect with other members through your own private inbox! Plus you won't see ads ;)

Are there too many dwarfs with Bilbo and Gandalf?

user16578

Retired
Joined
May 16, 2019
Messages
213
Reaction score
214
Seven was enough for the Brothers Grimm and they knew how to tell a tale or two.

Having just finished reading The Hobbit it occurred that not all the dwarfs have fully fleshed out characters and it can be difficult to remember who is who. Do we know why Tolkien chose thirteen?
I think Tolkien was just in a rebbelious mood, defying fate... :)

The number 13 is considered an unlucky number in some countries. The end of the Mayan calendar's 13th Baktun was superstitiously feared as a harbinger of the apocalyptic 2012 phenomenon. Fear of the number 13 has a specifically recognized phobia, Triskaidekaphobia, a word coined in 1911. The superstitious sufferers of triskaidekaphobia try to avoid bad luck by keeping away from anything numbered or labelled thirteen. As a result, companies and manufacturers use another way of numbering or labelling to avoid the number, with hotels and tall buildings being conspicuous examples (thirteenth floor). It is also considered unlucky to have thirteen guests at a table. Friday the 13th has been considered an unlucky day.

There are a number of theories as to why the number thirteen became associated with bad luck, but none of them have been accepted as likely.

  • The Last Supper: At Jesus Christ's last supper, there were thirteen people around the table, counting Christ and the twelve apostles. Some believe this is unlucky because one of those thirteen, Judas Iscariot, was the betrayer of Jesus Christ. From the 1890s, a number of English language sources relate the "unlucky" thirteen to an idea that at the Last Supper, Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th to sit at the table.
  • Knights Templar: On Friday 13 October 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of the Knights Templar, and most of the knights were tortured and killed.
 
Last edited:

Merroe

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 14, 2016
Messages
287
Reaction score
332
Location
Luxembourg
Indeed Rivendell_librarian: why 13!?

Having checked a number of my sources, there is no trace as far as I can look.

I chased some bad ends which are mentioned here just for reference (yet worthless):
  • Aule initially created 13 dwarves. This corresponding number must be a coincidence though: the dwarves were soon organised under the Seven Fathers. Moreover, it seems very unlikely that JRRT had that in mind already in the very early days when he wrote TH.
  • The 13 dwarves in his company needed to represent all Seven Kingdoms, maybe? Only Durin's name is ever mentioned, and I have seen no information that their combined lineage covered all Seven Kingdoms. In fact, it is much more logical that all of them answered to Durin's lineage alone, because they answered to Thorin's call.
Belthil's reference to the ill-luck figure is an option. From my own side, shortly and honestly concluded, I don't know. :(

Anyone else...?
 
Joined
Aug 19, 2018
Messages
96
Reaction score
60
Location
UK
Thanks for trying Merroe. I've got The Road to Middle earth lined up as a book to read sometime so maybe the answer (or a clue) is there. However, I do think that with 13 dwarfs there are too many to flesh out their characters properly. In fact one of the more rounded characters is smaug!

I didn't know that about Friday 13 and The Knights Templar. Thanks Belthil
 

Olorgando

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 19, 2019
Messages
864
Reaction score
431
Location
Germany
JRRT’s source fort the names of the Dwarves in TH was the Völuspá (or “Prophecy of the Seeress”), according to Wikipedia “the first and best known poem of the Poetic (or “Elder”) Edda” and “It is one of the most important primary sources for the study of Norse mythology.” Within this is the "Dvergatal" ("Catalogue of Dwarves"), apparently considered of dubious source. JRRT got almost all of the names of the Dwarves (and a to him “odd man out” Gandalfr!) from this list, which would have made for a much larger group of Dwarves.

But I’d guess that Belthil has pretty much covered the 13-as-an-unlucky-number territory. With JRRT being a devout Catholic, my vote would go to the Last Supper. So, Gandalf chose Bilbo, among some other reasons (all provided by JRRT after publication of LoTR), to up the unlucky thirteen to the “baker’s dozen” fourteen (this 12=14 is apparently a late development. Mostly it seems to have meant 12=13. Oh well :( ).
 

Squint-eyed Southerner

Skulking near Archet
Joined
Apr 9, 2018
Messages
1,366
Reaction score
1,289
Location
Virginia, USA
Tolkien later expressed some regret about "this rabble of dwarves out of Voluspa". But T.A. Shippey notes that he must have examined it closely and critically -- more than most scholars did; for one thing, what was an elf -- 'Gandalfr' -- doing in there with a pack of dwarves? Tolkien apparently decided the prefix meant 'wand', and that a 'Wand-Elf' -- whatever that means -- must have once had some sort of association with a company of Dwarves, in a poem or story now lost.

Also on the list, something that looks like a nickname: 'Eikinskjialdi' --- 'Oakenshield'. What does that mean?

As we know, Tolkien supplied the answers -- and stories and poems -- himself.
 
Last edited:

user16578

Retired
Joined
May 16, 2019
Messages
213
Reaction score
214
Tolkien later expressed some regret about "this rabble of dwarves out of Voluspa". But T.A. Shippey notes that he must have examined it closely and critically -- more than most scholars did; for one thing, what was an elf -- 'Gandalfr' -- doing in there with a pack of dwarves? Tolkien apparently decided the prefix meant 'wand', and that a 'Wand-Elf' -- whatever that means -- must have once had some sort of association with a company of Dwarves, in a poem or story now lost.

Also on the list, something that looks like a nickname: 'Eikinskjialdi' --- 'Oakenshield'. What does that mean?

As we know, Tolkien supplied the answers -- and stories and poems -- himself.
Good of you to ponder on the Voluspa! Such an important and wonderfull piece of work!!

This Voluspa site: http://www.voluspa.org/voluspa.htm gives indept commentary! :)
 

CirdanLinweilin

The Wandering Wastrel
Joined
May 13, 2016
Messages
874
Reaction score
463
Location
Mission Viejo, California
I think Tolkien was just in a rebbelious mood, defying fate... :)

The number 13 is considered an unlucky number in some countries. The end of the Mayan calendar's 13th Baktun was superstitiously feared as a harbinger of the apocalyptic 2012 phenomenon. Fear of the number 13 has a specifically recognized phobia, Triskaidekaphobia, a word coined in 1911. The superstitious sufferers of triskaidekaphobia try to avoid bad luck by keeping away from anything numbered or labelled thirteen. As a result, companies and manufacturers use another way of numbering or labelling to avoid the number, with hotels and tall buildings being conspicuous examples (thirteenth floor). It is also considered unlucky to have thirteen guests at a table. Friday the 13th has been considered an unlucky day.

There are a number of theories as to why the number thirteen became associated with bad luck, but none of them have been accepted as likely.


  • The Last Supper: At Jesus Christ's last supper, there were thirteen people around the table, counting Christ and the twelve apostles. Some believe this is unlucky because one of those thirteen, Judas Iscariot, was the betrayer of Jesus Christ. From the 1890s, a number of English language sources relate the "unlucky" thirteen to an idea that at the Last Supper, Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the 13th to sit at the table.
  • Knights Templar: On Friday 13 October 1307, King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of the Knights Templar, and most of the knights were tortured and killed.
I didn't know about the Judas one, and I am Catholic! :O


CL
 

grendel

Registered User
Joined
Dec 8, 2003
Messages
159
Reaction score
20
Location
the Heartland of America
I thought I had read somewhere, or maybe it was someone's opinion here, that Gandalf arranged for there to be 13 dwarves, so that they would feel obligated to add Bilbo to make 14 and therefore become un-unlucky. No?
 

Olorgando

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 19, 2019
Messages
864
Reaction score
431
Location
Germany
I don't recall, in the various versions of "The Quest of Erebor" (first version published in UT), that Gandalf was that specific about how many companions (or whom) Thorin should take along. What he did, to my recollection, is to talk Thorin out of any thoughts of armies and open war upon Smaug (a natural kingly reflex), that rather Thorin's only hope lay in secrecy - thus a "burglar" (and in Gandalf's mind a Hobbit - already Bilbo?).
 

Thread suggestions

Top