I was reading this captivating Bagginshield fic, and came upon an exchange between Bilbo and Thorin that really struck me. The company managed to kill Smaug in Erebor, and they have reclaimed the kingdom. Thorin is trying to find a way to repay Bilbo for all of his help, but Bilbo will not accept any of it, wanting no reward but for the dwarves to remain alive. He tells Thorin he thinks nothing of the gold in the mountain, for it could drive men to madness and tear friends apart:
“You don’t understand,” replied Thorin, shaking his head. He glanced around at their feet before kneeling down to pick up a gold coin and sapphire ring. He held them out to Bilbo and forced the Hobbit to look at them.
“Do you see this coin? Do you see the designs and words etched into it on both sides?” he asked, and when Bilbo nodded, he held up the ring as well. “Do you see the ring? Do you see how smooth and polished the silver band is? The designs engraved in it? Do you see how carefully cut and shaped the jewel is?”
He nodded and pushed the Dwarf’s hand out of his face. “Yes, Thorin, I see it but I’m not following—”
“This is the legacy of my people,” the king interrupted without care. “This is what our creator blessed us in. This talent—this craft—to turn rocks and stones into something beautiful. To take an uncut and rough mineral and transform it into a beautiful jewel. All of the treasure you see here was made by Dwarven hands. Through hard labor, dedicated persistence, and practiced skills, we created all of this wealth. No other race can do what we do here. No other race can take a useless stone and craft it into something useful. When you dismiss this treasure as nothing, you dismiss the hard work and talent of my people.”
“I… I never thought of it like that,” Bilbo stuttered…
I never thought of it like that either. And it really shook me, and made me rethink how I saw the dwarves, and Thorin’s quest. As humans, we see things from the perspective learned and ingrained by our upbringing and nature. To us, the sheer volume of gold harbored in Erebor represents unimaginable wealth, enough to buy Middle-Earth itself. The gold holds monetary value, and perhaps some aesthetic value as well, for it is a precious metal we (and other races of this fictional world) have chosen as desirable. But after reading this, I realized that to the dwarves, gold is so much more than that- it is literally their lives. The gold, the mithril, the rubies and sapphires they mine from the rock is a testament to the blood, sweat, and tears of an entire race. It is their culture, their history, their souls. When they pick up a coin, they see past the glitter and gleam; they see the engravings of royal dwarf lords, the handiwork of those long past, and it connects them to where they came from. To lose it would be as if every book in the world were burned, every painting, statue, and sculpture that ever depicted the human struggle and the tales of our species smashed, and on top of it, our very homes crushed to rubble for the folly of a great and terrible beast from the sky. It is the rug being ripped out from under your feet, losing all purpose of existence, for now there is no proof of where you came from or who you even are. The quiet hymns and plucked strings are but memories to what was lost, they are abstract and cannot be touched or held close, or wept upon to mourn the dead. To seek out their gold once more, after it had been taken from them, that is not greed, that is but a fierce and desperate desire to hold onto what seems to be slipping away far too quickly from their grasp- to remember who they are.
I am not implying that dwarves cannot be greedy. The gold-sickness exists. Dwarves, like other races, can become obsessed and engulfed by the vast wealth they inherit. But that is when they lose sight of what the gold really means, when they forget that each coin has a story, and that the fate of their race lies upon it. Dwarves are passionate, intense, and emotional to their core, and yet they are so much less greedy than Middle-Earth’s other races. With such wealth, they could wage war anywhere they choose, buy kingdoms at the snap of a finger, do such incredible damage to other peoples, and yet they choose to live within the Mountain, keeping mostly to themselves when not trading with Men, making cities like Dale prosperous, continuing their sacred traditions of metal-working to capture their legacy in silver and gold for as long as time will tell. And so much of the blame for these accusations comes from the men, the elves, those who indeed see the gold primarily as stores of wealth. Somehow, they do not look past their own perspectives to realize that gold to dwarves is like good tilled earth to hobbits, something they simply cannot live without and which holds their very soul. To the elves of the woodland realm, gold is the dwarves’ starlight, precious and pure. It is memory, and they forever long to be close to it. This is something they could so easily understand and yet they are the ones who will not look past their own ingrained beliefs to see the dwarves for all that they are, not just what they appear to be from their own perspective.
The quest to reclaim the long-forgotten gold is noble. For when it is forgotten, it is not wealth being lost, but the identity of an entire race. Without their gold, the dwarves are but wanderers in a world empty to them; filled with many other peoples, their songs, their cultures, but devoid of anything carved by dwarven hands. They were cast out into the cold, with only runestones pressed to their hearts to remind them of what they once had, and to urge them onwards until one day they could return to where they belonged. The dwarves are loyal, hard-working, passionate, and honorable. They truly have hearts of gold; and as I recall, that is considered beautiful.
Dain has never been to Erebor, and if it was up to him he’d never go. After all, what’s there to do in a big lonely mountain all by his lonesome? Become best friends with the young prince, Thorin, that’s what! If only Thorin would accept that he’s got a new friend who’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
new dwarven headcanon: For those dwarves who are craft-wed, it’s not uncommon for them to agree to bear/sire children by people they are close to. Their responsibility to the child ends there, the person or couple who wished to have a child takes full responsibility as parent(s) for their care and raising. However, agreeing to such an arrangement is not an expectation, but a choice. A child born in this way is a precious gift to the parent(s). In this way, those who wish to become parents but do not wish to have a partner, or those partnerships who cannot have children of their own, can do so.
Outright adoption is rare because children are so precious to dwarves, but orphans don‘t remain without family for long. It is more common that a childless dwarf will adopt the child of a relative as heir, as Thorin did with Fili.