Elves and Dwarves. They are the Hatfields and McCoys of Middle-earth. Their grudge match runs deeper than the Yankees versus the Red Sox, features more characters than DC versus Marvel, and has more products in dispute than Apple versus Samsung. Their selective recollection of history brings to mind Israel and Palestine while their rivalry has run up a body count worse than Biggie and Tupac. And whenever things really need to get done in Middle-earth, they can threaten the quest by devolving into petty bickering and bitterness like partisan Republicans and Democrats. Well, maybe they’re not as bad as that last example, but you get the point.
The culture of contention between Elves and Dwarves is one of the best known features of Tolkien’s legendarium, yet for many fans of his work (as for the Elves and Dwarves themselves), the origins of the dispute are unknown. Like the rivalries above, their feud is fueled by the fact that they are not really enemies, but rather players in the same field — the master craftsmen of Middle-earth. It is Elves and Dwarves’ creative energies that often bring them into conflict. Indeed, the theme of creation, sub-creation, and the right to possess created works not only weaves its way through their history, but is a central thread in all of Tolkien’s writing and his own self-understanding.
Perhaps it is fitting then that since Tolkien’s passing, disputes over the rights of creation and possession of his work have led to licensing lawsuits and corporate contentions as acrimonious as those of his Elves and Dwarves. But both in Tolkien’s world and our own, there are moments when the question of ownership is put aside and creative collaboration occurs between rivals with no motivation but the love of craft and beautiful things. In these moments, we do our finest work and everyone around can enjoy the fruits of our labors.
Therefore, in the spirit of reconciling opposing forces and with hope for creative collaboration between the rivals of our time, let’s take a look at the history of the Elf-Dwarf feud through a card based on one character who rose above the fray. Buckle up with Narvi’s Belt! The Elves and Dwarves’ story of creative tension will take us all the way back to, well, creation!
EXPLORE THE LEGEND
‘They say only: The Doors of Durin, Lord of Moria. Speak, friend, and enter. And underneath small and faint is written: I, Narvi, made them. Celebrimbor of Hollin drew these signs.‘
Narvi’s lone mention in The Lord of the Rings comes as Gandalf is reading the inscription on the western door of Moria in Book II Chapter IV “A Journey in the Dark”. Narvi was a Dwarven craftsman living in the Second Age of Middle-Earth, long deceased by the time of the Fellowship of the Ring. His most notable work was these Doors of Durin, a joint effort undertaken alongside the famous Elven smith Celebrimbor.
As the Fellowship approaches the doors, however, the conversation establishes the rarity of Narvi and Celebrimbor’s cross-cultural collaboration:
‘Well, here we are at last!’ said Gandalf. ‘Here the Elven-way from Hollin ended. Holly was the token of the people of that land, and they planted it here to mark the end of their domain; for the West-door was made chiefly for their use in their traffic with the Lords of Moria. Those were happier days, when there was still close friendship at times between folk of different race, even between Dwarves and Elves.’
‘It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned,’ said Gimli.
‘I have not heard that it was the fault of the Elves,’ said Legolas.
‘I have heard both,’ said Gandalf; ‘and I will not give judgment now.’
I love Gandalf’s curt conclusion but I also wonder if he were to give judgment, what should he have said? Who is at fault for the famous Elf-Dwarf feud which Narvi and Celebrimbor (and later Gimli and Legolas) somehow transcend? And what is really at its ultimate source? Why can’t Elves and Dwarves just get along?
Let’s begin by working our way back through the history of Middle-earth, recalling some of the key grievances in this storied rivalry, doing exactly what Gandalf always warns against, dealing out judgment as we go.
SIEGE OF EREBOR, T.A. 2941
At the time of The Lord of the Rings, the most recent flare up between Elves and Dwarves was their stand-off over the spoils of the Lonely Mountain following the death of Smaug. Although things end somewhat magnanimously after the Battle of Five Armies with Thranduil placing Orcrist on Thorin’s grave and Bilbo presenting the Elven-king with “a necklace of silver and pearls that Dain had given him at their parting”, it is clear that there is no love lost between Thorin’s Company and the Wood-elves over the events of The Hobbit. When Legolas mentions Gollum’s escape from Thranduil’s dungeons at the Council of Elrond, he is sharply interrupted by Glóin who speaks “with a flash of his eyes, as old memories were stirred of his imprisonment in the deep places of the Elven-king’s halls.” Although Gandalf brushes this aside as “a regrettable misunderstanding”, I have to say that I take the Dwarves’ side on this one. Thranduil is kind of a jerk.
FAULT SCORE: Elves 1, Dwarves 0
AWAKENING THE BALROG, T.A. 1980
Probably more significant to the post-Narvi falling out than this skirmish between a dozen Dwarves and a band of Mirkwood soldiers, was the consequences of the Balrog’s awakening in Khazad-dûm. Well known as Durin’s Bane for destroying King Durin VI, his son Náin, and routing the whole of Moria, it is seldom realized that the Balrog also brought great “sorrow upon Lothlórien”. As the Unfinished Tale of “Amroth and Nimrodel” tells, “when terror came out of Moria and the Dwarves were driven out”, “orcs crept in” taking over the region and driving many Silvan refugees to the sea, including Nimrodel and Amroth, the ruler of Lórien before Galadriel. I think it’s pretty clear that the blame here gets chalked up to those Dwarven mithril miners delving too deeply!
FAULT SCORE: Elves 1, Dwarves 1
BATTLE OF THE LAST ALLIANCE, S.A. 3434
We go now back to the end of the Second Age and the (temporary) defeat of Sauron and his host by Elendil and Gil-galad. Note that the army of the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth as formed is the “Last Alliance of Elves and Men”, not the “Last Alliance and Elves and Men and Dwarves“.
FAULT SCORE: Elves 1, Dwarves 2
SACK OF EREGION, S.A. 1697
Now we are right in the midst of Narvi’s life and the point where his building buddy Celebrimbor is at the heart of the whole tale. In addition to working with Narvi on the Doors of Durin, Celebrimbor also collaborated on another Second Age project with a different skilled craftsman, a wizard-like character named Annatar. This one had to do with rings. Celebrimbor “desired in his heart to rival the skill and fame” of his grandfather Fëanor who made the Silmarils. And so, it was Celebrimbor who created the Rings of Power, working with Annatar on all but the three which he gave to the Elves. Little did Celebrimbor know, however, that Annatar, Lord of Gifts, was in fact Sauron the Deceiver disguised in fair form and capping off their project by forging in secret his One Ring to Rule Them All. Whoops.
To their credit, the Dwarves didn’t simply leave the Elves to be destroyed by the just revealed Dark Lord. In fact, Unfinished Tales says that “[Elrond] would have been overwhelmed had not Sauron’s host been attacked in the rear; for Durin sent out a force of Dwarves from Khazad-dûm, and with them came Elves of Lórinand led by Amroth.” Elrond escapes northward to establish Rivendell, and Sauron turns his forces back on the Dwarves driving them into Moria where they shut the gates. The Unfinished Tales account of the battle concludes with the line: “Ever afterwards Moria had Sauron’s hate, and all Orcs were commanded to harry Dwarves whenever they might.” So let’s review: Elves make Rings of Power; Dwarves fight to save Elves; Elves lose the battle; Dwarves get the undying wrath of Sauron. I think we’re going to count that as a double fault for the Elves.
FAULT SCORE: Elves 3, Dwarves 2
THE RUIN OF DORIATH, F.A. 502
Finally we are come to the First Age, the epic wellspring of Tolkien’s mythology and archetypes for all his lore and legends to follow. Here we are getting close to the original source of this historic rivalry and find the most fully realized tale of its complexity and connection to Tolkien’s main theme of sub-creation and power. It is this tale that Tolkien alludes to when describing the reason for Elf-Dwarf animosity in The Hobbit Chapter 8 “Flies and Spiders”:
So to the cave [the Wood-elves] dragged Thorin — not too gently, for they did not love dwarves, and thought he was an enemy. In ancient days they had had wars with some of the dwarves, whom they accused of stealing their treasure. It is only fair to say that the dwarves gave a different account, and said that they only took what was their due, for the elf-king had bargained with them to shape his raw gold and silver, and had afterwards refused to give them their pay.
The “elf-king” in question here is Thingol Greymantle, who in Quenya was named Elwë. Thingol was one of the very first Elves of Middle-earth. He was a member of the trio of ambassadors taken to Valinor to convince the Elves to migrate there, but he did not complete this task. Instead Thingol married Melian the Maia, founded the majestic realm of Doriath in Beleriand of Middle-earth, and was father to Lúthien, the most beautiful woman to ever live.
For most of the First Age, the Elves of Thingol’s kingdom maintained friendly relations with Dwarves. Indeed, his royal fortress of Menegroth, the Thousand Caves, was delved on commission by the Dwarves of Belegost. Over time, Dwarves came to live in “great companies” with Thingol in the “chambers and smithies” of Menegroth “for their skill in the working of metal and stone was very great, and there was much need of their craft” in his halls.
The “treasure” referred to in The Hobbit passage above is the Nauglamír, the Necklace of the Dwarves, and “the most famed of all their works in the Elder Days”. Originally forged for Finrod Felagund, another great Elven king (whose halls are another fine example of Elf-Dwarf collaboration in the First Age), the Nauglamír is brought to Thingol in Doriath in the aftermath of the fateful tragedy of Túrin Turambar. As Thingol decides what to do with this most beautiful creation of the Dwarves, the whole plot of The Silmarillion swells to its thematic climax. Possessed of a Silmaril, the one Beren wrested from the crown of Morgoth as his bride-price for Lúthien, Thingol decides to commission the Dwarves to a new task, setting his recently acquired Necklace of the Dwarves with the jewel of Fëanor. As the text reads in “The Ruin of Doriath”:
Long was their labour, and Thingol went down alone to their deep smithies, and sat ever among them as they worked. In time his desire was achieved, and the greatest of the works of Elves and Dwarves were brought together and made one; and its beauty was very great, for now the countless jewels of the Nauglamír did reflect and cast abroad in marvellous hues the light of the Silmaril amidmost.
But then strikes the fatal flaw, the original sin that is the highest abomination in Tolkien’s mythos. The splendid beauty of creative collaboration becomes a cruel contest of possession. Thingol’s thought is “bound” to the Silmaril and the Dwarves are “filled with great lust to possess”. Just as Thingol is reaching for the completed creation to clasp it on his neck, the Dwarves withhold it for themselves. Thingol realizes this was the Dwarves’ plan all along and he curses them with all his pride and disgust as an “uncouth race” of “stunted people”. The Dwarves are “kindled to rage” by these words and they rise up and murder Thingol on the spot, deep underground in the Thousand Caves of Menegroth.
From this point on, the final chapters of The Silmarillion portray a rapid spiraling out of control of violence, civil war, and destruction as revenge killings multiply upon the oath of possession sworn by Fëanor’s sons until finally the Valar heed Eärendil’s intercession and end the First Age cataclysmically in the War of Wrath, drowning the lands of Beleriand forever and thrusting Morgoth into the Timeless Void.
With the exception of Eärendil, no character comes off very well by the end of The Silmarillion. Even Beren gets shamefully involved, slaying the Dwarven king to snatch the Nauglamír, and washing it clean of blood in a river to take home to Lúthien. I think there’s plenty of blame to go around here, but I’ll limit myself to adding one point for Thingol’s pride and one point for the Dwarves’ lust.
FAULT SCORE: Elves 4, Dwarves 3
HUNTING OF THE PETTY-DWARVES, YEARS OF THE TREES
Were it not for this excellent piece by Tolkien essayist Michael Martinez, I would have missed this one, but taking a passage from “The Quendi and Eldar” in The War of the Jewels, Martinez points out that the earliest grievance between these two races occurred before the First Age even began. “Petty-dwarves” were outcasts of the Dwarven community who lived in the wild and were hunted by early Elves who “thought they were a kind of cunning two-legged animals living in caves.” Tolkien goes on to say that “this grievance was set aside, when treaties were made between the Dwarves and Sindar” since the Petty-dwarves had actually ambushed the first Elves rather than declaring themselves or presenting land claims. Still, if Peter Jackson’s Gimli can hold a grudge for the sport of Dwarf-tossing, how much more J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mîm, the Petty-dwarf who figures in the tale of Túrin, for the sport of Dwarf-hunting!
FAULT SCORE: Elves 5, Dwarves 3
THE WORK OF AULË, BEGINNING OF DAYS
In an Elf-Dwarf tension that revolves around creative possession of artifacts like the Nauglamír and Rings of Power, it is only fitting that the ultimate source of the rivalry should be wrapped up in the creation of each race. Personally, the short chapter titled “Of Aulë and Yavanna” which tells of the Dwarves’ creation is my favorite in the whole Silmarillion for its brilliant metaphor of the nature of creation, sub-creation, and possession. Even if The Silmarillion seems overly ponderous, you must read these four short pages (or better yet, listen to the audiobook Part 1 and Part 2 on YouTube).
In short, the Children of Ilúvatar (the Creator) are Elves and Men, “the Firstborn and the Followers”. But Aulë, the Vala associated with “crafts” and “works of skill” (with whom the Maiar that become Sauron and Saruman are both associated), grows impatient waiting for Elves to awake and so he forges his own people, the Dwarves, deep within the mountains of Middle-earth. When Ilúvatar confronts him, Aulë offers to “destroy the work of [his] presumption” and with tears in his eyes, picks up a great hammer to smite the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves. In an echo of the biblical Binding of Isaac, Ilúvatar stays Aulë’s hand and spares the Dwarves, but requires that they remain asleep until after the Elves awake. Then Ilúvatar promises to Aulë that, “when the time comes I will awaken [the Dwarves], and they shall be to thee as children; and often strife shall arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice.” And the rest, as they say, is history!
FINAL FAULT SCORE: Elves 5, Dwarves 3, Ilúvatar 1
So depending on whether or not Ilúvatar’s role in all this trumps the others, here’s my final judgment on the matter. It’s the Elves’ fault. No doubt, the Dwarves’ penchant for greed doesn’t make it any easier on them, but ultimately I see the Elves’ haughty tendency to treat the Dwarves as second-class citizens as a worse offense with graver consequences. What do you think of that, Gandalf?
Coming full circle to our featured character Narvi then, we see his friendship with Celebrimbor as all the more remarkable for putting aside legitimate Dwarven grievances. Narvi shows that despite all the sordid scorn between Elves and Dwarves over the ages, there have also been a few who remember the password that opens the doors to creative collaboration and beauty. Some may forget, as Gimli says when the Fellowship reaches the Doors of Durin, “What the [opening] word was is not remembered. Narvi and his craft and all his kindred have vanished from the earth.”
But it need not be so. Personal grudges, historical injuries, and prideful possession destroy creation and cooperation. Yet as Narvi and Celebrimbor, and eventually Gimli and Legolas show, there is a way to open those broken relationships again. Speak, friend, and enter.
SHOWCASE THE ARTWORK
The artist for Narvi’s Belt is Carolina Eade, who we’ve featured once before in the Boots from Erebor article. I don’t know why FFG has made Ms. Eade their go-to artist for Middle-earth accessories like boots and belts, because her DeviantArt gallery shows a spectacular collection of character art including several other FFG licenses like Warhammer. I’m planning to ask her though, as she was quite friendly in our previous conversation about the boots and said she was willing to chat more about her work any time. Stay tuned for a Carolina Eade artist spotlight, hopefully coming soon to Master of Lore!
As for artwork of Narvi, there are a few representations of him online, mostly portraying him at work with Celebrimbor. This first is a manga style rendering by Japanese illustrator daLomacchi. She appears to be a big Tolkien fan as her DeviantArt page features a photo of Hobbit action figures exulting over her publication of a new fanzine at her comic market. This image neatly evokes the love of fine craftsmanship shared by Narvi and Celebrimbor as they thoughtfully examine gems together in their workshop.
Next up is another piece of fan art, this one composed by user Hedonistbyheart from Denmark. Her most recent page update is a lengthy review of The Desolation of Smaug filled with all the hand-wringing detail you love from an avid fan of both Jackson’s films and Tolkien’s original text. Her piece below is dedicated to three Elf-Dwarf relationships which stand in contrast to the strained history we’ve surveyed here. The far left is Maedhros receiving the Dragon-helm of Dor-lómin (featured on the cover of The Children of Hurin) from Azaghûl in the First Age. The middle is our buddies Narvi and Celebrimbor once again reviewing their plans for the Doors of Durin in the Second Age. And finally, those heroes of Lord of the Rings, Gimli and Legolas in the Third Age. Given the artist’s Hobbit film review, I doubt we’ll see Kili and Tauriel added in front of the word “Love” in a second edition of this artwork. 😉
Finally, miniatures collectors may be interested in this piece from Mithril Miniatures which has remarkably been producing figures of Middle-earth characters since 1987. Narvi’s figure is a 28mm metal mini of the friendly Dwarf craftsman sculpting the Doors of Durin. Originally produced in February 2010 by fan request as part of the Fellowship Club, it is one of literally hundreds of miniatures on their website which spanning Tolkien’s works (including one of Celebrimbor fighting Annatar). If you are into miniatures, check out the whole website!
DISCUSS THE CARDS
There is no such artifact as “Narvi’s Belt” in Tolkien’s lore, but Fantasy Flight designers latched on to the name of our famous craftsman for their resource smoothing Leadership attachment for Dwarves. I suppose that if playing cards counts as “building”, then using Narvi’s Belt could be quite thematic if it is used so that your non-Tactics Dwarf hero can equip someone with a Dwarven or Dwarrowdelf Axe. This way of conceptualizing resource use breaks down very quickly though, since most cards don’t represent something that a smith could create. Master of the Forge suffers from the same thematic inconsistency. When he pulls out an attachment like Vilya or a Rivendell Blade, the concept works and is really cool. But how does a Noldorin Elf toiling with hammer and anvil produce food like Cram, a creature like Asfaloth, a title like Steward of Gondor, or most bizarrely, a condition like Ever My Heart Rises? I’d be interested to hear how the “Bilbo players” work those ones into the story in their heads!
Unlike the Master of the Forge, however, Narvi’s Belt could also play thematically on the idea of unusual friendship, that is, gaining support and allies from unexpected places just as the Dwarf Narvi collaborated with the Elf Celebrimbor. In this regard, being able to tap into any of the four spheres of influence can represent Narvi’s unique ability to make connections across usually hardened lines of separation. Now any time you play an off-sphere card from your Dwarf hero’s resource pool using Narvi’s Belt, you can recall how our Second Age smithy also crossed traditional boundaries in order to accomplish great works in Middle-earth. Given this interpretation, I think that our Dwarven belt notches high marks for theme at Master of Lore!
To set up a play that resonates most closely with the text, you would need to be running Dwarves and Elves in the “Watcher in the Water” scenario of the Dwarrowdelf cycle so that you can stand before Narvi’s handiwork at the location Doors of Durin. Gimli and Legolas are playing their role just as in the book and perhaps Glóin is on the table providing Leadership (though still bitterly recalling the hospitality of the Wood-elves). Gandalf comes into play to rebuke Glóin for his long suffering grudge and, as is so often the case, the old Dwarf finds that in his son Gimli, the younger generation can more easily overcome long held prejudices. Equipped with Narvi’s Belt, Gimli speaks “friend” of Legolas and the Elves and summons a Zigil Miner and Master of the Forge (representing Narvi and Celebrimbor) to join the creative collaboration of the quest. What these cards could actually do to help strategically in this scenario is anybody’s guess, but the characters really work together to tell a good story!
For strategic players looking for more practical uses of Narvi’s Belt, check out the most excellent Hall of Beorn card database. Not only is it the fastest card search engine of the various online options, the prolific ursine blogger Beorn has also provided links on each card page to all of his featured decks which include it. In the case of our current craftsman’s cummerbund, there are five options to choose from: Reclaiming Khazad-dûm, Three Kings, A Queen, and a Prince, Beorn Attacks!, The Dwarves and Faramir, and Gluttony. Take a look and try one out. In addition, each card page also has links to every mention of the card title in articles at Tale of the Cards, Hall of Beorn, or right here at Master of Lore. That’s an awesome feature. Thanks for all your hard work Beorn! I think Narvi would be proud.
Indeed, one of the things that I most enjoy about the Lord of the Rings LCG is this spirit of creative collaboration that pervades the community that plays this game. The line of creation and sub-creation is unbroken from the Primary World to Tolkien’s writing to the FFG game design to the talented artists to the forums, blogs, podcasts, and custom cards that are being created by fans to the cooperative play of the game itself. Of course, the prospect of possession looms as a threat over every step. The Tolkien Estate could withdraw its license. FFG could clamp down on OCTGN. Artists could choose to work only on their own projects. One player (maybe Brandon?) could use all the Fellowship resources or screw over his partner with Doomed player cards. But as long as mutual respect for the creation of something awesome is protecting the project in every direction, it will proceed as a thing of beauty. Here’s to another year of happy questing!