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Old 07-29-2007, 11:59 AM   #1
Estelyn Telcontar
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Sting Rowling's Goblins = Tolkien's Dwarves?

I just finished reading the last Harry Potter book and was struck by the author's descriptions of the characteristics of a goblin character. (Don't worry - this is a general comment, no spoiler!) In the chapter "Shell Cottage", we are told that goblins made swords and other objects of metal and jewels. There is animosity between the wizards and the goblins because of differing views on the ownership of some of those objects. Sounds like Tolkien's Dwarves and their relationship to the Elves, doesn't it?!

Now, both Tolkien and Rowling use traditional names for various races in their books, and they redefine them in part - a legitimate technique for authors. I find that much better than an author who simply copies Tolkien's races. It's interesting to compare - there's a world of difference between Tolkien's Elves and Rowling's, and apparently her goblins are not identical with orcs, but have dwarvish characteristics as well.

Have you noticed these differences? What are your thoughts on them? I don't remember information about these races in the past books; perhaps those who have them at hand can add something to my observations.


Two important reminders:

1. This is a Tolkien forum; discussion of other works such as the HP books are permitted only when they are compared to his.

2. No spoilers, please. Not everyone has read all of Rowling's books yet, and it would be unfair to give away plot developments.
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Old 07-29-2007, 01:29 PM   #2
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Yes, I thought that too, Estelyn, particularly with the most recent book.
I don't think there is much to compare between Tolkien orcs (TO) and Rowling goblins (RG). RG have a great sense of aesthetics, creative pride and some honour. TO have none.
I would also add, to the Dwarf comparison (without I hope spoiling anyone) that RG value those who honour their race in the same way that Dwarves do. But I would say that Dwarves are generally a more sympathetic and decent bunch of beings.
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Old 07-29-2007, 09:01 PM   #3
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Related to Rowlings' goblins I think is her handling of the theme of race generally, of what she does with this idea of Muggle, Half-Muggle, Pure Wizard, and what happens to those who perpetuate such distinctions. She doesn't uphold the special distinction which Tolkien does for the half-elven.

Can't say more for fear of spoilers.
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Old 07-30-2007, 03:13 AM   #4
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The crucial difference to me is that Rowling's Goblins do not have the sense of honour that Dwarves possess. If you were a Man or an Elf in Middle-earth and you made the friendship of a Dwarf then you would have a loyal friend for life who would defend you. The same is not necessarily true of Goblins in the Wizarding world. The Goblins are also much more possessive creatures with regard to the artefacts they create.

But then this is a big difference between Middle-earth and the Wizarding world. The former is more integrated and races and creatures seem to have a keen awareness of each other whereas in the Wizarding world you get the idea that so much more is unknown and untested - Wizards do not and seemingly cannot really ever understand the true 'nature' of the perilous magic possessed by other beings such as Goblins, Centaurs and House-Elves.
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Old 07-30-2007, 03:41 PM   #5
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It's true about the similarity of Goblins and Dwarves in that they craft something the other races cannot etc. But from my point of view, the Goblins of Rowling are more similar in their nature not to the typical Dwarves we know (like Thorin and Gimli and all these folks), but more (and it's the same with the House-elves and so on) the folk oppressed or overlooked by the other races, like the Petty-Dwarves (quite a lot, I think), or even the Drúedain.

Hmm... looks like while avoiding spoilers, I cannot write much more I would say... but I think I said the main things I wanted.

And also - well, I think you can see something similar to Tolkien's Goblins in Rowling's Goblins anyway. Sometimes, just sometimes. Again, in the chapter "Shell Cottage", there is mentioned that even Rowling's Goblin could be unexpectedly bloodthirsty, to laugh at the idea of pain in lesser creatures... then perhaps they could be compared to Tolkien's Goblins, even Orcs.
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Old 08-02-2007, 07:13 AM   #6
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I don't think we can take Griphook to represent an entire species, imagine if the goblins did that with Lord Voldemort! Griphook was a kind of extreme Goblin nationalist. Look at his views on goblin ownership, Rowling said in an interview they were an example of a fanatic. Dwarves had their bad bunch as well, apparently all the houses of Dwarves in the far east turned evil.
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Old 08-02-2007, 11:09 AM   #7
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Just a note, Elmo: Concerning the views on goblin ownership, we are told that not by a goblin, but by Bill Weasley who worked with them, as it's said in, I think, the first book, or second...?
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Old 08-03-2007, 03:10 AM   #8
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Bill actually says that Griphook and the fiercest of his kind believe that the hereditry of goblin made items is theft so for a goblin, Griphook - as they say in Yorkshire - was a bad 'un.
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Old 08-03-2007, 10:57 AM   #9
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Yes, I thought that too, Estelyn, particularly with the most recent book.
I don't think there is much to compare between Tolkien orcs (TO) and Rowling goblins (RG). RG have a great sense of aesthetics, creative pride and some honour. TO have none.
I would also add, to the Dwarf comparison (without I hope spoiling anyone) that RG value those who honour their race in the same way that Dwarves do. But I would say that Dwarves are generally a more sympathetic and decent bunch of beings.
There are similarities and differences, dwarves in TO fought against the power of mordor, whereas the goblins in HP always attempted to remain completely neutral in the affairs of wizards.

another similarity is that Gringotts (the wizard bank) is guarded by goblins "So you'd be mad to rob it" and from what we know of tolkien dwarves they don't take kindly to robberry either.
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Old 08-04-2007, 03:32 AM   #10
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There are differences though, like the pointy ears.
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Old 08-04-2007, 05:15 AM   #11
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Rowling's goblins are an interesting lot; they're somewhat ambiguous in their nature. Griphook is the most developed goblin we see, and he doesn't come across very well - he relishes the idea of pain in lesser beings, and (trying not to give out spoilers here) is also quite selfish and arrogant. However, he's noted as being a sort of extremist so it's difficult to tell exactly how indicative he is of goblins overall.

There are other goblins mentioned, some good and some bad. Gornuk accompanies the rebels, but another also reports back to Voldemort.

In comparison with Tolkien's goblins...I think Rowling's are perhaps what Tolkien's goblins could have been if they had developed and become civilised.
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Old 08-15-2007, 02:29 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Estelyn Telcontar View Post
Have you noticed these differences? What are your thoughts on them? I don't remember information about these races in the past books; perhaps those who have them at hand can add something to my observations.


Two important reminders:

1. This is a Tolkien forum; discussion of other works such as the HP books are permitted only when they are compared to his.

2. No spoilers, please. Not everyone has read all of Rowling's books yet, and it would be unfair to give away plot developments.


On rereading the first six books, did you find anything about Rowlings' races that pertains here, Esty? I can't recall that the theme of the treatment of other races and their interrelationships was brought out as much in the first three as in this last one.


And, when will the injunction about posting spoilers be ended?

There's a wealth of ways the two authors can be compared, but I think this is a good place to start.
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Old 08-15-2007, 05:55 PM   #13
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It should maybe be noted that in Tolkien's works, by and large, we generally only see the good Dwarves. Mîm is probably the only exception, unless we look into the "Lost Tales" era "Fall of Doriath" Dwarves, who probably provided him with much of his background. And it has already been noted that the Petty-Dwarves are perhaps a great deal more similar to Rowling's Goblins than the Dwarves in general.

Would it perhaps be fair to say, then, that Rowling's Goblins are quite similar to Tolkien's Dwarves gone bad? After all, we potentially have four houses of the Dwarves that went "bad" in eastern Middle-Earth. Like Rowling's Goblins, I don't think anyone really sees them turning out in mass numbers to fight Sauron's wars (we are told, regarding the Last Alliance, that few Dwarves fought, though on both sides), but if we imagine them as more pro-Sauron than pro-West, then we receive a rather similar idea: neutral for their own benefit, dangerous to thieves, and rather malicious.
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Old 08-16-2007, 05:19 AM   #14
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i read somewhere that the state of the dragon shows a lot about the goblins and their contempt for 'lesser' beings. Maybe most of them were all nasty little fascists.
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Old 08-17-2007, 08:37 PM   #15
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At first I was inclined to agree that the goblins and dwarves really are rather similar, but then I realized that that's only really in their present states. You also, I think, have to look at their histories and positions in the larger whole.

I get the impression that in Rowling's books, goblins and wizards have never really gotten along. They had an incredibly bloody history, which came to a sort of status quo once goblins were no longer allowed to use wands. Wizards have always had a sort of superiority complex over goblins - and it seems that they must in some respect be more powerful, as they are able to enforce the no-wand mandate on the goblins.

The story on Dwarves is a bit different. Dwarves and Elves at one point were more than allies, they were friends. They may not have quite lived together, but they certainly worked together and fought together. Later on, they got into a bit of a disagreement and became estranged. And while there was clearly animosity, certainly neither race ever ruled the other.

So I suppose what you're left with is this: Goblins are less powerful than dwarves within their respective worlds, Goblins are less likely to make real friends/alliances with those outside their race, and Dwarves are less extremist than Goblins concerning their craft (even taking Griphook as an extremist, Bill did tell Harry about Goblin ideas on ownership that sounded much more widespread than just the fanatics).
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Old 08-18-2007, 08:21 AM   #16
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So I suppose what you're left with is this: Goblins are less powerful than dwarves within their respective worlds, Goblins are less likely to make real friends/alliances with those outside their race, and Dwarves are less extremist than Goblins concerning their craft (even taking Griphook as an extremist, Bill did tell Harry about Goblin ideas on ownership that sounded much more widespread than just the fanatics).
I'll admit up front that I haven't read books IV through VI, but in reading Deathly Hallows it was not Tolkien's dwarves that I thought of when reading about the goblins, but Tolkien's elves.

Tolkien's dwarves trade their goods for keeps--at least in LotR. This idea of ownership sounds more like the ultimate artist's control, extending beyond the making into the life of the work. And the artists in Tolkien are the elves. In fact, I thought of the story of the silmarils and of Fëanor 's terrible vengance to recover them and of Maedhros' and Maglor's harrowing pursuit of them as well.

There are many characteristics which the Rowling goblins don't share with the Tolkien elves,. However, there are enough references to the scent of the sea wafting through the Shell Cottage chapter where ownership is discussed and debated so often (not only of the Gryffindor sword but of Muriel's--shades of Miriel!--diadem also) that I recall what the sea meant to Tolkien's elves. They might not be hoarders of gold, but they an aloof race which values creation and their history isn't spotless.

If there is some sort of relationship between Rowling's races and Tolkien's, wouldn't the orcs more likely be the Death Eaters--a far more sophisticated horror.

EDIT: I suppose what I am getting at is that Rowling's races have more mixed characteristics than Tolkien's races.
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Old 08-20-2007, 01:48 AM   #17
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Thanks for the thoughtful replies! I hope to get back to the main topic of differences between the races in both authors' works again soon. For now, to avoid starting a new thread, I'd like to add two brief comparisons which do not concern that topic.

The name Bagshot shows up in both works. In Hobbit/LotR, it's Bagshot Row, Bilbo's home address. In HP, it's the surname of the witch who wrote the school textbook on the history of magic. In real life, it's the name of a village in Surrey, as well as of Bagshot Park on Bagshot Heath, a royal residence. (Thanks, Google and Wikipedia, for the quick infos! Interestingly, the list of occurrences of the name includes the HP character but not Tolkien's road name.)

Another similar element: as this post points out, the One Ring is what Rowling calls a 'Horcrux' in her books. In both cases, it is used by the major baddie to split up his soul/power and must be destroyed to destroy him finally. I was not able to find a real life reference to this term and am not aware of its linguistic background. Perhaps someone has information on that.
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Old 08-20-2007, 06:33 AM   #18
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I was not able to find a real life reference to this term and am not aware of its linguistic background. Perhaps someone has information on that.
I don't know anything for sure, but I'm going to use these two premises: a) JKR made up the word 'horcrux' and b) as in many of her spells, she based the word off of Latin.

If that's so, the word "horcrux" is not itself a Latin word (according to my dictionary). However, "crux" is, meaning cross, or more loosely torment or trouble. "Hor" is the beginning of many words (horror, horribilis, horreo, etc.) whose meanings run along the lines of dread, fright, horror etc. To me this makes sense; the making of a horcrux might be thought of as a crucifixion of the soul, or simply a torment. The "hor" prefix might have something to do with the dread that the concept of horcruxes inspires in normal wizards.
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Old 08-20-2007, 08:24 AM   #19
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The name Bagshot shows up in both works. In Hobbit/LotR, it's Bagshot Row, Bilbo's home address. In HP, it's the surname of the witch who wrote the school textbook on the history of magic. In real life, it's the name of a village in Surrey, as well as of Bagshot Park on Bagshot Heath, a royal residence. (Thanks, Google and Wikipedia, for the quick infos! Interestingly, the list of occurrences of the name includes the HP character but not Tolkien's road name.)
Both writers play off English place names. From several other threads/posts here on the Downs, we've been shown a letter where Tolkien comments on Miss Honeybourne's name, apparently saying he would add such a nameplace to the map of The Shire. Yet Honeybourne is already a real place name in the UK.

Then of course Rowling gives us the village of Budleigh Babberton, where Dumbledore and Harry find Horace Slughorn, the potions master from Hogwarts, squatting while hiding out after a year on the run from He Who Must Not Be Named. In Devon, on the mouth of the Otter River and across from Torquay, where a very infamous Towers establishment exists or existed, lies the real life Budleigh Salterton, a picturesque town on England's Jurassic Coast. (Yes, it has one!) I wonder if Ms Rowling or anyone else knows of anyone hiding out in the real Budleigh Salterton, who might be quite a bit of a babbler?

I wonder how much more fun it must be to read both authors if one is intimately familiar with the English map and place names? I know of Upper and Lower Slaughter, but neither author to my knowledge has engaged in any wordplay with those villages.
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Old 08-21-2007, 03:33 AM   #20
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I'd like to comment on the most obvious - blatantly so! - difference between a race as portrayed by Tolkien and by Rowling. Though elves are on the good side in both stories, they couldn't be more different. Tolkien's Elves are tall, beautiful, noble, creative persons who show leadership in the events of Middle-earth. Rowling's elves are house servants - more like slaves, actually, since they are not paid for their services. They are hobbit-sized in stature and apparently not particularly attractive in appearance. They have no power, no initiative for their own fate (as a rule), and if they have creativity, it probably goes into cooking or other tasks that are more menial than artistic.

Both authors deviate from the typical elfs of fairy tales, diminutive winged creatures that live in flowers, whose magical power is equal to their stature. I am aware of the darker, more powerful elves of folk legends, though I know too little to expound upon the differences.

Rowling's wizard race is closer to Tolkien's Elves, I think; they are different, with innate magical powers, and they often protect the non-magical humans.
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Old 08-21-2007, 10:24 AM   #21
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Sorry to nit-pick, but... :)

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They have no power
They actually do. They have magic of their own. Dobby uses it in the second (or was it the third?) book to vandalise in Harry's aunt and uncle's house and if I'm not mistaken, the house elf magic plays a part in the latest book as well. So, in this area, Rowling's house-elves are not that different from Tolkien's Elves, though the question of whether Elves have magic or not can always be debated...
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Old 08-21-2007, 10:53 AM   #22
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sorry also to nit-pick :)

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Originally Posted by Estelyn Telcontar View Post
Rowling's wizard race is closer to Tolkien's Elves, I think; they are different, with innate magical powers, and they often protect the non-magical humans.

I could never see Rowling's wizard race in any way similar to Tolkien's elves. The wizards and witches are neither nostalgic nor backward looking; they don't have ancient memories of angelic beings; they don't live in a mythic past, but our time; they aren't almost-immortal; they aren't all gorgeous and elegant and sophisticated. And more importantly, they have behaviour characteristics of humans, specifically senses of humour, spite, silliness. I can't for the world imagine a Tolkien elf enjoying a joke about boogers or eating things like Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, Chocolate Frogs, Cockroach Clusters, Jelly Slugs, Blood Pops, Acid Pops and, well, I can't imagine a Tolkien elf creating the kind of store which Fred and George excel in.

In fact, I've always seen Rowling's wizards and witches simply as humans but endowed with greater talent and imagination and charm than the slower, more mundane muggles. Forgive me if this is wrong; the Dursleys made such an impact on me.
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Old 08-21-2007, 01:58 PM   #23
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Thanks for those thoughtful comments, Lommy and Bb! I was generalising, and as always, that brings the danger of inaccuracy with it.
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Originally Posted by Bęthberry
In fact, I've always seen Rowling's wizards and witches simply as humans but endowed with greater talent and imagination and charm than the slower, more mundane muggles.
Isn't that a lot like what Tolkien said, about Elves being one aspect of humanity?!
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Old 08-21-2007, 04:09 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Estelyn Telcontar View Post
Isn't that a lot like what Tolkien said, about Elves being one aspect of humanity?!
Well, . . . yes and no.

I don't recall where Tolkien said that, but it's probably why I prefer his hobbits, dwarves, dragons, orcs, trolls, ents (not necessarily in that order) to his elves. To me, his elves are too much alike, as if that one aspect was all there is to the elves. I don't see substantive differences in the psychology or behaviour of Elrond, Galadriel, Celeborn, Arwen. They are all just too . . . elvish to display a variety of characteristics.

On the other hand, Rowling's wizards and witches are very differentiated. First of all, they don't all have the same magical strength. There are strong wizards and weaks ones, competent witches and superb ones. Hermione is alot smarter than most of the other kids at Hogwarts, some of whom care for their studies while others are lackadaisical. There are introverts and extroverts among the magical set, as well as cheeky ones and shy ones, phlegmatic ones and dramatic ones. And they change and develop--consider Neville, for instance. And they argue and bicker, even the friends. The teachers at Hogwarts, too, cover a range of professorial ambitions and characteristics. These differences are, I think, underscored by the differences in wands and patronuses (patroni? patronae?) which accompany each wizard and witch.

So even if those gifted with magic are distinguished by this ability, the ability does not cancel or outshine their individuality. It could be just me, of course, but the elves are so overwhelmingly elves that individual differences are not a prime consideration.

EDIT: And since Voldemort so clearly demonstrates the supreme error of thinking that one race could be superior over others, well, I have great difficulty seeing even rough equivalences between Rowling's wizards and Tolkien's elves. (Thinking mainly of LotR). There are a great many similarities between JKR and JRRT, but I don't think that a comparison of elves and wizards particularly sheds light on either author.
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