The Merry Band: The Band of Dwarves Pt 1

‘The Dwarves of yore made mighty spells / while hammers fell like ringing bells / in places deep, where dark things sleep / in hollow halls beneath the fells.’

JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit begins with 13 Dwarves arriving in small groups and one by one at Bag End to meet with a surprised Hobbit of the Shire, Bilbo Baggins and convince to aid and abet in their plot. Doughy, rough faced, beardy cave miners – sturdy and brutal warriors and cheeky imp like mini-vikings, the Dwarves represent a family of MiddleEarth’s population only a mother could love. Even Tolkien doesn’t rate them much; admitting that trouble is never far behind them.

His first depiction of Dwarves in the Silmarillion (the first of the Middle Earth novels) depicts them as evil employers of Orcs and Tolkien’s urge to fill his roll call for the Hobbit with them demanded a more sympathetic perspective. He draws most heavily from the Norse storytelling of the ferocious warrior midgets and endowed them with armour and weaponry befitting this background.

At the time Tolkien was reportedly heavily influenced by his selective reading of Jewish history and the Jewish community oddly found representation in the band of short men that visit Bilbo. Dispossessed from the Homeland (the Lonely Mountain; their ancestral home is the goal the exiled Dwarves seek to reclaim) and living among other groups while retaining their own culture, while true of many cultures in modern history, was derived by Tolkien by the medieval image of Jews, whilst their warlike nature stems from accounts and tales from the Hebrew Bible. The one cultural similarity with Tolkien’s (and Dwarves themselves) initial approach to Dwarves was that both Medieval views of Jews and the fictional Norse Dwarves were seen and referred to as having a propensity towards making well-crafted things. This, to a writer so absorbed by the representation of cultures in his own work rings very true.

Tolkien was faced with a number of choices in how to present his 13 characters – while a small number of the Dwarves are prominent in the book; fundamentally they’re a mass of opinions and reactions to the events of the book. But the reader behaves among the group as a guest would – noting those most familiar with and recognising the others as individuals that make the whole more interesting. Even with Peter Jackson’s love of characterisation ( shown in LOTR, King Kong and The Frighteners) he’ll have a tough time making sure each and every one of this band of Dwarves will be introduced to us fully over the course of the adventures. Though how they might appear on screen is of great interest….

So who are these dwarves? And perhaps more importantly in the advancement of our expectations of what we’ll see in 2012 – who has been chosen to play them? If you are expecting a repeat of John Rhys Davies’ sturdy and gravity hugging Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy you may be in for a surprise as the foremost in the cast look very little like the little men they’ve been called to play.

The band of Dwarves and the Hobbit - after arriving for Dwarf bootcamp in New Zealand

Though on the whole broad and powerful looking as a bunch they’ll no doubt fulfill every expectation put upon them. Assembled are new, younger, upcoming stars, more established actors, long standing performers who have enjoyed many roles but little recognition (most likely until now), older, less well known gentlemen and a familiar face from the previous films you just won’t recognise. They are now assembled in New Zealand for Dwarf Bootcamp, in which they will gain training, linguistic and accentual and physical, performance and technical to prepare for the role. Aidan Turner (of BBC3 horror comedy Being Human) is doing all he can to grow his own beard in time for preliminary shooting.

They are;

Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakensheild). The most prominent of the Dwarves in the book, Armitage appears on first glance an odd choice. Predominantly a theatre and television actor his only movie credit so far is as an uncredited Naboo Fighter Pilot in Star Wars: Phantom Menace, however following some very prominent roles in mainstream British TV in recent years; Cold Feet, North and South, ShakespeaRe-told, a strong performance BBCs Robin Hood series as misunderstood villain of the piece Guy of Gisbourne and an Armed Police Officer in Spooks he will appearing in Captain America: The Last Avenger this year as Nazi Heinz Kruger. (Whether he’s a misunderstood Nazi is yet to be seen). Regardless, his climb up the ladder has been steady and long and his strong voice and glower will add a lot to the head Dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield. I’ll be very interested to see how he’s presented.

Tolkien borrowed Thorin’s name from the Old Norse poem ‘Voluspa’, part of the poetic Edda. Thorin appears in stanza 12 and used for a Dwarf and the name Oakenshield (Elkinskjaldi) appear in stanza 13. Thorin is proud and brash and while he and Gandalf stand their ground in the Goblin tunnels and he is the least surprised by an encounter with Trolls but his leadership is far from distinguished and generates most of the difficulties the party face on their journey. Driven into exile by the Dragon Smaug in 2770, he wants to retake his homeland. He carries a charmed blade named Orcrist, a similar weapon to Frodo’s ‘Sting’ in LOTR.

Aidan Turner (Kili) – standing at 6′ and slim in build Aidan Turner is one of the main cast members that is undergoing a transformation in order to play his part. A British Television actor, Turner found prominence in BBC1’s Desperate Romantics as Romantic period painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and more notably BBC’s Being Human as Vampire Mitchell. His performances are strong and he’s physically a very capable actor. He tends to play romantic, self-destructive leads because of his appearance so his casting as a short stop will be another interesting one. A capable character actor however and great things should be expected for him. His character in Being Human has been told he’ll be killed by a Werewolf (cool) and much of Series 3 has the appearance of a rushed rewrite – as well as reduced budget – which is unsurprising as his character will be disappearing for at least a year shooting The Hobbit (original estimate under Del Toro was 377 days before final production on the second film).

Kili is one of two brothers, both young in Dwarf terms, younger than most of the group by as much as fifty years. Both brothers are described as having the best eyesight and are often sent for searching and scouting. They are also described as cheerful, as the only Dwarves to emerge from the barrels at Lake Town ‘more or less smiling’.

James Nesbitt (Bofur) – a bit of a statesman of British television, Nesbitt (like Turner) is an Irish actor witha strong, clear accent. A powerful and capable character actor Nesbitt has forged a distinctive career since appearing in A Play for Today in 1984. His status has grown progressively with Tv projects Ballykissangel, Playing the field and most notably Adam Williams in Cold Feet ( a precursor to Friends made in the UK about 3 couples of which Nesbitt was arguably the most prominent) as well as film roles – playing Ivan Cooper in Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday – a dramatisation of the Irish Civil Rights protest march and subsequent massacre by British troops on January 30, 1972. Most recently he’s appeared in mainstream series such as the tepid The Deep and as the central character of Murphy’s Law (for ITV). Nesbitt is an actor of considerable character and is hilarious to watch in most things he’s in. A capable performer able to handle broad styles and physical performance (Jekyll, 2007) and sympathetic roles (also Jekyll, 2007 perhaps unsurprisingly).

‘Poor, fat,’ Bombur us frequently shown as having been the last in everything. A comedic character through and through, introducing himself by tumbling into Bifur and Bombur as they arrive at Bag End at the very start of the story and falls into the enchanted river. Bombur sleeps at several key moments of the book. Having fallen into the Enchanted River he sleeps for days, forcing his already frustrated companions to carry him. Understandably edited out in Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo asks after Bombur and is told that he had grown so fat it took six young dwarves to lift him, as he could no longer move from his bed to the couch.

Bombur is simply written and easy to delightfully realise. He’s right up Peter Jackson’s comedic street and we can expect great moments from the fattest Dwarf in the band. He also plays a drum.

Graham McTavish (Dwalin) is a perrenial and long standing character actor on British TV and film as well as a prominent voice artist. His distinctive and boxy appearance have given him many military and hardman roles throughout the years though he injects intelligence and character well in each case. A theatre actor he has appeared as Banquo in Macbeth, as well as Thangbrand in Erik the Viking, one of the best things in a flawed series as Warden Ackerman in Red Dwarf VIII as well as with James Nesbitt twice in Jekyll as Gavin Hardcastle and Murphy’s Law. He has made the jump to US projects in recent years, appearing in Quantum of Solace, 24, Prison Break, Lost, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the new Rambo. He also voiced Loki in Hulk Vs (Video Game), Sebastian Shaw in Wolverine and the X-Men animated TV series and Thundercracker in Transformers: War for Cybertron video game. A man of some considerable stature, he is a capable and intelligent performer which accounts for his steady success on multiple platforms. He represents a warrior in almost all he does but more often than not a sympathetic one. I look forward to him representing Dwalin.

Dwalin is the first Dwarf to arrive at Bag End. He is a kindly soul, offering Bilbo a hood and cloak as they leave Bag End. After the events of the Hobbit, Dwalin rules Thorin’s halls in the Blue Mountains. His name is taken from Dvalin, a dwarf in the poetic Edda. The arc that Dwalin’s character follows suggests that he will be an interesting one to watch. An honourable character that survives the quest and gains what he deserves in the end. A precursor to Aragorn in the LOTR trilogy perhaps.

And finally for this batch of the band of Dwarves we have Kili’s brother, Fili.

Robert Kazinsky (Fili) is the definition of how you climb the ladder as a young actor. Starting on the Basil Brush Show as neatly monickered Sven Garley and as Casper Rose in Footballing soap Dream Team he completed the populist rope walk to find a place as unhinged Sean in Eastenders. Shortly afterwards he made the leap across the pond to appear in bit parts in Law and Order: Los Angeles and Brothers & Sisters. Apart from one short (Love, in 2009) and a film called Red Tails (still in Post Production he has no cinema credits. However, his performance was strong in Eastenders (the only place I’ve seen him) and I look forward to seeing him play cheery as opposed to mentally ill (TV style). An opportunity to play a character such as Fili should cement Kazinsky’s rise nicely and I suspect we can expect to see him more things afterwards.

Brother to Kili, Fili has the longest cloak on the quest (?!!). A temperament like his brother Kili, Fili is a cheerful character. Following the battle with spiders he’s forced to cut off most of his beard due to it being covered in webbing.

It grows late and the torch grows dim and I think I must retire so I must bid you all a good night / good day and leave you until next time. In which I will introduce you to the remaining members of this merry band of Dwarves. Keep warm dear reader and if you hear your trinkets moving in the night it’ll most likely be Dwarves come back to claim that which they bothered to dig up….

The Dwarves and Bilbo by Sam Bosma

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