[Note: The following essay was written by Anjy, with slight editing by D.J.]
Dori, Nori and Ori – in Defense of not-so-hot Dwarves or: The Dwaltons Family
by Anjy Roemelt
Dori, Nori and Ori are family. Although the book The Hobbit doesn’t state that openly, the likeliness of their names indicates it, and the film openly declares it. They’ll probably never be fan-fiction material, but they are definitely worth a closer look, because they are like you and I.
The “Brothers Ri” as they were called at the set, are related to Thorin Oakenshield, but somewhat distantly. They don’t show up in the family-tree given in Appendix A to The Return of the King, but their being related is told in a footnote to that very chart. Jackson and & Co elaborated on this relationship by adding a hint of disreputation. They are related “on the wrong side of the blanket”. Also, the notable differences in character between the brothers are explained by them having the same mother but different fathers.
This is not in accord with Tolkien. Dwarves don’t commit adultery and they don’t re-marry. Only one third of the population are women, and of the men only one third marries. The women also are not exactly obsessed with finding “Dwarf Right” or if they do, and the estimation isn’t mutual, they would rather stay unmarried than take “Dwarf next-to-right”. So, I’d rather not dwell on these ideas of the film-crew but develop an estimation of the Brothers Ri from what is shown in the movie and written in the book.
Dori is the oldest of the brothers in the film. He’s a cranky old fusspot who is notorious for minding details. Like red wine with a bouquet, his brother’s diet and behaviour, and most notably his hair. Wherever a strand can be plaited, it is plaited, and his beard, furthermore, is squeezed into a silver beard-case. So not a single hair can fall into the soup – or food more consistent than soup fall into the beard. Dori is in control. Of everything. Or he wants to be. Food, weather, brothers. He has to, he’s the oldest, he’s responsible.
Book-Dori is mentioned in significant ways. He is said to be “a decent chap”. It is he who carries Bilbo on his back through the tunnels under the Misty Mountains until the goblins waylay them, and it is he who climbs down the tree again when the wargs are getting disquietingly close, and helps Bilbo get up the tree, barely making it himself that way. So, we do have this trait of taking over responsibility in both views of Dori.
I said Dori, Nori and Ori are a family, not just family. They represent the classical structure of family-life from a western point-of-view. Dori is Mom. Eat your veggies. Don’t make a fool of yourself. You can’t play outside, it’s raining. That’s Dori for you.
Nori is the black sheep of the family. The books accompanying the film introduce him as a thief and a hoodlum. He is said to have left the family for mysterious reasons, which most likely weren’t honourable, and has lived on his own in the wilderness ever since. He knows how to look after himself, takes no orders from nobody, no, sir, and at first glance doesn’t seem to be overly attached to his brothers. Nori gets the audiences’ attention mostly for his hair. He must use tons of hairspray – or more likely resin – to make it hold. This is a similarity to his brother Dori he might not easily admit: they both are vain, yes, they are. They mind how they look to others. So, Nori’s attitude of “I am who I am and if you don’t like it here’s the door” may be a bit of a show, and maybe joining Oakenshield-tours together with his fussy older brother and kid-brother, Ori, is what he has wanted to do for years and just never admitted even to himself: to be part of a family, again. Well, why not? Let’s give it a try, good ol’ home-sweet-home just for a change. And don’t you hint that there’s a bit of moisture in his eyes when he looks at Ori or frowns at Dori. Not him, not Nori. He’s the father of the family, Mr. Independent.
Ori, of course, is the kid, the pet. Bossed and pushed around and educated to within an inch of his life by Dori, mostly, and sometimes Nori who might want to teach his little brother some things Dori wouldn’t dream of teaching him. Film tie-in literature has it that Ori is allergic to nuts. I think that fits. Ori is also the pet of the company. He doesn’t even have a decent weapon. Not only did they clad him in wool and a bit of leather (rompers compared to the other Dwarves’ outfits), they gave him a slingshot– like King David. Oops, Ori will turn out to be a real hero, given time. So far, he feels just grand. He is floating on beer and singing and laughing and just being with the others, with such figures of awe and heroism like Dwalin and Gloin, with Great King (to-be) Thorin Oakenshield himself (I wonder if he ever dares to talk to him) and with such good pals like Fili and Kili who seem to consider him worthy of their company. Life has suddenly turned into a brilliant adventure for Ori and he is determined to live up to it. Even if that means to kill a dragon single-handed – provided Dori lets him stay out after dark.
The pet-theme is visible in two scenes, beautiful scenes, I think. The first is when the company is waylaid by the warg-riders and rushing from clump-of-rocks to clump-of-rocks. Once Ori dashes forward and Thorin pulls him back shouting “Ori, no!” Thorin is very much the father-like leader of the whole band, the pater familias, here he looks out not only for his kin, but for every member of the company in need of help.
The second scene is inside the mountain in Goblin Town, when the Goblin King announces they will start torture with the youngest. In a divergence from the book, where Fili and Kili are named the youngest, here it is Ori, who visibly swallows hard at the prospect, and next thing Papa Thorin pushes past the others to meet the Goblin King’s stare and challenge. He would do this for any member of the company, but he does it for pathetic little Ori. Not because he really would be able to show a dragon a dwarvish kick in the vitals, but because he’s a member of the company, the family. He, Thorin, would do it for me and you, if we were in that place with him.
For all Ori’s enthusiasm, he isn’t crazy. After Bofur described the dragon’s methods in detail he isn’t that bold any more. And he’s an artist. Ori carries a sketch-book with him, he keeps the company’s diary and makes drawings of everything interesting from plants to Gloin’s pipe.
Ori is the only one of the company – besides Gloin and Balin, and in passing Thorin, who bear some importance for the continuation of the story in The Lord of the Rings. When the Fellowship discovers the records of Balin’s attempt to reconquer Moria in the chamber of Mazarbul, Gandalf notes the Elvish script used in the book, and Gimli says “that would be Ori’s hand, he often used the Elvish characters.” So this is what little Ori has come to. No doubt, sixty years later he was no longer the timid boy with scarcely a beard, probably acne beneath, brandishing his tiny catapult at trolls and – imagined – dragons, he must have grown into a Dwarf who was ready to go for an adventure and keep in mind the details of everyday life, and their unique beauty. This is the Ori we remember from Bilbo’s unexpected party, the one who jumps up and cries he’ll take on any dragon any time, the one who shoots pebbles at trolls and orcs. We can imagine the gleam in his eyes when Balin asked him, if he was ready to come along and re-enter Moria. The old fire would still be in him. And the old ideas about what he could do best, too. Be the scribe of the company. In the end it was thanks to him the Fellowship learned about the failure of that endeavor, because he wrote it down with all his skill, in the Elvish characters he may have come to love through the Quest to Erebor, and the meeting with Elves in its course. He it was who captured the foul events in a fair hand, as Gandalf said in Mazarbul.
The movie The Fellowship of the Ring shows the skeleton of a dwarf next to Balin’s tomb, clinging to the book that is slashed and smeared with blood. Adam Brown, who plays Ori in the film, jokes in the book The Hobbit: Chronicles: Art & Design that this was undoubtedly Ori and he, as the actor responsible for the character, had really done a terrific job in that role, he managed to lose so much weight he looked like a skeleton. But it is kind of creepy to think that this skeleton may have been, in the course of fictitious events, the remains of the lovable young dwarf we saw singing – and burping, it’s true – so merrily at Bag End, many years (and films) ago.
So, Dori, Nori and Ori represent family – and are thus linked to every one of us, since we seldom deal with the royal missions, and the royal feelings which Thorin, Fili, and Kili are blessed or burdened with – but also the transience of Being, of our lives, of the person we believe we are and the things we do. It may all end with a skeleton clinging to a book. And yet it wasn’t in vain, none of it.