Kili and His Weapons – Deadly At Every Range
This is the third part in a series highlighting the various weapons used by the dwarves in the Company of Thorin, including speculation on their form and function. The essay concentrates on the original weapons as shown in the first movie “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”, and doesn’t cover additional concept weapons that were never actually used. References are drawn from the films, tie-ins and supporting materials.
Related articles are:
1. Weapons of a King – Thorin Oakenshield
2. Fili: Twice as Fierce – or – “The One-Dwarf Walking Arsenal”
4. Dwalin – Weapons of a Veteran
5. Balin – Mace or Sword from Ancient Times?
6. Glóin – His Axe Stands Ready
7. Óin – A Healer And His Staff
Kili, the second in the line of Durin to the throne, may not have as many weapons as his older brother Fili, but he is no less an expert fighter. Together with his brother, the pair have the quickest feet and sharpest eyes in the Company of dwarves, being the lookouts, scouts and hunters of the group, always ready to run ahead to spy out the lie of the land or to chase down an orc.
From an early age they were both given intensive weapons training, making them swift and able fighters. Kili is the only one among the dwarves who relies on a bow as a primary weapon, with which he is a deadly shot, but he also has a sword of exquisite dwarven craftsmanship.
The young dwarf is always ready to smash a few heads and his prowess in archery is in no way less than that of elves. On the contrary, he combines the great strength of a dwarf with the steady hand, and the keen eye of a youthful warrior.
A bow in general consists of two parts – the bow itself and the bowstring. A bow is made of a long, narrow strip of flexible material like wood that snaps back to its original shape after being bent. There are many types of bows, but usually, the most important traditional bow types are called “straight” and “recurve” bows. In archery, the type of a bow can be identified by viewing the shape of its limbs from the side.
The design of a bow’s shape has to take into account:
- The material, from which it is built (wood, horn or composite materials). The material has to store the energy effectively when the bow is drawn by withstanding the strain under compression and rapidly giving it back when the arrow is released.
- The required performance (Would the bow shoot over a wide distance or is its focus more on a hard impact?)
- The intended use (Where do you need the bow? In a battle with many others to shoot a massed volley, or on horseback while riding?)
A longbow is a bow with straight, narrow limbs. The total length of a longbow is usually the same length as the span of an archer’s outstretched arms, which can even equal his height. Longbows are mostly made from a single piece of yew or fir wood and are used to great effect by many archers shooting together in massed volleys, though a longer range doesn’t mean much against armored foes.
Kili’s bow shows the characteristics of a recurve bow, where the limbs are “recurved” (i.e. the tip of each limb curves away from the archer) and are therefore shorter than those of a longbow. However, as the bow is drawn, the recurve ‘unwinds’; the limbs can store more energy and also deliver this energy more efficiently than a similar straight-limbed bow, giving more speed to the arrow.
And one can imagine that with the great strength dwarves have, even their shorter recurve bows are far more powerful than larger straight limbed bows.
To be able to store more energy and to withstand the greater strain under stress, those bows are not all built from a single piece of wood but from multiple layers of horn, wood and sinew, glued together. And as you can see in the following picture, the limbs of Kili’s bow are likely not made from one single piece of wood, but from multiple layers.
In a bow made like this, a wooden core gives it its shape and stability and a thin layer of horn is glued to the side of the bow facing the archer (the “belly”), as horn is more flexible than wood under compression. Sinews, soaked in animal glue are laid in layers on the back of the bow. After months of drying, the bow is ready for use. When the bow is drawn, the sinew (stretched on the outside) and horn (compressed on the inside) store more energy than wood for the same length of bow.
Some of the bows have horn or ivory nocks fastened to the end, but otherwise the nock is part of the wood of the bow (a nock is the groove at either end of a bow for holding the bowstring). The nocks of Kili’s bow though are likely made from metal, to stiffen the tips when the bow is drawn and the material is put under tension.
Strings and arrows are also essential parts of the weapon system. Bowstrings are generally made of good quality flax or linen, and are impregnated with beeswax to repel rain and dew. When a bow string shows signs of fraying, especially at the loops, it has to be replaced quickly with a new one before it breaks. A broken string can mean a useless and therefore lost bow. Spare strings though are always carefully broken in at practice – a new string never shoots in the same way at first as the old one did.
The Arrows are very often made from birch, fletched with the tail feathers of a bird, which results in higher arrow velocities, greater stability, better guidance, higher accuracy and a more forgiving flight. It’s also remarkable that Kili always carries four arrows with yellow feathers in his quiver, which is combined with his sword sheath attached to his back.
The form of the arrowheads – or points –can be everything from wide metal blades used for big game (or in war) to bone and wooden points, which are used for hunting birds and small animals. The flattened heads of Kili’s arrows resemble a chisel and you can easily imagine them penetrating tough warg hide when shot with force.
A bow made all from wood with the same shape, length and draw-weight could not store the energy and would break before it’s fully drawn.
The main advantage of Kili’s bow is the combination of small size with high power – which is more convenient when the archer has to be mobile, as from the back of a horse or pony or on foot. Kili can crouch near an enemy or nearly lay down while he is still able to shoot – which lowers his profile and makes it more difficult for an enemy to hit him. So it’s perfectly suited for his role as a scout. And it gets handy, if a fighter can slow down attacking wargs and orcs.
Such a powerful dwarven recurve bow needs a strong arm to pull it, as well as strong fingers to hold the string and bear that kind of tension well. It may not shoot as wide as an elven longbow, but with the heavy weight a dwarf is able to draw and the efficient design, the archer has to be strong, quick and accurate. Perfect for a dwarf like Kili.
But in general, dwarves prefer a close quartered fight to distance fighting and like to get into direct contact with the enemy. So Kili is an expert not only with his bow, but also with his dwarven sword, where his strength and balance really excel.
Not unlike Thorin’s sword “Deathless”, Kili’s short sword has a wide and double-edged blade and follows, both in pattern and style, the distinct dwarven motifs with their sharp angles and solid blades. The thick blade gives the sword more mass, and as the fighting style of the dwarves is all about power and damage, this extra weight turns into more momentum on impact. This distinct type of a heavy-bladed sword combines the mass and power of a battle axe with the agility of a sword. Additionally, the blade is narrow-waisted at the middle and heavily weighted at the front part to aid a hacking motion.
His sword was likely made using a technique known as “pattern welding” – in which different pieces of metal are hammered flat, folded and welded to form a pattern, and the core of hard steel, which is exposed at the single cutting edge, is sandwiched between layers of softer steel. This produces stronger and more flexible swords.
As mentioned already in the other essays on Thorin’s and Fili’s weapons, swords can feature either thrusting or slashing characteristics. For example, a thrusting sword has a sharp point for stabbing, while a slashing sword relies more on cutting power and uses its large weight to transfer that energy to the cut.
Kili’s sword is sharpened along both sides right to the tip (a double-edged blade), ideal for slashing attacks. Double-edged swords have two edges running down the blade’s length: the forward (or “true”) edge and the back (or “false”) edge.
The distinguishing characteristic of fighting with a double-edged sword is that the warrior has to use both edges of the sword for defending and striking. And an unskilled or poorly-trained fighter, who does not know how to use both edges of his sword effectively, may flail around clumsily using only one edge and forget to use the other side. This can turn out fatal, when he has to face a swift attack or counter attack delivered with the false edge from a more experienced enemy.
The skill in using a double-edged sword effectively relies heavily on the fighter’s ability to switch quickly between true and false edges, often feinting with one before striking with the other.
Especially remarkable concerning a double-edged sword is that the edges can be “switched”, when one side of the sword is blunted, the other relatively unused edge can be turned into the new favored one. In other words: Kili can cut with his sword on either side – with both a forehand and a backhand slash.
If you have a closer look, you can also recognize the sword’s central and prominent fuller (the beveled groove in the flat side of the blade) which greatly enhances the strength of the blade, very suitable for the powerful blows that dwarves have the great strength to strike. This sword, wielded by a skilled fighter like Kili, can savagely thrust around and is especially well-suited for close-quarters fighting. A short handguard, heavily decorated with a variation of Kili’s personal emblem protects his hand from the enemy’s weapon. The “boat-shaped” sword pommel – the knob at the top of the hilt with the rich inlaid geometric design – serves as a counterweight to the blade, bringing the center of gravity closer to the hilt.
In addition, Kili wears a hunting dagger at his left hip. It acts as a weapon of last resort, but can also be applied as a utility tool, as well as his pocket knife, containing a blade and a little saw, which is perfect for a dwarven scout. But it may also be used as a weapon. In fact, anything can be a weapon (or a shield) for dwarves, as Kili showed us so cleverly by using his famous “laddershield” down in Goblintown!
- Chris McNab: Swords, a Visual History. London, 2010.
- Rupert Matthews: Weapons of War: From Axes to War Hammers, Weapons from the Age of Hand-to-hand Fighting. London, 2009.
- Dorling Kindersley: Arms and Armour. London, 2011.
- Harvey J.S. Withers: The Illustrated Directory of Swords & Sabres. London, 2011.
- Ken Mondschein/J.Paul Getty Museum: The Knightly Art of Battle. Los Angeles, 2011.
- J.R.R. Tolkien: The Peoples of Middle Earth. London, 2002.
- Daniel Falconer: Chronicles: Art & Design (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), 2012.
- Brian Sibley: Official Movie Guide (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), 2012.