Why 13?

Discuss Tolkien's masterpieces within the walls of this forum.

Why 13?

Postby siddharth » Mon Sep 23, 2013 10:06 am

Tolkien included 13 dwarves in the hobbit and I think of which, only 5 or 6 of them had any role to play at all. (Let's see Thorin, Balin, Dori, Fili, Kili, Bombur. And Gloin as a connecting-link to the LotR)

So my question is, why bother including all those other dwarves?
1.They don't have any role in the story.
2.They are not at all distinguished from each other (even the top 5/6 are hard to do so!).
So they are completely useless as characters and as a "role-player" in the plot.

Am I right to guess that it was yet another of those mistakes Tolkien wanted to correct later?

("mistakes" I say, but actually they are just useless additions imho)
User avatar
siddharth
Ranger of the North


 
Posts: 4193
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2012 10:13 am
Location: ===Always changing===
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Voronwe_the_Faithful » Mon Sep 23, 2013 10:47 am

13 dwarves so that Bilbo could be the 14th member of the party (thus keeping it from being an unlikely number).

And no, Tolkien never expressed the opinion (at least to my knowledge) that this was a mistake, nor did he reduce the number when he began the rewrite of the story in 1960.
User avatar
Voronwe_the_Faithful
Mariner

 
Posts: 5582
Joined: Thu Dec 26, 2002 7:53 pm
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby ngaur » Mon Sep 23, 2013 2:49 pm

13 dwarves so that Bilbo could be the 14th member of the party (thus keeping it from being an unlikely number).


:-o

Ain't dat sposed ta be unloocky teach?

There are nuances of english that are greek to me of course... hmm...
User avatar
ngaur
Ranger of the North


 
Posts: 3948
Joined: Fri Sep 07, 2001 1:55 am
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby wilko185 » Mon Sep 23, 2013 2:57 pm

We know, from Gandalf's words to the dwarves at the start of the story, that it is taken as read in The Hobbit (and so probably in Middle-earth generally) that a party of thirteen is unlucky:
"You asked me to find the fourteenth man for your expedition, and I chose Mr. Baggins. Just let anyone say I chose the wrong man or the wrong house, and you can stop at thirteen and have all the bad luck you like, or go back to digging coal."

The most popular origin for the idea of 'unlucky 13' is Judas Iscariot being the 13th guest at the Last Supper. An exclusively Christian reference would be uncomfortably out of place in Middle-earth; but the idea of unlucky 13 is perhaps broader than that. E.g., there are apparently some versions of the Norse myth of the death of Baldr that have Loki as the uninvited 13th guest at the dinner in Valhalla, whose antics then led to Baldr's death.

This tie-in with unlucky 13 may seem a bit tenuous to justify the large number of dwarves on its own, but there are some plot reasons why a reasonably large party might be wanted for a raiding party to a dragon's lair.

[I don't know how relevant it might be, but in 1958 Tolkien wrote in Letter #212 that Aulë originally created 13 dwarves, One, the eldest, alone, and six more with six mates. This set of seven might reasonably be connected to the Seven Houses of the Dwarves (similar to e.g., as the twelve tribes of Israel spring from the sons of Jacob..?).]
User avatar
wilko185
Mariner

 
Posts: 8309
Joined: Sun Nov 18, 2001 2:10 pm
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby solicitr » Mon Sep 23, 2013 3:16 pm

E.g., there are apparently some versions of the Norse myth of the death of Baldr that have Loki as the uninvited 13th guest at the dinner in Valhalla, whose antics then led to Baldr's death.


Quite so; but remember that the Eddas were complied quite late, long after the Norse had become Christianized, and in that case (in fact, in a lot of the Baldr story) we may be seeing Christian bleed-through.

----------------------------------------

[I don't know how relevant it might be, but in 1958 Tolkien wrote in Letter #212 that Aulë originally created 13 dwarves, One, the eldest, alone, and six more with six mates.


However, when TH was written ca 1930 the whole business of Aule's creation of the Dwarves lay far in the future (in fact it was contemporary with that letter, ca. 1958); in the 1930 Qenta Noldorinwa they still "grew out of stone." I'm not sure if the First Edition Hobbit ever even mentions the Seven Houses.

----------------------------------------

It appears to be the case, judging by the OP, that a lot of people who haven't read the 1960/61 revisions to The Hobbit greatly overestimate them, as if Tolkien set out to retell the story from scratch in full Lord of the Rings mode. It just ain't the case; all he did was edit the same text we all know to remove some of the more cloyingly "childish" elements (like the Narrator's asides), and try to rework the geography to fit the LR map.
User avatar
solicitr
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 1390
Joined: Sat Apr 14, 2007 8:45 am
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Hamfast Gamgee » Mon Sep 23, 2013 3:58 pm

Interesting question. I suppose that they were the number of Dwarves that firstly were brave enough to volunteer to go on such a journey, I don't suppose there were that many! Secondly, the number would have been a debatable point. If, say, just Gandalf and Bilbo had gone along, would that have been enough to have survived the Misty Mountains and other dangers that they would have encountered. Especially as Gandalf was never sure about how long he would have been on the journey. And they did need one important Dwarf and the King under the Mountain was just that person. Had, say, Fili and Kili by themselves just wondered into Laketown, I doubt it would have had the same effect. And would Thorin have liked to have travelled along, he would have liked some company. But on the other hand, the journey was supposed to be secret. Had, say, one hundred and thriteen Dwarves travelled, they might well have attracted more Goblins and other evil creatures against them.
Hamfast Gamgee
Shield Bearer

 
Posts: 188
Joined: Thu Jul 01, 2010 4:35 pm
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Melwa » Mon Sep 23, 2013 8:13 pm

13 also starts to sound like enough of a band to make attacking a dragon (or defending a mountain) merely absurd rather than impossible.
User avatar
Melwa
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 1742
Joined: Tue Jan 29, 2013 9:12 pm
Location: Right Here
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Phillip » Tue Sep 24, 2013 9:58 am

Melwa wrote:13 also starts to sound like enough of a band to make attacking a dragon (or defending a mountain) merely absurd rather than impossible.

That's how I see it, too. It's enough to sound like a serious expedition, but not so many that they become anonymous even if that would have made more sense.
User avatar
Phillip
Petitioner to the Council
 
Posts: 18
Joined: Tue Jan 31, 2012 12:26 am
Location: Germany
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby siddharth » Tue Sep 24, 2013 10:58 am

wilko185 wrote:"You asked me to find the fourteenth man for your expedition, and I chose Mr. Baggins. Just let anyone say I chose the wrong man or the wrong house, and you can stop at thirteen and have all the bad luck you like, or go back to digging coal."


:blush: Well shame me! I forgot that bit o' text!

I say, from this unlucky thirteen thingy arises another question. Are most dwarves superstitious? Somehow, the idea of all those dwarves arriving at a complete stranger's house, (not to mention it's so far away from their own home) not only to discuss plans but also to include this stranger as one of them and giving him an equal share just so that they are lucky enough? Most dwarves ought to be superstitious!
User avatar
siddharth
Ranger of the North


 
Posts: 4193
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2012 10:13 am
Location: ===Always changing===
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Elmtree » Tue Sep 24, 2013 3:17 pm

I don't see a big puzzle in the number. In the book it's explained they needed a fourteenth as 13 was unlucky. And we need to remember this was a story he told his children-- it was a child's fairy tale. It was not a great Epic like LOTR. Thirteen dwarves sound about right for a fairy tale, especially a children's tale. I think the in book explanation makes perfect sense to a child's mind.

I don't say this to diminish the story- I think it's all the better for being a true children's tale. But we can't see it with an adult mind or we'll miss things.

For the record, I find good children's books much better than most adult fare, and I love LOTR but love "The Hobbit" even more.
User avatar
Elmtree
Not all those who wander aren't lost

 
Posts: 6372
Joined: Tue Apr 11, 2000 7:09 pm
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Morwenna » Wed Sep 25, 2013 6:46 am

Thirteen is enough to be practical and few enough to be named, which one really has to do in a children's tale. He did choose names from the Eddas, but those he chose were in rhyming or assonant pairs or groups, which are a delight to the ear in oral storytelling. Also, in children's tales not all the identified characters are always well-developed, but if you took any of them out after a first hearing, the hearers would rebel. :)
Morwenna
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 4515
Joined: Sun Mar 11, 2007 1:41 pm
Location: New Haven CT
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby solicitr » Thu Sep 26, 2013 8:25 am

Morwenna wrote:Thirteen is enough to be practical and few enough to be named, which one really has to do in a children's tale. He did choose names from the Eddas, but those he chose were in rhyming or assonant pairs or groups, which are a delight to the ear in oral storytelling. Also, in children's tales not all the identified characters are always well-developed, but if you took any of them out after a first hearing, the hearers would rebel. :)


Children can be like that- especially, it seems, Tolkien's children. Here's 6-year-old Christopher during an afternoon "read": ""Last time, you said Bilbo's front door was blue, and you said Thorin had a golden tassel on his hood, but you've just said that Bilbo's front door was green, and the tassel on Thorin's hood was silver!"
User avatar
solicitr
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 1390
Joined: Sat Apr 14, 2007 8:45 am
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Melwa » Thu Sep 26, 2013 12:55 pm

Children realize the importance of trivial details. :P
User avatar
Melwa
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 1742
Joined: Tue Jan 29, 2013 9:12 pm
Location: Right Here
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Hamfast Gamgee » Thu Sep 26, 2013 3:46 pm

And what a good thing that young Christopher did spot that. Because if that had gotten through, imagine the debates on the Internet we would be having today about the correct colour of Mr. Baggins door!
Hamfast Gamgee
Shield Bearer

 
Posts: 188
Joined: Thu Jul 01, 2010 4:35 pm
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby wilko185 » Sat Sep 28, 2013 8:19 am

solicitr wrote:remember that the Eddas were complied quite late, long after the Norse had become Christianized, and in that case (in fact, in a lot of the Baldr story) we may be seeing Christian bleed-through.

Yes, I didn't mean to say that there are 'unlucky 13' associations that can't have ultimately derived from a Christian root; just that one can make an 'unlucky 13' reference without it being seen as a necessarily and exclusively Christian association. Tolkien did in fact include a few unequivocal Christian references in the published books, such as dates from the Christian calendar coinciding with significant dates in LOTR. But he was usually more subtle than that.
However, when TH was written ca 1930 the whole business of Aule's creation of the Dwarves lay far in the future (in fact it was contemporary with that letter, ca. 1958); in the 1930 Qenta Noldorinwa they still "grew out of stone." I'm not sure if the First Edition Hobbit ever even mentions the Seven Houses.

Well, if anything, I was suggesting that the 13 dwarves in TH was a spark for 13 being a significant number of dwarves when Tolkien came to write the creation story, rather than the other way about. But it's not an idea that bears much weight, I must admit.

---

I still wonder about the original question. There may be nothing deep or significant about the choice of the number, but even shallow or subconscious reasons for these choices can be interesting (to me - I may be overthinking it :D ). There are many more than 13 dwarf-names available in the Dvergatal, so is that number at all significant? The Grimms' Snow White had seven dwarfs, did Tolkien deliberately avoid that so as to duck the comparison? (if so, he also had a lucky escape from a parallel from the Disney version which came out after TH was published).

Another idea:
The Dwarf names are specifically Icelandic. In Iceland there are 13 days of Christmas, which may be why they also have a tradition of the "13 Yule Lads" who visit children on each of the 13 days with toys (if they have been good). These spirits may be referred to as 'trolls', but also as dwarfs, e.g. as in this report in Northern Junket from an American who spent Christmas in Iceland in the 1940s:
Dorothea Thompson [5 MB pdf] wrote:The traditional American Christmas party followed, but Santa Claus was not too much of a success, for the Icelandic children believe that there are thirteen dwarfs who come out of the mountains who are responsible for all of the Christmas festivities, and not one huge giant from the north pole. Santa had to be most persuasive to lure the children to the tree to receive their stockings.

Tolkien would surely have been aware of this tradition: we know that the Tolkien family hosted an Icelandic visitor in the Christmas of 1927 [edit: apparently Tolkien had Icelandic au pairs while living at Northmoor Road in Oxford], thus in the "Father Christmas Letter" to his children that year:
Santa/Tolkien wrote:My messengers told me that you have somebody from Iceland staying with you. That is not so far from where I live, and nearly as cold. People don't hang up stockings there, and I usually pass by in a hurry, ...

Is this connexion between the proud warriors and smiths of Middle-earth, and the gnomes who visit children with Christmas gifts, a bit too fanciful? I don't think so. E.g. at Bilbo's Long Expected Party:
There were toys the like of which they had never seen before, all beautiful and some obviously magical. Many of them had indeed been ordered a year before, and had come all the way from the Mountain and from Dale, and were of real dwarf-make.

Just a bit of speculation :)
User avatar
wilko185
Mariner

 
Posts: 8309
Joined: Sun Nov 18, 2001 2:10 pm
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby siddharth » Sat Sep 28, 2013 10:54 am

wilko185 wrote:Another idea:
The Dwarf names are specifically Icelandic. In Iceland there are 13 days of Christmas, which may be why they also have a tradition of the "13 Yule Lads" who visit children on each of the 13 days with toys (if they have been good). These spirits may be referred to as 'trolls', but also as dwarfs, e.g. as in this report in Northern Junket from an American who spent Christmas in Iceland in the 1940s:
Dorothea Thompson [5 MB pdf] wrote:The traditional American Christmas party followed, but Santa Claus was not too much of a success, for the Icelandic children believe that there are thirteen dwarfs who come out of the mountains who are responsible for all of the Christmas festivities, and not one huge giant from the north pole. Santa had to be most persuasive to lure the children to the tree to receive their stockings.

Tolkien would surely have been aware of this tradition: we know that the Tolkien family hosted an Icelandic visitor in the Christmas of 1927 [edit: apparently Tolkien had Icelandic au pairs while living at Northmoor Road in Oxford], thus in the "Father Christmas Letter" to his children that year:
Santa/Tolkien wrote:My messengers told me that you have somebody from Iceland staying with you. That is not so far from where I live, and nearly as cold. People don't hang up stockings there, and I usually pass by in a hurry, ...

Is this connexion between the proud warriors and smiths of Middle-earth, and the gnomes who visit children with Christmas gifts, a bit too fanciful? I don't think so. E.g. at Bilbo's Long Expected Party:
There were toys the like of which they had never seen before, all beautiful and some obviously magical. Many of them had indeed been ordered a year before, and had come all the way from the Mountain and from Dale, and were of real dwarf-make.

Just a bit of speculation :)



My word, Wilko. That's a very interesting theory, and it doesn't look like simple coincidence.
Especially of that last quote from FotR and the mythical "santas" of Iceland. Much similarities.
User avatar
siddharth
Ranger of the North


 
Posts: 4193
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2012 10:13 am
Location: ===Always changing===
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby MeadowForest » Tue Oct 01, 2013 4:57 am

Scarcely needs my piping up now! I'd just say, it's nice to know more than five or so dwarves would want to help Thorin reclaim his rightful place.
User avatar
MeadowForest
Shield Bearer
 
Posts: 210
Joined: Thu Jan 03, 2013 10:25 am
Location: An English Shire
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby wilko185 » Tue Oct 01, 2013 1:38 pm

siddharth wrote:My word, Wilko. That's a very interesting theory, and it doesn't look like simple coincidence.
Especially of that last quote from FotR and the mythical "santas" of Iceland. Much similarities.

Yeah, I'm a bit surprised :D. I would find it odd if no one else has compared the arrival of the thirteen dwarves at Bilbo's door with the way the thirteen impish Jólasveinar arrive from the mountains, one at a time over the days of Christmas. But so it seems...
User avatar
wilko185
Mariner

 
Posts: 8309
Joined: Sun Nov 18, 2001 2:10 pm
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Morwenna » Wed Oct 02, 2013 7:00 am

I'm sure the Icelanders know! :) Anyone else, especially in the US, would have to be an aficionado of such things, or a descendant of Icelanders, to know that. Which is why we here are grateful to the dedicated researchers who keep up with these things and tell us about them! :D
Morwenna
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 4515
Joined: Sun Mar 11, 2007 1:41 pm
Location: New Haven CT
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby scirocco » Thu Oct 03, 2013 4:17 am

wilko185 wrote: I would find it odd if no one else has compared the arrival of the thirteen dwarves at Bilbo's door with the way the thirteen impish Jólasveinar arrive from the mountains, one at a time over the days of Christmas. But so it seems...


I checked in both Rateliffe's History of the Hobbit and Anderson's Annotated Hobbit and neither make the connection.

But certainly it seems extremely plausible to me. Everything stacks up: the Icelandic au pairs in the Tolkien household, who could well be imagined to have entertained the children with stories from their homeland (that JRRT may have heard as they were told); Tolkien's own keen professional and personal interest in Icelandic language and myth; and the nature of the tradition itself (the thirteen mischievous, disruptive characters who arrive one by one and cause havoc). A kind of "junior" version of the more serious and darker traditions that influenced his adult writing. Hard to imagine anything that he would think more suitable for incorporating to a children's story that he was writing.

Great pickup, wilko. :)
User avatar
scirocco
Ranger of the North
 
Posts: 2114
Joined: Wed Oct 04, 2000 6:12 am
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby siddharth » Thu Oct 03, 2013 10:42 am

Wilko, maybe you should get it out somehow? On the various groups or on paper? :thumbsup:
User avatar
siddharth
Ranger of the North


 
Posts: 4193
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2012 10:13 am
Location: ===Always changing===
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby solicitr » Thu Oct 03, 2013 1:20 pm

Tolkien did in fact include a few unequivocal Christian references in the published books, such as dates from the Christian calendar coinciding with significant dates in LOTR.


Remarkably enough, completely by accident! Although he did realize the pregnancy of what he had done well after the fact, the departure of the Company on Dec 25 was originally due to nothing more than a calendar synchronisation. ("....a fundamentally Christian and Catholic work, unconsciously in the writing, consciously so in the revision.")

OTOH, the choosing of March 25 for the Fall of Sauron appears to have been deliberate, to the point where it seems he worked backwards from that date to establish the chronology of Frodo's and Aragorn's marches. Of course, March 25 could be viewed as nothing more than the Old New Year and a quarter day (as well as the old traditional day of the equinox), not necessarily the Feast of the Annunciation (not a hugely important holiday in itself, though it may be standing in for Easter which is very big indeed).
User avatar
solicitr
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 1390
Joined: Sat Apr 14, 2007 8:45 am
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Gohan » Fri Oct 04, 2013 5:26 am

maybe because of lucky number 13???
Gohan
Citizen of Imladris
 
Posts: 25
Joined: Sun Sep 23, 2012 7:53 am
Location: Europe
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Aravar » Fri Oct 04, 2013 7:19 am

On the question of the quarter days Tolkien also utilises Midsummer's Day (which is also the Feast of St John the Baptist) for the wedding of Aragorn and Arwen. Michaelmas, however, is only marked by Frodo's arrival in Bree.
User avatar
Aravar
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 3171
Joined: Sun Aug 18, 2002 8:57 am
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby solicitr » Fri Oct 04, 2013 8:39 am

OTOH, the choosing of March 25 for the Fall of Sauron appears to have been deliberate, to the point where it seems he worked backwards from that date to establish the chronology of Frodo's and Aragorn's marches.


I would add to that the fact that, in revision, he shifted the date of the Battle of the Pelennor by a day from March 14 to March 15, but contrived to compress subsequent events so that Frodo still reached Mt Doom and Aragorn still reached the Black Gate on the 25th.

For quite a long time the fall of Gandalf in Moria occurred on Friday the 13th (of December, then January), but eventually the timeline forced him to lose that bit of symbolism.
Last edited by solicitr on Fri Oct 11, 2013 7:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
solicitr
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 1390
Joined: Sat Apr 14, 2007 8:45 am
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby wilko185 » Fri Oct 04, 2013 5:06 pm

scrirocco wrote:A kind of "junior" version of the more serious and darker traditions that influenced his adult writing.

I like that way of putting it :)
siddharth wrote:Wilko, maybe you should get it out somehow?

I don't know any way to get it more "out there" than this forum. Your question about 'why 13' is providing a very interesting thread (which scirocco might want to add to the "The Big List of the best Books" threads ;) ), but I guess it's still just a neat footnote in Tolkienism.
User avatar
wilko185
Mariner

 
Posts: 8309
Joined: Sun Nov 18, 2001 2:10 pm
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Parmamaite » Thu Oct 10, 2013 8:01 am

Well Wilko certainly nailed that one to a T.

I'll just add that 13 dwarves is also a suitable number for the prank they play on Beorn.
User avatar
Parmamaite
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 1542
Joined: Sun Dec 08, 2002 11:53 am
Location: Denmark
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Phillip » Fri Oct 11, 2013 2:03 am

solicitr wrote:Of course, March 25 could be viewed as nothing more than the Old New Year and a quarter day (as well as the old traditional day of the equinox), not necessarily the Feast of the Annunciation (not a hugely important holiday in itself, though it may be standing in for Easter which is very big indeed).

At least Eowyn was dressed for the occasion. Blue mantles are the traditional attire for young women receiving good news from divine messengers on that day.
User avatar
Phillip
Petitioner to the Council
 
Posts: 18
Joined: Tue Jan 31, 2012 12:26 am
Location: Germany
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby solicitr » Fri Oct 11, 2013 7:31 am

Phillip wrote:
solicitr wrote:Of course, March 25 could be viewed as nothing more than the Old New Year and a quarter day (as well as the old traditional day of the equinox), not necessarily the Feast of the Annunciation (not a hugely important holiday in itself, though it may be standing in for Easter which is very big indeed).

At least Eowyn was dressed for the occasion. Blue mantles are the traditional attire for young women receiving good news from divine messengers on that day.

:clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:
User avatar
solicitr
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 1390
Joined: Sat Apr 14, 2007 8:45 am
Top

Re: Why 13?

Postby Morwenna » Fri Oct 11, 2013 7:46 am

Phillip wrote:
solicitr wrote:Of course, March 25 could be viewed as nothing more than the Old New Year and a quarter day (as well as the old traditional day of the equinox), not necessarily the Feast of the Annunciation (not a hugely important holiday in itself, though it may be standing in for Easter which is very big indeed).

At least Eowyn was dressed for the occasion. Blue mantles are the traditional attire for young women receiving good news from divine messengers on that day.


I love it! :D
Morwenna
Ranger of the North

 
Posts: 4515
Joined: Sun Mar 11, 2007 1:41 pm
Location: New Haven CT
Top

Next

Return to The Books (Tolkien)

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests