I have to say, Peter Jackson’s version of Tolkien’s dwarves impressed me. They come across as much more tough and courageous than in the book. And they have other qualities that I find fascinating. The way they work as a group, for one. We first see this demonstrated at Bilbo’s house, when the younger dwarves start throwing plates around like frisbees and the whole thing turns into the ‘Be Our Guest’ number from Beauty and the Beast, with dishes and flatwear flying everywhere. It looks like chaos, but nothing gets broken or chipped and everything ends up clean and neatly piled by the end.
The dwarves don’t even need to look at one another, they catch and juggle blind. It’s like they have a sense of where they all are, like a school of fish or flock of birds. It would certainly be a useful talent when working together in the darkness of a mine – being able to coordinate your movements and actions as a team, without having to see or speak. There was a distinct rhythm to their movements that turned into the beat they pounded out and evolved into the song they sang. Maybe that ‘Hi ho, hi ho’ trope from Snow White wasn’t so far fetched?
This extreme level of coordination occurred again during the fight with the trolls. Whenever a dwarf was in danger, another one would immediately come to his rescue. I saw a particularly dramatic maneuver where Dwalin jumped over the fire, landed in a crouch and Thorin uses him as a springboard to attack a troll who’d grabbed Ori. (Something similar happened when the dwarves were scrambling up into the pine trees and one of them used Dwalin’s head as a mounting block – tough and solid, these dwarves). In the troll battle, it was Bilbo’s capture that forced them to stop fighting – as if no one had been looking out for the hobbit, because he simply wasn’t on their radar screen.
In the caves of the goblins, when Gandalf cries for them to take up their arms and fight, all the weapons dumped in a pile by the goblins are thrown through the air into the hands of their owners. Axes, swords, pikes, slingshots tossed and snatched – It’s like the Flying Karamazov Brothers, times four. And during the escape, fighting a running battle against hundreds of goblins, Thorin or Dwalin only need to bellow a word or two and a dozen dwarves act as one.
It’s an amazing portrayal of close-knit unity. And one that gives a hint of how difficult Thorin’s leadership role is. He is taking his friends and his kin into incredible danger. To lose even one would be like the amputation of a limb. We see this during the battle of the stone giants when it seems they’ve lost half their number – including Fili’s brother Kili. The relief when they prove to be safe is immense. As is Thorin’s fury after he must risk his own life to rescue Bilbo. He doesn’t *need* any more burdens, not when he can barely manage to keep his own people alive. But it’s also a moment that shows how close Bilbo is coming to being accepted as one of them. Thorin had declared that he could not guarantee the Hobbit’s safety, but it’s become clear how much he is willing to risk in order to do just that.
Because these dwarves look after their own.