41

We see the mines of Moria as one of the big realms in Middle Earth, but from what we see, at least from my point of view and mainly the movies (I read LOTR a few years ago), it would be a horrible place to live in:

  • The doors are quite small (the two we see in the movies at least, I guess there are more) specially for commerce, and they don't have an easy path (the one after the Balrog goes directly to uneven rocks, stairs and the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, which is very narrow).
  • Air and light: they would need to light everything using fire all the time (or maybe magic lamps?), which would fill everything with smoke as it doesn't seem to have good ventilation but for the doors and the small hole through which light shines in Balin's tomb (is this only for the movie? If they are deep into the mountain the light could not reach there)
  • Halls: we barely see a few places; the huge hall with columns, Balin's tomb, the bridge and stairs that are quite narrow and dangerous (no handrails), and some paths and stairs that also don't look very "user friendly". We don't see if there are houses where dwarves lived in, or any other infrastructure with a functional purpose.
  • Others: water, plants, garbage... it doesn't look like the best place for them.

I had this small question but while writing it I kept thinking about more problematics that could have living in Moria and added some. I guess Tolkien didn't go this much into detail and it is nitpicking and probably ruins a bit the idea of Moria...

So, is this explained somewhere, and if not, what could be a reasonable answer?

16
  • 34
    Are you thinking of buying a home there? Because it's all about location, location, location....
    – Valorum
    Aug 20 '21 at 12:00
  • 46
    "The doors are quite small" — I mean, dwarves are pretty small too. Aug 20 '21 at 12:37
  • 47
    Light was indeed provided by magic lamps: "The light of sun and star and moon, in shining lamps of crystal hewn. Undimmed by cloud or shade of night, there shone forever fair and bright". Aug 20 '21 at 12:53
  • 25
    Dwarves aren't humans or elves. They love rock and stone.
    – tgrignon
    Aug 20 '21 at 13:06
  • 16
    Dwarves can see well in the dark, they'd need much less light than humans They now went on again. Before long Gimli spoke. He had keen eyes in the dark Aug 20 '21 at 13:31
54

The doors are quite small (the two we see in the movies at least, I guess there are more) specially for commerce, and they don't have an easy path (the one after the Balrog goes directly to uneven rocks, stairs and the Khazad Dum which is very narrow).

You’re missing a key point here: Moria is ancient. Even at the time of The Lord of the Rings, it had been essentially uninhabited for over 1000 years (barring the 5 years that Balin’s colony existed), but even before it was abandoned, it was still ancient (many thousands of years ancient).

Moria was founded before the First Age, and was actually the first known kingdom of the Dwarves. At the time when it was created, the Dwarves had already dealt with hostilities from the Orcs that had been created at the time by Morgoth (this is all covered in the third section of Appendix A in The Lord of the Rings). Given this context, it’s easy to see that Moria was built as a fortress, and was almost certainly self sufficient from very early on.

Given that, the lack of easy trade routes and the difficult to access entrances make much more sense.

Air and light: they would need to light everything using fire all the time (or maybe magic lamps?), which would fill everything with smoke as it doesn't seem to have good ventilation but for the doors and the small hole through which light shines in Balin's tomb (is this only for the movie? If they are deep into the mountain the light could not reach there)

I refer you again to the point about Moria being ancient. It’s fully believable that it had very efficient, most likely passive, ventilation when it was created, but large parts of that have probably broken down.

Even aside from that though, it’s actually more believable that any ventilation would not allow light in, because if it allows light in, people, enemies, animals, and weather can all get in to some degree. A well designed passive ventilation system could theoretically have been sufficient, but would rather importantly have been completely irrelevant to the story, aside from the fact that mentioning it would have not fit at all with the style Tolkien was using.

Once ventilation is solved, illumination is not difficult even if you discount magic (but I suspect that the dwarves never used that much, they never were much for magic).

Halls: we barely see a few places; the huge hall with columns, Balin's tomb, the bridge and stairs that are quite narrow and dangerous (no handrails), and some paths and stairs that also don't look very "user friendly". We don't see if there are houses where dwarves lived in, or any other infrastructure with a functional purpose.

But it’s unlikely that the Fellowship would have actually gone anywhere (at least intentionally) like that. Based on the descriptions in the books, most of what they traveled through was major thoroughfares. In other words, places you would expect to see shops, not houses.

As far as the treacherous pathways, I again refer you to the point about Moria being ancient, it’s perfectly believable that those were much safer long ago, and have just fallen apart due to age and lack of maintenance.

Others: water, plants, garbage... it doesn't look like the best place for them.

  • Water: Underground rivers, aquifers, and/or just plain normal wells. Or, you know, they could have collected snow melt from the mountains over their heads.

  • Plants: We know essentially nothing about the Dwarven diet from any of Tolkien’s works, except that they like to drink. For all we know, their traditional diet could have been only things they could produce underground (such as fungus and cave insects).

  • Garbage: Is not difficult as long as you sort things. They probably reclaimed any metal or stone scrap, may have composted organic matter, and most likely just burned the rest. Garbage that does not include complex synthetic materials like plastics is actually pretty easy to deal with if you know what you’re doing, even if you have super limited technology available. Of course, they may have just used middens like anyone else would have.

12
  • 9
    You say that you doubt that the Dwarves used magic much. In The Hobbit they sing "The Dwarves of yore made mighty spells", and in LOTR the toys Gandalf brings from the Lonely Mountain for Bilbo's party ae "obviously magical". Aug 21 '21 at 17:31
  • 13
    To add to this answer, Moria was part-fortress, part-city, and part-mine. Much of what the Fellowship travelled through was historically a working mine, not inhabited at all. I get the impression that both ends were inhabited (the East more so, with its great halls), while the middle was mostly a mine & a highway, with few inhabitents.
    – TRiG
    Aug 21 '21 at 19:33
  • 7
    @Acccumulation If we assume medieval tech levels though, Moria shouldn’t exist at all. That amount of excavation is simply not realistic unless we assume more advanced tech. And as far as reaching groundwater, they managed to reach ancient beings buried far below the elevation of the foothills in the area (the Balrog), so reaching groundwater seems rather trivial in comparison. Aug 22 '21 at 2:13
  • 3
    @Acccumulation the Fellowship does encounter a well that reaches water (both the books and movies), so it's clear that the difficult part is solved already.
    – Peteris
    Aug 22 '21 at 10:00
  • 2
    @Acccumulation - A well might simply be a tunnel to an underground stream, rather than groundwater in more traditional surface-dwelling sense.
    – Vilx-
    Aug 22 '21 at 13:32
28

Moria was continuously inhabited for over 5,000 years until the Balrog was awakened (possibly far longer, depending on how many years passed between the foundation of Moria and the return of the Noldor to Beleriand).

So yes, it was quite fit for living (at least, for dwarves).

6
  • 10
    Well, yeah, obviously, but it seems like OP's interested in how this fact can be reconciled with it being rather... unpleasant. How dwarves made something like an overbuilt mine into their home.
    – Mithoron
    Aug 20 '21 at 16:14
  • 2
    @Mithoron, using this worker trap
    – user28434
    Aug 20 '21 at 19:06
  • 5
    But by the time of the events of LOTR, it had been abandoned by the dwarves for 1039 years, except for the five year occupation by Balin's small colony. So, it was pretty decrepit.
    – John Doty
    Aug 20 '21 at 21:05
  • 4
    Well, yeah, any dwelling is going to suffer from a millennia of neglect, let alone an orc infestation :)
    – chepner
    Aug 20 '21 at 21:17
  • 27
    @Mithoron: But note that even many humans live in what I would consider extremely unpleasant places (Manhattan, LA, Miami, Houston...). Some of them claim to actually like it there :-(
    – jamesqf
    Aug 20 '21 at 21:21
26

Moria was supposed to be wonderful in its prime. According to Wikipedia:

During the kingdom of Khazad-dûm, the subterranean realm was "full of light and splendour", illuminated by many "shining lamps of crystal". The higher levels had skylights carved through the mountain-side which provided daylight. The East-gate or the Dimrill Gate was the main entrance, looking over Dimrill Dale. It opened into the First Hall of Moria. The West-gate enabled travellers to pass right through the Misty Mountains, thus providing a weather-free alternative to the notorious and arduous Redhorn Pass.

5
  • 8
    Quotes from primary sources would be better than a passage from wikipedia.
    – lfurini
    Aug 21 '21 at 5:24
  • 2
    One if from the Song of Durin, the other something Gimli said in Book II. Aug 22 '21 at 11:31
  • sounds wonderful , hope they make a game in which you can explore it
    – Nigel Fds
    Aug 23 '21 at 1:32
  • 1
    @NigelFds Lords of the Rings Online does have an expansion with Mines of Moria. It's been a long time since I played the game, but I found the game fun to traverse as a 'tourist' type of how they chose to showcase many of the areas. Aug 23 '21 at 9:41
  • @Ifurini - agreed. Primary sources are best. I vaguely remembered the description but not exactly which book it came from. I was trying to give Turin an answer based on content rather than conjecture or movie stills.
    – mjenkins
    Aug 24 '21 at 21:00
5

The doors are quite small (the two we see in the movies at least, I guess there are more) specially for commerce, and they don't have an easy path (the one after the Balrog goes directly to uneven rocks, stairs and the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, which is very narrow).

Any reasonable city has more than one access road. Even in real life, any sizeable castle even used multiple gates, some made for cart traffic and some not. The only exceptions here are castles built for defensive purposes, but those tend not to be large and/or accommodating a large population.

Air and light: they would need to light everything using fire all the time (or maybe magic lamps?), which would fill everything with smoke as it doesn't seem to have good ventilation but for the doors and the small hole through which light shines in Balin's tomb (is this only for the movie? If they are deep into the mountain the light could not reach there)

Referring back to real life, whale oil was such a valued resource because it burns without smoke. It was the driving factor to create the whaling industry.

Good ventilation also doesn't require a lot of holes if you have reasonable airflow. Given the high ceilings, it's perfectly possible to have airflow above walking level, so it doesn't bother the citizens constantly but the air does move around. This same effect is encountered in houses with higher ceilings and requires little infrastructure to make work. Convection is a very hands-off process.

Note also that the chasms you mention would very much help with creating this convection.

Halls: we barely see a few places; the huge hall with columns, Balin's tomb, the bridge and stairs that are quite narrow and dangerous (no handrails), and some paths and stairs that also don't look very "user friendly". We don't see if there are houses where dwarves lived in, or any other infrastructure with a functional purpose.

Checkhov's gun applies. It wasn't relevant for the story, and therefore there was no reason to visit those locations.

Secondly, not every path would an inner city path where you would expect high density population. To connect to different sides of the mountain, the trails would span much, much wider than the residential areas would. Think of it like a city on a map. It only takes up a part of the region, with a lot of open land surrounding it.

The fellowship traveled along the equivalent of a hiking trail. Not very many houses along those in real life either, and since their only goal was to pass through, there was no reason to dip into residential areas. If you pass through a country, you'd only use the highway, and you wouldn't see much of the country's residential zones either.

Furthermore, it was known to now house undesirables, so the fellowship actually had a reason to actively avoid busy areas that are more hospitable, which explains why the story never visits these areas.

Others: water, plants, garbage... it doesn't look like the best place for them.

Every metropolitan city needs to ferry these things in and out of the city borders. Modern cities are not able to sustain themselves without import of materials and export of waste. Moria would be no different. Especially given their riches, it can be assumed that they had well-funded infrastructure ahead of human cities.

In The Hobbit, it is also explicitly mentioned that Erebor only would be liveable if they could trade with neighboring towns for supplies. The dwarves simply have that much money from a seemingly infinite mine that they are able to spend money to import goods constantly.

It's not a perpetually sustainable business model, but their resources were amply flowing enough that the issue at hand was dragons and balrogs due to overabundance and overmining, not a treasury deficit due to dwindling mining yields.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.