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In light of Amazon's recent depiction of a non-bearded dwarf woman, and some of the recent controversy around this, the question is what exactly did Tolkien say about bearded dwarf women?

Popular perception, no doubt heightened by the Peter Jackson films, have his lady dwarves as bearded, but did Tolkien actually ever say this?

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    It seems to me that the fact that Tolkien gave comparatively little thought to the dwarves should be obvious, because his entire body of work can be reasonably viewed as an excuse to spend more time developing an entire family of interrelated languages for Elves, while we only know approximately three words of Dwarvish. Feb 24 at 18:23
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    @DougWarren Nevertheless, in the context of Tolkien, "comparatively little thought" is not that small. Feb 24 at 20:04
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    @DougWarren He also gave comparatively little thought to female characters in general, so female dwarves were doubly snubbed. An unfortunate lapse, but not uncommon in his day. Feb 24 at 22:10
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    @DougWarren - Tolkien was a linguist, and was developing a body of (elvin) languages, just for his own enjoyment. The history of that world was a side line, which he made up to explain details of his invented languages. Only later he was pushed to make it into a story and publish it… so your impression is right.
    – Aganju
    Feb 25 at 19:51
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    A bit off-topic but Pratchett's dwarves of both genders had beards. This is mostly explored with the dwarf Cheery and in the book The Truth.
    – Burgi
    Feb 26 at 15:10

1 Answer 1

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Quenta Silmarillion revisions (?1950–May 1951)

In c.1951, Tolkien wrote a revision to a chapter of The Silmarillion then titled "Of the Naugrim and the Edain", in which he explicitly stated that:

  1. Dwarf women had beards
  2. They had them from the beginning of their lives
  3. Dwarves did not shave, and would probably die in shame if someone else shaved them (though this part is written with a male pronoun).
  4. Dwarf woman and Dwarf men can not be told apart

The Naugrim were ever, as they still remain, short and squat in stature; they were deep-breasted, strong in the arm, and stout in the leg, and their beards were long. Indeed this strangeness they have that no Man nor Elf has ever seen a beardless Dwarf- unless he were shaven in mockery, and would then be more like to die of shame than of many other hurts that to us would seem more deadly. For the Naugrim have beards from the beginning of their lives, male and female alike; nor indeed can their womenkind be discerned by those of other race, be it in feature or in gait or in voice, nor in any wise save this: that they go not to war, and seldom save at direst need issue from their deep bowers and halls. It is said, also, that their womenkind are few, and that save their kings and chieftains few Dwarves ever wed; wherefore their race multiplied slowly, and now is dwindling.
"Of the Naugrim and the Edain" §5, first published in 1994 in The War of the Jewels

The Lord of the Rings Appendices (?August 1954–?early 1955)

Shortly after this, when finishing up work for the appendices of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien added a similar passage about Dwarf women.

As published in The Lord of the Rings, this one is a lot more vague, simply stating that dwarf woman look alike to dwarf men in voice, appearance, and garb, but without specifically mentioning beards.

Dís was the daughter of Thráin II. She is the only dwarf-woman named in these histories. It was said by Gimli that there are few dwarf-women, probably no more than a third of the whole people. They seldom walk abroad except at great need. They are in voice and appearance, and in garb if they must go on a journey, so like to the dwarf-men that the eyes and ears of other peoples cannot tell them apart. This has given rise to the foolish opinion among Men that there are no dwarf-women, and that the Dwarves ‘grow out of stone’.

It is because of the fewness of women among them that the kind of the Dwarves increases slowly, and is in peril when they have no secure dwellings. For Dwarves take only one wife or husband each in their lives, and are jealous, as in all matters of their rights. The number of dwarf-men that marry is actually less than one-third. For not all the women take husbands: some desire none; some desire one that they cannot get, and so will have no other. As for the men, very many also do not desire marriage, being engrossed in their crafts.

The Lord of the Rings - Appendix A - 'III Durin's Folk

However, the passage used in the published text first appeared in a draft manuscript titled (titled "Notes on Chronology of Durin's Line"), and Christopher Tolkien notes that this earlier manuscript included a mention of beards.

There is no difference in substance in [the preceding draft], except for the statements that they are never forced to wed against their will (which 'would of course be impossible'), and that they have beards.
The Peoples of Middle-earth - Commentary on The Making of Appendix A - Durin's Folk

Christopher does not reproduce the earlier draft with the beards mention, and he does not speculate as to why his father edited it out. It could have been a deliberate decision to make it ambiguous, but it could have also been just a space constraint.

Late note about beards (December 1972–September 1973)

Two decades later, Tolkien wrote a 2 1/2 page isolated note titled 'Beards' reflecting and expanding on a letter he had sent to a fan about beards. (The original letter is unpublished.)

In this note Tolkien said "All male Dwarves" had beards, underling the word male, leading to an implication that he may have been excluding females. However this was in reference to answering the question about which specific male characters had beards, and the note as a whole was mainly concerned with the affects of elvish ancestry on human beards, not with dwarves.

A note was sent to Patricia Finney (Dec. 9/72), answering a question about beards, that mentioned some of the male characters which she and a friend did not imagine as having beards. *

[Footnote on above:] * When I came to think of it, in my own imagination, beards were not found among Hobbits (as stated in text); nor among the Eldar (not stated). All male Dwarves had them. The wizards had them, though Radagast (not stated) had only short, curling, light brown hair on his chin. Men normally had them when full-grown, hence Eomer, Theoden and all others named. But not Denethor, Boromir, Faramir, Aragorn, Isildur, or other Númenórean chieftains.
The Nature of Middle-earth - Beards

Conclusion

  • At the time that Tolkien was writing The Lord of the Rings, he envisioned female dwarves as being bearded.
  • Tolkien may have intentionally decided to keep this ambiguous in the published book
  • Tolkien may have changed his mind on this much later in life.
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    Tolkien? Inconsistent? Never!
    – Valorum
    Feb 24 at 9:59
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    @Valorum - I'd say that there's conclusive evidence that he at certain point he felt they had beards, and that there's some inconclusive evidence that he changed his mind later.
    – ibid
    Feb 24 at 10:03
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    And there was me thinking the indistinguishability of male and female dwarves was a Pratchettism. Pratchett certainly took it to the logical social conclusion.
    – Separatrix
    Feb 24 at 10:30
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    @ibid Maybe it's just me but Valorum's comment seems obviously ironic...
    – Mithoron
    Feb 24 at 18:39
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    On the highlighted passage from the Appendix, if they are so alike that no other race can tell Dwarven women from Dwarven men, and all Dwarven men have beards, then by corollary that means that all Dwarven women also have beards. It'd be a dead giveaway otherwise. "Hey, I saw a dwarf the other day without a beard." "Oh, yeah, that's one of them girl dwarfs. Or maybe an oath-breaker, who knows."
    – Corey
    Feb 25 at 1:11

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