The discussion last year about casting a female in a major role in the forthcoming film version of The Hobbit (my money’s on Smaug) reminded me that the book is quite quiet on the subject of the dwarves’ genders. From (rusty) memory, I remembered only Thorin (son of Thrain) as being definitely male. But it turns out that there are gender cues, very scarcely scattered.
So, while re-reading the book recently, I kept a note of all the occasions when a gender is actually revealed, either by gendered pronoun or by family relationships. (Subsequent gender mentions after the initial one are not recorded below.)
[Page numbers are from the Collins Modern Classics edition, and are included not necessarily as a reference aid, but to demonstrate how rarely the minor dwarf characters are afforded singular pronouns.]
The reveals, in order, are:
Balin and Dwalin
When [Bilbo] got back Balin and Dwalin were talking at the table like old
friends (as a matter of fact they were brothers).
Ch. 1. An Unexpected Party, p20
Thorin, an enormously important dwarf, in fact no other than the great Thorin Oakenshield himself.
Ch. 1. An Unexpected Party, p22
“Half a minute!” said Dori, who was at the back next to Bilbo, and a decent fellow. He made the hobbit scramble on his shoulders as best he could with his tied hands, and then off they all went at a run…
Ch. 4. Over Hill and Under Hill, p87
“Why, O why did I ever bring a wretched little hobbit on a treasure hunt!” said poor Bombur, who was fat, and staggered along with the sweat dripping down his nose in his heat and terror…
Ch. 4. Over Hill and Under Hill, p88
“Come here Fili, and see if you can see the boat Mr. Baggins is talking about.”
Fili thought he could; so when he had stared a long while to get an idea of the direction, the others brought him a rope.
Ch. 8. Flies and Spiders, p178
There they were at last, twelve of them counting poor old Bombur, who was being propped up on either side by his cousin Bifur, and his brother Bofur…
Ch. 8. Flies and Spiders, p201
“And who are these?” he asked, pointing to Fili and Kili and Bilbo.
“The sons of my father’s daughter,” answered Thorin, “Fili and Kili of the race of Durin, and Mr. Baggins who has travelled with us out of the West.”
Ch. 10. A Warm Welcome, p238
Oin and Gloin
Oin and Gloin were sent back to their bundles at the top of the tunnel. After a while a twinkling gleam showed them returning, Oin with a small pine-torch alight in his hand, and Gloin with a bundle of others under his arm.
Ch. 13. Not At Home, p285
It may be worth mentioning that in the case of the last four dwarves, these brief references are the only ones. Thorin, Balin, Bombur, and Dori all have slightly more of a “speaking role” in the story, and do get a smattering of “he”s and “his”s elsewhere.
I briefly wondered whether Tolkien’s dwarves, like Pratchett’s, go to war and wear beards and use male pronouns regardless of their biological status, but decided that while finding and reading Tolkien’s History Of The Dwarves In 18 Volumes would be my usual course of action, it would totally undermine the whimsy behind this post. For the same reason, I have made no effort to track down further biographical detail on the thirteen dwarves.
All that aside, the startling conclusion of this post is that Ori, Nori and Bifur do not have a defined gender (within the artificially small scope of The Hobbit as a standalone work of fiction). Not, perhaps, enough ungendered dwarves that it Raises Interesting Questions About Our Assumptions Hmmm, but enough that Peter Jackson can, without abusing the text, give Dori a pair of axe-wielding sisters…
Edit, after the fact: Introducing new characters is cheating, Jackson.