Much of the problem with playing a Dwarf is that we have all these memorable scenes from the film that simply didn't happen in the novel. Gimli belching in Theoden's hall, then drying the beer off his mouth with his beard? Didn't happen. Gimli calling Galadriel an "Elf-witch" as they enter Lorien? Didn't happen (there's a similar exchange, but the suspicious hero is Boromir, not Gimli.) The infamous "Game Over" drinking contest from the Extended Version of Return of the King? Not in the novel. "Never trust an Elf!" No. "Not the beard!" No. "Nobody tosses a dwarf!" No. That business about the Dwarf being so loud "we coud shoot him in the dark"? No, that was Boromir too.
Of Lads and Laddies
Rule #1 (accent): No Dwarf in Middle-earth ever uses a Scottish accent, nor do they use words we associate with Scottish dialects.
Gimli may have called Legolas "lad" in the film, but neither Gimli nor any other Dwarf in the novel actually uses that word. Ever. Some players love their accents; but the truth is that they are much harder to read than they would be to listen to. Some Dwarf player characters spell their words so bizarrely that they are impossible for new roleplayers to play with. Look at it this way: when you intentionally mis-spell your text, you are imposing a demand upon those playing with you. "Decode my bizarre accent!" you say. Well, yes, I could do that. But why should I have to? Are you just that damn special? Answer: No. You're not.
And accents are not lore-appropriate. As I mentioned, they are very scarce in the novel. We do see a Cockney accent in a spot or two -- but it is not spoken by Men. It is spoken by Orcs! That's right, all of you players of Men: talking Cockney makes you sound like an Orc. Bree-landers don't have a Cockney accent.
If Dwarves don't talk with an accent, and they don't use vocabulary stolen from the Cheif Engineer of the USS Enterprise, how do they talk? Well, let's tune our palantir to Rivendell and we'll see. This is when Frodo meets an elderly and much respected Dwarf whom we can find at his camp in the south-west Misty Mountains:
'Welcome and well met!' said the dwarf, turning towards him. Then he actually rose from his seat and bowed. 'Gloin at your service,' he said, and bowed still lower.
'Frodo Baggins at your service and your family's,' said Frodo correctly.
Rule #2 (Greetings): The first person says, 'At your service.' The second person must surpass the first speaker, and offer more. 'At your service and your family's.'
This exchange is repeated several times in The Hobbit, when Thorin and his company all show up at Bag End. Bilbo is too flustered to respond properly, but all the Dwarves do their part with the sole exception of Thorin. Oakenshield, who Tolkien calls 'haughty', is far too important to offer his service to Bilbo. But Gloin is not too proud to say this to a Hobbit he has never met, the nephew of an old friend.
What do we learn here? The importance of courtesy. The Dwarves are an ancient and proud race, and they value courtesy. They expect other people to be polite to them, and they are naturally polite in return. Now, Dwarves can be rude. But their definition of "rude" does not involve direct insults. We can find an example a few pages later, in the Council of Rivendell. Legolas is telling the tale of Gollum's imprisonment by the Elves.
'... we had not the heart to keep him ever in dungeons under the earth, where he would fall back into his old black thoughts.'
'You were less tender to me,' said Gloin with a flash of his eyes, as old memories were stirred of his imprisonment in the deep places of the Elven-king's halls.
'Now come!' said Gandalf. 'Pray do not interrupt, my good Gloin. That was a regrettable misunderstanding, long set right. If all grievances that stand between Elves and Dwarves are to be brought up here, we may as well abandon this Council.'
Gloin rose and bowed, and Legolas continued...
Think about how restrained this is. Gloin and his fellow dwarves were kept prisoners for weeks in the dungeons of King Thranduil, who is Legolas' father. Chances are very good that when Gloin and the rest were brought before Thranduil, Legolas was there. In other words, Gloin and Legolas both have personal memories of this incident. And yet Gloin sat down at the table with Legolas, saying nothing about the incident until it was brought up. When he did mention it, he only alluded to it, because both he and Legolas knew full well what was being talked about. There was no angry challenge, not even a direct insult. Gloin does not insult all Elf-kind. When Gandalf asks for peace, does Gloin forgive and forget? Nothing says he does! Bowing is an apology, but the apology is not directed to Legolas. Gloin is pretty mad! Instead, the dwarf apologizes to Gandalf, and keeps his mouth shut out of respect for the others present.
This teaches us rule three:
Rule #3 (courtesy): Dwarf problems are not for others to get involved in.
If Gloin has an issue with Legolas, he'll take it up with Legolas. The rest of the Council of Elrond does not need to be bothered by it.
Now, one of the things we think we know about Dwarves and Elves is that they don't get along. The root of this quarrel is long but basically has two strands. The oldest reason is related to the Silmarils and can be found in the Silmarillion. Without going into long detail, King Thingol Greycloak hired Dwarves to put one of the Silmarils into an ancient golden necklace of Dwarven make which Thingol happened to have been given as a gift. But once the necklace got the stone, the resulting treasure was so greed-inspiring that Thingol and the Dwarves fought over it and the King was murdered. The Dwarves were later hunted down and killed by Beren, but each side thinks the other did them wrong. Now this was a long time ago and most Elves don't remember this or have any personal grudge, but there's a more recent reason for Dwarf/Elf friction: the Elves blame Dwarves for the appearance of the Balrog of Moria, which forced many Elves that lived near the Misty Mountains to flee western Lorien. Some loss of life was involved, though for Elves the sudden appearance of such a powerful evil is a crime in and of itself. Gimli and Legolas get into this issue on the outskirts of Lorien, when Legolas sings the Lay of Nimrodel.
'It is long and sad, for it tells how sorrow came upon Lothlorien, Lorien of the Blossom, when the Dwarves awakened evil in the mountains.'
'But the Dwarves did not make the evil,' said Gimli.
'I said not so; yet evil came,' answered Legolas sadly.
And that's the end of it. Gimli doesn't bring it up again, or further try to defend himself. He knows he's right, he isn't going to change Legolas' mind, best just keep quiet for the good of the Fellowship.
Gloin may be the ideal Dwarf -- respected but not conceited, wise and yet vigorous, the sort of individual which younger Dwarves would idolize. Here he is again, with a suggestion for Elrond at the Council:
'Still it might be well for all,' said Gloin the Dwarf, 'if all these strengths were joined, and the powers of each were used in league.'
That's right, an old Dwarf, who spent a spell in an Elvish prison, just suggested to the most famous Elf in the world that the Dwarves and the Elves should work together. Why? Because he knows our next rule:
Rule #4 (practicality): Give in when it makes sense to. Working with other people means you have to set your personal issues aside.
Let's look at that scene in the Hobbit when Thorin is brought before Thranduil. It is useful because it shows how a Dwarf and an Elf in a hostile situation might talk to one another. Where do they draw the line, and does their fight break out into violence or even death?
The king looked sternly on Thorin, when he was brought before him, and asked him many questions. But Thorin would say only that he was starving.
'Why did you and your folk three times try to attack my people at their merrymaking?' asked the king.
'We did not attack them,' answered Thorin; 'we came to beg, because we were starving.'
'Where are your friends now, and what are they doing?'
'I don't know, but I expect starving in the forest.'
'What were you doing in the forest?'
'Looking for food and drink, because we were starving.'
'But what brought you into the forest at all?' asked the king angrily.
At that Thorin shut his mouth and would not say another word.
Thorin never stoops so low as to insult Thranduil or assault him. That would be lowering himself to the level of his poor host. He answers truthfully when he can and shuts up when he can't. But he is certainly stubborn, and he has a dark sense of humour you have to love.
The most famous example of Dwarvish stubborness happens in Lorien, when Gimli arrives with the rest of the Fellowship and Haldir only allows him into the woods on the condition that he be blindfolded.
This was not to the liking of Gimli. 'The agreement was made without my consent,' he said. 'I will not walk blindfold, like a beggar or a prisoner. And I am no spy. My folk have never had dealings with any servants of the Enemy. Neither have we done harm to the Elves. I am no more likely to betray you than Legolas, or any other of my companions.'
Note that Gimli does not insult Haldir, or the Elves. Instead, he defends himself. And that defense -- his own word -- should be good enough for anyone. Why is he so insulted anyway? Because to be blindfolded would be to be treated "like a beggar or a prisoner" or "a spy." Gimli is proud.
Rule #5 (pride): Show some self-respect, will you? No drunken, belching, swearing please.
Lets continue to follow this scene. It teaches us a lot.
'I do not doubt you,' said Haldir. 'Yet this is our law. I am not the master of the law, and cannot set it aside. I have done much in letting you set foot over the Celebrant.'
Gimli was obstinate. He planted his feet firmly apart, and laid his hand upon the haft of his axe. 'I will go forward free,' he said, 'or I will go back and seek my own land, where I am known to be true to my word, though I perish alone in the wilderness.'
... Gimli drew his axe from his belt. Haldir and his companion bent their bow, 'A plague on Dwarves and their stiff necks!' said Legolas.
Gimli is willing to draw his axe and die here on the edge of Lorien to defend his good name, that's how serious he is about being honest and truthful. Note that Haldir believes him ('I do not doubt you.') but is shackled by the laws of Lorien. We have the classic irrestistible force vs. immovable object. So how does it resolve? Aragorn, the Captain and fellowship leader, knows the answer: if we all share the Dwarf's cause, he'll let it go.
'It is hard upon the Dwarf to be thus singled out. We will all be blindfolded, even Legolas. That will be best, though it make the journey slow and dull.'
Gimli laughed suddenly. 'A merry troop of fools we shall look! Will Haldir lead us all on a string, like many blind beggars with one dog? But I will be content, if only Legolas here shares my blindness.'
Gimli gives a little here, but he expects Legolas to give the rest of the way. That is enough for him.
'I am an Elf and a kinsman here,' said Legolas, becoming angry in his turn.
'Now let us cry: "a plague on the stiff necks of Elves!"' said Aragorn. 'But the Company shall all fare alike. Come, bind our eyes, Haldir.'
And that's the end of the story: everyone's eyes and blindfolded until they reach Caras Galadhon, and Gimli is content because everyone shared his fate. Even Legolas cooperates, though he whines a little. (I know. Elves. Sheesh.)
Between all of these scenes, you have been able to see the language that Tolkien uses when Dwarves like Gimli and Gloin talk. It is not accented, crude, or simple. Indeed, it is usually quite elevated. They uses words like "perish" instead of "die," and "tender" for "nice." Look at the sentence structure used by Gimli and Gloin in the lines above; it's not simple stuff. Let's look at a moment when Gimli has a lot to say. This will help us answer the question, "How does he say it?" The Fellowship can see Caradhras for the first time, and the two mountains next to it.
'I need no map,' said Gimli, who had come up with Legolas, and was gazing out before him with a strange light in his deep eyes. 'There is the land where our fathers worked of old, and we have wrought the image of those mountains into many works of metal and of stone, and into many songs and tales. They stand tall in our dreams: Baraz, Zirak, Shathur.
'Only once before have I seen them from afar in waking life, but I know them and their names, for under them lies Khazad-dum, the Dwarrowdelf, that is now called the Black Pit, Moria in the Elvish tongue. Yonder stands Barazinbar, the Redhorn, cruel Caradhras; and beyond him are Silvertine and Cloudyhead; Celebdil the White, and Fanuidhol the Grey, that we call Zirakzigil and Bundushathur.
'There the Misty Mountains divide, and between their arms lies the deep-shadowed valley which we cannot forget: Azanulbizar, the Dimrill Dale, which the Elves call Nanduhirion.'
'It is for the Dimrill Dale that we are making,' said Gandalf. ... 'There lies the Mirrormere, and there the River Silverlode rises in its icy springs.'
'Dark is the water of Kheled-zaram,' said Gimli, 'and cold are the springs of Khibil-nala. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them again soon.'
Wow. Where to start. First, we can see some of the things we have already talked about working here as well: Gimli uses words like "Yonder" for "Over there," and "of old" for "a long time ago". He doesn't say "I can't wait", he says, "My heart trembles at the thought". But what else can we learn?
Rule #6 (long-winded): Something that's really important deserves a lot of words said about it.
Gimli isn't the only one with this issue. Thorin is remarkable for his long speeches. (The Hobbit: 'If he had been allowed, he would probably have gone on like this until he was out of breath, without telling any one there anything that was not known already.') But you can see that the more important a thing is, the more names it has, and Gimli is going to tell you every single one of those names, in every language he knows (including Elvish, note). Those mountains have at least two names; Caradhras has three. Moria is so important it has four names! Pay attention to them. Gimli is liable to quiz you on them later.
We'll finish with one last exchange which is notable even among Tolkien scholars for the way it shows the author's grasp of dialogue. You may think, 'You have shown us all these Dwarves talking with fancy words and elaborate sentences. But everyone in Tolkien's world talks like this. I want my Dwarf to be different!' But not everyone in Middle-earth does talk like this. This is how Dwarves talk and its different than other races. This is illustrated in The Hobbit, when the Dwarves and Bilbo say farewell to each other.
Then the dwarves bowed low before their Gate, but words stuck in their throats. 'Good-bye and good luck, wherever you fare!' said Balin at last. 'If ever you visit us again, when our halls are made fair once more, then the feast shall indeed be splendid!'
'If ever you are passing my way,' said Bilbo, 'don't wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at any time!'
In The Road to Middle-earth, Tom Shippey wrote that, in this scene, the two speakers are using very different language and speech, but are basically saying the same thing: "You are welcome in my home."
Or, in ancient dorf-speak: "Urr, laddie, c'mon over to me Hall, and we'll toast ye a barrel a'mead!'