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Tolkien’s Dogs

Garm is a coward in other respects too, a selfish animal more interested in saving his own skin than in protecting his master’s, and as such is an ironic opposite to the Garm (or Garmr) of Norse mythology, the powerful dog who guards the gates of Hel. But Giles’ Garm is not so afraid of his master that he won’t sneak out of the kitchen at night without permission and roam the fields looking for rabbits. Unluckily for Garm, one night he comes upon a giant, and on a longer expedition runs into the tail of a dragon. Giles deals with both menaces, with no help from man’s best friend: In the face of danger Garm runs away, or hides. Nevertheless, when Giles becomes lord of his land, Garm also rises to a higher station: Though he does not deserve it, he is given “a gold collar, and while he lived roamed at his will, a proud and happy dog, insufferable to his fellows; for he expected all other dogs to accord him the respect due to the terror and splendour of his master.” In contrast, dogs make only brief appearances in Tolkien’s most famous book, The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-55). In the former, very much in the realm of children’s fairy-tale, the shape-changer Beorn has “several large long-bodied grey dogs” among his servants--”the dogs could stand on their hind-legs when they wished, and carry things with their fore-feet”--while in The Lord of the Rings Frodo and his friends encounter three huge “wolvish-looking dlogs,” Grip, Fang and Wolf, who belong to Farmer Maggot. But the lack of canine characters in these works, set in the Third Age of Middle-earth, is more than made up for by the greatest of Tolkien’s dogs, Huan, the wolfhound of Valinor, who plays an important role in a key tale of the First Age. Huan means “great dog, hound” in one of Tolkien’s invented Elvish languages.


He first appears in the “Tale of Tinuviel,” one of Tolkien’s early “Silmarillion” legends published in The Book of the Lost Tales, Part Two (1984). There Huan, Captain of Dogs, is the sworn enemy of Tevildo, Prince of Cats, and in their enmity is reflected the rivalry of all cast and dogs. In those days long ago, many dogs had chosen to dwell with Men and guard them, while cats, led by Tevildo, were inclined toward the dark lord, Melko. “Did ever any of these” dogs who were foes of evil “viewTevildo or any of this thanes or subjects, then there there was a great baying and a mighty chase.” With guile and strength Huan defeats Tevildo but sets him free. “Little to Huan’s liking was it that Tevildo lived still, but now no longer did he fear the cats, and that tribe has fled before the dogs ever since, and the dogs hold them still in scorn since the humbling of Tevildo in the woods nigh Angamandi; and Huan has not done any greater deed. Indeed afterward Melko heard all and he cursed Tevildo and his folk and banished them, nor have they since that had had lord or master or any friend, and their voices wail and screech for their hearts are very lonely and bitter and full of loss, yet there is only darkness therein and no kindliness.”


This tale over the years evolved into the version published in The Silmarillion (1977), in which it is told that Huan was born in the Blessed Realm far in the West of the world, and raised by Orome the hunter, one of Valar, or angelic powers. Therefore he was of a special breed: “Nothing could escape the sight and scent of Huan, nor could any enchantment stay him, and he slept not, neither by night nor day.” He understood human speech, and was permitted himself to speak with words three times before he died. It was decreed moreover that he should not meet death until he encountered “the mightiest wolf that would ever walk the world.” He aided the Elf-maiden Luthien Tinuviel and the mortal man she loved, Beren, in their quest to wrest a great jewel from the crown of evil Morgoth, and at last he fought to the death Carcharoth, the Wolf of Angband: “No battle of wolf and hound has been like it, for in the baying of Huan was heard the voice of the horns of Orome and the wrath of Valar, but in the howls of Carcharoth was the hate of Morgoth and malice crueller than teeth of steel.”


Wayne G. Hammond is Assistant Librarian in the Chapin Library of Rare Books at Williams College. Christina Scull is the former Librarian of Sir John Soane's Museum in London, England. They wrote J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator and have produced annotated editions of Tolkien's Roverandom and Farmer Giles of Ham. They are writing a major reference book about Tolkien.

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