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Old 03-27-2009, 09:26 AM   #1
Kent2010
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Dwarves are not heroes?

I came across this from Chapter 12 in The Hobbit...

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..dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots;some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company if you don't expect to much.
This struck me as being almost completely contradictory to my image of dwarves in LOTR.

In The Council of Elrond Gloin tells the council how the dwarves rejected Sauron's bribe. They rejected wealth, safety, and even the dwarve rings Sauron possessed.

Also the dwarves of Erebor served as a stalwart against Sauron, protecting the West.

The dwarves seem to be a more selfish, and more greedy race, but unheroic? I am having trouble trying to reconcile the low image of dwarves in The Hobbit as being "tricky" and "treacherous," and what I think is a pretty noble image in LOTR. I guess it would help to try to figure out what Tolkien's definition of a "hero" is when he writes that dwarves are not heroes in The Hobbit?

Is Gimli not a hero? Gimli is the one that comes to mind, and someone might argue Gimli is an exception that dwarves in general, are tricky, greedy, and treacherous...but they can be "decent enough." What about King Dain?

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But Dain Ironfoot was a worthy successor. And now we hear that he fell fighting before Erebor again, even while we fought here. I should call it a heavy loss, if it was not a wonder rather that in his great age he could still hield his axe as mightily as they say he did, standing over the body of King Brand before the Gate of Erebor until he darkness fell.
-Unfinished Tales, The Quest of Erebor
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Old 03-27-2009, 09:49 AM   #2
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In The Council of Elrond Gloin tells the council how the dwarves rejected Sauron's bribe. They rejected wealth, safety, and even the dwarve rings Sauron possessed.

Also the dwarves of Erebor served as a stalwart against Sauron, protecting the West.
Only got time for a short reply but the Dwarves refusal to make any concessions to Sauron might not be with primarily "heroic" or "noble" motivations. They probably didn't do it to save the West or to protect innocent Hobbits but rather to save themselves. Remember, they knew Sauron the Deceiver from way back when and expected him to break any promise as soon as it fitted him. As a fiercely independent group they'd hate to be subjugated to anybody anyway, be they good or bad.
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Old 03-27-2009, 10:20 AM   #3
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At the time Tolkien began The Hobbit the Dwarves in his legendarium were conceived as being not merely morally dubious, but (if not as wicked as Orcs) then compulsively selfish, dishonest and untrustworthy, their antecedents being Andvari and Regin/Mimir of Norse legend. It was The Hobbit itself which led Tolkien to rehabilitate them somewhat in the Quenta Silmarillion of 1937; and the LR which brought Dwarves (or at least Durin's Folk) solidly into the 'mostly good' column in later Silmarillion texts.
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Old 03-27-2009, 02:44 PM   #4
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I think that it's well to remember that at the time of the Council of Elrond, Dáin has made no reply to Sauron's demand. In fact, Glóin's declared reason for attending the council is "...to warn Bilbo that he is sought by the Enemy, and to learn, if may be, why he desires this ring, this least of rings." In fact, Dáin's actions up to that point are much what one would expect from Tolkien's dwarves: careful and considered, neither accepting nor refusing out of hand a demand from a powerful adversary. I think it interesting that Glóin gives good reasons for distrusting Sauron, implying that had he not betrayed the dwarves in the past they might accept his offer, but he also suggests strong motives to accept and avert a threat.
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Heavy have the hearts of our chieftains been since that night. We needed not the fell voice of the messenger to warn us that his words held both menace and deceit; for we knew already that the power that has re-entered Mordor has not changed, and ever it betrayed us of old... We discover that messengers have come also to King Brand in Dale, and that he is afraid. We fear that he may yield...
LR p.235 (HarperCollins edition)
Now, the heroic course would be simply to refuse; the cowardly path would be to accept, but the sensible thing to do would be to play for time while finding out the implications of the choice. That is what the Dwarves of Erebor actually do.

Gimli is definitely a hero in several ways: he acts in a way that he thinks honourable despite overpowering fear at the Paths of the Dead, which is a modern view of courage; he is elevated by his adoration of Galadriel like a courtly hero of the High Middle Ages, and he slaughters his enemies in large numbers at the Hornburg like an early-medieval Germanic hero, becoming a powerful lord like Beowulf. One flower, however, does not make a spring, and in general Tolkien's description of Dwarves is as clannish, secretive and possessive, both of wealth and valuable items and of their rights. Gandalf says of Thorin in The Quest of Erebor that "...his heart was hot with brooding on his wrongs, and the loss of the treasure of his forefathers, and burdened too with the duty of revenge upon Smaug that he had inherited. Dwarves take such duties very seriously." In Appendix A to LR (Durin's Folk), Tolkien says "... Dwarves take only one wife or husband each in their lives, and are jealous, as in all matters of their rights."

However, Tolkien's comments in The Hobbit stand as an element in his theme throughout that work of ironically playing with the ideals and language of ancient and modern heroism. Nothing that Thorin does is inconsistent with medieval heroism: revenge, pride, even greed for money are all aspects of heroes like Beowulf, and one of Tolkien's aims in introducing bourgeois, Edwardian Bilbo into their world is to show up some of the flaws in the early-medieval model of heroic conduct. In fact, the refusal of Thorin and Company to go to Bilbo's aid is not only unheroic, but mirrors a passage in Beowulf in which, the hero having gone into the dragon's lair alone, his trusted bodyguard do not follow him. Eventually they are berated by the only one of their number to accompany his lord (contrary to his orders), who reminds them of obligations forgotten and boasts unfulfilled. Tolkien makes the comment as narrator, there being no suitable character present.
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Old 03-29-2009, 08:29 AM   #5
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Only got time for a short reply but the Dwarves refusal to make any concessions to Sauron might not be with primarily "heroic" or "noble" motivations.
Their refusal might not have been, but what about their actions? And that is preventing Sauron (and earlier Smaug) from burning the West. Also, the attention and resources the dwarves (and Dale Men) take away from Sauron by resisting him. The dwarves actions saved lives, question is does their motivation matter, or are they heroic enough for fighting Sauron?

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Remember, they knew Sauron the Deceiver from way back when and expected him to break any promise as soon as it fitted him. As a fiercely independent group they'd hate to be subjugated to anybody anyway, be they good or bad.
There could be something there, because from my memory Sauron only tries to strike a deal with the Dwarves. He did manage to get the Haradrim and other Men to join him, but it's only the dwarves he tries to set up a deal. He wants Gondor destroyed, and must think it's useless to win over any Elves, as he attacks Lorien. Yet, he tries to win over the dwarves, so he has to think they can be more willing allies (or drawn to his side) than other people?

William, thank you for that information. I know Tolkien changed a lot, reworked his story, but I don't know too many of the details - like when and what changes occured. That was very helpful.

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One flower, however, does not make a spring, and in general Tolkien's description of Dwarves is as clannish, secretive and possessive, both of wealth and valuable items and of their rights.
But that does make exceptions to the normal 'image' of dwarves. And I'm wondering if we can say there are other exceptions, or is Gimli the diamond in the rough? What about his father - Gloin? What about Dain?
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Old 03-29-2009, 10:45 AM   #6
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It's worth pointing out that in the War of the Last Alliance Dwarves fought on Sauron's side, although those of Durin's Folk did not.

When we turn to the sack of Doriath, we find that while Tolkien had moderated his early view of Dwarves, the actions of those who murdered Thingol and destroyed his kingdom are (in Tolkien's own writings) pretty unambiguously treacherous and wicked (the published version, where Thingol's double-dealing starts it, was an invention by CT/GK). Tolkien in this 'middle period' tried to go with a "Nogrod good, Belegost bad" (or vice-versa) meme: anciently, the "Indrafangs" of Belegost were the Longbeards, and then for a while Nogrod was Khazad-dum, before he decided to remove Thorin's ancestors from Beleriand entirely.

(There is a hint iof evidence, IMO, that during the writing of The Hobbit and the earliest stages of writing the LR, Tolkien envisioned the Misty Mountains as identical to the Ered Luin; there was a subsequent displacemant of the Third Age geography to the eastward.)
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Old 03-29-2009, 11:30 AM   #7
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the LR which brought Dwarves (or at least Durin's Folk) solidly into the 'mostly good' column in later Silmarillion texts.
Is there such a column? It always seemed to me Tolkien painted all his "races" with a certain moral ambiguity, although each deals with this differently. Even the elves - if they seem "mostly good" in LoTR, they have a dark enough past and give the appearance of a people who have learned from their history, with the combination of wisdom and restraint, a sort of refinement, which is different from the - youth? vigor? - of groups that have never questioned themselves. Dwarves are more straightforward, perhaps; more prone to justify past errors rather than mourn them - but now I'm getting dangerously close to drawing 7th age comparisons, so I'll be quiet.

To tie it back to heroism, I've always seen something heroic about this touch of tragedy - for instance, among the Dúnedain and the elves - of having risen above a darker past, though unable to undo it/recover what was destroyed, and that is something which I haven't seen portrayed in dwarves (although I haven't read all there is to read, so I might indeed have missed it).

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Originally Posted by WCH
(There is a hint iof evidence, IMO, that during the writing of The Hobbit and the earliest stages of writing the LR, Tolkien envisioned the Misty Mountains as identical to the Ered Luin; there was a subsequent displacemant of the Third Age geography to the eastward.)
This might amount to a hijack (spin off thread?) but that's interesting - I had wondered if that was possible, myself. What evidence are you thinking of?
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Old 03-29-2009, 12:27 PM   #8
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It's worth pointing out that in the War of the Last Alliance Dwarves fought on Sauron's side
Not many, though:

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Originally Posted by Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age
Of the Dwarves few fought upon either side; but the kindred of Durin of Moria fought against Sauron.
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Old 03-29-2009, 12:31 PM   #9
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Yeah, but you can bet that the ones who weren't fighting were making a fortune in the arms trade.......

The fact that "few fought upon either side" is significant in itself. Dwarves (mostly) just don't do causes.
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Old 03-29-2009, 03:28 PM   #10
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Yeah, but you can bet that the ones who weren't fighting were making a fortune in the arms trade.......
Yes, Tolkien does mention shady Dwarves doing a brisk arms trade with Orcs in 'The Hobbit'.
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Old 03-30-2009, 07:01 PM   #11
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First off, I would like to thank Kent2010 for coming up with such an original topic. I hope that this thread won't die anytime soon!

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The fact that "few fought upon either side" is significant in itself. Dwarves (mostly) just don't do causes.
Nice thinking, WCH. I always took the Dwarves' selfishness to be essential in their survival. The reason why, in my opinion, that Dwarves usually don't take to causes of Elves or Men is survival. A good king must look after his subjects first and foremost, otherwise he loses respect and is no longer considered a good king. When Aule made the Dwarves it is stated that he made them hardier than any other race; this does not just pertain to their physical aspects but also their attitudes: they are wary of strangers and this means potential threats.

Dwarves are quick to anger and to friendship. A very hasty folk, treat them with kindness and they will be your friends, treat them with harshness and they will not forget it. We see this example with Mim when Turin and company force him to keep them in his home at Amon Rudh. Mîm tolerates the outlaws, and although he never loves Túrin, the dwarf at least comes to respect him, though not his companions. I'm sure I don't need to remind y'all how Mim had his revenge on Turin and his friends.

Dwarves may be invested in their own self interest, but this doesn't mean that they won't fight for a cause. WCH points out well that some Dwarves fought against Sauron in the Last Alliance (it is interesting to know, however, that when Sauron first emerged from Mordor the Dwarves simply locked themselves up in their impenetrable underground halls)as well as against Morgoth at The Battle of Unnumbered Tears.

When Tolkien talks about Dwarves not being heroes, my interpretation is that they will not do anything hasty for others. It wouldn't be in their best interest to put themselves out on a limb for Bilbo in the dragon's lair without good reason. After all what good will it do? Not to say that they won't put themselves out on a limb for someone at all, the War of Dwarves and Orcs is an example of that; even if it was to avenge one of their own.
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Old 03-30-2009, 07:14 PM   #12
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There is also a practical reason for dwarves reluctance
to become involved in others affairs, the combination of
their "hastiness" when provoked and slow birth rate.
Even more then elves, they can't afford the sort of losses
men or orcs can in protracted wars. (In a way reminiscent
of Germany's problem as World War II dragged on, vis-a-vis
the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A.).
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Old 03-30-2009, 08:14 PM   #13
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There is also a practical reason for dwarves reluctance
to become involved in others affairs, the combination of
their "hastiness" when provoked and slow birth rate.
Even more then elves, they can't afford the sort of losses
men or orcs can in protracted wars. .
True, a good point. Still, dwarves often fought in the early stages of First Age with the orcs against the elves. I read something about that in the first volume of HoME. Something about Tu, a wizard, and him being almost a shepherd to the early elves and men, but his kingdom was broken up by an army of Easterlings and Dwarves. I'll look that up and see if it is of any consequence to the discussion here.
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Old 03-31-2009, 05:08 PM   #14
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Hi all,

interesting thread on that Hobbit comment, a couple of points to throw into the mix;

In the translator conceit The Hobbit was written by Bilbo so perhaps reflects more of his personal stereotypes than otherwise. Saying that, Thorin of couse did prove to be a hero in the end.

Also Thorin's gang were a party of exiles, perhaps too used to living on their wits (and occasional coal-mining) to throw themselves too wholeheartedly into danger. Notably Gimli is the classic heroic Dwarven exception. One thing that comes to mind is that Gimli was a Noble of a settled dwarven society, therefore expected to lead in the fighting, whereas Thorin and co., though descended from Nobility, aren't currently in charge of anyone much, so have no expectations of heroicism put upon them.

I guess the contrast might be between, on the one hand, if you like, a 'hasty' hero such as Eomer, who is suspicious of Aragorn at first but is soon convinced and, you get the impression, would go into battle at the drop of a hat (OK I'm thinking slightly of Cohen the Barbarian and d'Artagnan too here). On the other hand we have the Dwarves, who are capable of heroic deeds but it seems only when they have chosen to do such things.
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Old 03-31-2009, 06:15 PM   #15
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Hi all,

interesting thread on that Hobbit comment, a couple of points to throw into the mix;

In the translator conceit The Hobbit was written by Bilbo so perhaps reflects more of his personal stereotypes than otherwise. Saying that, Thorin of couse did prove to be a hero in the end.

Also Thorin's gang were a party of exiles, perhaps too used to living on their wits (and occasional coal-mining) to throw themselves too wholeheartedly into danger. Notably Gimli is the classic heroic Dwarven exception. One thing that comes to mind is that Gimli was a Noble of a settled dwarven society, therefore expected to lead in the fighting, whereas Thorin and co., though descended from Nobility, aren't currently in charge of anyone much, so have no expectations of heroicism put upon them.

I guess the contrast might be between, on the one hand, if you like, a 'hasty' hero such as Eomer, who is suspicious of Aragorn at first but is soon convinced and, you get the impression, would go into battle at the drop of a hat (OK I'm thinking slightly of Cohen the Barbarian and d'Artagnan too here). On the other hand we have the Dwarves, who are capable of heroic deeds but it seems only when they have chosen to do such things.
Do you possibly mean Conan the Barbarian? Terry Prachett's Cohen always seemed to be to be a very cautious prudent Barbarian when it came to battling, that's pretty much how he became the 87 year old Barbarian he is <g>
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Old 03-31-2009, 09:32 PM   #16
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Nice thinking, WCH. I always took the Dwarves' selfishness to be essential in their survival. The reason why, in my opinion, that Dwarves usually don't take to causes of Elves or Men is survival.
I also think it's reasonable to ask do the other races really take up others causes? You do have the 'Last Alliance,' but speaking strictly about the Lord of the Rings, can't you call all races rather selfish?

Celeborn tells the Fellowship that Lorien's communication has just been with Rivendell during these 'dark years.' And of course you see the tensions between him and Gimli. Before recognizing Gimli wasn't all that bad would Celeborn have sent his army to help the dwarves and men of Dale? Doubt it.

I think Gildor has a haughty and pretty self-indulgent opinion of Elves that showed in his meeting with the hobbits.

Gondor and Rohan show a clear distrust and avoidance towards Lorien. And even though Denethor sends Boromir to Rivendell I'm not convinced Gondor would stick its neck out for Rivendell or vice versa.

Elrond and Galadriel play an important role in the quest, helping Aragorn, and in many ways breaking that barrier of distrust between the races, but what other Elves can we say feel the same? Legolas and E&E to a lesser extent?

The only strong bonds seem to remain primarily between the same races. Rohan and Gondor, Rivendell and Lorien (maybe Mirkwood?) and I've read that in times of trouble the Dwarves could set aside their own conflicts and ban together.

By the the Lord of the Rings at least, if someone can call the dwarves selfish, can't you say the same about other races? There are the Elronds and Aragorns who do think of the whole and show a care for all races. But there are also many Denethors who look primarily at their peoples' self-interests.
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Old 04-01-2009, 10:18 AM   #17
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[QUOTE=Rumil;591845]One thing that comes to mind is that Gimli was a Noble of a settled dwarven society, therefore expected to lead in the fighting, whereas Thorin and co., though descended from Nobility, aren't currently in charge of anyone much, so have no expectations of heroicism put upon them.
QUOTE]

If I remember correctly, Thorin was Durin's Heir, i.e. if not for Smaug, he would have been King under the Mountain (and if not for Durin's Bane, King of Khazad-dûm). As far as Dwarves are concerned, is doesn't get any nobler than that.
Gimli was descended from a junior branch of the same family, and he and Glóin his father lived with Thorin's lot before Erebor was resettled.
Thorin certainly put expectations of heroicism upon himself. The Quest of Erebor (UT) tells us that when he and Gandalf talked about dealing with Smaug, Thorin was all for war & battle, and Gandalf had a hard job convincing him of the burglary approach.
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Old 04-01-2009, 04:39 PM   #18
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Evenin' All,

indeed Pitchwife, agree that Thorin ranked as high as any Dwarf, and considerably outranked Gimli, who ranked pretty high himself.

I'm not sure I'm convincing myself of this point, but I think there may be a difference between a hero from a settled culture, who is in charge of, say, a unit of soldiers, like Eomer or Faramir, and Thorin's situation, sure he was a Noble, but a noble in exile, living on his wits and without any large force to command. In the first situation, the expectation put upon the leader is one of heroicness, in the second, the leader is only head of a small group of companions, and I think that may be rather different.

I agree that its difficult to square Thorin's orginal gung-ho attitude with the Dwarves' general hanging-back, standing on one leg and looking uncomfortable when Bilbo was about to explore the secret passage. This is however Bilbo's point of view, perhaps the Dwarves thought that Bilbo thought that they would cut him out of the treasure if he did not burgle it personally? They were sticklers for contracts after all. Or more sensibly, that they would likely make more noise than a Hobbit and bring disaster on the whole enterprise. Perhaps some noxious emanation of Smaug was making everyone extra-fractious and selfish at this stage?

Alfirin I'm almost sure I did mean Conan, typo or Freudian slip? nicely spotted!
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Old 04-02-2009, 10:12 AM   #19
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I think there may be a difference between a hero from a settled culture, who is in charge of, say, a unit of soldiers, like Eomer or Faramir, and Thorin's situation
True; I overlooked/neglected this part of your argument.

As for Bilbo being sent to explore on his own, I think his ability to move noiselessly was one of the reasons, the other being the fact that Smaug, who had never met a hobbit, wouldn't be able to identify his smell - these were the reasons why the Dwarves had agreed to hire him in the first place. (The magic ring proved rather handy, too, but I can't remember whether the Dwarves knew about it and its properties when they arrived at the Mountain.)
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Old 04-02-2009, 10:26 AM   #20
Groin Redbeard
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Originally Posted by Pitchwife View Post
(The magic ring proved rather handy, too, but I can't remember whether the Dwarves knew about it and its properties when they arrived at the Mountain.)
Bilbo told Thorin about the Ring when the Dwarves were trapped in the Elf King's dungeons. So they knew that Bilbo was silent, invisible, and unfamiliar to Smaug. Though I think it all comes down to duty. Bilbo was hired to be a burglar and was going to be paid handsomely for it.

As has been stated before, the Dwarves took the trouble to procure a signed contract with Bilbo in order for him to be paid, but this also insures that he does his job.
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