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How to Remember the Thirteen Dwarves from “The Hobbit”

15 Dec 2013

There are two great tools for remembering a long list:

If you have to remember the number 4586486448464, you’ll want to break it down into somehow else than a sequence of thirteen arbitrary digits. The same goes for the thirteen dwarves (dwarrows) in Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

I recently saw this clip of Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin, naming all the dwarves in The Hobbit. As someone with a dreadful memory, I was very impressed—and then I noticed a pattern.

This is the order in which Armitage named the dwarves; see if you notice the pattern:

  1. Dori
  2. Nori
  3. Ori
  4. Bifur
  5. Bofur
  6. Bombur
  7. Dwalin
  8. Balin
  9. Oin
  10. Gloin
  11. Fili
  12. Kili
  13. Thorin

Let’s divide these names into families:

  1. Dori, Nori, Ori
  2. Bifur, Bofur, Bombur
  3. Dwalin, Balin
  4. Oin, Gloin
  5. Fili, Kili

… and Thorin

Now we have reduced the burden of memorization to five families … plus one.

Remembering thirteen names is hard. Remembering five families plus one is much easier.

But there is another pattern to Armitage’s memorization. Can you see it? (It’s just like Sesame Street.)

… and Thorin.

In case you don’t see the pattern, we group families into threes and twos—plus one—based on the amount of members.

Now you only have to remember a group of threes and twos … plus one.

You might still get tripped up trying to recall how many families go in each group of threes and twos.

As long as you remember the number 6, this will never happen. You can see why, if you rewrite the list above:

The group of threes has two families; the group of twos have three.

Each multiply to our magic number, 6. And then there's Thorin, of course.

You should be able to name all thirteen dwarves (dwarrows) now. I’m not kidding. Try it.

You can follow the changes made to this post on GitHub.