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Everything You Need To Know About The Dwarf

Updated on February 28, 2012


by robartesm
by robartesm

Everything You Need To Know About The Dwarf

German mythology created the dwarf that continues to live on in fantasy, fiction, fairy tales and role-playing games.  It is unknown what the original content of these magical creatures was but over time they have taken on more superstitious and even comical roles through various interpretations.

Their lifestyle was similar to elves so much that the dark elves and dwarfs seemed to be interchangeable.  They are strongly associated with death, the earth and their mythological role with dark hair and pale skin.  The dwarf followed many animistic traditions and were quite similar to concepts of the dead.  These concepts were based on a belief that those that were deceased, continued existence and they possessed the ability to have a great influence over the fortune or misfortune of the living.

Today, the term of dwarf is often used to describe short humans that has nothing to do with mythical origins.  However, the universal description associated with a dwarf is not only short, but often affiliated with fantasy, magic and fairy tales.

Dwarf Women

Female Dwarfs

Tolkien's representation of female dwarfs portraying beards has often been a source of interest and has been borrowed by many other writers.  He developed an explanation that female dwarfs were never found in the story because they never traveled abroad.  He said the females dwarfs looked so much like male dwarfs that anyone visiting a dwarf city would not be able to tell them apart.

Another theory is that there were primarily only male dwarfs and speaking of a female one is taboo.  The birth of a female was extremely rare and it was believed that dwarven women were pregnant for up to sometimes 10 years before giving birth.  Being pregnant for this long put their lives constantly at risk so they were hidden away from the outside world for their own safety and that is the reason why female dwarfs were never found.

Seven Dwarfs

by Ela2007
by Ela2007

Dwarf Folklore

A dwarf was usually under four feet tall with a large head and a long beard.  Nidavellir was the home to the dwarfs and the king  of Nidavellir was Hreidmar.  Famous fairy tales containing dwarfs are Snow White, Dvalin, Rumpelstiltskin, Fjalar and Galar, Eitri, Alvis, Brokkr, Alfrik, Hreidmar, Grer, Berling, Otr, Alberich and Andvari.

The most ambiguous of the beings were the ones that were found in medieval romances.  These however, may have been considered humans that were affiliated with dwarfism  Courts and nobles usually kept them around purely out of curiosity.

Folktales that have dwarfs present in them are Aid and Punishment, Chamois Hunter, Bottile Hill, Curiosity Punished, Dwarf Husband, Dwarf's Feast, Dwarf's Banquet, Dwarves on the Tree, Dwarves Borrowing Bread, Dwarves Stealing Corn and the Yellow Dwarf.

There are also a few places that are believed to have been the home to many dwarfs.  The Dwarf's Cavern  in Germany supposedly housed many, giving it, its name.  Hartz mountains found in Germany still have caves belonging to the dwarfs on the clefts of the mountains and the Simonside Hills in Northumbria are believed to still home dwarfs that are responsible for the death of many hikers invading their area.


by Klearchos Kapoutsis
by Klearchos Kapoutsis

Norse Dwarfs

Norse dwarfs, being the first source of this species were called Dvergar.  They were highly skilled craftsmen and a good percentage of their magic came from labor, metallurgy and craftsmanship.  They were related to Vaettir which were spirits from the Norse religion.  Many of these spirits were guardians over various bodies of water, however some would do a lot of damage such as kill livestock if they were angered.  Death is a common motif found in Norse mythology and it has even been noted that dwarfs grew from maggots.  The maggots came from Ymir's flesh, representing that they were a spirit of the dead.

Later, Norse dwarfs became a bit comical as many old concepts were often extremely exaggerated.  Dwarfs were believed to be physically deformed, excellent craftsman and almost God-like which could also represent oracles and witches from other mythologies.  They were magical creatures that created legendary artifacts.  Germanic mythological dwarfs were highly influential on modern folklore and fairy tales.

Gimli -- The Lord of the Rings

Dwarfs Of Today

Today there is a mysterious web of concept that is based around original dwarfs.  A typical dwarf in fantasy is short, long-bearded and phenomenally skilled at metallurgy and mining.  They are also thought to have a resistance to the magic of others.  They have antipathy to Elves, distrust other races and have long lives.  Although they are thought to be slow moving on foot and horrible riders, dwarfs are skilled in warfare and have a strong appetite for feasting and ale.

J.R.R. Tolkien had such an influence on the representation of dwarfs that throughout his novels he spelled their name as dwarves instead of dwarfs.  His interpretation is so respected that is now acceptable and correct to spell the plural word of dwarf either way.

Books that Include Dwarves


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