Traits and Characteristics of Leprechauns, Fairies, Dwarves, and Elves
Leprechauns Fairies Dwarves and Elves - Overview
When most people think of fairies, dwarves, leprechauns, or elves they think of myths and lore from children’s stories. Well the truth is that most of these creatures have very developed characteristics and origins. There are large groups of people who even believe these creatures really exist on our earth. Leprechauns, fairies, dwarves, and elves have sparked people’s interest for ages with their strange origins, mysterious characteristics, and constant references in our culture.
The origins of leprechauns are very strange. Leprechauns are usually considered to be a small earth dwelling fairy. They originated, most people think, in Ireland. They were called Cluricaunes, luricanes, lurikeens, and lubberkins. They were not called leprechauns until late seventeenth century. Historians believe that their name came from the Irish words leath bhrogan pronounced (la-‘vro-gahn) meaning shoemaker or Luacharma’n pronounced (‘looh-ar-mahn) meaning small body (Mortensen 9-10). Leprechauns aren’t the only ones with strange beginnings, however. Fairies also have some strange origins. Origins of fairies are hard to trace due to many early accounts of them. The Greek poet Homer wrote about Sirens and Nymphs in his epic poems. Sanskrit poetry from India tells of celestial singers; Pacific Islands even tell about spirits resembling fairies, and Egypt told of fairy-like creatures called Hathors (Hamilton 16). Fairies may have some strange origins, but dwarves’ origins are also elusive.
“Stories of dwarves may have a historical background: during the Bronze Age, tin miners from southern and southeastern Europe slowly migrated northwest, since the relatively rare tin, which is needed to make bronze, was more common in the north. Being southerners, they generally were of shorter stature than northern Europeans and had darker skin, hair and beards. Their knowledge of metallurgy might have seemed magical to the northerners, whose lifestyle was still Neolithic; the southerners' superior weapons and armour might well have been perceived as enchanted. This would explain why stories of dwarves are especially common in Northern Europe, and also why dwarves are portrayed as workers, while few other mythological creatures seem to be associated with any kind of organized industry. Another possibility is that dwarves are folk memories of the neanderthals that populated the world (primarily Europe) prior to the expansion of the human race. This fits rather well into the picture of the dwarf, as neanderthals were on average shorter but burlier than humans and possessed stronger features (broader noses, more pronounced brow ridges, and so forth), which could be seen by ancient humans as deformities (dwarves are commonly said to be "deformed"). Finally, neanderthals (like so many humans) used caves as shelters, thus making them "subterranean" beings. Vitus Droesher proposed that in ancient societies, individual(s) with short statue or physical deformity specialised in mining and metallurgy and kept away from the rest of society. They would be turned in a legend into dwarf or dwarves.” (Dwarf: Encyclopedia II).
Dwarves have several origins. These are the Tolkien origins of the dwarves. “[Dwarves] were made by Aulë, the smith and craft master of the Valar. This was against Eru's Plan: Aulë had neither the authority nor indeed the power to create other souls (the result of his efforts was a group of what amounted to puppets). However, because he repented his folly at once and because his motives had been good (he desired children to teach, not slaves to command) Eru gave the Dwarves life and made them part of the Plan. The Elves were still to be the "Firstborn", though, so the Dwarves had to sleep until after the Elves awoke” (Loos). Dwarves have a mysterious beginning, but elves are even more mysterious. “Elves are creatures of the earth--originally the gnomes and kobolds of folklore. They are serious and temperamental, given to fits of mischief that have earned them a bad reputation. The elves love everything that complies with exaggeration--huge cauliflowers, oversized eggs, pebbles that swell into stones large enough to make a loud babble in the throat of a brook. Elves are awakeners, reveling in all that surprises and distracts. If they could have their way, they would wake up all the children in the world every morning, with tricks, tropes, and raucous feats of sly amazement. It is the elves' task, however, to tend carefully and patiently the things of the earth, to nurture soil and stones, clay, moss, and lichen” (Lash). Since all of these creatures have varied origins, they have varied characteristics.
According to lore, if one should catch a leprechaun, the leprechaun must give his treasure to whomever caught him, but to keep the leprechaun in your possession, you have to keep an eye on him. If you look away for one second, they escape (Mortensen 14-15). The characteristics of leprechauns are pretty well known due to being the centers of Saint Patrick’s Day. The mythical habits of fairies are quite intriguing. Fairies are generally smaller than humans although some come close to human size. Most fairies are small, have pointed ears, and fly around with their wings. Very small fairies are generally referred to as pixies. Fairies are usually undetected by humans and live in fairy hills or deep forests. They enjoy dancing in circles which during the day can be seen as a circle of mushrooms (Hamilton 4). Burly and tough yet small and ingenious, the dwarves possess some interesting characteristics. Dwarfs are short, stocky, and strong human-like people in Norse mythology as well as other Germanic mythologies and lore. “The plural of the word dwarf was historically spelled dwarfs, but fantasy author J. R. R. Tolkien used the plural dwarves, which has entered general usage. However, the older spelling is still actively used.” In most myths dwarves act similarly to humans, but some still live underground and in mountains. Some works describe dwarves as having the ability to see in the dark and other adaptations for living underground. Underground, they collect costly minerals and ores and create expensive and some of the most durable armor and weapons. Usually, most dwarves are short stocky and have full thick beards. Although they are not the best runners or riders, they are very well suited to being warriors and defenders of their holds. “Some myths also ascribe to dwarves the ability to forge magical items. In Norse mythology, for instance, dwarvish smiths created some of the greatest and most powerful items of power, including the magic chain that bound the wolf, Fenris” (“Mythical Creatures”). Even though the dwarves are ingenious they lack the mystique of elves. There is a shroud of mystery that envelopes the elves. Elves are mythical creatures in Germanic mythology which still survives in northern European folklore. In Norse mythology they were originally a race of minor gods of nature and fertility. Elves are often pictured as tall and virile young men and women living in forested areas, underground, or in wells and springs. They are usually described as being very long-lived, or sometimes they just live forever (“Mythical Creatures”). To this day some people believe they still exist. Icelanders believe that there is a whole capital for elves in their country called Hafnarfjordur. They believe that they live in the hills in little underground houses. They also make their homes in other rocks and hills (Seabrook).
References in Today's Culture
With all of those crazy characteristics, what a better way to honor them than with movies and books being made as an extension of their lore. The many fantasy creatures have lived on through their reference in many books and movies. Some of the books and movies that have elf references are Elf Hill by Hans Christian Anderson and The Changeling by Malachy Doyle and in the movie Elf . Some famous dwarven references include The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and the Time Bandits (Allen 24). Leprechauns can also be seen throughout the United States on St. Patrick's Day and in many Irish themed products such as Lucky Charms cereal.Video games are a huge sponsor of these characters' legacies. Games such as World of Warcraft, The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy as well as many others. All of these creatures can be seen all over today's pop culture. They are easier to spot than you think!
In the End
These creatures may always be thought of by some people as myth, legend, or lore, but they will always be interesting and intriguing. The study of these creatures is very interesting and fun at the same time. Leprechauns, fairies, dwarves, and elves have sparked people’s interest for ages with their strange origins, supernatural characteristics, and constant references in our culture.
Allen, Judy. Fantasy Encyclopedia . Boston: Kingfisher, 2005.
“Dwarf: Encyclopedia II – Dwarf – Possible origin.” 24 Nov. 2008. <http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Dwarf_-_Possible_origin/id/5001823>
Hamilton, John. Elves and Fairies. Edina, Minn.: ABDO Pub. Co., 2005.
Lash, John. “Fairies, Elves, and Angels.” Mothering. Winter 1989: 46+.
Loos, William D.B. “The Grey Havens – Dwarves: What were the origins of the Dwarves.” 12 Nov. 2008. <http://tolkien.cro.net/dwarves/origin.html>.
Mortensen, Lori. Leprechauns. Detroit: KidHaven Press, 2007.
“Mythical Creatures and Beasts: Mythical Creatures Guide.” 29 Sep. 2008. <http://www.mythicalcreaturesguide.com>.
Seabrook, Andrea. Many Icelanders Believe in Elves. Radio Broadcast. NPR News. 2007.
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