Dwarfs are fairy humanoids found in the mythologies and folklore of Germany and Scandinavia.
In Scandinavian legends the dwarfs (duergar) were great craftsmen in legend. Some of their accomplishments included Odin’s spear, Gungnir and Thor’s hammer Mjollnir. They brewed the mead of poetry, and created many magical runes and songs.
According to Snorri Sturluson, they were originally maggots who feasted on the flesh of the giant Ymir, and were granted intelligence and shape by the gods. The duergar could not face the light of day, which turned them to stone.
Later they degenerated into the huldre-folk of Norwegian and Swedish folklore. Later, the Gaelic and Norman peoples carried their traditions to the British Isles, where can be found several types of fairies resemble dwarfs, such as the trow of the Shetland isles and the spriggan of Cornwall.
Dwarfs usually look like grave old men, with grey, flowing beards and hunched backs. They are much shorter than humans – some may be only 18 inches high, while the taller ones are usually the height of a two year old child. It is said 4tTheir aged appearance seems to be caused by the fact that they reach maturity at age three.
Dwarfs live deep under the ground in mines, or in the hearts of mountains and dig for gold and precious stones. Mountain dwarfs live in huge underground halls, full of glittering jewels and piles of gold.
They have their own kings and kingdoms, chieftains and tribes. Mountain dwarfs are skilled in the working of all kinds of metals, and in the forging of magical rings and swords. J.R.R Tolkien writes about mountain dwarfs in The Hobbit and again in the Lord of the Rings.
Mystical metal workers, dwarfs are at home amid their mountain forges. Their knowledge of metal’s properties, both physical and magical, is legendary. Their work sells for astounding prices; their payment is almost always made in gold or other magical treasures.
Some of the most famous weapons forged by the dwarves are the hammer Moljnir (Thor), the lance Gungnir (Odin), the sword Durandal (Roland), the sword of Dooder de Mayence and the cord that helped tied Fenfir. The dwarves’ wealth is best left untouched by humans.
Dwarfs are sensitive about showing their feet since they are usually deformed in some way. If you are curious of their feet, the only way to get an idea is to put flour, ash, or something of that sort in their path and to look at their footprints.
Dwarves can’t be above ground during the day since sunlight turns them to stone. Some say they exist as toads during the day and assume their familiar dwarvish form at night.
In Germany the dwarfs are usually friendly, or at least neutral, in their dealings with man. They were interested in the work of mortals, and would often spy on them unbeknownst, wearing their fog caps which gave them invisibility. Sometimes they would help men with their labours, but they expected to be repaid in full.
On the other hand, those who help dwarfs often get repaid with treasure from their hoard. But those who steal their treasure have bad luck, or find that the stolen gold has turned into worthless dry leaves.
When in need, they would steal, and if reproached for the act, or caught and punished, they became furiously angry. Sometimes a whole kingdom of dwarfs could be roused to anger for such an act, and would move away. Today, most kingdoms are gone, and only rarely may an individual dwarf be seen.
Those who reside in mines are more foul of temper than their mountain brethren. Unless they receive offerings from their human counterparts, they are known to sabotage efforts to extract earth’s valuable minerals. Their interference includes the breaking of tools and pulling down mine roofs.
The Hobbit or There and Back Again (1937)
The Lord of the Rings (1954-55)
Written by J.R.R. Tolkien, these books are outstanding works of fantasy for children and adults alike.
In The Hobbit, Tolkien tells how the dwarf chieftain Thorin Oakenshield and his twelve faithful followers set out to reclaim their lost treasure from the dragon Smaug. The fourteenth member of their company is Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit, employed as a ‘burglar’ to help outwit the dragon. The dwarfs sing of their ancestors, the dwarfs of old, who made wonderful and magical things in deep caverns beneath the earth, in ‘hollow halls beneath the fells’ – swords and crowns, necklaces, goblets and harps – ‘ beautiful things made by hands and cunning and magic…’
In the Lord of the Rings, the dwarf Gimli, son of Gloin, is one of the fellowship that sets out to destroy the ring of power. Tolkien tells of the ancient dwarf kingdom of Moria, with its glorious halls and immense caverns dug deep under the mountains.
Tolkien spelt the plural ‘dwarves’, instead of ‘dwarfs, first by accident, then intentionally.