Most High Fantasy stories have dwarves playing usually the same role. They are portrayed as miners, warriors, brewers, black smiths, as well as numerous other roles. Usually their cities are underground, and they have settlements above ground. Like many fantasy races, they often fall into the monoculture race trap.
The Typical DwarfEdit
- Longer life span then humans, but nowhere near that of elves' (250 years in Lord of the Rings.)
- Dwells underground
- Mines for gold and jewels
- Makers of exceptional weapons and armor
- Short, rugged, large beards
- Gruff and irritable
- Distrusting of elves
- The Gully Dwarves in DragonLance are stupid.
- The Elves VS. Dwarves trope has been used to the point of absurdity.
History & OriginsEdit
The earliest known dwarves come from Norse folklore. Early folklore did not describe dwarves as being short, and early depictions illustrated dwarves as being human-sized, which would indicate their diminutive stature as being a later addition.
The early Norse dwarves, called "dverger," were described as being deathly pale, dark haired, and fatally susceptable to sunlight. These creatures lived underground and were skilled craftsmen and metallurgists. They were considered part of the vættir, that is, families of the various nature spirits. In this case, dwarves were associated with earth and death. (Burying bodies in the ground makes the connection natural.)
According to Norse creation myth, dwarves were originally maggots that came from the body of the frost giant Ymir, whose body the gods used to create the world. These dwarves were said to have the "understanding and appearance of men, although they lived in the earth and in rocks."
The dark elves of Norse mythology were sometimes considered to be synonymous with the dverger.
The Trow, or dark elf, was said to live in the Orkney Islands and inhabited mines and caves. These creatures were said to be ugly, small, shy, and mischeivous. They could be harmful or beneficial, although it was usually the former. The Shetland Isle equivalent, the Drow, were known for mining and metal-working and thought to be completely evil.
As with most creatures of European folklore, dwarves experienced a radical shift with the advent of Christianity. In the 13-15th centuries, late Norse dwarves became more comical figures, described as diminutive and ugly, and were said to be excellent craftsmen. This image would remain virtually unchanged into the modern era.
Dwarves have also appeared in Arthurian legend and have featured in many fairy tales such as Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin.
J. R. R. Tolkien published The Hobbit in 1937. Tolkien's dwarves were bearded miners who lived underground with an average lifespan of 250 years. Tolkien's work sparked the trope of dwarves being distrusting of elves, an aspect which many people take as granted today. Tolkien also used the plural form dwarves rather than dwarfs, which also caught on.
Like many fairytale creatures, dwarves were only portrayed as one sex. Tolkien pounced on this one and posited in his books that dwarf women resembled the men so much (even to the beards) that it was difficult for non-dwarves to tell them apart.
RPG writers would come up with their own ideas for female dwarves later on: Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura handwaves the absence of female dwarves by explaining that males outnumber females 2-1 and that dwarf women spend ten years gestating, and so the females are kept concealed for their own safety. The RPG Castle Falkenstein posits that dwarves mate with Naiads or Selkies; the children are the race of their parents. This would indicate sexual dimorphism rather than separate species. Others abandon the unseen female dwarf trope altogether and make them just as present as the males, beards optional.
Some writers give dwarves technology that advances well into the modern era, using devices dependant on gunpowder such as pistols and cannons.
- Original Writerium Article