dwarf A diminutive breed of FAIRY that figures in the legends and mythology of many cultures. The dwarf tradition was well‑established in early Teutonic and Scandinavian mythology and was subsequently boosted by reports about the pygmy tribes of Africa. According to Norse legend, dwarfs were created originally from the flesh of the primordial giant YMIR, and have since then filled the role of guardians of the earth's underground regions.
Dwarfs are traditionally depicted as short, bearded old men, often wearing magic brown caps. In character they are variously supposed to be touchy and hot-tempered or else kindly and benevolent (as in the fairy tale `Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs'). They make their homes in an underground kingdom (hence their legendary skill as miners) from which they rarely emerge. They dislike sunlight, and if trapped above ground during the day will be unable to return to their subterranean homes until nightfall.
Dwarfs are also said to be capable of fine metalwork, and invincible weapons and armour forged by dwarfs feature prominently in many heroic epics, notably the NIBELUNGENLIED. They are also reputed to be able to see into the future, and to have the power to make themselves invisible at will.
A minority of dwarfs are irredeemably evil, casting malevolent spells and seeking to cause harm to humans (as in the fairy tale 'Rulnpelstiltskin').Their crimes may range from minor acts of mischief to kidnapping human children to work in their mines.
4. from Medival Folklore / p. 258-60.
A supernatural race of master artisans who serve as donor figures to the gods in Scandinavian mythology and as donors or servants to knights and heroes in Old French, Middle High German, and medieval Scandinavian chivalric and heroic literature.
Scandinavian mythological sources depict dvergar (Dwarfs) as an all‑male race of supernatural beings, residing in cliffs and stones, created asexually from the bones and blood of giants. Though in most instances dwarfs appear to be quite separate from other mythical races, Snorri Sturluson, in his thirteenth century mythological manual, the Prose Edda, conflates dwarfs and "black elves," a subcategory of beings that appears only in his writings.
In the grand dichotomy of the mythology, dwarfs are aligned with giants in opposition to gods and humans. Nevertheless, their most important role in Scandinavian sources is that of donors to the two latter races. Dwarfs are said to have created the most powerful weapons and prized possessions of the gods. They are reluctant donors, however, and the gods generally obtain the goods through deceit, threats, or bribery.
Some Eddic poems, recorded in the thirteenth century, attribute occult knowledge to dwarfs, yet they seem rather gullible and are always shortchanged when dealing with the gods. However, dwarfs can get the better of humans; consider King Sveigdir, who, according to Snorri Sturluson's thirteenth‑century Ynglinga Saga (Saga of the Ynglings, ch. 12), was lured into a stone by a dwarf, never to emerge again.
While dwarfs hardly figure in the Norse family sagas at all, they abound in the more fantastic, heroic genres of the fornaldarsögur(sagas of antiquity) and theriddarasögur (sagas of knights). However, in these sagas the dwarfs usually appear as servants to knights and heroes and do not present a threat to their masters. Dwarfs of this bent are also encountered in some Scandinavian ballads. They are cognate with their kinsmen in medieval romances from the European continent, the German dwarfs and French nains.
Dwarfs frequently appear in Middle High German literature, particularly m the cycle of Dietrich von Bern, preserved in the thirteenth‑century Heldenbuch (Book of Heroes) Bind in other romances. The earliest reference to a nanus (dwarf) is from an eleventh‑century fragment, but moat are encountered in works from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. As in Scandinavian sources, they are master artisans, unsurpassed in the art of forging weapons. They are said to be small and are often dressed according to chivalric fashion. Female dwarfs are attested, but their importance is negligible.
The role that dwarfs fill in Middle High German literature is most often that of the knight's sidekick or servant. In this they closely resemble the nains of the Old French romances. Though the nains are often uglier and more conniving than their German cousins, they, too, are sharp dressers of diminutive size. More consistently than German dwarfs, the nains are always cast as servants to knights, and they habitually accompany them in their adventures. Most of the scholarly literature on dwarfs centers on questions of origins. In 1906 Fritz Wohlgamuth hypothesized that the nains were modeled on historical court dwarfs. August Lötjens, in a work from 1911, refuted this literal‑historical explanation, citing a lack of evidence for the existence of court dwarfs, and suggested that the dependence of French romance on Celtic folklore might provide a better context in which to seek the origin of the nains - view echoed by Vernon Harward in 1958, in his book on dwarfs in Arthurian romance. As to the dwarfs of Middle High German literature, Lötjens is of the opinion that they are literary hybrids of the chivalric nains send the more earthy dwarfs of Germanic folk tradition.
In a book on medieval dwarfs and elves in Europe, Claude Lecouteux claims that dwarfs are closely related to the dead, a hypothesis previously argued in the Scandinavian context by Chester Gould in 1929. Lecouteux also refers to the theories of Georges Dumézil about the tripartite system of Indo‑European mythologies and suggests that dwarfs should be seen as third‑function (i.e., fertility) beings, since they work the riches of the earth through their metalwork.
In a number of works from the 1970s and 1980s Lotte Motz proposed another theory of the origin of dwarfs: that dwarfs harken back to an Indo‑European class of artisans, preserved as a faded memory in folklore and also in the Greek Hephaestus (blacksmith of the gods). According to Motz the main characteristics of this class are craftsmanship and physical deformity, and she claims that its historical achievements may be observed in the megalithic stone structures of Europe.
Though Metz, like many before her, is confident that the dwarfs of medieval literature derive immediately from contemporary folk belief and legend tradition, there is good reason to think otherwise. The nains of chivalric romance are a clearly defined, formulaic literary type, perpetuated through literary borrowings. They bear a much closer resemblance to helper figures in fairy tales than to supernaturals from legend tradition. Although the dwarfs of Middle High German tradition are more diverse, they too usually function as helpers or donors. In an article from 1924 on Scandinavian dwarfs, Helmut de Boor made a similar claim when he contrasted elves and dwarfs, arguing that the former belong to legend and belief whereas the latter inhabit the enchanted world of the fairy tale. Elves, he notes, appear in historical works and the more realistic family sagas, but dwarfs are mostly confined to more fanciful genres, such as the fornaldarsögur, on the one hand and to learned, speculative reworkings of folk tradition, like the Eddic poems ,and Snorri's Prose Edda on the other.
Nonetheless, de Boor acknowledges a trace of folk legend tradition in two motifs associated with Scandinavian dwarfs, namely, their supernatural craftsmanship and their living quarters in stones. Scandinavian place names like Dvergaberg (Dwarf‑Rock) and Dvergasteinn (Dwarf‑Stone) lend support to the latter, as does the Sveigdir episode cited above, which has countless analogs in more recent folk legends of stone dwellers. It may be added that in this respect dwarfs are hard to tell from other nature beings of folk tradition, such as elves and fairies, and by the time of the folklore collections of the nineteenth century dwarfs are interchangeable with these beings in a number of supernatural legends from northern Europe. See also: Eddic Poetry; Fornaldarsögur;Scandinavian Mythology; Snorri Sturluson's Edda.