Well, I am a bit behind schedule, but that’s mostly because I’ve been so busy, and some of the fruit of that labor is displayed in that I can now happily inform you all that book 1 of the Dwarvish Dirty Dozen series, Mud War, is up for pre-order right now.
This is the first installment of what will be a six book series that unfolds the bracing tale of a collection of dwarvish scoundrels in desperate pursuit of redemption. Set in the same world as the Outcast Royal, what we call the Skharr Mythos, the Dwarvish Dirty Dozen series is a fantastic and gritty story that I’m excited to tell, but I’m not quite ready to give all the details away just yet. Call me a tease, but I flatter myself thinking it will be worth the wait.
In the meantime, I’d thought it would be interesting to dive into the subject of dwarves as a fixture of fantasy literature. If you’re just here for the update then feel free to scurry off, but if you’ve any inclination towards some deep nerding through mythology and folklore (you know who you are) then you’ll want to stick around because we’re going from maggots to monsters to the mountain dwelling master craftsman we all know and love from Middle Earth.
Taking a cue from Alice’s Caterpillar we’ll start at the beginning, which means we are reaching back to the days of the Old Norse tales. Now there are tales of short supernatural not quite human creatures since the days the first men daubed on rock walls, but as for the creatures that actually bear the name that would become the word dwarf (dweorg – Old English / dvergr- Old Norse) we head North to Scandinavia. In the sagas laid forth out in the Poetic Eddaand the Prose Edda, we see the origin of the dwarfs (the term dwarves wouldn’t show up until Tolkien) is a most humble one, in fact perhaps the humblest. I mean what gets lower than a maggot eating a corpse? Nothing comes to mind but those are some baby pictures I wouldn’t want to be part of the slide show. In the Prose Eddait tells us that the progenitors of dwarf-kind were festering about in the flesh Ymir, until the gods, apparently feeling magnanimous after killing Ymir, granted them sentience. Yet, from these lowly beginnings the dwarfs quickly emerge as mysterious, fantastical, and often sinister creatures in a cosmology filled with such crazy critters.
Details vary about these early dwarfs but even from the beginning those early iterations they were deeply connected with the mountains, the underground, and exceptional craftsmanship. Often dwarfs were a byword for magical artifacts and fabulous wealth, but as already mentioned often these treasures came with some awful strings attach. From the treasure of Fafnir which doomed to death any who would possess it, or the Brísingamen Necklace whose crafters (4 dwarf brothers) used its allure to extort sex from a goddess. These ancient dwarfs are intimately tied to the the concept of craftsmanship as a form of magic with all the menacing undertones that entails. In fact linguists and scholars have noted that these first dwarfs share so much in common with the likes of dark elves, trolls, and witches, that at times they are indistinguishable. In short the first days of the dwarfish kind were dark indeed.
Moving from the pre-christian tales to those which sprang up from the Christianized Germanic peoples we see a transition in the dwarfish tales to something a little more familiar. First of all they are most certainly short now, if nothing else because of translational issues from Medieval scribes, and they’ve lost some of their more sinister edge though they are no less magical. Dwarfs now are often acting as guardians of sacred sites or as mysterious benefactors (and occasional villains) in the stories of brave human heroes. Whether supernaturally strong and resilient or able to vanish/grow/shrink in the blink of an eye they are now closer to the dynamic, almost whimsical creatures that occupy fairy tales. An interesting note we also see a few female dwarfs showing up, but as magical temptresses trying to lure young heroes, akin to the tale of Herr Manneling. Not typically how we think of dwarves, but apparently the folk of the Middle Ages saw nothing baffling about the allure of a stout lass.
From these legendary tales we move into the folklore where the dwarf is just ahead of the creatures which will become a fixture in modern fantasy. The beard becomes a permanent feature and they move towards being a people unto their own, not isolated creatures or families but members of tribes and nations. The idea of entire underground kingdoms spring up and we now have communities of dwarfs dwelling in those odd stone formations outside of hamlets and villages. Like the Wee Folk of the Emerald Isles (and elsewhere) the dwarf moves to something less mystical and mysterious to become something… well, earthy.
And that brings us to the realm of the modern dwarf which began with Tolkien’s The Hobbit where the dwarves (ah finally dwarfs was killing me) have become something more than fairy folk look alikes but a full blown culture with a history and language and a boatload of that dwarvish personality that we’ve grown to know and love. From the doughty folk of Middle-Earth sprang the likes of dwarves to occupy the realms of fantasy novels, role-playing games, video games, and even the big/small screen. Everyone has put their own spin on the dwarves, but by now when you say dwarves most people will summon a similar image to mind; the short but brawny, bearded fellow with an axe or hammer in one hand, probably with a tankard of stout ale in the other. It is a useful trope and one I lean on in my new series, but at the same time I love the old tales and I may be taking some time to dig into the old tales for inspiration. Hopefully we can have fun together reviving some of these old tales.
Well, we managed to cover a thousand years of history together in a quick and dirty exploration of the dwarvish phenomenon and besides showing you all what a nerd I hope it can serve a bit of a cheat sheet for some of what is to come.
Regardless, thank you for going on this little trip with me and if you’ve got the time head on over to Amazon to pre-order my first offering dedicated to our bearded friends. (https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B09X275VMW?ref_=dbs_m_mng_wam_calw_tkin_0&storeType=ebooks)
Until next time, Dear Reader
Aaron D. Schneider
Image Credit: Dwarf Image in Illustration Used From Wikipedia Under the Creative Commons License: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwarf_(folklore)#/media/