Mark Neumayer

author of the Valda & the Valkyries series

Tag: dwarf

Retro-Style Dwarf Warrior

UPAstyle_viking I got inspired to do a riff on the old UPA/Mary Blair style animation art this week. (If you’re not familiar with this stuff, check it out here.)There is something about that whole “no neck” school of character design that matches up with Dwarves so well.There was no cable TV when I was a little kid yet I still managed to watch and be influenced by a heck of a lot of cartoons. The other unusual thing about this piece for me is that it started on paper. Most of the stuff I do is born right on the computer, usually in a vector-based program, but I broke out the pencil, paper and marker for this one. After that it was scanned and went into Photoshop for texturing and coloring. I hope you like it.

Sand Dwarves?

sanddwarfLet me say right from the start that I have found no mention of them in the sagas. I want that out upfront so you don’t think I’m feeding you a shaggy dog story. I am sharing this more as a lesson in not believing everything you read, or letting your preconceptions influence what you read.

The headline deserves a question mark because when I first read a mention of Dwarves living in sand I had all sorts of questions running through my head. I’ve read a lot of books on Norse mythology over the years and I can’t remember which one had that first mention of the subject. I do remember having a huge “huh” moment as I read that since I had never read anything else that even came close to mentioning sand Dwarves. I do remember that the book didn’t have another word on the subject. It was kind of a throwaway line showing that Dwarves lived in a range of environments.

I took the information with a grain of salt. If you study Norse mythology for any amount of time you get used to dealing with partial bits of information and  inconsistencies. The records we have are too fragmented to give a complete understanding on many subjects. Still this little snippet stuck with me. I write fiction where a Dwarf is my main character so anything that could open up dramatic possibilities is a very good thing. I couldn’t think of any hot sandy expanses in the North but I knew Vikings had some exposure with Arabs (i.e. Ahmad ibn Fadlan.) Maybe that interaction lead to legends of a Dwarven tribe living in the sandy desert? I wasn’t the first person to have this thought. Dungeons and Dragons has Sand Dwarves. The MapleStory game has them, too. But where did the idea come from?

Recently I was reading through a translation of Saxo Grammaticus’ Danish History. The translator’s notes have a section about Supernatural Beings this contains a subsection entitled Dwarves. (BTW, Saxo refers to Dwarves as Satyrs for some odd reason.) The line that got me excited was this:

The dwarf Miming, who lives in the desert, has a precious sword of sharpness…

Yes! This was it. After years of searching and wondering about the subject I was going to read about desert Dwarves. This is where my warning about preconceptions comes in. I grew up in Florida, not far from the coast. Sand means beaches to me – hot beaches so when I think of the desert I think of a hot, sandy place. But that isn’t the only definition of desert. A desert can also be a barren place, a wasteland, and it is this sense of the word that is being used here. If you go to Saxo’s story about Miming you learn that the road leading to his home is “perpetually beset with extraordinary cold” and the region is “impassable and filled with obstacles.” From all of this it is plain to see that Miming the Dwarf lived in a frigid desert. Different authors over the years must have seized on that simple fragment about a Dwarf living in the desert and extrapolated a new subclass of Dwarf magically teleported to the hot, arid deserts of the world.

While I was disappointed to arrive at this conclusion, I do think it serves a valuable lesson in checking your sources and not letting your own biases get in the way when looking at an ancient text.

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Norse Mythology Quick Hits

Concept art of a female Dwarf

As you can tell by the book I’ve written, I am a fan of the Dwarves. I’ve always been fascinated with them and enjoyed reading their stories in the sagas and in popular culture. But these guys and gals don’t always get the respect that they deserve. We’re not even going to go into the many times Loki cheated them out of their pay or messed with them while they were creating their masterpieces. Even skipping all of that, here are five times the Dwarves got the proverbial short-end of the stick.

The Beard Thing
While not Norse mythology,  I just felt we had to address this one. None other than JRR Tolkien himself served as the catalyst for this. In the notes to the Lord of the Rings he wrote that the Dwarf women looked just like the men. Some people interpreted this to mean that the women have beards just like the men. In the movie version of LOTR we have Aragorn out and out saying this. (Something he never did in the books.) Terry Pratchett took the ball and ran it even further in his Discworld novels with Dwarf females every bit as bearded as the men. I prefer to stick with the sagas. When the Dwarves construct the magical chain Gleipnir they make it from “six impossible things.” One of those things is “the beard of a woman.” So the sagas say it is impossible for women to have beards. With all due respect to Tolkien and Pratchett, I’m going with the saga’s version.

Toasted at Baldur’s Funeral
The gods were heartbroken over the death of Baldur, it shook them to the very core. Baldur’s widow, Nanna, was so upset that she died of a broken heart right there at the funeral. So we can imagine that Thor was not in the best of moods, either. But does that excuse this behavior?

 Thor then stood up and hallowed the pile with Mjolnir, and during the ceremony kicked a dwarf named Litur, who was running before his feet, into the fire.

We have no idea what Litur was doing there. Maybe he was running around when he was supposed to be quiet, but it still seems like a harsh reaction.

The Origin of the Dwarves
Although there are passing references to the dwarves being made of the blood and bones of a sea-giant, the main reference to the origin of the dwarves reads like this:

“Then the gods, seating themselves upon their thrones, distributed justice, and bethought them how the dwarves had been bred in the mould of the earth, just as worms are in a dead body. It was, in fact, in Ymir’s flesh that the dwarves were engendered, and began to move and live. At first they were only maggots, but by the will of the gods they at length partook both of human shape and understanding, although they always dwell in rocks and caverns.

The four corners of the world are each held up by a single dwarf. This is a powerful race renowned for being master-craftsmen, but we’re told they started out as maggots.

The Stoning of the Bridegroom
Poor Alvis, all the dwarf wanted was a beautiful bride and he had one, too. Unfortunately she was the daughter of Thor. The father of the bride didn’t want his daughter running off with this pale-nosed fellow. What is interesting here is that, instead of bashing him with Mjollnir, Thor says Alviss can marry his daughter if the dwarf can answer all of Thor’s questions about the world. We then get a long exchange between the two where Thor asks what the various races of the Nine Worlds call different things. For instance, we learn that the giants call the sun Ever-Bright, while the Elves call it Fair Wheel. This goes on through the night until finally the sun rises and turns Alvis into stone. Looking for love, he ended up looking like a statue.

Short-changed, Big-time
Dwarves are little people, right? The word has come down to us to mean someone of smaller stature. Well, the sagas say they were created “in man’s likeness.” You think that means they looked human – just smaller? Not quite. When Thor sees Alvis he says “What man is this?” Not what short creature, but what man. Check out this article on Wikipedia for more arguments on the subject. There are other references indicating that a dwarf is just like a man except he lives beneath the ground. Somewhere along the line the word dwarf was changed to mean shorter than normal and the entire race got tagged.

I hope you’re enjoying this series on Norse mythology. If there’s any subject you’d like to hear about, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. You can also check out the other entries in this series.

Five Magical Weapons from Norse Mythology

Loki’s Five Biggest Tricks

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