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.
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.