Let me be honest….I really like the mythic Dwarves. I play games with them, bossing them around as they dig into the earth, finding treasure, building empire under the ground. I love books about them, watch movies with them fighting orcs. I really can’t get enough

Bossing around dwarves in A Game of Dwarves

Bossing around dwarves in A Game of Dwarves

But did you know almost every story you have heard from about Dwarves including most of the Dwarven names in the Lord of the Rings comes from one source? That one source is the 13-14th Century book  of mythic tales called the  Eddas.

Unlike many of these mythic texts, we actually have a name attached to the writer( or compiler??.This part is still unclear).He was a highly political and well educated  13th Century Icelandic chieftain name Snorri Sturluson.

Snorri’s story is interesting enough, but the real meat of the work is what is contained in the Edda. It is made of of two section: one, the Poetic Edda, a collection of songs and poems related to Norse mythology, and the Prose Edda, a story/novel relating to the stories of Norse Mythology.

The Prose Edda has a section which contains the story of the Dwarves. In the Edda, using the Byock translation, dwarves “had come to life in the soil under the earth, like maggots in the flesh”(Sturluson 2005:22).In Norse myth, the heavens and earth were created from the body of Ymir, a very large giant. The Dwarves were maggots, eating the  “flesh”of the earth, Ymir, who “by a decision of the gods, they acquired human understanding and the likeness of men”(Sturluson 2005:22).

The first dwarves mentioned by name is Durin. To those who know the Lord of the Rings, that is the name of the first Dwarf, the sleeping Dwarf progenitor that is prophecized  to return in a future date. The name means possibly “doorkeeper” or “drowsy” in Norse, appropriate for the sleeping father of the Dwarves.

A few verses later, comes a list containing the more famous names. “Dain, Bifur, Bafur,Bombor, Nori, Ori,…..Vig and Gandalf, Vindalf, Thorin, Kili,Fili, Fundin,Vali, Thror,Throin,…”, .All these Dwarves “live in the ground”(Sturluson 2005:23). Another group live in stone. This group includes Gloin,Dori, Ori.  Incidentally Gimle, or Gimli, is not the name of one of the Dwarves in the book. It’s actually the name of the heaven for good people after Ragnarok.(and yes, there appears to be two Ori’s.)

As you can see, most of the Dwarf names for the companions of Bilbo are taken straight from the prose. In fact, a few are mentioned in the book in the same order as placed in the Edda. Dain is mentioned. He is the leader of the Iron Hills dwarf clan in LOTR, and would eventually be King under the Mountain after Thorin dies. Also it needs mentioning that, in the Edda, Gandalf is listed as a Dwarf(!).

Well, I hope you enjoyed my small Dwarven  diversion. Soon I’ll get back to working on the Mabinogion.

References:

Sturluson, Snorri
2005[1300] The Prose Edda.Jesse Byock,trans.New York:Penguin Classics

(Edit: added reference)

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