Historical knowledge

Dwarves

The Dwarves are one of races that inhabit Middle-earth in Tolkien’s universe. They play a central role in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In the Poetic Edda, in Völuspá (Voluspa), the dwarves are created from the blood of Brimir and the limbs of Blain. Both names are other names for the giant Ymir, who was killed by the Aesir (a clan of Norse gods).

Snorri Sturluson tells the story in his Gylfaginning from the early 13th century of how, with Odin at the helm, the Aesir created ​​the earth out of of the dead body of Ymir. Brimir’s blood became the sea and Blain’s limbs, the mountains (created by his bones).

All of the dwarves’ names are mentioned in the Poetic Edda. There are many similarities between the dwarf names mentioned in the Poetic Edda and in Tolkien’s works, including Durin, Bombur, Nori, Thorin and Egeskjold. Tolkien makes a big point of mentioning the dwarves by name when they are introduced in The Hobbit. And the myth of their origin and family relationships is also more complex in Tolkien’s universe than in medieval literature.

Stone and the art of forging

In the Sagas, dwarves often have great insight and are described as very clever. In the Edda poem Alvíssmál, Thor takes on the dwarf Alvis, which means “all-wise”, in a battle of wits. The dwarves are often associated with extensive knowledge and skills in the art of forging. Several of the Norse gods’ most famous weapons and pieces of jewellery were created by the dwarves. Skáldskaparmál describes how Loki contacts the dwarves called Ivalde’s sons. They produce golden hair for Sif (Thor’s wife), Skidbladner (Frey’s magic ship, which is no larger than a handkerchief when not in use), and Odin’s spear, Gungnir. Two other dwarves, Brok and Sindri, forge Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer), Draupnir (Odin’s magic ring) and the magic boar, Gullinbursti, for Frey.

The dwarves also belong to the underground world and cannot tolerate sunlight. When Thor takes on Alvis, it is Thor who asks the questions. The aim is simply to drag it out until the sun rises, ensuring that Thor “wins” the contest, even though the dwarf could solve the riddles. Gandalf makes use of the same trick in The Hobbit, when the travelling party is taken prisoner by three trolls. Gandalf keeps on asking questions, playing for time until the sun rises and the trolls are petrified. And the riddle contest is also used deep inside the mountain, in the legendary riddle contest between Gollum and Bilbo. 

A number of other stories recount that the dwarves live in boulders or in the mountains. In Norse mythology, the dwarves live in mines and underground halls known as Nidavellir. This draws references to the city in the Lonely Mountain and the ancient capital in the Mines of Moria, described in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

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