Under the Spotlight: Dwarves, and why they are the greatest fictional race ever conceived
They’re uncouth, unabashed, yet astoundingly reliable, tough, and dutiful; Dwarves may just be the greatest fictional race ever to have been created thus far. I love Dwarves so much, they’re hilarious, have a thirst for all things food, drink, and battle, and are have captured the imaginations of many people all around the globe. This article will explore what exactly makes the Dwarven race so captivating, so phenomenal (other than their magnificent beards), and will examine the various media portrayals of these mountain dwelling wonders.
First found in Germanic folklore, Dwarves were short, ugly beings with a passion for all things smithing and mining, that lived deep inside the mountains of the Earth. As you can tell, modern depictions have deviated a lot from this. Oh wait, no they haven’t. It’s fairly obvious from that description that these creatures were the inspiration for our modern idea of what a Dwarf actually is, an idea that has be utilised in so many of the greatest fantasy tales in our history, such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by the father of modern fantasy – J.R.R. Tolkien, both of which I’m sure you are familiar with. If not, please go read them, it would be well worth your time. Speaking purely for myself, I find Dwarves to be one of the most fascinating and enjoyable of races in any media, and whenever I get the opportunity to play as a Dwarf in a game, I’m all for it. Yes, okay, I know, Elves are good, Tieflings are cool, and Hobbits / Halflings are outstanding (honestly, I share more characteristics with a Hobbit than I do a Dwarf), but there’s just something about Dwarves that is just so endearing to me.
First off, you only have to look at a Dwarf to understand why I think they’re so amazing. I mean, take another glance at the featured image for this article. How fantastic does he look? Absolutely amazing, that’s your answer right there. Just as their folklore counterparts, Dwarves in modern fantasy are squat, rough looking little buggers that love to pass the time mining away in the depths of their mountain homes as they hunt for precious ores, jewels, and shiny things, or smithing those precious ores, jewels, and shiny things into valuable artefacts to sell on to the various other races of their world. As you would expect from a race like the Dwarves, their lives are not all about work, even if they do get a great deal of joy out of it, no, no – they must also find alternate forms of enjoyment. A Dwarf can find pleasure in many ways that have now become synonymous with the race, three of which are alcohol, food, and battle. Yes, Dwarves are equally at home on the battlefield as they are in their halls that flow with gems and alcohol. If you drink with a Dwarf you’re going to have a memorable time, and if you ever want to survive a bloody clash, you need a Dwarf fighting by your side. I’m fairly certain they’re mostly drunk out of their minds during a fight anyway. One need only glance at their range of weaponry to understand just how formidable a Dwarf really is: Warhammers, swords, battleaxes, Dwarves have mastered them all. Combining this weaponry with their expertly crafted armour, you would need balls of steel to face off against a blood thirsty Dwarf. One Dwarf is worth a good number of we mere humans when it comes to fighting.
Of course, it isn’t all about beer, battle, and banquets – Dwarves take pride in their legendary sense of architecture, having created some of the most breathtaking kingdoms imaginable. They are often portrayed as having a very geometrical sense of style in both architecture and clothing, I think it’s fairly safe to say that Dwarven design is heavily inspired by the art-deco movement of the 1920s. If you’re looking to design Dwarven architecture or battle armour, I would highly recommend researching the art-deco movement for yourselves. I’m sure you’ll find many inspiring designs in no time at all. To get a sense of the design style, take a look at this concept art for King Thrór from the first Hobbit movie:
As you have probably worked out by now, I will be mentioning Tolkien and the Dwarves of Middle-Earth quite often throughout this article; they are, after all, the origin of my fascination. I remember being so in love with the imagery that formed in my mind while I first read through the chapters of The Lord of the Rings regarding Moria, Dimrill Dale and Mirrormere. Mirrormere was beautiful; a sacred place to the Dwarves of Middle-Earth where Durin the Deathless peered into the water and saw a crown of stars above his head. Taking this as a sign, he founded the city of Kazad-dûm – a city that would one day fall into darkness and become known as Moria. The lack of Mirrormere in the film adaption of The Fellowship of the Ring was one of the greatest losses for me in regards to that film, but what can you do, eh? There’s only so much you can include in a movie. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of The Lord of the Rings, I recall a number of comments I read online a good few years ago about how the film adaption of Gimli was much more of a comic-relief character than his book counterpart; and while I can understand their frustration, I don’t really think it was that big of an issue. Film-Gimli was the comic-relief, sure, but that did nothing to diminish his role, to lessen the impact of the character on the story. To be fair, you do need a character to make inappropriate comments every so often just to keep the mood light, and what better character to do so than a gruff, grumpy dwarf? Of course, the comic-relief can go completely in the opposite direction as well, as is the case with Bombur in Peter Jackson’ The Hobbit, a character who was essentially a walking fat joke; Bombur didn’t really have the comedic qualities that Gimli possessed, and probably won’t be reminisced about as fondly, whereas Gimli is perhaps the greatest Dwarf ever to be portrayed in a live action film.
That actually leads us nicely onto the next topic – The Hobbit. Since the initial release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, this trilogy of films have gone on to become incredibly divisive amongst Tolkien fans, but I would be remiss if I failed to go into them in more detail, purely because of how prominently Dwarves are featured. Now, I have to say that I actually enjoyed the three films for the most part. Aye, I agree, they were not great, they were packed full of needless scenes, plotholes, and errors, and don’t even get me started on those fuckin’ Wilhelm Screams (THRAIN! A WILHELM SCREAM! Frig sake), but hey, there were production issues from day one, it’s a children’s book, blah, blah, blah, so I have nothing major against them. Honestly, any time I can spend in Middle-Earth is all gravy to me. But if we could just put aside some of the shite that these films threw at us (physics defying Legolas, and Alfred for example), I think we can agree that some truly beautiful things came out of the Hobbit movies such as the outstanding architecture of Erebor. Oh man, Erebor! It’s simply marvellous, and let’s not forget the song that gave each of us a chill when we first saw the trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – “Far Over The Misty Mountains (Cold)”. That track was woefully short in the movie, but luckily for people like me who love the song, there are some amazingly talented fans out there that are willing to put some work into creating a full rendition of the song and more; one version of which you can check out here.
Say what you will about The Hobbit movies but surely you cannot fault the portrayal of the Dwarves. Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Balin, Dwalin, Fíli, Kíli, Óin, Glóin, Ori, Nori, Dori, and of course, Thorin; each one of the Company of Thorin came with their own unique personality and backstory. That’s not forgetting Dáin, Thráin, and Thrór, three characters that also had their own healthy share of screen-time and characterisation, and equally fabulous designs. Admit it, even if you dislike this film, you can at least agree that the design of the Dwarves were great, and that the cast gave a genuinely enjoyable performance. I dare you to watch The Hobbit and not love at least one of the thirteen Dwarves. Thinking back, there was a number of people lamenting the lack of screen time for certain Dwarves (such as Bombur) in the first Hobbit movie, but have a read of the book, some Dwarves barely even get a mention throughout the entire story. Overall, I think the movies did a much better job at portraying the full company of Dwarves than the book did. Take Bifur for example – If I remember correctly he had one line in the book (if that), so I thought it was brilliant that the character had an axe embedded in his head which caused him to lose the ability to speak Westron (Middle-Earth’s English), perhaps in reference to his lack of dialogue in the book.
Okay, I think I’ve covered Tolkien’s Dwarves quite enough for now. Let’s talk about one of the world’s most famous MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) – World of Warcraft (WoW). I am a huge fan of this world having spent so much time travelling throughout the various locations of Azeroth and meeting a wide range of people from all walks of life as a simple Dwarven Warrior. I am happy to just sit at my computer while playing as my Dwarf completing quests, exploring, fighting, whatever I feel like doing. At the moment, my main Dwarf looks fuckin’ badass, even if I do say so myself. Even before I purchased the game I knew exactly which race I would be selecting; no others entered my mind, though once I got a look at some of the Horde options there was a slight temptation to go for an Orc. To be perfectly honest, on the side of the Alliance, there aren’t any races that appeal much to me other than the Dwarf, and if it wasn’t for the fact that Dwarves are an Alliance only race, I would side with the Horde so fast. Seriously, the day Blizzard introduces a playable Dwarf for the Horde, I’m there, there’s no question about it. I would love for Blizzard to work on an expansion that focused entirely on Dwarves. I would buy that shit in an instant! I would practically spend the majority of my free time working my way through that expansion.
Following the usual tropes for this particular race, the Dwarves of Azeroth are often found dwelling within various mountain homes around the country and share a love of all things mining and smithing, though as WoW allows players to select one class of character, there are innumerable Dwarf Shamans, Paladins, Rogues, Priests, etc… walking around, so many of the tropes don’t necessarily apply to each player controlled Dwarf. The capital city of IronForge is remarkably impressive; it is a place that I could happily hang around in for hours on end, and may have already done so. I can think back to when a friend of mine first convinced me to play the game and I reached IronForge, I instantly fell in love with the place. A gigantic Dwarven capital city. Awesome. You can be sure that I explored every inch of that place! Let me tell you, Warcraft really eats up your life; I mean, I get to go around pretending to be a Dwarf, c’mon! What am I going to do? Not play as a Dwarf, and actually do something productive with my life? Pffh, yeah right!
While Warcraft has become known a stereotypically ‘geeky’ pastime over the past decade, there is one game out there that was once considered the epitome of ‘geekdom’. Yes, for over forty years now Dungeons & Dragons has entertained many geeks and nerds all around the world. There is no possible way for me to write about Dwarves without mentioning D&D. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, D&D allows a person to take up the persona of a myriad of different fantasy races and act out exactly how they feel their character should be. Myself, I have only played Dungeons & Dragons twice in my life, but I loved it, and yes, unsurprisingly, I chose to be a Dwarf both times. Why would I ever be an Orc, a Human, an Elf when I could be a Dwarf? There’s no choice in the matter. Being a Dwarf in D&D is incredibly good fun as you act out a character that belongs to a race that is well known for being indelicate, gruff, and as mentioned previously, the comic relief (if it suits you). It’s an excellent form of escapism if you have a good group of friends to play with. The last time I played D&D I was a terrible Dwarf. I was remarkably bad at using my warhammer. I must’ve been a drunk Dwarf or something; I can recollect one particular moment during a battle against a horde of Goblins when I actually managed to embed my warhammer in a tree while attempting to strike at one of the Goblin attackers. What a twat I am. But I loved it, it was hugely entertaining, and I think that anybody that enjoys the fantasy genre should give D&D a go at least once.
These days, there are a huge number of video and board games out there that feature Dwarven characters: the Witcher trilogy, Dungeon Keeper, and Warhammer 40k just to name a few. Unfortunately, I have very little knowledge regarding the Warhammer universe, but a good number of my friends actually collect the various models that are available and play the games that are available on Steam. For me, it’s just something that I’ve never gotten around to playing at all; but having said that, thanks to these friends of mine, I am well aware of the Dwarves from the Warhammer 40k universe and they look metal as fuck. I love the design for these Dwarves. Massive kudos to the designers, you have done a terrific job. Something else a friend introduced me to was a game called Dwarf Fortress; it’s essentially a kingdom building and management simulation game. At first I found it very difficult to get into, as I am sure many others have, mainly due to the game’s use of text symbols in place of graphical assets; but thanks to a number of mods, I found a pleasing aesthetic to use for the game which I still have to this day. Just like Warcraft, I’ve spent so many hours on this game, it’s unreal. Sadly for me, I don’t believe I have ever managed to create a truly astounding kingdom so far, but I’m sure I’ll manage it some day. As long as my Dwarves are happy, right?
Anyway, my dear fellow Dwarf fanboys and fangirls, I think it may be time to start wrapping up this article or else risk entering essay territory. I could happily talk about all things Dwarven for hours, so if you’d like to discuss this fine race feel free to leave a comment below, or hey, if you have a story about a time when you have played as a Dwarf in a game, tell me about that as well. Before I sign off, I shall leave you with a wonderful little song by the good people over at YOGSCAST. I give you “Diggy Diggy Hole”.
Image Credits: New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures, Blizzard Entertainment.