Monday, August 29, 2011
Dwarves are Dudes
I remember the days before Betamax and cable TV. We had these arcane devices called projectors and we put quaint objects called reels on them when we wanted to watch something like, say, Disney's Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs. Luckily, my family had a copy, so this childhood favorite was available to make an impression on my young mind in the years before it was released for video players: between theatrical re-releases (no, I wasn't around in 1937, thank you very much) and televised broadcasts, I was not left dwarfless. The most important lesson this animated classic taught me was simple. DWARVES ARE DUDES. However much fairy tale purists may deplore Disney's adaptations from the traditional source material, the film found a way to represent faithfully certain folklore aspects of the dwarfs of the Märchen that go back at least as far as Norse mythology -- above all, that they are uniformly male. Iconic dwarves of today fit this mold just as well as Grumpy does. (See Pathfinder's Harsk, below.)
This has so impressed my imagination, that I find mythopoesis that turns dwarves (yes, I still prefer Tolkien's spelling for them) into just another race of two sexes, with a mundane biology like our own, uncongenial. Dwarves are male just like some other beings (magical? fey?) are female: sirens, mermaids, gorgons, harpies, dryads, nymphs, and so on. This observation suggests a natural role for dwarves in a fantasy ecology as the male progenitors of these various female races. Males born of such unions would be dwarves, females born of these unions would be the same as their mothers. I like this more than bearded females that only dwarf males can tell are female (Tolkien) and dwarves growing out of stone (C. S. Lewis), and it opens up further avenues of world-building and story-telling, in which the relations between dwarves and their mates play out.
That's all for today, fellow Ramblers. Thanks for joining me for another Mythopoiec Monday.