J. R. R. Tolkien’s Dwarves Were Inspired From Norse Mythology

The extraordinary and fantastic world of ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy have fascinated millions of readers since the publication of these critically acclaimed fantasy novels. The author, J.R.R. Tolkien, himself a scholar of Germanic history and mythology, drew many parallels and made significant references with respect to the Norse mythology and the Scandinavian folklore. So it is that the names for most of the dwarves from both ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy actually stem from the Norse mythology.

The most reputed dwarves from Tolkien’s legendarium are namely the following ones: Balin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dain, Dori, Dwalin, Fili, Gloin, Kili, Nain, Nar, Nori, Oin, Ori, and, last but not least, Thorin (also known by his nickname ‘Oakenshield’).

Artist’s impression of two dwarves. Image source: www.pixabay.com

The literary influence which Tolkien most likely had at the time when he wrote these high fantasy novels was Snorri Sturluson’s ‘Prose Edda’ (or ‘Younger Edda’, as it is also known), a 13th century Icelandic manuscript. The ‘Dwarvish’ names for Tolkien’s fantastic characters of this sort can be found under almost identical form in chapter 14 of Gylfaginning (roughly translated as ‘The Empowerment of Gylfi’ in English) which is the first part of the Prose Edda. Furthermore, even Gandalf’s name was taken from this very same passage.

A drawing of an armed dwarf. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

It must be mentioned that this particular part of the chronicle revolves tremendously around the Norse mythology and cosmology, from the creation of the universe to the emergence of the Norse gods. It comprises around 20,000 words and equally mentions mythological creatures ranging from dwarves to trolls.

Another precious source of origin for the dwarves’ names can be found in ‘Völuspá’, an Old Norse poem preserved in the ‘Poetic Edda’ (or ‘Elder Edda’, as it is also known). Below is the translated fragment recording the names of the dwarves from the stanzas of the Dvergatal of the ‘Völuspá’:

’10. There was Motsognir | the mightiest made
Of all the dwarfs, | and Durin next;
Many a likeness | of men they made,
The dwarfs in the earth, | as Durin said.

11. Nyi and Nithi, | Northri and Suthri,
Austri and Vestri, | Althjof, Dvalin,
Nar and Nain, | Niping, Dain,
Bifur, Bofur, | Bombur, Nori,
An and Onar, | Ai, Mjothvitnir.

12. Vigg and Gandalf | Vindalf, Thrain,
Thekk and Thorin, | Thror, Vit and Lit,
Nyr and Nyrath,– | now have I told–
Regin and Rathsvith– | the list aright.

13. Fili, Kili, | Fundin, Nali,
Hepti, Vili, | Hannar, Sviur,
(Billing, Bruni, | Bildr and Buri,)
Frar, Hornbori, | Fræg and Loni,
Aurvang, Jari, | Eikinskjaldi.

14. The race of the dwarfs | in Dvalin’s throng
Down to Lofar | the list must I tell;
The rocks they left, | and through wet lands
They sought a home | in the fields of sand.

15. There were Draupnir | and Dolgthrasir,
Hor, Haugspori, | Hlevang, Gloin,
Dori, Ori, | Duf, Andvari,
Skirfir, Virfir, | Skafith, Ai.

16. Alf and Yngvi, | Eikinskjaldi,
Fjalar and Frosti, | Finn and Ginnar;
So for all time | shall the tale be known,
The list of all | the forbears of Lofar.’

Documentation sources and external links:

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1 Response to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Dwarves Were Inspired From Norse Mythology

  1. Hampus Lybeck says:

    Note also that Eikinskjaldi (Oakenshield) is mentioned twice in the dvergatal

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