#FolkloreThursday, Duergar, Dvergatal, Dwarfs, Dwerge, Faerie, Faeries, folklore, folklore creatures, JRR Tolkien, Lucy Cooper, Norse Mythology, preview of work, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, short story, The Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog, Theresa Bane, Thomas Keightley, Völuspá, Wattpad, writing
I was skimming through a book I bought a while back, looking for monsters to use in a story when I came across the Duergar.
It just shows that there are incredible creatures in folklore if you just look…
“Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898) describes Duergar thus:
Dwarfs who dwell in rocks and hills; noted for their strength, magical powers and skill in metallurgy. They are the personification of the subterranean powers of nature. According to the Gotho-German myth, the Duergar were first maggots in Ymir’s flesh, but afterwards assumed the likeness of men. The first Duergar was Modsogner, the next Dyrin.
A tale of the malicious Duergar of the Simonside Hills of Northumberland is related in F. Grice’s Folk-tales of the North Country (1944).”
– More can be read in The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper.
Duergar may also refer to:
- Duergar (Dungeons & Dragons), an evil race of dwarves in Dungeons & Dragons
- Duergar, small loathsome creatures that serve Dracula in Van Helsing (film)
The Simonside Dwarfs, also known as Brownmen, Bogles and Duergar, are a race of ugly dwarfs, particularly associated with the Simonside Hills of Northumberland, in northern England. Their leader was said to be known as Roarie.
In F. Grice’s telling of the traditional story The Duergar in Folk Tales of the North Country (1944), one of them is described as being short, wearing a lambskin coat, moleskin trousers and shoes, and a hat made of moss stuck with a feather.
The legendary dwarfs of Simonside were mentioned in the local newspaper, the Morpeth Gazette, in 1889, and in Tyndale’s Legends and Folklore of Northumbria, 1930. They delighted in leading travellers astray, especially after dark, often carrying lighted torches to lead them into bogs, rather like a Will-o’-the-wisp. The menacing creatures would often disappear at dawn.
The word duergar is likely to be derived from the Old Norse word for dwarf or dwarfs (dvergar), but it may also come from the dialectal words for “dwarf” on the Anglo-Scottish border which include dorch, dwerch, duerch, Duergh and Duerwe amongst others with the added Norse -ar plural. These Border words for “dwarf”, like the Standard English form, all derive from the Old English dweorh or dweorg via the Middle English dwerg.
Interestingly enough, “dwerg” is also the word for “dwarf” in Afrikaans.
More can be read in Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane.
By ek fur jőrth nethan, A ek, undir stein, stath. Alvis–Mal.
(I dwell the earth beneath, I possess, under the stone, my seat.)
THESE diminutive beings, dwelling in rocks and hills, and distinguished for their skill in metallurgy, seem to be peculiar to the Gotho-German mythology [a] Perhaps the most probable account of them is, that they are personifications of the subterraneous powers of nature; for it may be again observed, that all the parts of every ancient mythology are but personified powers, attributes, and moral qualities. The Edda thus describes their origin:-
“Then the gods sat on their seats, and held a council, and called to mind how the Duergar had become animated in the clay below in the earth, like maggots in flesh. The Duergar had been first created, and had taken life in Ymir’s flesh, and were maggots in it, and by the will of the gods ‘they became partakers of human knowledge, and had the likeness of men, and yet they abode in the ground and in stones. Modsogner was the first of them, and then Dyrin.”
The Duergar are described as being of low stature, with short legs and long arms, reaching almost down to the ground when they stand erect. They are skilful and expert workmen in gold, silver, iron, and the other metals. They form many wonderful and extraordinary things for the Aeser, and for mortal heroes, and the arms and armour that come from their forges are not to be paralleled. Yet the gift must be spontaneously bestowed, for misfortune attends those extorted from them by violence.
In illustration of their character we bring forward the following narratives from the Edda and Sagas. The homely garb in which they are habited, will not, it is hoped, be displeasing to readers of taste. We give as exact & copy as we are able of the originals in all their rudeness. The tales are old, their date unknown, and they therefore demand respect. Yet it is difficult to suppress a smile at finding such familiar, nay almost vulgar terms applied to the great supernal powers of nature, as occur in the following tale from the Edda.
More can be read on http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/tfm/tfm012.htm
In Germanic mythology, a dwarf is a small human-shaped being that dwells in mountains and in the earth, and is variously associated with wisdom, smithing, mining, and crafting. Dwarfs are often also described as short and ugly, although some scholars have questioned whether this is a later development stemming from comical portrayals of the beings. The concept of the dwarf has had influence in modern popular culture and appears in a variety of media.
More can be read in The Fairy Mythology (1828) by Thomas Keightley.
Dwarves, or Dvergar as they were called in Old Norse, were one of Æsir’s many creations – entities deriving from rocks and earth, acknowledged for their craft, metalwork, wisdom but also greed. According to “Völuspá”, dwarves originated from three primary tribes, led by Mótsognir – their first ruler, secondly by Durinn and finally by Dvalinn – the discoverer of rune writing. And while the character of Dwalin plays a minor role in “The Hobbit”, Durin the Deathless remains one of the most important dwarven heroes in Tolkien’s mythology, being the eldest of the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves and the founder of the legendary kingdom of Khazad-dûm.
Even though the word Dvergar is etymologically related to Dwarves, the early Norse concept of Dvergar was far different from the concept of dwarves in other cultures. According to some scholars the ancient Norse originally described the Dvergar as human-sized, but the spread of Christianity led to diminishing both their mythic and religious role as well as their stature. Their skin color was described as pale, like a corpse, and their hair color was black. The Dvergar were often called black – a term relating to their hair, beard and eyes, granting them another name – Svartálfar – meaning Black Elves.
Völuspá (The Prophecy of the Seeress) is the first and best known poem in the Poetic Edda. Basically, it tells the story of how the world was created and how it will end. It’s one of the most important primary sources for the study of Norse Mythology.
You can read it (with English translation and notes) at either
The most important part of the Völuspá (at least for this post) is the Dvergatal (Catalogue of Dwarves). Fans of JRR Tolkien will recognise the names of prominent dwarves from his work in stanzas 10-16 of the Völuspá known as the Dvergatal.
Here’s a screenshot of the Dvergatal in Runes, Old Norse and English:
The rest of the Dvergatal (Runes and all) can be read at http://www.jrrvf.com/~glaemscrafu/english/dvergatal.html
Duergar pop culture
In the Prose Edda, the dwarfs are equated with the svartálfar and dökkálfar (“dark elves”). In J. R. R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings, the dwarves (Tolkien’s spelling) and the Elves of Darkness or Moriquendi are distinct. They are also present in C.S Lewis’s The Chronicles Of Narnia, in both the books and the film adaptions.
Warriors of Myth
The Duergar is one of a race of creatures with origins in Norse mythology, legend and folklore
Duergar, also known as gray dwarves, were a subterranean race. They were close kin to dwarves, but with a diabolic taint to their blood. They carved out an existence in the Underdark, often near volcanoes. Their kinship to surface dwarves could be compared to that of the drow to surface elves.
Duergar were at heart a grim and bitter race, pessimistic of their future and deeply cynical regarding the motives of others. In a dark inversion of the strong family bonds typical of their dwarven kin, duergar viewed their kin and clan as adversaries set on holding them back, an expectation that became a self-fulfilling prophecy since every duergar came to believe this from early childhood. As a result, duergar were a dark and cruel race, who showed no mercy to their foes and who took great pleasure in inflicting pain on others, a welcome relief from what they believed was a meaningless life ended with betrayal.
Dungeons & Dragons
Duergar typically make their homes in the Underdark, a vast web of interconnecting tunnels and caverns.
Short and strongly built, duergar stand about 4½ feet tall and weigh roughly 200 pounds. Their skin is usually gray to sooty black. All duergar have fiery amber eyes. An individual might alternatively have red hair as well. Duergar usually dress in drab clothing that matches the color of stone.
In 4th edition, Duergar beards and hair conceal long, stiff spines that carry a burning venom.
A duergar is relatively similar in appearance to a dwarf, except for the lack of hair on its scalp and its ashen-gray skin. Being creatures native to a lightless realm, their darkvision is superior to that of their surface-dwelling brethren, allowing them to see twice as far as dwarves. They have maintained the dwarven resistance to magic, but are also immune to poison and paralytic attacks. Due to their supernatural origins (see History), duergar have the ability to turn invisible and enlarge themselves once every day.
Using all of this, I created my own version of the Duergar for my stories.
Duergar [Origin of Fae Page]
“Duergar” is interchangeable with “Dwarves” (not Dwarfs), depending who in the Faerie realm you are talking to. For most, Duergar means that huge Dwarves have arrived, ready to conquer.
Though not part of either the Seelie or Unseelie Courts, they are feared nonetheless by most Fae.
Duergar are as tall as short humans. They have rough beards, big muscles, sturdy bodies, and hands that can crush skulls and create intricate metal designs in equal measure. Depending on from where they hail, Duergar have skin tones ranging from snowy white to ebony brown.
Most Duergar generally keep to themselves, playing with gems and metal yielded by the earth, though there are those who have excessive greed. It had led them to dig extremely deep into the earth, nearly to the dungeon Tartarus where evil immortal creatures are kept prisoner.
Some Duergar have gone to work for Dagda in the Underworld. Here they have unlimited access to the treasures the earth holds. They work as bodyguards and general servants to Dagda.
All Duergar are extremely gifted where it comes to working with gems and metal. The objects they create thereof is renowned. They’re also known for their strength and magical powers.
Those who prefer to conquer (give in to their greed), do not have qualms about augmenting their powers with dark objects. They are the worst of their race. Those who cross the Dark King through their greed (by, say almost opening Tartarus), become part of the Unseen Unseelie and lose all they had as Duergar (their culture, homes, personality. Etc.) – it’s a fate worse than death.
The Duergar is but one of several creatures I used in a gothic fantasy story I entered into a #creaturefeature competition on Wattpad early August.
“A large man with thick muscles and a grisly black beard entered the room.
‘Apologies, Milord. But you are needed.’
Dagda inclined his head and the man left.”
“This time it was the smell of iron that dragged her back to consciousness.
She was in the arms of the twin of the man who’d interrupted her and Dagda earlier. He smelled of metal.
At least it’s not blood, she thought ruefully.
‘Duergar aren’t delivery boys,’ she could hear him grumble as he carried her back to the room she’d fled.”
– Wishmaster, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
They might be nice enough in Wishmaster, but in Saphira and the Dwarves in her Mountains they are nasty buggers.
“Which was probably a good sign: the closer she got to the horn the dwarves had stolen from the unicorn, the worse her headache got.
Suddenly a huge shadow appeared in front of them in the tunnel.
The big, sturdy dwarf’s beard hang to his middle. He glared at Saphira and Cian. A group of his cronies circled them.
‘I know you: you are the Faery Dog without a pack.’
All the dwarves laughed at her in slow motion. With her headache their mocking laughter was worse than it probably was.
‘Talk about shaking… I’m shaking from laughing so hard!’
They laughed ever harder.”
– Saphira and the Dwarves in her Mountains, The Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog, Ronel Janse van Vuuren
I hope you enjoy reading these tales. Comments can be left here or on Wattpad – I always appreciate feedback. I haven’t heard back yet about the competition I’d entered it into, but I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I did writing it. Have you heard of the Duergar before? Do you like gothic fantasy?
Sign up for my newsletter and receive a free ebook. I won’t share your information and I’ll only email you once a month with updates on new releases, special offers, and a bit of news.