Gandalf was a Dwarf (and other things you didn’t know about Norse Mythology)
Reading the Poetic and Prose Edda can be a very interesting experience if you have previous experience with Lord of the Rings. We all know, of course, about Wagner’s “Rings of the Nebulung” cycle, and how Tolkien vehemently denied any connection to the opera, despite the similarities of the rings. But connections between the world’s favorite fantasy epic and Scandinavia’s oldest written mythology is much harder to deny. Most of the characters from the Hobbit appear in both versions of the Edda–including some character who were not, originally, dwarves.
Next after this, the gods enthroned themselves in their seats and held judgment, and called to mind whence the dwarves had quickened in the mould and underneath in the earth, even as do maggots in flesh. The dwarves had first received shape and life in the flesh of Ymir, and were then maggots; but by decree of the gods had become conscious with the intelligence of men, and had human shape. And nevertheless they dwell in the earth and in stones.
–Snori Snurlson’s Prose Edda
Dwarves and elves both were originally maggots in the flesh of Ymir (the giant who was killed to form the earth) but since they had achieved intelligence the gods allowed them to live. They were creatures of the dark, however, and would turn to stone upon site of the sun. The Sibyl then proceeds to list their names, and their names are then translated by Ursula Dronke into the common tongue. Here are some maggot-dwarves from the Poetic Edda that you may recognize from Tolkien’s great saga.
Some other names that might be of interest…
While the names themselves sound foreign and glorious when left in their original Old Norse, when translated they are eerily reminiscent of the names traditionally given to the characters of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Which dwarves do we actually care about in Norse Mythology, though? That would be the songs of Ivaldi, who were commissioned by Loki to make three gifts for the Aesir. They consisted of golden hair for Sif, Skidbladner: a magical ship that could fold as small as a pocket handkerchief and would never want for a good wind, and Gungnir, a spear that would never miss it’s target.
Brokk and Sindri overheard Loki boasting about the good work done by the sons of Ivaldi, and wagered their heads against Loki’s that they could make three finer. They fashioned Gullenbusti, a golden board that could run very fast, Draupnir (a golden arm-band that would magically produce eight more armbands just like it every seventh night) and Mjiolnir, who needs no introduction.
Also of note are Alfrigg and Dvalin, Berling and Grerr who forged the beautiful necklace Bringamen. Freya purchased the necklace from them at great price and Loki proceeded to use it as an opportunity to make mischief at every turn.
Not to forget Nordi, Sudri, Austri and Vestri, (North, South, East, and West) who are the Norse version of Atlast, holding up the sky.
There’s also Fialar and Galar who represent the psychotic spectrum of dwarf kind, starting with one murder and moving onto things even giants would be appalled at.