Nine Dwarves of Story and Song

More or less. Well actually, more, as when Gandalf went to visit Beorn with “a friend or two…” In historical order, as with the list of varyingly great wizards of literature.

1) Oldest of all are the seven companions of Snow White, committed to paper in the early nineteenth century. I shall not give their names, mostly because they were given no names in the tales set down by the Brothers Grimm. And also because they have been given far too many names in the many years since – see here if you don’t believe me. They seem to have been the origin of the literary convention that dwarves are miners: they “lived among the mountains, and dug and searched for gold.”

Dwarf by BrokenMachine86
2) Next up are that very band whom Gandalf introduced to Beorn in such drawn-out fashion. Thorin Oakenshield and his twelve companions: Dori, Nori, Ori, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur. They made their literary debut in 1937 in Tolkien’s The Hobbit – which next year will celebrate eighty consecutive years in print. Like their predecessors, they are keen on mining and gold. This is a point of contention with dragons, since they also like gold, and no one wants to share.

3) Trumpkin! Possibly you were expecting a certain someone from The Hobbit‘s famous sequel, but no. Tolkien’s friend Professor Lewis published Prince Caspian in 1951, thus introducing the world to this practical-minded, rather sceptical dwarf who doesn’t believe in magical talking lions and all that sort of thing – at least until he meets one. After helping Caspian claim his rightful throne, he later finds himself the de facto ruler of Narnia as Lord Regent when Caspian sails away on the Dawn Treader.

Gimli son of Gloin by Perrie Nicholas Smith
4) And now, the dwarf you’ve all been waiting for – for the last paragraph at least – Gimli son of the aforementioned Gloin. Notable as the only dwarf in the celebrated Fellowship of the Ring (in the book of that name, published 1954), he is very good with an axe. Possibly the dwarf-axe link descends from the use of pickaxes in mining; I’m not sure. Frankly, I wouldn’t want Gimli coming at me with any kind of axe, picky or otherwise, but he’s a great person to have at your back in a fight. He has one of my favourite lines from Tolkien’s whole oeuvre: “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” Gimli doesn’t.

Gimli is also possibly the first dwarf to fall in love with an elf, since a purist would not count the fan-fictionesque flirtation of the lately inserted Tauriel with the aforementioned Kili. Gimli’s chivalrous devotion to the Lady Galadriel is made of entirely different stuff, and I must say I prefer it.

Aragonese dwarf by Lopez-y-Portana
5) Hwel the playwright is a Discworld dwarf, and a rather unusual one: he doesn’t like being underground. This makes a career in mining problematic, and he instead becomes a playwright attached to Vitoller’s theatrical company. Imagine a rather smaller version of Shakespeare who has all the ideas of time and space trying to squeeze into his skull at once, and you have a fair idea of Hwel as he appears in Wyrd Sisters (1988). He knows what it’s like to be unable to get what’s into your head onto the page, and that gives me a bit of fellow-feeling for him.

6) Also in 1988 is the only non-literary dwarf on the list, Willow Ufgood, who has the distinction of being in a story named after him, and not after someone bigger, as is the usual fate of dwarves in fiction. He is the main character of the film Willow, the story for which was written by  George Lucas. He is also a candidate for the list of wizards, although his magical efforts are not always successful. (Turning a troll into a gigantic two-headed fire-breathing monster is not recommended for the beginner.) As with so many dwarves on screen, he is played by Warwick Davis.

Coppers
7) Cheery Littlebottom is the first openly female dwarf in the Discworld. (That’s her on the right, with the beard.) She was introduced in Feet of Clay (1996) and has since been promoted to the rank of Sergeant in the City Watch. She likes makeup and sequins and wears dresses – off duty, of course. She has also welded heels onto her uniform boots and has been known to attend functions with a little evening axe in a clutch purse. She is, after all, a dwarf.

8) Ruskin introduces himself in Diana Wynne Jones’ Year of the Griffin (2000) as “Dwarf, artisan tribe, from Central Peaks fastness, come by the virtual manumission of apostolic strength to train on behalf of the lower orders.” By which he means that he has run away from the Central Peaks mines in which his class is enslaved, in order to get wizarding training (alongside Elda the titular griffin, daughter of Derk) so that he can help his comrades overthrow the status quo under which they are being oppressed. He is, in fact, a revolutionary. And while he can trade long words with the best of them, he is by no means averse to letting a bit of the hot air out of the speech of those who oppose him.

Dwarf form Svaneti (A)
9) Malin is, like Woodward, one of my own imagining, who has yet to see the light of publication. He likes to think of himself as a pessimist, but his actions give him the lie. He goes on fighting for his people’s freedom long after they themselves have given up, given in, and ostracized him as a troublemaker. Creative, chaotic and proud to be a thorn in the side of the powers that be, he first appears on the scene in a prison cell – a repeat engagement after his earlier escape.

There you have it – nine (or possibly twenty-seven) of my favourite literary dwarves. Feel free to add yours to the list!

Look Both Ways Before You Cross

Looking forward to the new year, but also looking back over the year just passed. Coincidentally, it has been exactly a year since I started this blog.

During that time I have written all of eighty-eight posts (although about 25 are simple quote-and-picture posts). Over the course of the year I have gone through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, reviewed various books on writing, and asked for advice on a myriad of subjects (moving house, staying sane…) which I mostly didn’t get.

I also set goals for myself (see here and here) which I mostly failed to meet, in that I did not finish my WIP by December 31st. But I did make some strides in taking myself more seriously as a writer and doing a bit of would-like-to-be-professional development. As with so many things, Work In Progress.

Among the questions which I have mulled over during the year are whether to keep using my nom de plume (my parents, by some oversight, failed to name me Sinistra at birth) and what precisely it is I am trying to achieve here.


This blog was originally intended as a form of accountability against procrastination, but since no-one is actually holding me accountable but me anyway, that purpose has taken a bit of a back seat.
Procrastination is apparently one of the mysteries of the human condition, as articulated by Paul back in the 50s AD: “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.” (Romans 7:15, New Living Translation).

Motivation is perhaps key, but I struggle to find a motivation strong enough to overcome tiredness and self-doubt. Duty doesn’t cut it (unlike Frederic, I am not the Slave of Duty); ambition is by no means my strong suit – perhaps I just need to develop more character. Or a means of reminding myself of what it is I stand to lose.

In any case, over the coming year I hope to look more at subjects of interest to more than myself – that is to say, less of the writing, and more of the whatever-I-happen-to-be-obsessed-with-at-the-moment – steampunk, knitting, millinery, sustainability, odd bits of history, or any combination of the above.

Looking back, my most popular post by far (inasmuch as I can tell, since the majority of views are recorded as “homepage/archive”) is Great Wizards of Literature. I blush a little every time I see another hit on it, as it was originally titled Favourite Wizards of Literature, only some were more great than favourite. It wasn’t until after I had clicked ‘publish’ that I realised I had listed one of my own creations as a Great Wizard of Literature.

He isn’t great, really, but he’s doing his best. (If he’s very lucky, he may one day be published.) An excellent example of how not to blow your own trumpet.

You’re doing it wrong.

The gong for Most Under-Appreciated Post (from my point of view, anyway) goes to Mid-Week Quote: Reading, for the play on word(s) if nothing else.

On an entirely unrelated tangent, if your New Year’s Resolution includes being more generous, giving to charity, doing something good for someone else or even (aim high!) saving someone’s life, consider this from Throwim Way Leg, one of the blogs I follow.
Getting an ultrasound machine really will make a life-or-death difference to people in Papua New Guinea. Imagine if your local hospital had no ultrasound, no x-ray, no lab for tests… you get the idea.
And do please feel free to pass the link on to anyone you think might be interested.

Thanking you all for your company in 2013, and looking forward to your company in 2014, I remain,
Sinistra Inksteyne hand250

Great* Wizards of Literature

This week, I thought I’d make you a list of great wizards in literature.

Smoke 1

You’re a list of great wizards in literature!

More seriously (but still not completely), and in approximate order of ancientry:

1) Merlin

First appearance in (written) literature: 1136, i.e. Before English, courtesy of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who turned him from Welsh into Latin. Best known for his connection with King Arthur.

My favourite incarnation is in T.H. White‘s The Sword in the Stone (1938). Enchanted tea-things that wash up after themselves? That’s my kind of wizard. “Let’s dunk the teapot!” Also sound on tiggies.

2) Gandalf

First revealed to the reading public in 1937, in Tolkein’s The Hobbit.
The very epitome of the wise elder, with his robes, his shabby hat, his staff, and his contributions in the area of entertaining explosions.

Fireworks

3) Tim the Enchanter

“I – am an enchanter…. There are some who call me – Tim.”
Literature might be stretching the point slightly in the case of Monty Python‘s 1975 creation, but movies are stories too – let us not be snobbish.
He also is skilled in the area of explosions (if not so decorative as Gandalf’s) and warns the Holy Grail-hunters of the perils of the killer rabbit. “Death awaits you all with nasty big pointy teeth.” Indeed.

4) The Librarian

The Librarian has been part of Sir Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld since the beginning: The Colour of Magic in 1983. It was not until 1986 (The Light Fantastic) that he took on his present form: that of an orangutan.
Devoted to his books and his bananas, he has a strong sense of justice, particularly when it comes to people who refer to orangutans as ‘monkeys’. You Have Been Warned.

5) Questor Thews
The court wizard of the Magic Kingdom for Sale by Terry Brooks, he has been in circulation since 1986.
Questor is a very relatable wizard: like so many of us, he tries his best in some tough situations, and sometimes his best isn’t good enough. The court scribe is a Wheaten Terrier for this very reason.

6) The Bursar aka Professor A.A. Dinwiddie, colleague of the Librarian. First introduced in Sir Terry’s Faust Eric, published 1990, he is a mild and harmless fellow who has lost his sanity in the dog-eat-dog world of wizardly politicking. Fortunately, a precisely calibrated dose of dried frog pills (for recipe see here) causes him to hallucinate that he is sane. And occasionally that he can fly.

Hallucinogenic Frog in Outer Space

7) Professor Dumbledore first saw the light of day in J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997).
Full disclosure: I haven’t read all the books and I do not know all his tale. But this was enough to make me like him: “I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” Brilliant.

8) Derk
Here is the example par excellence of how a talented writer can parody the clichés of a genre without alienating readers who enjoy that genre: Diana Wynne JonesThe Dark Lord of Derkholm, published 1998.
Personally, I love the sequel, The Year of the Griffin just as much, if not more. Derk specialises in genetics, which is why he and his wife have seven biological children, five of whom are griffins.

"Griff" Statue in the forecourt of the Farkasréti Cemetery Budapest

9) Woodward**
Woodward came into existence sometime in the early 21st century – darned if I can remember precisely when – and is currently pulling strings in my WIP, Tsifira.
In appearance he is much like a dandelion – raggedy green with a fluffy white head – but he has spent the last 15 years disguised as a gardener who only ever says “Eh.”
In this disguise he keeps an eye on the growing princess and tends the ensorcelled privet hedge he planted to protect her. But he knows he can’t keep her safe behind the hedge forever.

Is It Still Europe's Tallest Yew Hedge?

So there you have it! It was going to be The Top Ten but I could only think of nine and it seems like a more wizardy number in any case.

It may be that this list of ‘Greats’ is more a list of my favourites – so who did I miss? Who are your favourites, and by whose hand?
All comments welcomed; only spammers will be turned into frogs.

Your obedient servant,
Sinistra Inksteynehand250

* for a given value of “great,” i.e. obtaining and retaining my affection and/or interest

** formerly known as Wentworth; he underwent a name-change between drafts.