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What's the deal with dwarfs?


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Finally got around to reading Le Mort, which I've been doing for the last few days, and noticed that dwarfs seem to be an oddly common thing in the stories. I'm assuming it's just old english speak for a short person, not a supernatural short craftsman, but I'm just wondering if there's any particular reason they're mentioned so often? And of course, since this is the Pendragon board, do they get any attention in the game or gpc?

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Since dwarfs almost always appear in the role of attendants (except for a dwarf knight whom Gawain meets at the start of the Pelleas and Ettarde story), I suspect that these are human dwarfs, treated as freaks and curiosities in a crueler time.

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Dwarfs come from the French romances and extend into the Matter of France, Matter of Rome, and "independent" romances. The general consensus in the first half of the 20th century was that they were human beings with dwarfism, and then in the second half of the 20th century this shifted towards seeing them as figures of primarily folkloric origins, and now there may be a shift back with the development of disability studies as a distinct field. 

A lot of the discourse has emphasized the dwarf as a figure who is by default divorced from knighthood and thus exists in a kind of eunuch role- both not-male and not-not-male, both highly sexual and sexless, both a figure of contempt and an inherently trustworthy intimate. So dwarfs can serve as an archetypal servant who, unlike a squire or page, has no possibility of advancing in rank and creating any desire for temporal precision. Thus, they're important on a functional level, but they also exist because existing material used them frequently and they were part of the form of the romance. 

I think that for my part, speaking as a rank amateur, dwarfs are both disabled human beings and fantastic folklore figures. Like giants and ogres, their unusual bodies speak to a distinct station apart from knights and ladies, but whereas giants and ogres are by default monstrous cannibals (there are exceptions), dwarfs are a lesser degree of human, and this is probably related to the historical tradition of nobles keeping disabled people in their households as a source of entertainment and a kind of human pet. 

As far as Pendragon goes, I think the specific mixture of modes between the fantastic and materialist/historical that KAP uses by default makes these figures a poor fit without delving directly into the historical exploitation of disabled people, even before getting into Session 0 and safety tools material. 

Edit: primary source is Christine Marie Neufeldt, "A Dwarf in King Arthur's Court: Perceiving Disability in Arthurian Romance", published in Arthuriana, vol. 25, no. 4 (Winter 2015). 

Edited by Eff
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Though a Lunar through and through, she is also a human being.

Eight Arms and the Mask

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Without a doubt they are portrayed as supernatural creatures, said to have their own "kings," and to come from far away lands (Kingdom of the Antipodes, etc.), and, in the case of a few knights (Gawaine, Lancelot), they can appear at will with their master's horse and gear. In the vast majority of cases, they are written as comical and nasty. They abuse ladies, humiliate knights, and usually attend wicked characters, but a few useful servants to good knights exist. There are even a couple of "dwarf knights". 

One of my favorite takes on medieval dwarfs is from Par Lagerkvist's, The Dwarf. The main character, a dwarf, believes himself to be non-human, though born of humans, and born wicked at that.

That said, it's pretty clear the dwarf characters of the romances, particularly in courtly scenes, are based on real human little people, who served the nobility. 

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The Story of Merlin also includes dwarfdom being bestowed as a curse. In that work, Evadeam the dwarf comes to court with a lady, who asks as a favor that he be made a knight. After considerable ribaldry from the court and especially Kay, Arthur grants him the status, and he goes out on an adventure.

Later, Gawain is out looking for Merlin, and is so intent he doesn't pay attention to a woman. She curses him to look like the first man he meets - and as it turns out, it's Evadeam. Evadeam takes on his original appearance, and Gawain becomes a dwarf. Gawain alternates between wishing he would die out of shame, and cinching up all his gear and beating up people because he's Gawain.

Eventually Gawain demonstrates he's learned his lesson, and the lady transforms him back.

 

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On 6/24/2022 at 1:21 AM, Richard S. said:

'm assuming it's just old english speak for a short person, not a supernatural short craftsman, but I'm just wondering if there's any particular reason they're mentioned so often? And of course, since this is the Pendragon board, do they get any attention in the game or gpc?

There is always an ambiguity. Sometimes, it's a normal man with a disability, serving as a jester. Sometimes, it's a magical being. King Oberon is a dwarf, for example. As David2 said, in Erec & Enide, there is king Billis of the Antipodes, or in the same tale, Guivret le Petit (Guivret the Little), a fierce dwarf knight. There is also the servant dwarf of the knight Yder son of Nut, a powerful and somewhat evil knight.

http://nightbringer.se/nightbringer/a_guivret.html

This tale is full of dwarves to be honest (and I love it!)

Of course, in Arthurian Legends, you should forget the cliché about the d&d dwarf. An arthurian dwarf looks like a human (always short, often ugly, sometimes beautiful). He is often cunning, sometimes loyal. He don't have a beard. He is not a miner or a craftsman, but have often a sharp tongue.

And sometimes, he is a wizard, a human with supernatural power, like Frocin, the dwarf in king Marc's court. 

You can use them as much as you want, usually as some kind of servant in some noble court. 

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