Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

“Against a Dwarf”

The Medieval Motif of the Antagonistic Dwarf and its Role in Contemporary Literature and Film

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2020), 14, (2), 155–170.

Abstract

One of the most common stereotypes in modern fantasy is the antagonistic dwarf—whether an outright villain or a bitter, belligerent supporting character. Mythological dwarf roles in contemporary film and literature combine physical attributes associated with dwarfism and longstanding folk motifs about the supernatural. The article analyzes medieval texts with dwarves—a Danish bone amulet, the Old English charm “Against a Dwarf,” an episode from the Icelandic Sigurþar Saga Þogla, and the Mabinogion’s Llud and Llefelys—to illuminate one particular root of dwarf narratives in modern popular culture. Contemporary fantasy narratives appropriate the premodern texts’ tendency to correlate dwarfism with wickedness but blur the boundary between fiction and disability by conflating malevolent villainy with physical characteristics of dwarfism. The evidence shows that the medieval motif of the violent dwarf survives by attaching itself to characters with dwarfism: some roles, like The Man from Another Place in Twin Peaks or Shrek’s Lord Farquaad, blend the physical attributes of dwarfism with the supernatural, but many—such as The Sinful Dwarf’s eponymous villain—assign inherent maliciousness to nonmagical characters with dwarfism.

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Author details

Mock, Sean