All Dwarves are Scottish

Our inhouse Voyager reading club recently decided to go back and re-read ( or read for the first time- *gasp!* ) Raymond E. Feist’s original classic fantasy epic Magician, published in 1982. Upon reaching the introduction of Feist’s Dwarves, and the character Dolgan in particular, it struck me that I assumed the ‘deep, rolling burr’ of the Dwarven accent was Scottish. The names of their mines ( “Mac Mordain Cadal”), Dolgan’s frequent use of ‘lad’ & organisation into clans didn’t help either.

So I got to thinking: when, exactly, did the Dwarf become synonymous with Scotland? Despite being responsible for much of the modern fantasy concept of Dwarves as an imagined race, Tolkien never gave them any distinctively Scottish traits. They were based much more on nordic myth I thought. One of our Sales Managers pointed out that a possible source for aspects of dwarvish culture for Tolkien may have been the archetype of the “rough & hearty” working class miners of Cornwall or Wales, which would certainly fit with his stated goals of creating a modern mythology for the British Isles.

Wikipedia argues that the modern version of the ‘Scottish Dwarf’ originates from the book Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson (published in 1961, but originally a novella from 1953 ) which featured a Dwarf named Hugi with a Scottish accent and a man transported from WWII to a parallel world under attack by Faerie. The book was a major influence on Dungeons & Dragons, which introduced Dwarves as playable race in 1974 and helped disseminate a “standard” idea of what Dwarves were like.

From there it seemed to become a self-perpetuating idea. The parallels between the bearded Dwarves as warlike mountain dwellers and long-haired Scottish Highland warriors are fairly obvious, and perhaps this was Anderson’s starting point too. The love of drinking, feasting and fighting has perhaps more Viking or sterotypical “working class miner” associations. A recent animated film, How to Train Your Dragon ( based on a children’s book of the same name ) features Vikings with scottish accents ( though all the children & teenagers mysteriously have American accents ) who also look a lot like oversized Dwarves. The enormously popular Warcraft universe has steampunk Dwarves with Scottish accents.

It all came full circle with the film version of The Lord of the Rings having Gimli sport a very Scottish accent. It will be interesting to see how far they take this with The Hobbit film though. From the little we’ve heard in the trailers they don’t seem particularly Scottish, but time will tell …! What do think? Do you usually associate dwarves with Scotland or is it just me?

 

6 Responses to “All Dwarves are Scottish”

  1. azquim says:

    I definitely do – I think it came from the same sources for me, Tolkien and Raymond, then everyone forever after I guess. It might be the beards and the hair too – but perhaps most strongly could be the linguistics for me, as you point out – some of those names just summon ideas of Scotland, in the same way, of course, that the Tsurani have Japanese kinda connotations to the word.

    So maybe the sound or look of the language of a race as it appears in a story makes the biggest impact?

  2. Mark C says:

    The language is definitely part of it! Ever since Tolkien ( and Dune for that matter ) I've been fascinated with created languages. I think there's a hint of Aztec in the Tsurani too, or at least some of their names…Language and culture are really tied together and a well thought out language can really help a reader get into the head of a character's culture or race.

  3. Wyvern says:

    But not ALL Scots are dwarves … I reckon my wife has hobbit feet.
    …… don't tell her I said that …..

  4. Having spent the last two years working as the knifemith/cutler and built what seemed like thousands of props for Hobbit, I can attest to the fact that the dwarves are mostly Kiwi!! :p

  5. azquim says:


    The language is definitely part of it! Ever since Tolkien ( and Dune for that matter ) I've been fascinated with created languages. I think there's a hint of Aztec in the Tsurani too, or at least some of their names…Language and culture are really tied together and a well thought out language can really help a reader get into the head of a character's culture or race.

    Ah, Aztec in the Tsurani – I'm checking that out, cool.
    Yes – that aspect of world building, which I enjoy so much as a reader, is brutal as a writer!

  6. Mark C says:


    I can attest to the fact that the dwarves are mostly Kiwi!!

    Haha! You'd definitely know better than most Steve!

    Yes – that aspect of world building, which I enjoy so much as a reader, is brutal as a writer!

    Completely agree azquim! I've tried my hand at language creation doing fantasy maps and its hard to not sound either derivative or silly. I take my hat off to those linguist folk who can do it!

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