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Dwarfs in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels are similar to the Dwarves of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, to which they largely started out as a homage, and dwarves in other fantasy novels. They are short, stocky, bearded metal-workers, generally seen wearing chain mail and brandishing axes. However, they have many unique qualities.
Incidentally, Pratchett uses the plural "dwarfs", not Tolkien's "dwarves", and "dwarfish" instead of "dwarven".
- 1 Biology and psychology
- 2 Culture and society
- 3 Language
- 4 Notable dwarfs
Biology and psychology
Dwarfs are shorter than normal humans, nearly always bearded (with the exception of Count Casanunda and Mad in XXXX), and live to about 300. Despite this, the dividing line between dwarfs and humans seems somewhat blurred, and Pratchett has hinted that humans and dwarfs can interbreed; for example, Nanny Ogg's thick skull is put down to dwarfish ancestry. It may be moot, as Dwarfs see their dwarfishness as a matter of culture rather than genetics or height. Hence, Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson is accepted as a dwarf, despite being a 6 1⁄2-foot-tall human.
As Tolkien implied of his dwarves, Discworld dwarfs of both sexes have beards. However, while Tolkien stated that female dwarves are rare, and disguise themselves as male when they must travel, female Discworld dwarfs are common, but are traditionally indistinguishable from males at all times. Dwarfs prefer not to spend much time on the subject; the dwarfish language has a gender neutral pronoun, usually rendered as "he" when speaking human languages. Dwarfish courtship is an incredibly tactful affair, primarily concerned with finding out which gender the other dwarf is (this may have been retconned by the time of the novel, Thud!, where it is stated that Samuel Vimes, a human, has picked up a knack for judging the gender of dwarfs, making it likely that they are able to tell amongst themselves). Despite the awkwardness that comes of this, it is traditionally considered rude to discuss female dwarfs in conversation.
Most dwarfs are intensely literal-minded, even by Discworld standards, and have absolutely no sense of metaphor or allusion. This is primarily a practical survival trait; as quoted in Guards! Guards!, "Rocks are hard, the darkness is dark. Start messing around with descriptions like that and you're in big trouble." The exceptions, such as the great playwright Hwel or the romantic Casanunda, tend to channel this focus into other habits. Despite their mistrust of outright metaphor, the dwarfs do have a deep love of word association, as long as such associations are direct. For instance, their word for "smelter" is also their word for a police investigator, since the two are said to be performing the same task, separating out the dross to uncover the pure truth beneath. The senior advisor to the Low King is called an "ideas taster", and in their language, if someone "sees the light", he has been blinded by the morals of surface society.
Culture and society
Dwarfs tend to be miners. They have a natural fascination with minerals (especially iron and gold) and feel more comfortable underground. Indeed, Dwarfs who have been away from home too long may suffer from "hole", described in Soul Music as "a great big aching nothingness inside" which comes about "When you're a long way from the old familiar mine or mountain". Their mining has led to a longstanding enmity with trolls, who are made of rock, and have a tendency to remain motionless for long periods, and dislike the fact that when they sleep they can wake up finding themselves as an ornamental fireplace whilst Dwarfs dislike the fact that there is rock that can wrench their arms out when they have found it. The most famous troll/dwarf fight was the Battle of Koom Valley, in which both sides are traditionally said to have ambushed the other, on several occasions, each time shouting "Remember Koom Valley!" The dwarfish board game of Thud commemorates this/these battle(s). The full history of the battle is revealed in Thud!.
Dwarfish society is Anarchistic. Decisions are made and information is spread by different groups of miners exchanging representatives. The closest thing to a leader dwarfs have is a dezka-knik or chief mining engineer, a title loosely translated into Morporkian as "king". All dwarfs owe allegiance to the Low King (a parody of high king, since they esteem depths rather than heights), who is selected by council in the Überwald dwarf city of Schmaltzberg. The current Low King is Rhys Rhysson, son of a small coal-mining clan in Llamedos. He got the job largely because he wasn't from a significant Ramtop or Überwald family (see below). The Low King acts as a final court of appeal in disputes. Pratchett also states that dwarfs love to argue, especially with their Low King.
The primary weapon other than bread products (see below) in dwarf culture is the axe, which is often used even when the frequently confined spaces of underground tunnels make them impractical. A traditional dwarfish axe is multifunctional; one side is a pickaxe used for prospecting, and the other side is a battle axe used if someone tries to stop them. Axes are so important culturally that dwarfish Ankh-Morpork City Watch members are allowed to use them instead of the regulation swords, and both male and female dwarfs typically carry a (decorative) axe to social functions. Cheery Littlebottom's attempts to feminise this tradition have not been met with great success, at least by human standards.
There is a tendency among dwarfs, who in their native mines are often soft-spoken, filial and respectful, to suddenly transform into beer-swilling, brawling, axe-waving clichés when they go abroad. It's noted that a lot of (that is to say, all of them except "hi-ho") dwarf drinking songs seem to comprise the single word "gold" repeated in singsong. Some dwarfs attempt to project greater machismo by carrying more and larger axes, and wearing heavier and more elaborate armour than standard. This is known as "clang" (a play on bling).
When dwarfs are married, it is customary for the debts to their parents (consisting of all the money spent on them before they married, such as for food and lodgings) to be paid off by their partner. However, it is then common for the new couple's parents to turn around and present them with a wedding gift even larger than the debt, so this may be seen as ceremonial—though still necessary.
Dwarfish society has no religion, but does have gods "just in case". Their creator god, called Tak, is believed by the dwarfs to have fashioned the three races of the Discworld, Dwarf, Human and Troll, from a geode. Tak is said to have "written the Laws", and "written the world", in that order. For this reason Dwarfs place a very high value on words and writing, and the destruction of a word (such as, say, erasing a blackboard) is seen as a reprehensible crime by more conservative dwarfs. Despite this, Tak is not worshipped; he left after creating the world and demands little from his believers. As a grag named Bashfull Bashfullsson says in Thud!, "Tak does not require that we think of Him, only that we think." Further details of these gods are not known, with the exception of the trickster, Agi Hammerthief. Dwarfs do not believe in demons or similar either, but traditionally bury their dead with good weapons in case the demons don't know about the fact.
In place of gods and demons, they do have several dozen different words for "dark". Many of these are highly mystical and dangerous, such as the "closing dark", the "calling dark" and the "waiting dark" (the dark that waits to fill new holes). Worst of all is the "Summoning dark", which is said to have a mind of its own and to seek out and corrupt certain victims susceptible to it. Its only defeat was at the hands of The Guarding Dark, a likewise anthropomorphic entity born from the mind of Sam Vimes, though its purpose is that of a cosmic Watchman; he/it does not keep the darkness out, he/it keeps it in.
In the past, a significant part of dwarfish culture was the "Knockerman", who went into mines ahead of the other dwarfs to check for firedamp. The Knockermen wore leather armour, designed to be shock-absorbing, and conical leather hats. The ones who returned were respected for their bravery, and told stories of hearing the hammering of dead dwarfs trying to tunnel back into the world and Great A'Tuin's heartbeat. They became advisors and lawmakers. If dwarfs had a religion they would have been considered priests. It is possible that these are the "grags" (renowned masters of Dwarvish lore) mentioned in Thud!, though they would be more akin to rabbis or imams than priests.
Knockermen were made obsolete in the Ramtops when a dwarf in Ankh-Morpork invented the Davy lamp. The Überwald dwarfs, however, felt the Knockermen were too important to be replaced by a device, and this caused something of a rift between the two groups. Many traditionalist Überwald dwarfs now refuse to come to the surface at all and, if they must, wear the Knockerman's outfit to protect themselves from the sun. They are called drudak’ak, which translates as "they don't get out in the fresh air or sun enough". In Morporkian they are called "deep-downers".
Another recent development is the trend for young dwarfs in Ankh-Morpork and elsewhere to be openly female. This trend seems to have been started by Cheery Littlebottom (pronounced 'Cherri') a member of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, who was surprised at the way human females distinguished themselves from males. The trend seems to have been picked up in the Ramtops (where some dwarfs already had names like Gloria Thogsdaughter), but is something else found offensive by Überwald traditionalists. The untranslated but contextually vulgar word "ha'ak" is used by such dwarfs to indicate their disapproval. Since, historically, the "typical" dwarf was not actually assumed to be male (it was more the question being deemed irrelevant) this is a curious reaction, except inasmuch as the disapproval is of dwarfs not (in the drudak'ak's opinion) acting like dwarfs.
It is not yet known what the effect has been on dwarfish society of certain strong hints by Low King Rhys that he is, in fact, Low Queen Rhys, and may be getting a dressmaker. This may, however, be one of the many reasons (s)he is regarded with little respect by the drudak'ak, in addition to the schism between the modernist and traditionalist dwarfs, Rhys being regarded as a conservative member of the former group.
This movement appears to be in reference to feminism and the LGBT subculture, specifically the transgender rights movements.
Bread is also a significant part of dwarf culture throughout the Disc. Dwarf bread is like hardtack, only more so; its properties are a parody of Middle-earth cram and lembas. It will enable you to survive for days (by making you realise you are surrounded by things that look more edible) and never goes stale, possibly because it was always stale. Its primary use is as a weapon (although it is also used as a kind of currency), and it is made in many different types. These include boomerang biscuits, drop scones (a reference to real drop-scones) and close-combat crumpets. Reportedly the process of "forging" a loaf of dwarf bread includes gravel as part of the recipe, and kitty litter is apparently a preferred seasoning (neat cat piss, when available, even more so).
Besides dwarf bread, dwarfish cuisine consists largely of things found underground, such as fungi, rodents and bits of rock. Rat is a staple of the dwarf diet, provided it is completely covered in ketchup or a similar sauce to hide the taste. Ankh-Morpork's rich abundance of rats is one of its main selling points to potential dwarf immigrants. Dwarfs are also known to eat dog, but only if there is not any rat.
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The language of Discworld Dwarfs (Kad'k) bears a superficial resemblance to Tolkien's Dwarven language Khuzdûl, in that it has a lot of guttural k's and z's. Drudak'ak tend to converse entirely in the language. It is not spoken much in front of humans in general, possibly because humans themselves find it difficult to master. It's said that in order to speak dwarfish correctly a human requires a lifetime of study and, if at all possible, a serious throat infection. Dwarfs who speak Morporkian invariably translate any meaningful parts of their name when doing so.
Kad'k is famed for having no words for rock. It has hundreds of words describing different kinds of rock, but not a single word that simply means "rock" (a trait apparently shared with Trolls), much like the Inuit language supposedly has many words for different kinds of snow (in fact a myth, see here). "Show a dwarf a rock and he sees, for example, an inferior piece of crystalline sulphite of barytes" (Witches Abroad).
Known words and phrases, besides those mentioned above, include:
- AaDb'thuk – "Okay" (literally, "All correctly beamed and propped")
- Aargk or Aork – "Say"
- Bura'zak-ka – "Town hall"
- 'Bad'dhakz – "Yeast bowl"
- B'tduz – A game in which two dwarfs stand a few feet apart and throw rocks at each other's heads.
- B'zugda-hiara – "lawn ornament"; a deadly insult, unless used by a very close friend (Wyrd Sisters).
- D'hrarak – "Not dwarfs", seems to refer to dwarfs who have been cast out of dwarfish culture
- Dhwe – "open", in the sense of "open a book"
- Dr'zka – "Not really a dwarf", refers to dwarfs who do not obey all dwarfish traditions, but are not quite d'hrarak.
- Drudak'ak – Dwarfs who don't get out into the fresh air often enough. The traditionalists. (The Fifth Elephant)
- Ds – Appears to be both a term for axe and the verb for 'to bargain'. The phrase J'ds hasfak 'ds' "I bargain with no axe in my hand" (Thud!) shows that this is most likely intentional.
- G'daraka – "Fresh" is a loose translation. Dwarfs who have just married and have had their debts paid off are said to be in a state of G'daraka. This means they are "free, unencumbered, new dwarfs".
- Gr'duzk – "Good day"
- Ha'ak – Exact translation unknown, but it is an offensive term for an openly female dwarf.
- Hasf – "Hand", or "in hand".
- J' – "I".
- Jar'ahk'haga – Literally "ideas taster". This is the title of the senior advisor to the Low King (The Fifth Elephant)
- K'ez'rek d'b'duz – "Go around the other side of the mountain", according to Nanny Ogg. A name for Granny Weatherwax.
- Kruk – "Law". The kruk is mostly about mining rights, but covers all aspects of dwarfish culture.
- Kzad-bhat – "Headbanger"; Carrot's dwarfish name.
- Sh'rt'azs – A family name, translated as "Littlebottom" (and, when pronounced, sounds like "shortarse" in non-rhotic forms of English).
- T'dr'duzk b'hazg t't – "Today is a good day for someone else to die." The famous well-thought-out dwarfish battle-cry. After being declared somebody HAS to die. It is an obvious parody of the Klingon / Sioux phrase "Today is a good day to die."
- Zadkrdga – "The one who smelts". Also, as explained above, "investigator". One who finds the pure ore of truth in the dross of confusion. (Thud)
The (admittedly small) lexicon of Dwarfish words reveals only 16 letters: a, b, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, n, r, s, t, u, and z. The capital "D" in AaDb'thuk may be a separate letter, or it may simply be a differently inflected "d."
The word Hnaflbaflwhiflsnifltafl (a predecessor to the game of Thud) could be a Dwarfish word, but since it is obviously derived from the Scandinavian "Hnefatafl", and since it contains two letters (l and w) not found in any Dwarfish words and lacks any of the diacritics one would expect in a Dwarfish word that long, it is probably of human, rather than Dwarfish origin.
The enclitic -ak or -'ak appears to mean "not," and generally to indicate the opposite of something.
Dwarfish last names are, as mentioned above, usually translated into when speaking other languages. Knowing what the name means is part of knowing who the dwarf is. They can be descriptive clan-names (Littlebottom, Rocksmacker) or patronymics (Albrechtson), although these can be based on relations other than the father (Snoriscousin) and even get recursive (Glodssonssonsson).
Dwarfish first names are usually either the same as humans of the region (Rhys, Bjorn, Gloria), mono- or duo-syllables reminiscent (to a greater or lesser extent) of Tolkien's dwarf names (Glod, Gimlet, Timkin, Hwel), or emotional descriptors (which, like the surnames, are translated) (Cheery, Nosy, Dozy). (The last is based on the dwarf names in Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).
While dwarfs are noted for gossip, they can also be taciturn even amongst themselves. "Minesign" is how they convey their feelings to other dwarfs. Like real-world hobo code, minesigns can be scratched or drawn on any available surface, and generally refer to the different kinds of dark referred to above. They are described as an unofficial ballot, voting by graffiti, to show your view on what is going on in your mine. There are many signs, and presumably they can convey a range of ideas; but only a few, ranging from neutral to negative, are explicitly described in Thud.
One basic minesign is the Long Dark, which merely announces the presence of a mine. It is a circle with a single horizontal line through it. (This resembles the logo of London Transport, which was originally the symbol for the London Underground.)
The minesign for the Following Dark is a circle with two parallel diagonal lines slashed through it, making it resemble a No symbol. This is not a good sign, and can result in grags in a mine sitting surrounded by candles (as mentioned in Thud). It translates as "we await what follows with dread", or, more loosely, "Repent, ye sinners!".
The minesign for the Summoning Dark is one small circle enclosed by a larger circle with a tail – or an "eyeball with a tail". Dwarves believe that enscribing it is like a curse that brings the Summoning Dark down on the area. Dwarf lore holds that it is very dangerous to leave any of these in the dark.
The first Low King of the Dwarfs, and a great cultural hero. His life is told in the opera Bloodaxe and Ironhammer. He was the lover of Ironhammer, who forged the Scone of Stone (a reference to the Stone of Scone). Ironhammer killed himself when falsely told of Bloodaxe's death. Bloodaxe was subsequently killed at the Battle of Koom Valley. According to legend he killed 57 trolls there, and a loaf of Battle Bread that he supposedly wielded has become a cultural icon and is in the Dwarf Bread Museum in Ankh-Morpork. However, in Thud! it's revealed that he was trying to prevent the battle when a flash flood trapped him in a sinkhole. The Battle Bread found next to Bloodaxe's body casts doubt on the authenticity of the A-MDBM loaf, unless of course he carried more than one.
Bloodaxe was first mentioned in Feet of Clay, and his full history was revealed in The Fifth Elephant and Thud!. His name is possibly based on Brian Bloodaxe, a computer game character from the 1980s, in turn probably named for Brian Boru, a 10th-century Irish king, and Eric Bloodaxe, a 10th-century Viking king.
Sergeant Cheery Littlebottom is a forensic alchemist for the City Watch and one of the first dwarfs to be openly female, pronouncing her name as Cheri. She now often wears a leather skirt and has slightly raised iron heels (welded on by herself) on her boots while on duty. Her surname translates in Dwarfish as Sh'rt'azs ('shortarse'). Her family lives in Überwald, except for her late brother Snorey who died in a gas explosion somewhere under Borogravia. She is introduced in Feet of Clay and appears in all subsequent Watch novels, most notably The Fifth Elephant. Cheery was promoted to Sergeant shortly prior to Thud!.
A dwarf notable for his colossal powdered wig and uncharacteristic sense of romance and libido, mirroring Nanny Ogg's unstereotypical behavior for a witch. Advertises himself as the world's second greatest lover (His claim of "I try harder" refers to ad campaigns by Avis Rent-A-Car) but also as an "outrageous liar", making any of his claimed exploits dubious. First mentioned in a footnote to Reaper Man, he subsequently appeared in Witches Abroad and Lords and Ladies. He is referenced in Soul Music and had a brief cameo in Carpe Jugulum where he reflects upon a fellow highwayman being killed by the Magpyrs. His name is a reference to Giacomo Casanova, although, as a dwarf, he obviously stands more "unda" than "ova" his conquests. Notable line: "Kneel and deliver!"
Goodmountain is a major character in The Truth. 'He' and a group of other dwarves, including 'his' fiancee, Boddony, introduce the moveable type printing press to Ankh-Morpork and found the city's first newspaper, the Ankh-Morpork Times. Like most dwarfs, 'he' is primarily interested in gold and technology, but 'he' seems to also want to keep the Times going for reasons beyond this. 'His' name is a play on Johann Gutenberg, the German inventor of moveable type, being a rough translation of "Gutenberg" to English. It is also unclear as to whether Goodmountain is a male or female dwarf, given that 'he' is never referred to using a gender-specific pronoun in The Truth, the traditional dwarf cultural taboo against openly identifying as being female, and also due to Gunilla being a female first-name in the Swedish language.
Hwel is a secondary character from "Wyrd Sisters". His name is a reference to the Welsh 'hwyl', meaning "a stirring feeling of emotional fervour and energy", and also evokes "Will", as in Shakespeare. He is the most talented playwright in the Disc and works for the travelling theatrical company of Olwyn Vitoller. Hwel is a dwarf and as such comes from the Ramtop mountains. Like Casanunda, he is utterly indifferent towards gold and mining and is involved in an extremely undwarfish occupation. Being the most gifted playwright in the Discworld, Hwel creates his works under the influence of an unstoppable inspiration, which drives him to the verge of insanity with the vivid images it forces into his mind. Because he is unusually sensitive to the "inspiration particles" which are a fundamental particle of the Discworld universe, Hwel receives every idea for every play in the multiverse all at once. Hwel's plays are usually modified and tinkered with by the author even long after their creation. An example is the play he writes as instructed by the Duke of Lancre. The play actually twists its own form and makes Hwel completely alter the plot, reversing all of the characters.
Modo is the gardener at Unseen University. He is a conscientious gardener, but its location on the campus of a major magical faculty means that his handiwork has a tendency to be disrupted by supernatural events. Modo believes in compost in much the same way that humans believe in gods (dwarfs aren't religious, exactly). It is unknown what he puts in his compost but it certainly brings up the roses. His personal theory is that they want to get as far away from the compost as possible. One of his compost heaps also, for one brief moment in Reaper Man, came alive, and it took a whole bottle of Wow-Wow sauce to stop it.
His time at UU has clearly mellowed him to a point normally thought unthinkable in dwarfs, as infractions that might make other dwarfs explode into a murderous frenzy evoke nothing more than a laugh and a good-natured reassurance that no wrong has been done, even or especially where his gardening was concerned; when Windle Poons dug up his painstakingly grown lawn in an attempt to escape the coffin his well-meaning colleagues had buried him in, Modo reassured Windle that a little sod, a little seed, and five hundred years would be over before he knew it.
The current Low Queen, of the dwarfs. She hails from Llamedos (the Discworld's Wales) and thus has a slight lilt to her accent. She is considered a moderniser who is interested in embracing new cultures and ideas. She has held council with the Diamond King of Trolls and is untroubled by (and indeed seems quite interested in) the new trends in feminisation. Her tolerance was somewhat tested by Adora Belle Dearheart having removed four thousand priceless golems from territory that, by rights, belonged to her, but little seems to have come of it. She was revealed to be female at the end of "Raising Steam", changing her name to Blodwen as well.
An Ankh-Morpork grag (dwarfish loremaster) who assisted Vimes during the course of Thud! He is unusually liberal for a grag, living above ground, not carrying an axe, and showing his face. Despite this, he is very knowledgeable about dwarfish law, being capable of advising the Low King and Vimes about the Summoning Dark and being fluent in both ancient Dwarfish and old Troll.
Despite not wielding an axe he is more than capable of defending himself with what appears to be a dwarfish version of martial arts.
The creator of Jewels, and a dwarf to be reckoned with. Described as a dwarf of some considerable girth in a breastplate so beautiful it can only be ornamental. Sharn wears so many rings it requires a second look to determine whether it is a gauntlet or not. On the basis of Sharn's fruity rich chocolatey voice and her own declaration she is supposedly female. She appears to have left Bonk against her volition but there's a suggestion she may find herself welcome should she choose to return.
She is the owner and proprietor of Shatta (a dwarfish fashion house) as well as the partner in business and love of Pepe.
A dwarf musician and member of The Band With Rocks In. He plays the horn, but he claims to be able to "blow anything", possibly meaning he can play other air instruments. He's by far the most practical-minded and workmanlike member of the band, simply wishing to play his music and getting paid for it, without thought of fame or success, thus contrasting with Buddy's artistic idealism and disinterest in money. Like many other dwarfs he's very neat and tidy, which leads him to redecorate many of the inn's rooms they stay in on tour, giving them a fresh coat of paint and even new curtains (a joke on real world's rock band's habit of "redecorating" their hotel rooms, in the sense of thrashing them).