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In Norse mythology, a vargr (pl. vargar; often anglicised as warg or varg) is a wolf and in particular refers to the wolf Fenrir and his sons Sköll and Hati. Based on this, J. R. R. Tolkien in his fiction used the Old English form warg (other O.E. forms being wearg and wearh) to refer to a wolf-like creature of a particularly evil kind.
In Old Norse, vargr is a term for "wolf" (ulfr). The Proto-Germanic *wargaz is related to Sanskrit vṛka, proto-Iranian *verk "wolf", Avestan vehrka, Mazandarani varg, Zazaki verg, Old Persian varka-, Persian gorg etc. In line 1514 of Beowulf, Grendel's mother is described as a grund-wyrgen or "warg of the depths."
- What is that lamp
- which lights up men,
- but flame engulfs it,
- and wargs grasp after it always.
Heidrek knows the answer is the Sun, explaining,
- She lights up every land and shines over all men, and Skoll and Hatti are called wargs. Those are wolves, one going before the sun, the other after the moon.
Wolves also served as mounts for more or less dangerous humanoid creatures. For instance, Gunnr's horse was a kenning for "wolf" on the Rök Runestone, in the Lay of Hyndla, the völva (witch) Hyndla rides a wolf and to Baldr's funeral, the giantess Hyrrokkin arrived on a wolf.
In popular culture
J. R. R. Tolkien's wargs
Taken from the Old English warg, the wargs or wild wolves are a race of lupines in J. R. R. Tolkien's books about Middle-earth. They are usually in league with the goblins or Orcs whom they permitted to ride on their backs into battle. It is probable that they are descended from Draugluin's werewolves, or of the wolf-hounds of the line of Carcharoth of the First Age. They are portrayed as somewhat intelligent, with a language, and are consciously in league with the Orcs.
The concept of wolf-riding Orcs first appears in The Tale of Tinúviel, an early version of the story of Beren and Lúthien written in the 1920s, posthumously published as part of The History of Middle-earth.
In The Lord of the Rings, they are most prominently mentioned in the middle of The Fellowship of the Ring, where a band of Wargs, unaccompanied by Orcs, attacks the Fellowship in Eregion. During the War of the Ring in T.A. 3018–19, wolves prowled outside the walls of Bree. They are here distinguished from "ordinary wolves, hunting for food". Wargs and their riders also appear in The Two Towers.
In the Rankin-Bass adaptation of The Hobbit, they are portrayed as larger than average wolves with ominously glowing eyes. Although Tolkien never provided a fully complete description of the Wargs, they do seem to have a conventional wolf-appearance in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and they are regularly called "wolves."
Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy depicts wargs as hyena-like, or even like the extinct, heavier-bodied Hyaenodon. Wargs also appear in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy but are a more wolf-like breed exclusive to Gundabad compared to the Wargs used by the Orcs of Isengard.
Subsequent appearances of wargs in popular culture often owe much to Tolkien. Similar to Tolkien's works, they are often depicted as evil, intelligent wolves that speak their own language, and are often allied with goblin tribes:
- In the Castlevania game series, they often appear as minor enemies.
- In the Gameloft game Six Guns, wargs are one of the animals to be killed in one of the "hunter" missions.
- In World of Warcraft, worgs are a common mob (killable creature) found in forested areas which appear as shaggy wolves with large teeth, and there is a werewolf-like playable race known as Worgen. Like the J.R.R. Tolkien version, the Worgs serve as the mounts of the Orcs.
- In David Clement-Davies's books The Sight and Fell, the wolves are known as the Varg, their self-chosen name, and their god is Fenris.
- In the MMORPG Ragnarok Online Renewal, Rangers can summon a warg as a mount.
- In the 2010 comic book Thor and the Warriors Four by Alex Zalben and Girihiru, the Power Pack team encounter a group of wargs in Central Park that they use to ride to Asgard.
- In the popular game Wizard101, there is a warg mount on which the player can ride.
- In the George R. R. Martin A Song of Ice and Fire book series, wargs are a type of "skin-changer", a human who can enter and control the minds of animals. "Warg" is usually used interchangeably with "skin-changer" in the series, but strictly speaking refers to those who use wolves most often.
- In Age of Conan: Unchained Wargs are commonly found in the Cimmerian region known as Connal's Valley in addition, in the Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer expansion pack concept art of the Khitain wolf mount is labelled WARG CONCEPT.
- In 2005 a German group of musicians formed the (Viking) metal band Varg. This name was apparently not chosen by accident seeing as they present themselves as bringers of a Wolf-themed cult (see also their 2011 album, Wolfskult). Besides frequent wolf-related lyrics, they also employ red and black face paint, which is probably meant to resemble Germanic warpaint.
- Osborn, Marijane; Overing, Gillian R. (2001). "Bone-Crones Have No Hearth: Some Women in the Medieval Wilderness". In Adams, Paul C.; Hoelscher, Steven D.; et al. Textures of Place: Exploring Humanist Geographies. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 354 note 38. ISBN 0-8166-3756-3.
- The "Two Towers" Creatures Guide Collins (November 6, 2002) ISBN 0-00-714409-1