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 the wolves that chase the sun and moon 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 particularly large and evil kind of wolf. Because of Tolkien's influence on fantasy the word has been used many times in other works.
In Old Norse, vargr is derived from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic *wargaz, ultimately derived from the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root *werg̑ʰ- "destroy". In Beowulf, Grendel's mother is described (line 1514) as a grund-wyrgen, which may be translated as "cursed creature of the depths", "bottom-dwelling monster" etc.
Vargr (compare modern Swedish varg "wolf") has arisen as a noa-name for úlfr, the normal Old Norse term for "gray wolf" which is related to similar words in other Indo-European languages and is derived from the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European noun *wĺ̥kʷos ("wolf") and, probably also, the PIE adjective *wl̥kʷós "dangerous". These words comprise Proto-Tocharian *wä́lkʷë, Proto-Italic *lukʷos, Proto-Balto-Slavic *wilkas, Old Albanian ulk, Greek lúkos, Proto-Iranian *verk, Sanskrit vṛka, Avestan vehrka, Mazandarani varg, gilaki varg, Zazaki verg, Old Persian varka- and Persian gorg, among others, all meaning "wolf".
- 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
In J. R. R. Tolkien's books about Middle-earth, Wargs are a race of lupines. They are usually in league with the Orcs whom they permitted to ride on their backs into battle. In Peter Jackson's adaptions of the series, he introduced two types of Wargs: the wolf-like Gundabad Wargs used by the Orcs of Mount Gundabad as they appeared in The Hobbit film trilogy and the hyena-like Wargs used by the Orcs of Isengard and Mordor in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
George R. R. Martin's wargs
In George R. R. Martin's series of epic fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, and the series' television adaptation, Game of Thrones, Wargs are skinchangers who can enter the mind of an animal (and in Bran Stark's case with Hodor, a person), see what they are seeing, and control their actions. Talented skinchangers can become greenseers, who can glimpse into the past, present, and future. An adage says that one man in a thousand is a skinchanger, and one skinchanger in a thousand is a greenseer.
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:
- Fenris makes an appearance in the film Thor: Hammer of the Gods (2009).
- Fenris makes an appearance in the film Thor: Ragnarok
- In Guild Wars 2, wargs are large canine creatures with glowing red eyes, a bulky chest and relatively small hind legs.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, worgs are larger, more intelligent and demonic version of wolves.
- 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 2005 a German group of musicians formed the (Viking) metal band Varg. They present themselves as bringers of a wolf-themed cult (see their 2011 album, Wolfskult). In addition to frequent wolf-related lyrics, they employ red and black face paint, which resembles 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. (eds.). Textures of Place: Exploring Humanist Geographies. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 354 note 38. ISBN 0-8166-3756-3.
- "Archived copy". Varg.de. Archived from the original on 2015-01-23. Retrieved 2015-01-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)