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Enabling Love: Dwarfs in Old Norse-Icelandic Romances

Romance and Love in Late Medieval and Early Modern Iceland

Romance and Love in Late Medieval and Early Modern IcelandEnabling Love: Dwarfs in Old Norse-Icelandic Romances

By Ármann Jakobsson

Romance and Love in Late Medieval and Early Modern Iceland: Essays in Honor of Marianne Kalinke, edited by Johanna Denzin and Kirsten Wolf (Ithaca, 2008)

Introduction: For the last seventy years, most people in the Western hemisphere have known from early childhood that a good romance contains a beautiful, persecuted heroine, a handsome prince, an evil stepmother, and, of course, dwarfs, who by the graces of good fortune play a pivotal role in bringing the romance to its only acceptable conclusion: love, marriage, and retribution. Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs familiarized the masses with romance dwarfs, though Disney neither invented the romance nor the dwarf. The film is ultimately a twentieth-century appropriation of the Kinder-und Hausmärchen of the brothers Grimm, which in turn hail from a long tradition, where love, adventure, and dwarfs are intertwined. One branch of this tradition are the late mediaeval Icelandic romances, to which Marianne Kalinke’s article in Old-Norse Icelandic Literature: A Critical Guide serves as an indispensable guide, and which include a number of fornaldarsögur and riddarasögur. Many of these romances deal not merely with love and adventure but also with dwarfs. But how do dwarfs fit in with the romantic idealism of these narratives? What exactly is their function? And how does their presence in the romances reflect their previous tradition in Iceland as somewhat shadowy fiures in Eddic poetry and the Edda of Snorri Sturluson?

In Old Norse-Icelandic literature, dwarfs may be classified into three categories:

1. Individual Eddic dwarfs. Very few dwarfs appear as characters or play an active part in an Eddic narrative (in the Poetic or the Prose Edda); those that do occur appear mostly in supporting roles.

2. Generic dwarfs. The Eddas provide generic information about dwarfs (including two different versions of their origins) as well as a large number of dwarf names.

3. Later dwarfs. The dwarfs of romances and folktales.

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