Dwarfs (or the more common and modern version Dwarves) are creatures from Proto-Indo-European and Germanic mythologies, fairy tales, fantasy fiction, and role-playing games. They are highly skilled craftsmen, and in Norse myths they are worshipers of Þórr and are known as Dvergar.
Myths & legends
Dwarves were magical creatures with great skill in metallurgy, making them famous and often the craftsmen for powerful artifacts of legend.
They have strong associations with death and the earth (dark hair, pale skin) in mythology, and often dwelled within mountains and mines. They also take much of their culture from the Norse, as honorable, brusque warriors, but they do have some similarities to others from the 'Vættir' family (nature spirits).
Dwarves are always humanoid, but sources differ over specifics of height and lifestyles, and in some early stories the dwarves were even at full human height.
As their mythology evolved, the most notable changes have had them become more comical and more mysterious. They are now often depicted as short, stout humanoids, and in some stories their appearance is considered ugly as opposed to their fine craftsmanship. Their associations with the underground became more predominant.
The original concept of dwarves is very difficult to determine. The sources closest to the original Germanic mythology come from Norse mythology, but even these are scarce and varied. Sources have gradually given dwarves more comical and superstitious roles.
The actual word "dwarf" has puzzled many scholars. Dwarves could have been nature spirits or beings associated with death. The plural "dwarves" was never used until the release of J.R.R. Tolkien's famous books. Beforehand, the plural was simply "dwarfs."
Modern fantasy and literature has formed an intriguing weave of concepts, from the original dwarf, later Norse mythology, the dwarf of folk-tales, and other mythology. The modern stereotypical dwarf has distinctive features, such as short stature, excessive hair, and skill at mining and metallurgy. However, some creators devise new powers or images for dwarves, giving the race a wider range of variation.