Why Are All Dwarves Scottish?


#1

As a Scotsman, this is something that has kind of baffled\annoyed me. When did all dwarves in fantasy media become Scottish? I first noticed it when I recently watched the trailer for the game Dwarves:

And then I thought back to other times like D&D, Warhammer and Raymond Feist’s Magicians where they’re all mostly depicted as Scottish as well. The two franchises that probably bug me the most about this trope is the Lord of the Rings movies and The Witcher. It’s very strange that the movie version of LotR depicts the dwarves as Scottish in the first place because weird racist fascist that Tolkien was, he actually based his dwarves off of the Jewish people. Yeah, let that sink in when you consider the dwarves as bearded gold hoarders in search of a lost homeland.
The Witcher dwarves only annoy me because other than their accents there is nothing Scottish about them. Not their names, or the way they dress or even their culture. Skellige actually has much more Scottish influence in it even though they have Norn Iron accents as FUN FACT they were inspired by the Kingdom of the Isles which was also FUN FACT the inspiration for the Iron Born in Game of Thrones.

With Scotland being rife with myths and legends I never understood why it hasn’t made much impact in fantasy media other than dwarves. I mean, yes we do have dwarves in our myths but as Scottish culture is a big amalgamation of Gaelic, Pictish and Norse it’s not like it’s unique to us or particularly emphasised. Even stuff like Elder Scrolls’ Reachmen who take inspiration from Scotland barely show it and Game of Thrones takes large swaths of Scottish history but gives zero nods to it which is annoying when they at least try to have northern English accents in the the North and southern English accents in the South but zero Scottish accents for the Wildlings “Beyond The Wall” they even had a Scottish actress play Ygritte but still made her do a northen English accent.

\end rant


#2

I would probably blame Games Workshop for making their Warhammer Dwarves like that. It then spread, probably most widely through Warcraft.


#3

Not to take too much away from your question here, but in the Dragon Age universe the dwarves all have American/Canadian accents. I always thought that was a neat subversion of the Scottish dwarf trope, although I would’ve preferred them all to talk like the Trailer Park Boys in order to have a bit of New Scotland (Nova Scotia) irony.


#4

I’m not sure if the was purposeful tho? There are a lot of American accents in Dragon Age, like most Qunari and even an elf here and there.


#5

@Jonny_Anonymous I’m sure part of it was informed by the fact that Edmonton based BioWare probably had limited access to people that could do convincing Euro accents, but it’s still pretty neat that the dwarves were almost uniformly using North American accents. It’s something you don’t necessarily see in fantasy usually.


#6

I wonder, too, how much David Buck’s voice acting for Gimli in the Bakshi Lord of the Rings is an influence on GW’s take.

Are there any sources that link dwarves to a Scottish accent prior to the mid-1970s?


#7

In Warmachine/Hordes, Trollbloods are Scottish, and Dwarves are… actually I have no idea.


#8

atlas obscura actually dug into this awhile back:


#9

Because the Scottish masks that Tolkien Dwarves are a borderline anti-semetic caricature of how Jewish people were viewed at the time.

(That’s not really why, but it does a decent job at it regardless)


#10

In film British accents seem to be common for dialogue even for characters that aren’t British, if the voice track is English and the characters aren’t speaking in their native accent (which gets into a whole discussion on how LotR is “translated from the original Westron”

So I always figured dwarves being Scottish was shorthand for “these are hill-folk from a place way up and out of the way of the realms of men”


#11

No, I think this is at least partially correct! In the Tolkien letters, he notes that they are designed to give the general air a semetic people, or something of the sort. It’s a… problematic part of Tolkien’s well-meaning but very old-British-guy politics; while they are overall meant to be positive characters, the dwarves fell to greed and had to redeem themselves. That’s uh… hm.

The scottish accents, like others have noted here, are a shorthand for a close but still different “other” accent to give flavor to a people in fiction where english accents are the norm. I don’t think it was intentionally picked to mask the original problematic portrayal in Tolkien’s writing, but it helps mask it a bit. Although I’d argue that the core issues are still there in a lot of portrayals, but hey.


#12

I don’t see it as masking it though, all it’s doing transfering the problems.


#13

I mean yeah, that’s sort of what I was getting at here.


#14

Isn’t a better question, “Why are Dwarves so obsessed with right angles?” Most art depicts dwarves as focusing on straight lines and right angles, yet they live underground and have to mine out their habitats. So wouldn’t arches, spheres and maybe triangles would be the dominate shape of their architecture? A sphere or arch is a stronger structure so it holds that the dwarves would discover this and focus on building with those ideas in mind.


#15

System Mastery, a pretty cool pencil & paper RPG review podcast noticed this and now the hosts have a rule of always using Italian accents for Dwarves, because they love silly arbitrary rules like that.


#16

Maybe stating the obvious, but they don’t have Scottish accents in Polish.


#17

Isn’t that kind of a failure of the localization then?


#18

I mean, dwarves don’t exist and they’re not supposed to be Scottish. They don’t speak Scottish (or Scottish-accented English). They’re not particularly Scottish in terms of their culture or legacy. They speak some made-up language and have made-up cultures. As noted above, the point of giving them a Scottish accent when “translating” to English is probably shorthand for “foreign compared to the dominant language group,” with some added associations of northern, hillish, or something along those lines.

I remember thinking it was quite cool that Bhujerbans spoke with a vaguely Indian accent compared to the vaguely British Archadians in FFXII – it was an effective and novel shorthand for “foreign” and “resource-rich kind-of colony” (and therefore Archadian empire = kind-of fucked up). It was also one of the very few instances I can recall of hearing Indian-accented English in a game at all in more than just passing. I have no idea if something similar was done in the Japanese voice acting or not.

I will admit that I haven’t thought super intensely about whether this sort of “borrowing” of accents is problematic. It does definitely posit English as-spoken in England (specifically RP, I guess) or the coastal U.S. as the default dominant language group, or, alternatively, posit that particular language group as the main audience for the media. I guess that’s not really false, though, in the current media landscape…?

I do remember thinking recently that Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun has its characters (feudal-era Japanese ninjas, samurai, etc.) speaking in a vaguely Asian accent in English, and that that’s kind of bizarre. It’s even weirder because you can also choose Japanese VA. They’re presumably actually speaking Japanese in the fiction, just translated into English for English-speaking gamers, so why would they have Asian accents? It’s not localized for people to whom an Asian accent would be the norm, it’s localized for people to whom the accent would sound foreign. I mean, the game’s set in unspecified feudal Japan, so the average English-speaking gamer would feel the setting is foreign anyway, but still, a little weird. (Not intended as a criticism of the VA, which is excellently done and quite charming.) Just a kind of weird counterpoint to the use of an accent to signal foreignness and to say, Persona’s localization, which doesn’t localize any of the Japanese cultural aspects but everyone speaks standard American English (obvs localized by Atlus USA).

tl;dr: language is weird, thinking is exhausting. While typing this response, I have now confused myself further. Interesting discussion though.


#19

It’s funny because ever since I played Dragon Age II I see elves as Scottish. And the Witcher has me viewing dwarves as Russian.


#20

the Dwarves as a semitic stand-in in Tolkien is definitely problematic what with the thirst for gold and everything. although on the flip side of the coin I have always liked their other trait which Tolkien drew from that and which didn’t make the same jump into the broader portrayal of dwarves post Tolkien, which is that his Dwarves were a displaced people driven out of their homeland. I think it could be fairly argued that the longing to return home was an even greater pull for the dwarves in the hobbit than the mountain of treasure, at least until they fell under the sway of great (which, again, not a great angle for a group of characters with Jewish inspiration specifically, even if it is a very human story.) But anyway, I have always liked at least that more sympathetic aspect of “Dwarves as Jews” even as I dislike the parts that were a product of, if not overt anti-semitism then certainly shaped by a culture in which anti-semitism was a factor.