Earthfolk: dwarves and gnomes

Posted: January 11th, 2009 under Background.
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I’ve mentioned before a book by one of my college professors, F.S. Lear’s Treason in Roman and Germanic Law. In the course of studying ancient and medieval history, I was dragged (willingly, most of the time, but sometimes dragged) through a lot of legal systems. Lear discusses the contrasting bases for a concept of treason, ultimate disloyalty, under the two systems: one tribal, where loyalty is to a person or tribe and treason is a personal betrayal. The tribal leader in that case cannot be guilty of treason because he (it was always he, then) is the one to whom loyalty is due. The other is formally legal, where loyalty is to a code of law, and anyone–including those at the top–can be guilty of treason if they have transgressed that part of the code.

Relevance to current politics is obvious, but not a topic for this blog, except to show that the same conflicts of concepts exists today, as it did 2000 years ago….and undoubtedly longer ago than that. I grew up on the Border, in an area where a culture that claimed to believe in a rule of law was in daily contact with a culture for whom personal relationships were obviously more important.

All of the history sources I used are relevant to the Paksenarrion universe, but this one, in particular, set the tone for the two types of Earthfolk–dwaves and gnomes– in the books.

Dwarves, in fantasy and folklore, have traditionally been shown as tribal, with personal loyalties outweighing any respect for law. I chose to go with that tradition…the dwarves are “Germanic” in the sense of Lear’s book. Tribal, with loyalties to their tribe and their tribe’s chosen leader. They resist outside pressures to conform, to submit to others’ laws, rules, even suggestions…as when, in Divided Allegiance, the dwarf Balkon told Paks more about what they suspected of her ordeal with the iynisin than the Marshals and paladin wanted him to.

Dwarves refuse to believe that elves are the “real” Elders, and consider that when Sertig hammered out the world on his anvil, they were created first. Rock before trees, they say, and surely they, the rockfolk, came before elves, who are part of the “fur” on the world. They are part of the bones of the earth. Their citadels are below-ground, in “dross” rock (literally, “courageous rock”–rock with the strength to be delved and made into their palaces and warrens.) They are masters of carving rock, building with rock, and also working with metals.

Gnomes, then, I chose to have contrast with dwarves: they are strictly legal (and very legalistic.) They believe the creator of the world set out the laws, which only they fully grasp and rigidly follow; they admit that they and dwarves might have come into the world at the same time, but (oddly like elves) they believe they sprang from the utterance of their deity, the Law itself: law requires someone to obey it, so as the law was spoken, they came into being. (Elves, as mentioned earlier, believe the First Singer sang them into being.)

Gnomes are similar to dwarves in housing their citadels underground, and share the innate ability to sense rock (dross or nedross) and work rock and jewels, but their preferences, attitudes, and behavior are very different. Unlike the noisy, exuberant, colorful, and often quarrelsome dwarves, these gnomes are orderly, quiet, disciplined, serious: very Roman traits, and not only in giving allegiance to a system of law. If gnomes have a sense of humor, it’s impenetrable to humans: nothing is funny, and they never have a silly moment.

While dwarves are delighted if they can put something over on a human, gnomes believe in strict honesty and tit for tat…they never give freely, and they abhor being in debt. The gnomes who “owe” Paks for their rescue from the robbers’ lair, also in Divided Allegiance,  still have a debt to pay (as they think) and at some point they will erupt into the story to pay it. In their own way. Her losing the iron ring they gave her is a small impediment (though it may loom larger in their mind than it would in hers if she thought of it) but a debt is a debt and must be paid.

Dwarves sometimes have real friendships with specific elves (their friendships are never group-wide, but person-by-person) but gnomes do not. Gnomes make no friends outside their own species, if indeed they have what we would call friends among gnomes. “Every person has a place.”

And yet…if you are facing impossible odds, and want staunch fighters around you–gnomes are among the best. Gird learned about serious warfare from them, in Surrender None. Their discipline and insistence on the virtues of a rule of law helped Gird devise the Code and run a successful military campaign. Without the gnomes, Gird’s uprising would have failed, just another peasant rebellion put down by those with more resources.

An incident in Surrender None and the story “Gifts”  (set in an unnamed area of the north before the magelord invasionand published first in Masters of Fantasy),  suggest a strange relationship between dragons and Earthfolk.   This may or may not show up in the current group of books.

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