In nearly every single medieval story Elves and Dwarves hate each other, or at least are very unfriendly towards each other. As I have read, watched and played many a lore of the medieval genre it just seems natural that Elves and Dwarves have a mistrust, at least, between them. (LOTR, Eragon, ect..)

I was just curious if there was a first lore that had created this or if there was some reason that it is? Or is it truly that Tolkien made it so for his lore in Lord of the Rings and due to it being one of the first and greatest, everyone else just followed suit?

(I do recognize that there is a question out there about this, but in it it is asking specifically about LOTR, I'm asking about outside of it and as the medieval genre in general. (Why don't Elves like Dwarves?)

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    The question would be more substantial if you could add some examples other than Lord of The Rings... Because while saying you want answer to this theme outside of LoTR, that's the only one you mention.
    – Stark07
    Jan 23, 2015 at 13:08
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    I suspect this is a trope that actually started with Tolkien, although I'm far from well-versed enough in fantasy literature to back that statement up Jan 23, 2015 at 13:44
  • Isn't there a story of betrayals between the dwarf Mîm and Túrin Turambar ? I am not certain it is the beginning of the hatred between the 2 races.
    – Max
    Jan 23, 2015 at 14:00
  • As such this is a very broad question. Certainly they do not always hate one another, in every work ever made. The general reason is that they are very different from one another and it would make sense for them to be at odds. Jan 23, 2015 at 14:29
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    What do you mean by "medieval story"? Do you mean stories from medieval times, or modern fantasy set in a medieval-like world? Because I don't know of any story from medieval times that has Dwarves and Elves (or Dwarfs and Elfs) at odds. In Norse mythology, there are some who argue that the Dwarfs and the Dark Elfs are actually different names for the same thing.
    – KSmarts
    Jan 23, 2015 at 17:59

5 Answers 5


This is a common genre trope.

Elves are tall and slender, Dwarves are short and stout. Making a physical difference like this is a common way to point out that the two groups are meant as a foil of one another.

Elves use swords and bows, weapons requiring flexibility and precision, representations of elegance. Elegance is power. Dwarves use axes, hammers and crossbows, which are primarily about direct (or in the case of the crossbow, mechanical) application of force. Strength is power.

Elves will focus on magic and spirituality and evince disdain for material things, or to be more interested in their elegance than their utility. Beauty is strength. Dwarves will focus on mining and smithing, sometimes use muskets or revolver-style pistols and various Steampunk machines and tanks, all representations of industrial, technological might. Innovation is strength.

Elves live in pristine woods, crystal spires or elegant palaces, emphasis on light and natural beauty, openness. Dwarves live in great halls and impregnable fortresses that are usually underground, emphasis on artifice and containment.

Elves are often portrayed as being masters of diplomacy, debate, rhetoric, Purple Prose, small talk and doubletalk. Dwarves are typically as straightforward as the grille of an oncoming semi.

Elves dress fancily, sing elaborate songs, write poetic literature in flowing script, and are embodiments of beauty and style. Dwarves are often unkempt, sport long beards and hair, and dress in either simple leather, undyed wool — or steel — and write prose in runes, carved into the rock.

Peoples (real or fictional) are often at odds when they come from such distinctly different backgrounds. Jimbo from southern Alabama is so culturally different from Sebastian from upper class NY City that it only makes sense for them to be at odds. But Jimbo and Sebastian can come together to fight aliens, much like:

The dwarf may gain a new respect for the elf's culture and deep learning, while the elf comes to appreciate the dwarf's craftsmanship and hard work. Also expect both sides to put aside their differences and team up against a third enemy, who's usually portrayed as primarily destructive (orcs, for example). The attribute shared by elves and dwarves primarily being creativity.

  • Who/what are you quoting?
    – amalgamate
    Jan 23, 2015 at 14:40
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    He is quoting the link he provided at the beginning of his answer.
    – Kalissar
    Jan 23, 2015 at 14:41
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    Also, Tolkien is definitely the Trope Codifier, but is he the Trope Maker or Ur Example, too?
    – KSmarts
    Jan 23, 2015 at 18:01
  • The quote doesn't mention it (does come close), but the two races can also be seen as symbolic for the age-old balance (battle?) between nature and industry.
    – Omegacron
    Jan 23, 2015 at 19:50
  • Quoting TvTropes on a question about the origins of a trope is like trying to find the tip of the ouroboros snake. Not going to happen. Jan 23, 2015 at 20:21

The only source I can imagine for this (other from Tolkien's Nauglamirgate) is that on several mithologies elves and dwarven doesn't exist like modern fantasy literature depicts them, however there are several "spirits" who resemble a "primitive form" of these beings.

For example, several fairies or pixies in different mithologies seem to be related to the modern concept of elf (although there are others where the word "elf" is commonly associated with something more similar to a modern fantasy goblin :D), and the same happens with gnomes, and other "dwarvish" creatures.

So, if we try to establish something like a creature family tree on ancient mithologies we'll find that there are several creatures that resemble manners, traits and behaviours similar to those of the "modern concept" of elves, and the same happens with dwafs.

If we study in depth this two families, we'll find that the majority of those from "elvish" family are usually (not always but quite often) associated to air element, while those from the "dwarvish" family are usually associated to the earth element.

Air oposses to earth ad water does to fire.

Although not all different mithologies represent grudges or bad neighbourship between their air and earth counterparts, it's something that repeats from time to time.

So I supose that our modern concept of elves and dwarfs (and of those who wrote the stories that created that modern concept) sees quite "natural" that "air" and "earth" creatures dislikes each others.

Sincerely, I cannot say if this is enough reason to explain the usually depicted hostility between both races on modern fantasy, but seems reasonable to me.

  • In LotR, even before the Nauglimir, Elves hunted Dwarves like animals and killed them because they thought they were so ugly they couldn't be sentient. That was the original reason in Tolkien, aside from them being so different.
    – Shamshiel
    Jan 23, 2015 at 14:48

It comes down to mostly philosophical reasons, they don't have a true animosity towards each other but rather an uneasy relationship. Dwarves are seen as changers of the land, they mine, build permanent structures of stone, they take from the land and rarely return anything. Elves are seen as protectors, improver's of nature. there lives flow with nature etc. Which of course causes friction. in lord of the rings, Elrond is friends of dwarfs. in the raymond e feist series dwarfs and elves share a great alliance. etc.


In Tolkien the reasons have been addressed by the answers above. In general fantasy there are to many reasons to count. Though a common one is "they hate each other for something that happened so long ago neither race could remember what it was".


In the Lord of the Rings the cause of the diffidence and hate is not spelled out, but the Silmarillion contains precise details. So for the Tolkien world, the cause is rather clear. Read about Thingol, and beware of spoilers.

There is also the generic trope of the Elves being "ethereal" creatures and the dwarves being materialistic and devoted to accumulation of gold/precious stones/...

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    The first part of this answer explicitly avoids answering the question, which significantly lessens its potential value as an answer. If you are concerned that information in an answer would be a spoiler, you are welcome to put the information inside of a spoiler quote-block.
    – apsillers
    Jan 23, 2015 at 14:00
  • I gladly accept the downvotes if you feel that the question is not useful :-) But I find that I am often unable to resist the temptation to go over the spoiler quote-block. And so I gave a hint which, if actively followed, would have given the details. Again, if you feel it's "wrong"... that's what downvotes are for, I won't take it personally :-) Btw, the second part of the answer tries to answer from a more general point of view.
    – Francesco
    Jan 23, 2015 at 16:56
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    The problem with doing it that way is that I have no idea what the actual answer is.
    – Ellesedil
    Jan 23, 2015 at 17:02
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    Keep in mind that SE seeks to become a repository of actual answers, not just instructions for finding the answers.
    – Omegacron
    Jan 23, 2015 at 19:54

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