Where did the idea of 'Dwarf Tossing' come from in fantasy?

I am pretty sure I first came across it in Blood Bowl and it famously happened to Gimli in the Two Towers film adaptation.

But it feels like it has some earlier origin. Does anyone know where the idea came from (in Fantasy not IRL)?

  • So what is the answer to your question about the origins of Dwarf Tossing in fantasy fiction (not IRL)? I suppose it must be one of the sources mentioned in the accepted and highly upvoted answer by Dewi Morgan. However, since that answer refers to multiple works, not all of which are clearly works of fantasy fiction, it's not immediately clear which specific work is the answer to your question.
    – user14111
    Commented Apr 1, 2018 at 6:55

6 Answers 6


[Edit: I feel my own answer, while accepted, does not fully answer the question as asked. For a better suggestion on a possible first-introduction of dwarf-tossing into fantasy literature as a pastime, please see the excellent answer by @user14111.]

The common popularity of the phrase "dwarf toss" can be traced back to a single Australian bar, the earliest reference to which that I can find online is: March 05, 1985 Chicago tribune under the headline "The Dwarf Toss" reports "the most unusual tavern competition has to be the one that was held recently in an Australian bar. You may have read about it." - it regrettably doesn't mention where we might have read about it, so my trail dead-ends there.

This event garnered no small amount of press, outrage, and protests, causing even the UN's Human Rights Committee to eventually weigh in against the practice... thus guaranteeing that the practice would become internationally recognized, rather than only in one small bar (and one small dwarf) in Australia.

I can however find precursors to suggest that the practice of hurling a dwarf as a projectile existed even before this point, even if only in the popular imagination:

From 1911, The Heart Tinkers by Holman Day, published in Good Housekeeping - Volume 52, the line "decide whether to hurl the dwarf through a window, or toss him down the stairway." (earliest mention I can find of the word "toss" wrt dwarves).

From 1893, Railway World, "As easily as the giant may throw the dwarf."

In the 1878 Encyclopaedia Britannica's entry on Dwarf, "The last dwarf retainer in a gentleman’s family was the one kept by Mr Beckford, the author of Vathek and builder of Fonthill. He was rather too big to be flung from one guest to another, as used to be the custom at dinners in earlier days when a dwarf was a “necessity” for every noble family."

Counterpunch.org traces this claim to "E.J Woods, author of the useful “Giants and Dwarfs” (1860)" - however, since I cannot by searching find anything even remotely approaching that phrase in the 1868 printing of the book, I can't confirm.

Reading a short biography of Beckford, he lived from around 1760 to 1844. However, I am unsure if this is not just one more myth intended to blacken his name, taken as fact by the encyclopaedists. Elsewhere I find references that the man "shared the pornography", and "was accused of improper practices" with the dwarf, libels for which he successfully sued for damages - sounds like, when you're the son of the richest man in England, people like to talk smack about you.

Either way, dwarf-flinging has been written about at least as far back as the 1878 Britannica, and possibly practiced sometime in the 1700s if not before.

  • 2
    that 1878 EB quote is staggering! :)
    – Anentropic
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 15:44
  • Isn't it, though! Can't believe they let that print, and wish they gave a citation. Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 18:29
  • 2
    The origins of the pub sport probably pre-date 1985. In 1980, "While he was in his late twenties, Tureaud [more famously known as Mr. T] won two tough-man competitions consecutively. The first aired as "Sunday Games" on NBC-TV under the contest of "America's Toughest Bouncer" which included throwing a 150-pound (68 kg) stuntman" ( Wiki ). According to a later paragraph, "In 1980, Mr. T was spotted by Sylvester Stallone while taking part in NBC's "America's Toughest Bouncer" competition, a segment of NBC's Games People Play.", setting the date of that show.
    – The Photon
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 19:25
  • 1
    @DewiMorgan, I actually remember seeing it on TV...when Mr. T was just starting to becmoe famous.
    – The Photon
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 21:44
  • 1
    Much better, thanks! For the record, the piece from a 1911 Good Housekeeping is "The Heart Tinkers" by Holman Day. However, I'm not sure it counts as an answer to the question; I believe "dwarf tossing" here refers to the "sport" of tossing a dwarf back and forth like a ball, not to the act of throwing a dwarf through a window or down a stairway.
    – user14111
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 2:20

It was apparently a real pub "sport" that originated in Australia in the 1980s according to this page, and has since been banned in a number of areas due to the possibility of injuries according to the wiki article. It's referenced in this story from the April 2, 1985 edition of The Weekly World News, not exactly a trustworthy source but looking at the other pages suggests it was a bit more of a regular tabloid back then and not a paper devoted purely to joke stories as it later became. Unless any earlier fictional references are found, I'd guess that fantasy works incorporated it as a joke about the real thing rather than the real thing being inspired by fantasy.

  • According to that wiki article, it is banned in New York, Florida, and one town in Frace. So it isn't banned (at a national level) in any country.
    – KSmarts
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 19:01
  • @KSmarts - Thanks, I didn't read it carefully enough--edited my answer to say "a number of areas" rather than countries.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 19:03

The abuse of dwarfs in real life probably goes back to antiquity, but perhaps the earliest depiction of the sport of dwarf-tossing in modern fantasy fiction is in James Thurber's 1945 children's novel The White Deer:

Thag and Gallow guffawed at their younger brother's "finickery" as they called it, and they would take to tossing Quondo, the dwarf, back and forth in the air as if he were a ball, oblivious of his gutteral protests.

Considering the popularity of the book and author, this could well be the inspiration for subsequent fictional dwarf-tossing.

  • 1
    I prefer this answer over my own, as it more correctly answers the question as it was asked. Commented Oct 1, 2020 at 17:54

In The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore, 2016; Orion, there is mention of dwarf-tossing as a common and recurring amusement during and after Romanov dynastic banquets and grand celebrations in Russia.

The practice appears to have declined in the 19th century and certainly was no longer practiced when, in 1917, the Bolsheviks replaced dwarf tossing with Romanov tossing.

Sebag Montefiore leaves important questions unanswered:

Were there upper and lower age limits restricting which dwarfs were eligible to be tossed?

Did members of the nobility have to achieve a certain age before being allowed to toss a dwarf?

Could noble men and women engage in the practice on an equal footing?

Upon becoming age appropriate to engage in tossing the dwarf, was there a necessary practice period to avoid damage to a valuable dwarf on the part of young Romanovs?

These and many other questions may yield to further research.

  • From the question (emphasis added): "What are the origins of "Dwarf Tossing" in fantasy fiction? Where did the idea of 'Dwarf Tossing' come from in fantasy? [. . .] Does anyone know where the idea came from (in Fantasy not IRL)? As far as I can tell, your answer only discusses dwarf tossing IRL. Please expand your answer to show how the concept entered fantasy fiction.
    – user14111
    Commented Oct 21, 2016 at 23:01

According to Wikipedia:

Author Hugh Cook includes a dwarf-tossing scene in his 1992 fantasy novel The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster.

That's the earliest reference I can find.

  • 11
    Blood Bowl dates from 1986 so it's earlier.
    – user8719
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 18:21

Further to the March 1985 mention in the 'Chicago Tribune' - a report of proceedings in the Parliament of Western Australia suggests the practice originated in Queensland as part of a publicity stunt. It quotes a news report from the 'West Australian', 28 February 1985 alleging the first event took place at the Surfers Paradise night club, possibly on Tuesday 26 February 1985:

" Brisbane: Australia's first dwarf-throwing contest has landed in a row. A former Queensland Liberal MIP, Mrs Beryce Nelson, launched a strong attack on the event-held at a Surfers Paradise night club on Tuesday-and called for the State Government to intervene.

"It's not 20th century show business . . . it's an 18th century freak show," she said.

But 1.2-metre-tall "Wee Robbie" Randall defended the contest. The former actor was thrown through the air five times in round one of a bouncers' contest.

"It's not a freak show, It's a straight-out publicity stunt," he said. "I'll be back again next week. It was fun and didn't hurt a bit."

But Mrs Nelson said that dwarfs had fought hard for their rights and Mr Randall should consider this.

"It's set Queensland right back, especially coming after the beer-belly contest," she said."

Sorry, the link I posted first didn't work. If you google "Wee Robbie Randall" you should find the parliamentary report as a pdf.

  • The question specifically asks for "the origins of 'Dwarf Tossing' in fantasy fiction" and "in Fantasy not IRL". I don't see how this answer answers the question. (It's not clear that the accepted answer answers it either.)
    – user14111
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 4:36

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