Dwarfs (or the more common, modern version "Dwarves") are creatures from Germanic mythologies, fairy tales, fantasy fiction, and role-playing games. They are highly skilled craftsmen and worshipers of Thor often in some myths. They are often depicted as being as ugly as their craftsmenship is great. They usually have magical talents, often involving metallurgy.
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 very varied. Sources have gradually given dwarves more comical and superstitious roles. Dwarves were certainly humanoid, but sources differ over their small height, their lifestyles, and their similarity to elves. Considering early sources, and considering the dwarves' nature, original dwarves seem fully human height. They had strong associations with death: paled skin; dark hair; connections with the earth; their role in mythology. They followed animistic traditions, showing similarities to such concepts of the dead. They were similar to others from the 'Vættir' family, such as elves.
As their mythology evolved, the most notable changes have had them become more comical and more mysterious. They adopted the modern image of short height and ugliness. Their associations with the underground became more predominant. Dwarves were magical creatures with huge skill at metallurgy, taking fame for making great artifacts of legend. Late Norse concepts of dwarves were becoming quite different from the early ones. The Legendary saga shows the new trend. The remnants of the original dwarf formed later fairy tales and folklore (see German folklore, and Dutch folklore). They had become unseen magical creatures like fairies; users of charms, curses, and deceit.
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, modern literature draws from a wide range, and dwarves vary their proximity to each of their historical counterparts. Many fantasists devise new powers or images for dwarves. Modern dwarves have no strict definition.
The concept of short dwarves is probably the most tenacious, and the term 'dwarf' can now describe short humans, regardless of its mythical origins. The universal modern description of a dwarf is something short, usually associated with magic, fantasy, and fairy tales.
The actual word "dwarf" has puzzled many scholars. Dwarves could have been nature spirits or beings associated with death. They are commonly displayed as short, stout creatures, with humanistic features. The plurl "dwarves" was never used until the release of J.R.R. Tolkien's famous books. Beforehand, the plurl was simply "dwarfs."