. I'm sealing this research post idea from here, so you would do me a solid if you would swing by there and consider pledging to her patreon.
Also, for those that don't know, I am the dork that draws She Dwarf.
The medieval myth-makers knew they lived in a old world with much history and lore. They built and buttressed their old ideas with the new ones, not just throwing out the old ones. This is why early Germanic and Celtic Christianity is so interesting to me! They didn't just throw out the old ways, they just told tales about the interaction between icons and concepts from the old ways of their land and the new ways of the Roman Empire.
Just as the old myth-makers built on top of the old things, so do modern myth-makers, even if they don't know it. J. R. R. Tolkien was nothing if not a lover of old things (so too the Brothers Grimm, for that matter). I'm going to quote from an English translation of Jacob Grimm book that I imagine Tolkien must of read and pondered at an impressionable age:
"Whilst in this and other ways the dwarfs do at times have dealings with mankind, yet on the whole they seem to shrink from man; they give the impression of a downtrodden afflicted race, which is on the point of abandoning its ancient home to new and more powerful invaders. There is stamped on their character something shy and something heathenish, which estranges them from intercourse with christians. They chafe at human faithlessness, which no doubt would primarily mean the apostacy from heathenism. In the poems of the Mid. Ages, Laurin is expressly set before us as a heathen. It goes sorely against the dwarfs to see churches built, bell-ringing ... disturbs their ancient privacy; they also hate the clearing of forests, agriculture, new fangled pounding-machinery for ore." ["Teutonic Mythology," Jacob Grimm, transl. Stallybrass, 1883]
Tolkien's dwarves all live in diaspora, having left their great halls to flee from invaders of all sorts. "...they give the impression of a downtrodden afflicted race, which is on the point of abandoning its ancient home to new and more powerful invaders." Moria , in the Misty Mountains, was overrun with orcs, goblins, and at least one balrog. Erebor, in the Lonely Mountain, was taken by a dragon. It is even mentioned that another dwarven place, the Grey Mountains, were invaded by cold drakes. The Dwarves can't catch a break!
I'm not saying that Tolkien definitely read exactly this passage from Teutonic Mythology and set about telling his own stories in that precise trajectory, though, I do think that is how Tolkien's brain was often shown to have worked. In any case, this is mostly an illustration in how digging down into the sedimentary layers of culture and myth can yield rich inspiration and discoveries.
A respect for tradition is often the best place to start for a storyteller. Creativity is not the same as originality. Indeed, I think originality is a mass media age problem that comes more from copyright law than it does a natural and healthy process of storytelling. Furthermore, if you have created something that is truly original, you have likely created something that is unintelligible to other people. Use, subvert, transgress, deconstruct, celebrate the icons and concepts that are free for the taking. Ignore them at your own peril. These icons and concepts will outlast us all. In our brief moment in the world as those that tell stories, perhaps it is better to think of ourselves as humble torchbearer instead of intrepid pathfinders.
What are some of your favorite dwarves or dwarf stories? How might they have been shaped by the old stories?