A cultural history of dwarfs presents the challenge of a scarcity of information. The bibliography on dwarfs is far from extensive and openly contested. A paragraph here, a scholarly article there, a handful of books does not a history make. In place of history, we have a mixture of fact and fiction. For centuries, dwarfs have been co-opted via the popular imagination for the production of myth. All myths imply a cultural viewpoint, perceptions that stand in for reality. The object of myth, if it is prevalent enough, comes to form part of our collective experiences. Didn’t we grow up with dwarfs? Hey ho, hey ho. Don’t we have a sense from tales and movies that we would recognize a dwarf if we met one? Surely, as a society, we are no strangers to dwarfs? Aren’t all dwarfs more or less alike? A culture in search of an embodiment for its fascinations with the body has repeatedly looked at dwarfs to satisfy its assumptions.
Kathryn A. Kopple is the author of Little Velásquez, a novel set in 15th century Spain.