Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Harpin of the Mountain

and His Dwarf

Harpins, Harpyns

An evil giant in Chrétien’s Yvain who wished to marry the daughter of a king. The king refused, and Harpin slaughtered two of his sons, kidnapped another four, and then ransomed the four sons for the king’s one daughter. The king was saved when Yvain arrived and – with the assistance of his lion – killed Harpin. Harpin appears in the Norse Iweins Saga as Fjallsharfir.

Excepting Meliagrant, Harpin of the Mountain may be Chrétien’s most unmitigated portrait of evil. One doubts that anything at all could be found to say in defence of this archetypal ogre’s character. True, one might call him punctual to his appointments – probably a rare virtue in that age – but then, as far as he knew, he came to the one appointment described for the sole purpose of enjoying himself by tormenting victims.

Harpin did not deign to wear armor, substituting a bearskin. probably this confidence in his own strength was also what prompted him to carry a massive pointed stake in lieu of other weapon. Had he had proper armor and bladed or other metal weaponry, the task of Ywaine and his lion in destroying him might have left them with less energy for fighting Lunette’s accusers a few hours later.

Harpin died with a large slab sliced off his face, a hunk clawed or bitten from his hip, one arm hacked off at the shoulder, and a sword thrust through the liver. Anyone inclined to pity him might bear in mind not only how he had threatened to treat “Alteria’s” daughter – by giving her to his vilest servants for their sex toy – but how he had actually treated her six brothers, killing two before their father’s eyes and bringing the surviving four, clad only in filthy shirts, hands and feet bound tightly, mounted on skinny and limping nags tied tail to tail, and flogged bloody by a dwarf who resembled a toad and wielded a four-knotted scourge, to witness thier sister’s surrender or else be murdered themselves. Harpin’s only motive for all this appears to have been frustrated lust for the young lady.

The dwarf survived to be taken by his erstwhile victims to Arthur’s court. What happened to him after that, Chrétien does not tell us.

Yvain, or Le Chevalier au Lion | Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th century
Ywain and Gawain | 1310–1340