Why these characters? Part 3

The last couple characters in my books are probably among the least well-known figures in Norse myth.

Let’s start with Hyrrokin. She’s a female Jotunn who rides a wolf that has vipers for reins. In my book she rides a wolf named Viper, because…ow…bitey.

She has two references that I recall. In the first, she shoves Baldr’s boat into the sea setting the rollers aflame and causing the land to rumble and quake. All of which angers Thor. He takes up his hammer (Mjolnir) to smite! her, but is prevented by the other Aesir. The second reference I’m not going to mention. Hyrrokin may also be depicted on this runestone. And yes, I use one “k” in spelling her name.

If I had some elbow room in developing Frigg, Vidar and Hodir, I had a warehouse full of elbows for Hyrrokin (and Vafthrudnir). Which probably puts me on a list somewhere.

For Hyrrokin I had to figure everything out — fun, but tough, especially since the reference above was a weird situation. Why would Odin call for a Jotunn to help float Baldr’s ship? Her death was also problematic because it was just a mention — no circumstances, no sense of time between the Baldr event and her death, etc.

Eventually, I tied Hyrrokin’s backstory directly into the main motivations for the Jotunn themselves. (I use “Jotunn” for singular & plural; not accurate, but simpler.) And I made her a warrior. I know where she’s headed through Book Two, but it still feels a titch flat.

Vafthrudnir (in Old Norse, the accent is always on the first syllable) has his own ballad. It’s cool — a battle of wits between Odin and Vafthrudnir. Think Gollum & Bilbo in The Hobbit and you’re not far off.

Two things (among others) made Vafthrudnir compelling:

  1. Odin pitted his wisdom against the Jotunn’s.
  2. Frigg cautioned Odin, saying that among all the Jotunn* she doesn’t know one mightier.

To me, then, it seemed that Vafthrudnir was at least Odin’s equal — and that’s how I’m writing him. My Vafthrudnir is a shaman, a shapeshifter, older than he appears, and has a really big axe to grind against Aesir skulls.

 

*In a future post, I’ll go into the differences between Jotunn, Aesir and Vanir.

Why these characters? Part 2

In my personal category of lesser-known Norse deities, I included: Frigg, Hodir and Vidar.

Frigg (sometimes Frigga) and Hodir (sometimes Hodr) are likely better known than Vidar. All three are pretty cool cats. Well, not cats. That’s Freyja. She’s got a cart pulled by ’em. It’s also possible, according to some, that Frigg and Freyja are different aspects of the same deity. But not in my book! (Literally, not figuratively.)

Anyway.

Frigg is a Jotunn who marries Odin, the Alfather. The top dog. Why does she do this? I answer that. Odin ditches her all the time to go a’wandering. What does she do? I answer that. She sees the doom of all men, but never speaks it. How does that work? I answer that.

Hodir is the blind brother of Baldr. Both are the sons of Frigg & Odin. Why is Hodir blind? I answer that. How does he get around? I answer that. What does he do in the story? Same as in the myths. Read ’em if you want spoilers. In my book, hopefully I deliver on it.

Vidar is the son of Odin and Grid, a Jotunn. He’s nearly as strong as Thor, rarely speaks and does…some other stuff. Eventually. 🙂 He’s one of the characters who hooked my imagination and dragged me into writing. Contrary to the myths, he talks quite a bit in my book. “Vidar stared at him” would get a bit boring, after all.

Because less is known about these Aesir, I felt like I had more elbow room in developing them. But, since one of my goals was (and is) to be as true to the myths as possible, I took each mention of these Aesir and extrapolated upon them. 

As an example, developing Frigg meant asking questions (as above) and researching women in Viking/Norse society. Not only did that help me visualize how she dressed — which was practically important for multiple scenes, but gave me an idea of gender roles and how Frigg could break them.

One such historical tidbit on roles helped me resolve a problem in Odin’s plot line (it’s a doozy). Since that happens at the end of Book Two, I had to foreshadow it — which meant writing several new scenes and making multiple references both in Book One & Two. Ideally, all of those look like worldbuilding so that resolution happens in the second book looks “surprising yet inevitable.”

 

A device…

In one of my early drafts, I made a throwaway reference to a mostly destroyed “device” captured from a Jotunn patrol. Vidar had been given the device and was trying to figure out what it was.

At the time, I had no idea what the device did. But, I needed something to show that Vidar was someone who was curious about things, who wanted to know why the world worked the way it did.

So, I made references — the device, instruments he built, etc. I thought they were just mentions, but they were actually tiny pebbles rolling down the mountain of my subconscious.

On my earliest draft, one of my beta readers mentioned those references. He liked them. Which kicked those pebbles into motion.

Well, shit.

So, I had a choice. Leave ’em as they were or double-down.

I decided to do the latter. With respect to the “device,” I described it as a black stick of ironwood and metal, with silver inside and a shattered gem on one end. It had been broken and scorched in a fire.

On the next draft he mentioned it again, saying something like: It’s a little thing, but it was driving me nuts that you didn’t provide a clear picture of what that device looked like.

Dammit. He called my bluff.

Truth is, I didn’t have a clue as to what it looked like or what it did. To me, it didn’t matter — it was a MacGuffin. A Maltese Falcon that people wanted and would do “stuff” to get.

But it seemed to matter to my reader. It had made an impression. It was interesting.

Again I had the choice: Leave it or double-down.

I thought, why not double-down again, and figure out the answers to these questions:

  • What was the device? What did it do? Check.
  • Why did the Jotunn have it? Check.
  • Why were the Jotunn using it where they were using it? Check.
  • Where else was it used? Check.
  • Why did the Jotunn want it back? Check.
  • Are there more of them? Check.
  • How did the Jotunn get them from the Svartalvar? Mostly check.
  • Are those other devices used now, within the timeline of the current story? Hmmm. Ya know, I am having this big problem with Hyrrokin’s story arc…what if I…yeah, that works. That works well.

In a totally unrelated scene written only Odin knows when, I put an Alvar device into Odin’s hands — a wooden wand that I called a shaper. Again, just a plot device, something to explain how he and Frigg got from point A to point B in a cool way that showed some depth to the world and allowed Odin to do something that he couldn’t do with his own abilities.

Then yesterday morning, I’m hacking away at a friggin awful, problematic scene late in Vidar’s plot line.

As I’m writing I have a revelation, which I express through Vidar’s POV. What if Vidar thinks that the “device” he was trying to figure out, the shaper Odin used, and other things that Vidar encountered are all related? (No, I haven’t mentioned those other things ;))

And since I’d already written several scenes showing the “Vidar device” in action, at this point in the book the reader would already know what the device does. And so the reader knows that Vidar’s conclusion is wrong.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s awesome. It’s also serendipity.

I just hope it works like I think it does. And if it does, I have my beta reader to thank.

Why these characters? Part 1…

I have seven POV characters in my first book. The second book introduces an 8th. What will probably be Book 3, introduces five new POVs — but I haven’t decided which of the original 8 will also have POVs in that future book. A total of 8 is probably all that I can handle, let alone a reader.

So, for Book One…here’s one way to somewhat arbitrarily categorize my POV characters:

  1. Well known (Odin, Loki)
  2. Not well known and/or not much known about them (Frigg, Vidar, Hodir)
  3. Really not well known (Hyrrokin, Vafthrudnir)

Odin and Loki pretty much have to be in the story b/c of the way I’m telling it. It’s tough writing them b/c:

  • They’re so well known in a particular, popular way (Marvel comics & movies, mostly)
  • I want them to be as much like their appearances in the Poetic Edda as possible. I don’t dislike the Prose Edda, but the Poetic is a titch more “original source”…and there are other sources, too.*

In Marvel comics, I got hooked on Odin, Loki, Thor, etc., via Walter Simonson’s Thor. I was reading ’em as they came out (yes, I’m that old) and they were awesome. Loved his art & stories. Then the Marvel Cinematic Universe came around 20+ years later and I was totally baffled, until a friend explained it to me.

Odin in the myths is NOT a kindly Anthony Hopkins stuffed into gold armor. In the myths, Odin is about as terrifying as it gets — and I’m trying hard for my Odin to be like that. Probably the best Odin I’ve read (outside of the Poetic Edda) is Neil Gaiman’s Mr. Wednesday. (Ian McShane is playing Mr. Wednesday in the TV version of American Gods; if you saw Deadwood, McShane played Al Swearengen…and was fan-effing-tastic.)

Loki, according to Rudolf Simek’s dictionary, is NOT the god of fire. Nor is he the adopted son of Odin as depicted in the comics & movies.

However, Loki is a shapeshifting Jotunn who, after becoming Odin’s blood brother, both gets the Aesir into a lot of trouble and then gets them out of it again. Usually. He’s often seen as a trickster figure — cutting off Sif’s hair is one example — but he’s more complex than that.

In my readings of both Eddas, I came to see a Loki who was mischievous in some stories and then flat-out “I’m coming for you” evil in others. Reconciling those two Lokis was tough, but I think I’ve a good handle on it. Reading the books by Crossley-Holland and Lindlow, along with Simek and a ton of other stuff, definitely helped. (In a future post I may detail some of the research I did.)

As with Odin, I’m going for a Loki who’s true to the myths first. Obviously there’s a large dose of my own creative license involved, but I’ve tried to ground my changes in scholarship not some wackadoo impulses. I also know where the shoals are (Marvel’s stuff), so I can steer clear of all that.

In my next posts, I’ll dive into the two other groupings of POV characters.

*A discussion of the source materials is fodder for dozens of blog posts, at the absolute least.