Thor…Ragnarok?

So I saw Thor: Ragnarok. Really enjoyed it.

If you hate spoilers, then stop reading here.

 

Last Warning! ūüôā

 

 

 

 

OK, Let’s start with a simple critique of how the movie/comics differed from the myths:

  1. Thor does not have blond hair, is not the “prince” of Asgard, does not lose an eye, does not fly by flinging his hammer, does not become “king” of the Asgardian people. He also doesn’t have a particularly great relationship with his pappy.
  2. Loki is not Thor’s adopted brother; Loki is Odin’s blood brother. Loki is part of the assault on Asgard when Ragnarok begins (he and Hela, among others, sail in the Naglfar to destroy the “gods.” In a way, Loki does “start” Ragnarok in the movie.
  3. Hela is not her name (it’s Hel, but I’ve covered that elsewhere). Half of her face (and body) should be blue-black, but it isn’t. She also doesn’t have evil witch make-up or a horned helm. And she especially isn’t Odin’s daughter; she is Loki’s daughter. She also doesn’t fight against Surtr. She (and Loki) and a whole bunch of dead folks fight alongside Surtr (sorta). But, Odin did exile her.
  4. Odin is not a kindly old man that floats away in golden sparks (see the link below for why those sparks looked like they did). He is not a kindly king. He is more like the Odin that Hela uncovered when she broke the fresco. Sorta.
  5. Fenrir is not Hela’s mount; he is her brother. He also doesn’t get his ass kicked by the Hulk. Fenrir eats Odin and is then killed by Vidar.
  6. Heimdall cannot psychically pull anybody to where he is. That’s the kind of super power reserved for plot conveniences. Idris Elba is totally awesome.

But, really, none of the above inconsistencies actually matters. It was a good movie and the Marvel universe does not equal Norse myth…so I won’t go into how “misleadingly” the film’s titled ūüėČ (Spoiler: everyone who survives should be dead.)

Did any of you catch some of the “Easter eggs”? I caught a few:

  1. Beta Ray Bill was on the Grandmaster’s tower.
  2. Thor said Loki once turned him into a frog. That’s a reference to the Simonson era of comic books…and pretty much when I stopped reading the Thor comic because that issue was really, really stupid.
  3. Check out #15 in the link below. I didn’t catch that one — the shirt Banner is wearing is “Hungry like the Wolf” (Duran Duran)…and then Fenrir bites the Hulk. Which is how Odin dies.

And here’s the link I mentioned: 15 easter eggs in the movie.

Now for a quick word on Skurge (Karl Urban’s character). The movie did a good job capturing his look & feel, particularly with the M-16s. I was a little disappointed with how the character was portrayed, but the film departed so heavily from what Simonson did with Hela and Skurge, I’m just glad they included Skurge at all. And, Karl Urban’s cool.

Maybe it’ll inspire folks to pick up some cool old comics. Try clicking here (Simonson link)!

And finally, I couldn’t help but think that the spaceship Thor & Co. fly away on looked a lot like Scuttlebut (the image above). It doesn’t now that I’ve looked at the image again, but at the time…dang! =D

Did you see the movie? If so let me know what you think!

Shed a Tyr for Loki

When I think of the Norse god Tyr, I can’t help but also think of Benedict, the brother of Corwin of Amber.*

When Benedict first appears in The Guns of Avalon, Corwin describes him thusly:

I fear Benedict…He is the Master of Arms for Amber. Can you conceive of a millennium? A thousand years? Several of them? Can you understand a man who, for almost every day of a lifetime like that, has spent some time dwelling with weapons, tactics, strategy?

In the Prose Edda, Snorri describes Tyr as the¬†“bravest and most valiant and he has great power over victory in battles. There is a saying that a man is ty-valiant who surpasses other men and does not hesitate.” (This is from the Gylfaginning.)

Snorri goes on to write that…

when the Aesir were luring Fenrir so as to get the fetter Gleipnir on him, he [Fenrir] did not trust them that they would let him go until they placed Tyr‚Äôs hand in the wolf‚Äôs mouth as a pledge. When the Aesir refused to let him (Fenrir) go then he bit off the hand at the places that is now called the wolf-joint (wrist) and he [Tyr] is one-handed….

Benedict also lacks a hand.

I’m not suggesting that Benedict is Tyr. I’m just pointing out the similarities and, perhaps, the underlying influence.**

In Lokasenna 38-40 (Poetic Edda) which Snorri likely drew from, Loki mocks Tyr thusly (in Dr Jackson Crawford’s translation):

Loki: You don‚Äôt know how to settle disputes between men. I‚Äôm thinking of your right hand which Fenrir, my son, bit off.‚ÄĚ

Tyr: I lost that hand, you lost that son. We both suffered loss. Your son isn’t doing well, either; he remains forever in chains waiting for Ragnarok.

This same passage reads thusly in the Bellows translation:

Loki spake:
38. “Be silent, Tyr! | for between two men
Friendship thou ne’er couldst fashion;
Fain would I tell | how Fenrir once
Thy right hand rent from thee.”

Tyr spake:
39. “My hand do I lack, | but Hrothvitnir thou,
And the loss brings longing to both;
Ill fares the wolf | who shall ever await
In fetters the fall of the gods.”

(Hrothvitnir = the Mighty Wolf = Fenrir)

Loki sounds kinda pissed off to me — as he does in all of the Lokasenna. After stanza 39 he goes on to further insult Tyr.

Tyr’s response in both translations, however, sounds even-handed (hah!).

All of the above is backstory and motivation for my characters — moreso for Loki because he has a POV. Tyr does not.

In the myths, Fenrir was chained because he’d grown gigantic and threatened the gods and the world — and it was prophesied that he would kill Odin when Ragnarok came. So they chained Fenrir up.

But why not just kill him?

I had to invent an answer for that in my book. Something believable.

And how did Loki feel about his kids getting cast out from Asgard by his blood-brother? (Odin also kicked Jormungand and Hel to the wayside.)

All of that’s some pretty key motivation right there. How did Angboda feel? What did she do?

Why did Loki end up getting hitched to Sigyn (his second wife)?

And since the myths can be read as Loki sticking around AFTER all this bad stuff happened to his family, then why did he stick around? And, maybe most importantly, what did he do about it?

I handled all those questions by looking deep inside a wolf’s belly.

 

 

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Note that the above picture is from this Pinterest gallery (I don’t use Pinterest). But,¬†props to the artist found via this search.¬†In the Chronicles of Amber the main characters — the royals of Amber — use decks of Tarot cards to communicate and/or travel through “Shadow.”

* Wait, you haven’t read the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny? Hie thee to an online bookstore now & buy the Great Book of Amber. It’s classic fantasy.

**Overall, there’s quite a lot about Amber that is reminiscent of the Norse gods and their ongoing battle with the Jotunn. I haven’t thoroughly researched the connections, but Zelazny has reportedly said that Amber was influenced by Norse myth, Celtic myth and Arthurian legend — along with a host of other allusions to philosophy (Plato) and literature.

Etymology note (b/c it’s cool): In his dictionary, Simek writes that Tyr is the Old Scandinavian name for the Germanic god of the sky, war and council. “Tyr” simply means “god” and is cognate with Tiwaz (Proto-Germanic; also means god) and also with Dyaus (Indian), Zeus (Greek), Jupiter (Latin).

 

 

Rule Number Three

I can’t bring people back from the dead. It’s not a pretty picture, I DON’T LIKE DOING IT!

– The Genie, Disney’s Aladdin, voiced by the incomparable Robin Williams

 

One of my big worldbuilding challenges¬†was reconciling the multiple¬†“realms of the dead” in Norse myth:

  • Odin, Valhol and the Einherjar: These are the humans who die in battle (often b/c Odin betrays them), are chosen by his valkyrie and are then taken to Valhol to “train” every day in preparation for Ragnarok.
  • Freyja: Half of those who fall in battle go to her, half to Odin. No explanation in the myths as to why. Her chosen dead reside in Folkvangr and comprise her own army. The Vanir fight with the Aesir in Ragnarok.
  • Thor: Accepts the dead “peasants” into his “realm of the dead” (the name of which escapes me, atm)
  • Beneath the Waves: Those who die at sea can sink into R√°n’s cold embrace. She’s a¬†goddess of the sea and is married to Aegir, also a god of the sea. I’ve transformed these two (R√°n and Aegir) in my fictional mythology and made them fundamental deities.
    • As an aside, and according to the History of English podcast, the words soul and sea derive from a common Germanic root word “siwas” meaning¬†lake or inland sea.
    • In later Germanic (southern & eastern Germanic) the word became “siwelo” meaning something belonging to lake; deriving from a lake. And that word eventually became our word “soul.”
    • I don’t know why, but this etymology makes me think of mist swirling above a lake.
  • Helheim (Home/Realm of Hel): Hel is Loki’s daughter by Angrboda. Odin kicks her out of Asgard along with her two brothers (Jormungandr and Fenrir). Snorri says that she rules over the place where the “dishonored” dead go. Snorri describes her as¬†half flesh color; half blue (blor) but according to Dr. Jackson Crawford, it’s not clear that Snorri means she’s split down the middle half & half blue-/flesh-colored.
    • As another aside, Dr. Crawford and the History of English of podcast, both (separately) discuss the origin of the word “hel.” It comes from the Indo-European root “kel”¬†meaning to hide or cover. Our words¬†cellar, conceal, helmet, holster, hole, hollow all trace back to “kel.” But since I’m not a linguist (yet?) I’ll stop there.
    • “Hel,” then, started out as a covered place — graves, barrows, under mountains, etc.¬†Over time, this concept became “Helheim” which Snorri describes in the Prose Edda.
    • Crawford says that the Old English Bible used ‚Äúhell(e)‚ÄĚ to translate ‚Äúinfernus‚ÄĚ in Latin; while the the Gothic Bible used ‚Äúhalja‚ÄĚ to translate Hades.

So with all these different types of “realms of the dead” I had to figure out how I’d use them. And, as always, my goal was to remain as faithful to the myths as possible.

My first step was to give myself some elbow room. My entire fictional world is an alternate version of our Earth and its history.

Next, I made my world “pre-human” meaning that my Aesir, Vanir, Jotunn, Alvar and Svartalvar have yet to encounter us — regular humans. This opened up some really cool (imo) possibilities.

We also meet my major characters (Odin, Hel, etc.) at different places in their mythological lives (ie, our myths). So, my Hel is not yet Queen of Helheim. But, my Odin has sacrificed “himself to himself” upon Yggdrasil. At the start of BK1 he’s maybe half of the Odin we know. He develops fully into “our” Odin by the end of BK3.

With respect to reconciling the realms of the dead, the major stopping point for me was that¬†Odin and Hel are enemies. I had to figure out why and how Odin would cede power over the dead to her. I think I’ve figured out a pretty good rationale there which, for spoiler reasons, I won’t go into here.

In BK1 it was sufficient to hand-wave at the relationship between Odin and Hel because it doesn’t really matter and she doesn’t appear on stage. But in BK2 she does. And the antipathy between her and the Aesir (and Odin in particular)¬†becomes a big deal.

Another aspect to the whole consistent realms of the dead dealio involved integrating that afterlife into the magic system. I needed reasons for why Hel and Odin could do things. And I needed a system for what happens when people die.

Some of the questions I had to answer include:

  • Do the inhabitants of my world¬†believe in souls/spirits?
  • What happens to the spirits of dead people? What happens to the physical body?
    • The Norse believed in the hugr (spirit) and the hamr (body/flesh). This belief is integral to my magic system.
  • Are there differences in what happens to the spirits of the dead Aesir, Jotunn and Vanir? What about humans?
  • Why is Odin able to summon and interrogate the dead?
  • Why does Hel gather to her the spirits of those who have not died in battle? How is she able to do that?
  • Why does Odin send the valkyrie to gather (human) souls? How do the valkyrie do that?
  • Why do Odin and Freyja divide those human souls between them?
  • We know all this from the myths — or some of it, at least — but I needed solid narrative reasons. I also don’t have all the answers yet.

And speaking of bringing the dead back to life, I’m having some fun with the Einherjar. In BK1 they are all living men and women. So, that’s one thing I’m hoping is going to set off alarm bells for all readers who Norse myth — i.e., wtf, these Einherjar are supposed to be dead zomg!? And for those who don’t know who/what the Einherjar are, I’m hoping that what develops is a big, inevitable surprise.

But¬†hang on tight, ’cause I don’t deliver on any of that till BK3.

Oh, the places you’ll go

Worldbuilding’s a necessity in any novel. Sometimes it’s relatively¬†easy — e.g., urban fantasy (The Dresden Files). Other times it’s complex — the Stormlight Archives.

I put my world into the complex category for several reasons: I’m new at it, I’m trying to do something really cool “behind the scenes” and b/c applying consistent cardinal directions to Norse myth was basically impossible.

A few examples:

  • Yggdrasil’s roots go to different places depending on which poem you read. In one it’s Hvergelmir, Urdarbrunnr and Mimisbrunnr. In another, the roots go to where the frost “giants,” humans and Hel(heim) are.
  • Hel(heim) is often referred to as being in (or below) the earth — but those who go there never go underground.
  • Asgard was in the same horizontal plane as Midgard and what I call Utgard (while¬†all sources call it Jotunheim). But Snorri placed Asgard¬†in the heights of Yggdrasil, possibly to make it like the Christian Heaven.
  • The Jotunn are described as living in the east, past Jarnvidr (the Iron Wood), but some Jotunn are said to live in the north while others come from the south.

In my initial efforts to be true to where the¬†myths said places were, I had everybody moving between different realms where realms equaled “planes of existence.” That caused lots of problems.

Then I thought that maybe everybody could live on Yggdrasil itself — that Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, etc., were the branches of the tree itself. I still kinda like that idea, but since I’m a giant nerd I would’ve had to figure out how the physics worked — I’d have spent way too much time doing that instead of writing.

Then I tried making the different realms equate to different planets. That didn’t work either. (But my magic system will, eventually, enable interplanetary travel.)

When I finally decided that each “realm” would be a continent or region on a single planet, everything snapped into place — events, plot devices, locations, the magic system, etc. Some of those things even got better.

I do still incorporate all of the many places in Norse myth, but where I put them may not precisely correspond to where the myths say those places are.¬†I’ve also kept the fantastical elements — Yggdrasil being the main one. It’s a real, gigantic tree and my characters do ride down it to reach the Norns.

Other landmarks include the following:

  • When Odin and Hermod ride to Helheim, they head north…but magic is used, thanks to Sleipnir, and they end up on a¬†landmass that’s actually south of Gladsheim (they’re on a planet, so they’re basically going up, over and down again…but not really, b/c magic).
  • In myth, the river Ifing separates the gods from the Jotunn. So, I slapped it down between Asgard and Utgard. Then, when I needed a town between those two realms, I created Ifington.
  • The river Thund is said to flow before Valhol. But, I’d read¬†a translator’s note (Bellows, I think) that said Thund is better translated as “bay.” Thus, the Bay of Thund was born (the characters just call it the Thund). ¬†As an aside, the body of water pictured on my cover is the Thund. The land across the bay is southwestern Utgard. Oh and Valhol doesn’t exist yet in BK1.
  • I put Vithi — Vidar’s land — to the west of Gladsheim. The town of H√°ls (Hill) is in Vithi and that’s where we first encounter Vidar. The forest of Arnheim (Eagle Home), along with a shrine to Aegir, lie just outside Gladsheim’s western gates.
  • Gladsheim is supposed to be one of Odin’s residence, but I made it into the Aesir’s main city. The river Silfr (Silver) flows outside Gladsheim’s eastern gates. That river’s my invention¬†— I needed a quick, practical way for the residents of Gladsheim to get to the coast.
  • The Plains of Vigrid lie to Gladsheim’s east, across the river Silfr.
  • Other important places — Alvheim and Vanaheim — are far from Gladsheim, but close enough for it to make sense that the Vanir would’ve perceived the Aesir’s arrival as encroaching on their land (hence the Vanir-Aesir War). They’re also close enough for Freyr and Freyja to fly to Gladsheim on their boar and cat-pulled cart, respectively. Note that the Alvar primarily live in both Alvheim and Vanaheim.

 

A few other things: There are lands to the far west of Gladsheim that have been settled by other Aesir (Odin’s brothers). What we would call Midgard, and its people, haven’t been discovered by the Aesir yet, nor have I discussed the other major players (the Svartalvar and the Sons of Muspell).

 

Having slogged through all this (assuming you did) it may seem like I assembled my world¬†all at the beginning and then started writing. That’s absolutely not what I do; I just make it up as I go and I only stop to worldbuild when the writing stalls —¬†because I can’t figure out what’s where, or I need ABC in a certain place, or X is too far from Y, etc.

Then, I pull out the notebooks and work it out. Almost always that involves changing things I’ve already established — which means rewriting. And, quite often, it also means that the idea I had — the one that I stalled on — gets replaced by a better one.

 

Thunder & lightning…

“…very very frightening, Thor!”*

The ultimate disproportionate retaliation, Thor and Mjölnir not only crack Jotunn heads but they threaten to crack my plot wide open.

One issue is that the myths suggest that (some) Aesir/Vanir and (some) Jotunn can go toe-to-toe with each other. I have two such battles accounted for — but Thor is the outlier. A huge outlier since he kills every Jotunn he comes across.

In BK 1, I play right into that by making Thor¬†break-a-mountain kinda strong. And I put Hyrrokin in his path which, I think, results in a pretty cool scene. (We’ll see what my editor thinks.)

But, there need to be limits.

Norse myth has already limited Thor’s strength in a couple ways. For example,¬†to use Mjolnir Thor needs the J√°rngreipr (iron grippers) — i.e., iron gloves. He also wears Megingj√∂rd (power belt) which doubles his¬†strength. (As I write this, I don’t remember if the belt is needed for Mjolnir or if it’s just a bonus. To the books!)

But those limits aren’t enough, really. They do suggest that I could have Thor’s hammer stolen (as it was in the myths) or even his other implements. I’m not going that route b/c in my books, that’s already happened to Thor and now he keeps a watchful eye on his stuff.

Instead, I separate Thor from the conflicts. First by having him “away” when he needs to be in Gladsheim. Second, by having him actively choose to zig when he should have zagged. And, third, by having him manipulated.

In Norse myth, there’s a bit of friction between Thor and his father (Odin). This appears true historically, too. The temple at Uppsala (Sweden) has three central statues: Thor, Odin and Freyr. Thor occupies the central position suggesting, perhaps, that he was worshipped as the “mightiest” god (according to Adam of Bremen).¬†The language of place names and people names further suggest¬†that Thor was very highly revered.**

In the Poetic Edda, the Poem of Harbarth illustrates another difference/tension between Odin and Thor:

The noble who fall | in the fight hath Othin,
And Thor hath the race of the thralls.

In this context I believe that “thrall” means the¬†common people / peasants more than “slaves,” per se. So, it’s a class / societal status difference between the father and son.

The entirety of the Poem of Harbath is pretty awesome — it’s a battle of wits/insults between a disguised Odin (Harbath) who refuses passage across a river to a weary Thor who’s just returned from fighting the Jotunn. That in itself illustrates another key difference between them — Odin’s the cunning god, a trickster, who lies to Thor and is basically just being a jerk, while Thor’s portrayed as the opposite — honest and forthright. After all, he’s not disguised and he gives his name while the disguised Odin never does.

Note that there’s an underlying, casual brutality to both Thor and Odin that’s alien to us moderns:

Harbath spake:
32. “Thy help did I need then, Thor, | to hold the white maid fast.”

Thor spake:
33. “Gladly, had I been there, | my help to thee had been given.”

Thor is also typically depicted as simple-minded / stupid. I think that’s crap and probably more an outgrowth of “nobles” thinking they’re better than “peasants.” I’ve nothing to back that up, though.¬†I will cite, however, the events of the Alvissmol in which Thor outwits the “dwarf” Alviss (All Wise).

So, is Thor dumb? Not in my books. 

However, my Thor is susceptible to deception (just as anyone is).¬†In BK 3, Odin deceives Thor — manipulates him into leaving so that he (Odin) is free to do something vile which Thor, had he been around, would have prevented.

And that implies that Thor is capable of countering Odin. Which, in my books, he is. Odin doesn’t scare him nor is he¬†intimidated by his father. After all, what does the oncoming storm ¬†have to fear?

On the other hand, Odin isn’t afraid of Thor. He’s circumspect with his son. He doesn’t want a direct confrontation with Thor. And why would he, unless it served some subtle¬†goal? (Also, he’s not sure who’d win.)

But even when Thor obeys his father, he’ll still refuse to do something he thinks is dishonorable — despite being ordered to do it by his father and despite what the Jotunn themselves did to the Aesir at the start of BK 1.

In the Lokasenna, Thor is portrayed as the only Aesir who Loki respects.

64. “I have said to the gods | and the sons of the god,
The things that whetted my thoughts;
But before thee alone | do I now go forth,
For thou fightest well, I ween.

I don’t think Loki fears Thor any more than Odin does; I read respect in those quoted lines — born, likely, of familiarity.*** And, much like Odin, Loki only does things if they suit his purposes. Loki will¬†give ground if it makes sense and he’ll endure mockery by the Aesir since it means they’re more likely to underestimate him.

So far, I haven’t given Thor a POV in my books. That’s for several reasons:

  • His huge popularity these days
  • I didn’t think his POV was required, unlike Loki’s and Odin’s. I don’t need to be in Thor’s head to show him kicking ass.
  • I’m more intrigued by those¬†who I put in his path. We’re in Hyrrokin’s head for her confrontation with Thor. That’s for two reasons:
    • reveal her character and
    • show the reader what Thor’s capable of — which, I think, delivers a bit of what they want (cool factor) and sets up future expectations.
  • His threat of overwhelming force. The Jotunn know it, they’ve lived it, so how do they plan on countering him? As the author, that’s the challenge I find interesting.

And for the Jotunn in my books, countering Thor is an ongoing concern. At least until Ragnarok.

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* Courtesy Deadpool in Marvel Heroes 2016, sung to the tune of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

Note: The graphic is from here. It’s a 10th century version of Mjolnir and is¬†an amulet worn by someone who worshipped Thor.

** There’s WAY more to Thor than my poor summary suggests. Of notable interest, imo, is the parallel to Indra and how Thor’s role among the ancient Scandinavians and Germanic peoples shifted over time.

*** Of all the Aesir besides Odin, Loki is most often seen in the company of Thor.

Somebody’s watching me…

The guardian of the gods, Heimdall was born of nine sisters.

Can you¬†imagine the guilt trips from his mothers? Ugh.¬†Or his Dad saying, “ask your mother” and young Heimdall thinking “sh!t, which one?”

Exactly who his mothers were¬†is unclear — they¬†could have been¬†Aegir‚Äôs nine daughters, but that doesn‚Äôt agree with other accounts that say the¬†nine were Jotunn women. I prefer the Aegir’s daughter’s explanation; it’s simpler.

In the Voluspa and Rigsthula, Heimdall is called Rigr and was said to be the father of all mankind. Which is inconsistent with other accounts that have Odin, Lodur and Hoenir performing a similar function.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that Heimdall guarded the Bifrost and that his senses (sight and hearing) are exceptional and that his abilities had a big impact on how my Jotunn society developed. Here are some of his other attributes:

  • His home is¬†Himinbjor, which is near the bridge.
  • According to Simek, Heimdall may mean¬†‚Äúthe one who illuminates the world.‚ÄĚ
  • His teeth are made of gold, so he‚Äôs sometimes called Gullintanni (Goldtooth).
  • Snorri calls him the “white As” (“As” meaning god or Aesir; I can’t help but think of the donkey…b/c I’m 12.)
  • His horse is Gulltopr (Goldmane) and his sword is called Hofud (man‚Äôs head).
  • It is likely that¬†Heimdall was associated with the ram (the animal). The ram was a common sacrificial animal among the Germanic peoples.
  • Heimdall winds the Gjallarhorn, which can be heard throughout the world, to warn the gods that Ragnarok had¬†begun. He uses his horn at the end of¬†my first book ( but it’s not Ragnarok).

This myths also have¬†Heimdall and Loki battling each other and — spoiler! — killing each other during Ragnarok. I leave the original reasons for this antipathy obscure (it runs through at least one¬†other myth), but I do refer to a conflict in which Loki stole Freyja’s Brisingamen (a bejeweled gold necklace).¬†

In my book, Heimdall had a bit of a crush on Freyja, which she always thought was rather sweet. So, he used his amazing senses, found her necklace and its thief, beating the snot out of Loki in the process (they were both shapechanged into seals at the time).* Later, Loki had himself a double serving of cold revenge.

In my books, Heimdall is a non-POV character. He is present in multiple¬†scenes, but is not quite the “god” described in the myths. Not yet. The antipathy between him and Loki also plays out “on stage” during Book 2 (which is not Ragnarok).

I ignore his portrayal as¬†Rigr, the father of thralls, karls and jarls. But, I’m thinking there’ll be a fun opportunity in a future book to introduce that idea.

 

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And, yes, the title is a reference to Rockwell¬†— classic¬†80s music.

*Much of the Heimdall vs. Loki story is pulled from a reference in the Skaldskaparmal portion of the Prose Edda.

Cult of Springs

No, not mattresses — the watery type. Ancient peoples worshipped springs by making offerings in, to or¬†near them. The sea, lakes, rivers and bogs were also venerated — or at least places of sacrifice. For example, the bent/broken weapons of defeated enemies were often cast into bodies of water.

But, springs, lakes, etc., were also more than that.

According to the History of English podcast¬†(Ep 24),¬†our word “soul” comes from a much older word “siwelo.”

The words soul and sea derive from a common Germanic root word:¬†siwas, meaning lake or inland sea. Eventually, this became sea in modern English.¬†A later Germanic word (from southern & eastern Germany) was related:¬†siwelo, meaning something belonging to a lake or deriving from a lake. This became our word “soul.”

The northern Germanic tribes had access to the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. They believed that the dead lived at the bottom of sea. But, the southern & eastern tribes were landlocked; they believed that the kingdom of the dead was in or beneath certain lakes.

And consider that¬†the original¬†Germanic concept of “hell”¬†was of an underwater kingdom of dead souls. Imagining this, I can’t help but think of the mist/fog that forms over a lake in the early mornings. Maybe ancient peoples saw this — most likely saw it — and wondered what it was ¬†— i.e., obviously the place that housed the souls of the dead and newborns.*

Also note the prevalence of ship burials — either lighting the thing on fire & setting it adrift, burying the ship or arranging stones in the general shape of a ship. A¬†ship was required to get to the land of the dead.**

In Norse mythology, the veneration of “springs”¬†reflected (at least in part) the significance of the primary mythical wellspring: Hvergelmir. If you recall, it is the¬†source for the √Čliv√°gar and, probably, Urdarbrunnr (Urd’s Well) and M√≠mir’s well.

The giant (Jotunn) of the sea is Aegir (literally: sea) is portrayed as a friend of the gods and he entertains them in his hall and, in the Hymiskvida, Thor fetches a cauldron/barrel for Aegir so that he can brew ale/beer.

In the Skaldskaparmal, Aegir’s wife is R√°n by whom he had nine daughters who were usually identified as the waves of the sea. Ran owns a net*** with which she fishes drowned people out of the water; the drowned then go to her underwater realm (not to Hel or Valhol). So, she embodied¬†its sinister side.

And, almost finally, the Voluspa mentions the Aesir having temples for worship. When I read that, I was confused. If the Aesir are gods, then who are they worshiping?

After a while, I had a light bulb moment. A little while after that, that idea grew into an entire religion practiced by the Aesir as well as some rituals I could use to inform that religion while lending some depth to my fictitious world (and giving a reason for certain characters to be where I needed them to be). And then, still later and spun a bit, that idea morphed into a religion for the Jotunn.****

Suffice it to say, then, that my Aesir venerate water and springs in a way that’s not so dissimilar from what I imagine¬†what¬†ancient Germanic peoples may have done.

As I researched my books, I also found myself more and more intrigued by what happened before — in Stone Age times and how those people, who likely spoke a language much closer to Proto-Indo-European than Old Norse, may have thought, imagined and behaved. Pushing back even further, I also began to wonder about possible, ancient Homo Sapiens interactions ¬†with Homo Neanderthalensis.

And all that came from just diving a bit deeper into the myths and beliefs surrounding springs and water. And, like the Cylons, I have a plan for it all. But with fewer spaceships.

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*¬†According to the History of English podcast,¬†some scholars think that the “stork bringing babies” idea goes all the way back to the belief in lakes as soul repositories.

**Also, ancient Germanic/Norse/Icelandic folk believed that the dead lived on in their barrows. This is an interesting tangent worthy of another blog post.

***In the Reginsmol, Loki stole R√°n’s¬†nets to fish up gold from the sea. Didn’t quite work out like he’d intended.

***My Alvar and Svartalvar kinda do their own things.

A Raven’s Eye View of the Vanir

Odin went with a great army against the Vanir. Each laid waste to the other‚Äôs land. When they tired of the war, they made peace and exchanged hostages. (This is from Snorri’s¬†Ynglinga Saga, 4.) I use elements of this version in my books, but avoid the euhemerism¬†in¬†Snorri’s account¬†(because it’s lame).

The seeress of the Voluspa recounts a different version of the war in which it began with a Vanir witch named Gollveig (possibly Freyja) who sought to bewitch the minds of the Aesir. The Aesir killed Gollveig with spears and then burned her three times, only for her to rise again.*

The seeress continues, saying:

On the host his spear | did Othin hurl,** 
Then in the world | did war first come;
The wall that girdled | the gods was broken,***
And the field by the warlike | Wanes was trodden.

In both versions (Snorri knew the Voluspa, btw), the Aesir and Vanir made peace and exchanged hostages. Njordr and Freyr were sent to the Aesir; Hoenir and Mimir were sent to the Vanir.****

Njordr, Freyr and Freyja are the only known Vanir gods. Simek says that there was a Vanir named¬†Ing who later become synonymous with Freyr. (I don’t include Ing in my books b/c I’d have to call him Ing the Erciless, and that’s not particularly¬†funny.)¬†I also don’t include Ullr as one of the Vanir.

Skadi, a Jotunn, married Njordr. Some accounts list Freyr and Freyja as the children of Skadi and Njord. Other accounts say that Freyr and Freyja are the children of Njordr and his (unnamed) sister. (Take that, GRRM! :))

My books assume that Njordr is married to Skadi*****, that Freyr is married to Gerd and that Freyja is married to Odr (who has been missing for a long time). All three of these marriages are extremely important for various reasons — both in myth and in my books.

In myth, the Vanir are gods of fertility though they also served other functions. For example, Freyja is also a magic, war death goddess (not unlike Odin). But, more on the individual Vanir gods in future posts.

My Vanir are as ancient as the Aesir, but originate in a different part of the world. They encounter the Aesir after they (the Aesir) fled their homeland and happened across fertile lands claimed by the Vanir.

Hostilities broke out. Each side inflicted great harm upon the other. After a time, they gave up on the war, made peace and exchanged hostages. Despite a rocky start, the Aesir and Vanir became close knit allies who helped each other against mutual threats (the Jotunn and the Svartalvar).

Essentially,¬†my¬†Svartalvar are to the Vanir (and Alvar) what the Jotunn are to the Aesir.¬†All five groups (counting the Svartalvar as the 5th) are inextricably linked in each other’s messes — and that has massive repercussions for what happens in future books. While both Freyr and Freyja appear in my first book, they don’t assume central roles until those future books.

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*Ouch. And, Simek suggests that this is too simplistic an interpretation; that may well be the case, but I’m not addressing it in this post.

**Hurling a spear over/into an opposing army was how the battle was dedicated to Odin (he’s the god of battle and many other things).

***I allude to this as the ‚Äúold wall‚ÄĚ in several scenes.

****Mimir was soon beheaded & sent back to the Aesir; Odin preserved the head with his magic and consulted it for advice.

*****At this stage, my backstory assumes that Freyr and Freyja are the children of Njord and his sister-wife.

The trouble with elves & dwarves…

I’m as¬†tired of pointy-eared, nimble elves leaping from rock to rock above a raging river or walking atop drifted snow, as I am of gruff, Scottish-sounding, hammer-toting, gold-loving dwarves, as nimble with dishes and song as they are with axes.

But, much of our modern conception of elves (alfar) and dwarves (svartalfar) began with Norse myth. Actually, a lot of it goes back to JRR, but he pulled directly from the Voluspa’s list of dwarves for the names of his — including “Gandalf” which means something like “Staff Elf.”

Anyway.

My goal was (and is) to be as faithful to Norse myth as possible. So, knowing the tropes and knowing the (over-used) interpretations of elves and dwarves, how could I spin it? As usual, I’m not going to say directly.

However, here are some of my notes from Simek’s Dictionary on how elves & dwarves were portrayed/viewed in the various source materials:

  • Snorri equates dwarves with a sub-group of the elves, the svartalfar.¬†Svart- means “black.”
    • There’s also the ljosalfar (light elves) which Guy Gavriel Kay uses in his Fionavar Tapestry.
    • And if you’ve ever played (A)D&D or read R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden series going the “dark elf” route is every bit as dangerous as Menzoberranzan.
  • Elves seemed to correspond to roles in religious cults while¬†¬†dwarves were just other types of beings (usually helpful) with whom humans and gods could interact; the dwarves were not originally thought of as small.
  • Dwarves were typically portrayed as wise and skillful (e.g., smiths), as well as miners and custodians of treasure¬†who¬†live under mountains and in rocks.
    • Their magical powers resulted from them having technical ability
    • The weapons and devices used by the Aesir — Mjolnir, Gungnir, Skidbladnir, etc., were all made by the dwarves (thanks to Loki).
  • Alvissmal recounts how the wise dwarf Alviss turned to stone when the first ray of sunlight touched him outside his home’s protection (he got duped by Thor)
  • In Voluspa, dwarves were created from blood of the giant Brimir and the bones of the giant Blainn. But, Snorri describes dwarves¬†as maggot-like beings living in the flesh of Ymir; they were subsequently imbued with reason by the gods.
  • The¬†etymology of the word “dwarf” is obscure.
    • Some scholars say it’s from the Norwegian “dvergskot” for animal disease and/or the¬†Old Indian for “drva-” meaning sickness or weakness which then¬†leads back to an Indo-Germanic root “dhuer-” or damage.
    • But, other scholars have¬†centered on the Old Indian “dhvaras” or “demonic being.” This leads to the Indo-Germanic root dhreugh — which then leads to dream (traum) or trug (deception) in German. In this case, “deceptive picture” would be closer to the original meaning of the original word.

My challenge was to incorporate much¬†of the above while also putting an original spin on it. I think I’ve done that, particularly with what my Svartalvar can do & how they do it (and yes, I changed the “f” to a “v.” Crazy, right?).

Like Snorri, I treat the Svartalvar as a subgroup of the Alvar. Long story short, two groups within the Alvar went through a disagreement which resulted in one group (the Alvar) allying themselves the Vanir. The other group, the Svartalvar, did not.

I frequently allude to the Svartalvar in my first book, but they don’t appear till my second. In my third book (and beyond), they take center stage with several POV characters. Large portions of those future books have been written, but I keep having ideas on how I can further differentiate my Svartalvar and¬†Alvar cultures. Which is fun.

I’m actually chompin’ on the bit to get to those future books, but it’ll be a while — years, most likely — before I do.

11 Rivers…

Eleven¬†rivers — the √Čliv√°gar¬†— spring from Hvergelmir and flow through all the Nine Realms. They are the:

  • Svol: the “cool one”
  • Gunnthra: “battle groove”
  • Fjorm: “the one in a hurry”
  • Fimbulthul: “might speaker”
  • Sl√≠dr: “dangerously sharp”; according to Snorri, this river flows thru Helheim
  • Hr√≠d: “stormy weather, tempest”
  • Sylgr: “devourer”
  • Ylgr: “she wolf”
  • Vid: “the broad one”
  • Leiptr: “lightening”
  • Gjoll: “loud noise”; Snorri also puts this river in the underworld; the Gjallerbr√ļ¬†bridges¬†it. That bridge is guarded by M√≥dgudr (furious battle). According to Simek, she may be one of Snorri’s additions to the myths.

These rivers have been integral to my story since the very beginning. And just a couple days ago, I thought of a whole new twist on them that should¬†solve a few worldbuildy issues. Note that Simek says a more accurate view/definition of √Čliv√°gar is that it is the name for the “proto-sea”that surrounds the world. They’re not necessarily incompatible definitions.

Here are a few examples of how I’ve used some of the rivers:

  • Vidar rests for a time beside the Svol; this happens in Book Two
  • In Book One, Odin harvests magic from the Sl√≠dr
  • In Book Two, Hermod speaks with M√≥dgudr before crossing the Gjoll — that was a neat scene to write, particularly since I have the Ships of the Dead dock at the mouth of the Gjoll. A group of the dead cross into Helheim at the same time Hermod does. I’m using that as a way to make Hermod’s journey cool, reinforce some worldbuildy stuff and show the difference between her and her father (Odin).

In Book Three, the rivers take on a more central role. But by then, a great deal of time in the narrative will have passed and my POV characters are mostly new.

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*I mostly use Simek’s definitions/translations of the rivers