Netflix’s Ragnarok, Season 2…

Netflix’s Ragnarok has been renewed. Yay! ‘Course that means I’ll have to renew my Netflix sub ūüėõ But, I’ve got time — Ragnarok Season 2 won’t be out until sometime in 2021.

The available promo pics suggest that the four kids will again be the main characters. The shadows obviously hint at who they’ll be (are), but for Saxa and Fjor a spear and axe don’t really narrow the possibilities as to which Jotunn they might be. Warriors, sure, but who?

I thought it’d be interesting to share a bit of what I’m hoping for in S2 as well as what character developments might occur. This post will spoil Season 1, so you’ve been warned. Also, see my review/explication of the references to Norse myth in S1 of the series.

Avoid teh /meh

First up, I hope S2 has less teen angst. I get it, it’s gotta be there (target market, I guess?), but please dial it down. Second, don’t try to make a STATEMENT. The story in S1 kinda hung on “evil Jutul wreck environment,” but it felt clunky and ham-fisted. For me, it was the least original and therefore the least interesting part of S1.

Who’s yer daddy

I suspect that Laurits is Vidar’s son:

  1. Turid and Vidar very obviously had something going on
  2. There’s a greater physical similarity between Vidar and Laurits than Laurits and Magne. That casting has to be deliberate.
  3. WTF was up with that weird leaping, contortionist dance Saxa, Fjor and Laurits engaged in. Some primal Jutul/Jotunn thing? Laurits seemed drawn to it while the other students stood around and watched. Was Laurits drawn to it b/c he was interested in Fjor or for some other reason (ie, he’s half-Jotunn/Jutul). Or both.

(It occurs to me that I don’t remember the show explicitly saying that Saxa and Fjor were the “by-blood” daughter and son of Ran and Vidar, though the physical similarities suggest that they are. But, they could just be acting the parts. Anyone remember?)

It’s not him, it’s me

Snorri refers to Vidar as “the silent god,” which is just cool. Snorri gives him other names, too. And in Grimnismol, Vithar’s land is “filled with growing trees | and high-standing grass….” Padraic Colum plays off of these names (here).

Vidar was my initial inspiration when I started writing these Norse myth-influenced books, mostly b/c of the imagery cited above. As Colum tells it, he is the only god in whom Odin confides his secrets. And, Vidar’s main role (as we know it) is to avenge Odin’s death. Vidar also makes it through Ragnarok.

I took this all and, in my story, planned for Vidar to become the new Odin. Not that he’d be the same as Odin was, but he’d be his father’s son in the way Thor was not. To become that, Vidar would have to have a transformational journey which I could return to either as individual stories or as parts of others.

My second series does (will do?) just that; Vidar acts as a patron deity. A least as it’s written now. That may change just as in DGtS and my forthcoming third book, Vidar lost his POV status b/c the story required it.

So, anyway, I had plans for Vidar…which is partly why I find Vidar being the “big bad” so annoying. The other reason is that the writers/producers of Netflix’s Ragnarok must know Norse myth better than I do, so why would they choose such an important name for the bad guy? There are so many other cool Jotunn names to choose.

(Note: It’s not necessarily the case that Aesir = good and Jotunn = bad. It’s more accurate to say Aesir = order and Jotunn = chaos, but even that’s not quite right. In my books I’m trying to make Aesir & Jotunn both conventionally as good and as bad as my meager talents allow…while also incorporating the mythic roots.)

BUT!

Is there a compelling reason why the writers & producers of the show chose the name Vidar?

Was there a mighty duel (Princess Bride fans rejoice) between father and son? Was that why the big battle happened?

Is that why Odin’s in a motorized wheelchair/scooter? (I wonder if it’s named Sleipnir.)

I’d be okay with a falling out between Odin and Vidar (not that my opinion matters) because the writers/producers would be putting their own twist on the myths rather than appearing to use such a key name out of ignorance.

/end rant

In other names…

I still think that Iman will be the Sif figure. In the myths, Sif is Thor’s wife. Loki cuts off Sif’s black hair. Thor gets angry and makes Loki replace it. Loki goes to the “Sons of Ivaldi” and not only replaces Sif’s hair with tresses of gold, but he brings back other goodies for the Aesir.

In Lokasenna, Loki also says that he and Sif had an affair. But, he said that to most of the women present. Who knows if he was talking sh!t, being truthful and/or saying, obliquely, that he tricked them b/c he’s a shapeshifter.

If Iman is Sif, then alluding to the above or somehow using it could provide some good conflict between the (half) brothers.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Any speculation from other fans of the show?

If you missed my first post on Netflix’s Ragnarok, check it out here. And here’s a more detailed look at who survives Ragnarok, according to the myths.

Stay sanitary; stay healthy.

Plague schmague

The signs of Ragnarok do NOT include a plague. So, we’re in the clear. Right?

Right?!

Let’s run thru the checklist:

  1. The great coldening of Fimbulvetr. Three winters back to back with no spring/summer in between. But before these back-to-back winters will come three super-severe winters. So far, not a problem.
  2. Laws and morals will break down. Hmmm.
  3. Lack of food: Well?
  4. Lack of toilet paper: Not a sign, but people are STILL buying it all up. I still don’t understand why.
  5. An age of swords and axes; everybody killing each other. Another month of quarantine and we might be there. (I kid.)
  6. The wolves Skoll and Hati capture and eat the moon and sun. Hasn’t happened.
  7. Stars will disappear. Nope. Unless you count smog covering them up. Or a rogue black hole rampages thru the Milky Way (Bifrost?), omg!
  8. Earthquakes, etc. No more than “usual.”
  9. A huge wolf and serpent rising up and wreckin’ sh!t. Not yet. Would be cool to see, though. If it wasn’t near me.
  10. The ship of the dead disgorging zombies upon the earth. Well, if you consider each house a ship, and all of us “zombies” (from being inside…and having to do that for another month)…then, sure, the undead will soon walk the earth.
  11. Fire giants rupture the earth and set fire to everything. If they did, then maybe that’d burn away the virus…but alas, no…or at least not yet?

There is of course more that happens during Ragnarok, but the above pretty much cover the signs of it coming.

And like I said, no plague is mentioned!

So, we’re in the clear. Rest easy. Stay sane.

Would you yet know more? Check out the sources: Prose Edda; Poetic Edda: Voluspa and Vafthruthnismol.

Finished Netflix’s Ragnarok

One of Netflix’s new (teen) dramas is Ragnarok, set in Edda, Norway. First up, the views of the mountains and fjords are amazing. Second, the series is enjoyable, but gets a little slow and is full of teen angst. It’s watchable, though. And fun.

In this post I focus on the Norse myth stuff I caught while watching — and I will be spoiling the show, so you’ve been warned.

Myth references

All right, here we go. this is from my (crap) memory so when I miss stuff, lemme know! And, btw, there’s definitely some Marvel comics/movies influence going on in the show (imo). Which is fine.

Magne

Magne / Magni is the son of Thor in the myths. At the end of the show — SPOILERS — Magne fights Vidar. Magne brings down the lightning (finally) and blows them both up. It’s unclear whether or not they both die, neither die or only Vidar dies. I don’t know why lightning would kill Magne when he survived getting run over by a snow plow but w/e.

Magne being the SON of Thor is important b/c at the end of the show Wenche (more on her) says something along the lines of “most believe Ragnarok is the end, but it’s actually where it all starts.” There were other references by the Jotunn (the Jutul family) throughout the show to the old gods dying in a big war, maybe some survived b/c the battlefield was chaotic, etc.

Magni (Wrath) and his brother Modi (Mighty) live through Ragnarok. So, Magne’s name makes sense in that context. And it makes sense that he is not Thor. (Thor also had a daughter named Thrud. Will Modi and Thrud make an appearance somehow next season?)

BTW, I SO wanted one of the hammers Magne chucked to come flying back at him.

And, when Magne fights (and kills) the dog Tryme (sp?) — which is possibly a Garm (or Fenrir?) reference — Magne kills the dog by pulling its jaws apart. Which is one of the ways Vidar kills Fenrir. The other way is stabbing thru the mouth with a mighty sword.

Laurits

This is the Loki figure. But here’s where the Marvel comics/movies influence comes in. In the myths, Loki is Thor’s uncle (kinda). In the comics, he’s Thor’s adopted brother.

Laurits in the show appears to be gay (which Magne knows b/c he makes a reference to Laurits being interested in Fjor (Vidar’s son). Laurits does some cross-dressing, goes heavy on the eye-liner and is most definitely a trickster type. Particularly at the end.

Vidar

In the myths, Vidar is Odin’s son by the Jotunn Grid. So, he’s half Jotunn (like most of the Aesir). I was annoyed by the big bad being named Vidar. It’s just not who he is in the myths. Oh well.

Or, is there some other reason why the name Vidar was used that the show will make clear in S2?

Ran

In the myths, R√°n is a mysterious goddess of death associated with the sinister aspects of the sea. Her husband in the myths is Aegir who is associated with the life-giving aspects of the ocean. (In my books, R√°n and Aegir are the gods revered by my characters. Aegir more by the Aesir; R√°n more by the Jotunn.) Cool character.

Jutul

Obviously a reference to the Jotunn. In the show, the Jutuls say they used to be worshipped by humans. The characters in the show have been around for 3,000 years (I think Saxa said that). Saxa at one point asked Vidar if he’d gone “berserk.” It’s a little unclear what “powers” the Jutuls have except for strutting around, flexing and super strength. Their eyes go feral when they channel their Jutul powers or w/e. Weird.

There is a scene — which was fantastic — when the Jutuls have Magne and Laurits over to their house for dinner. It had elements of the Utgarda-Loki myth. Just a great scene. Anyway, Magne arm-wrestled Ran. In his drunken state, Magne saw Ran as (perhaps) she truly is — some old, wrinkly hag thing. And he saw himself as a blood-smeared warrior.

Also, there’s a mummified head laying on the shelf in Vidar’s office. A reference to Mimir?

Fjor & Saxa

Meh. The bullying rich kids. I’m not clear on whether they’re actually the kids of Vidar and Ran or if they’re just pretending to be. And if they are, being 16 for 3K years would suck big time especially if your dad is “old fashioned” and beats you.

And, why haven’t they aged? Saxa could believably not be in high school, but Fjor looks like a punk.

In Old Norse, Saxa means “to cut, chop with a small knife.” She’s aptly named at least — lotta knifeplay from her.

Wenche

I’m not certain if she’s meant to be a chain smoking seer (a v√≥lva), a valkyrie or Frigg. Wenche apparently means something like “friend” in Norwegian. At the end of the show she appears to transform into a raven, which suggests she’s associated with Odin.

My guess is she’s probably a valkyrie. Few reasons:

  1. she’s first seen with Odin (more on him)
  2. she “chooses” Magne by awakening his powers. I’m not clear if she could have awoken Thor-power in anyone or if Magne was the only one who could receive Thor power.
  3. The valkyries were the “choosers of the slain” — the heroes who were taken to Valhol to become the Einherjar. Did Magne die in his fight with Vidar? Is he now an Einherjar? Was he just knocked unconscious? /shrug
  4. Ravens are associated with Odin, as mentioned above.

Old guy in an electric scooter

When Magne et al arrive in Edda, he hops out of the car to help the old dude with an eyepatch in an electric scooter across the road. (Odin has one eye.) Wenche is chain smoking nearby. Great stuff.

Other stuff

There’s a scene where the new girl, Iman, sits down next to Magne out on the field. The scene sticks out for two reasons.

First, it parallels how Isolde and Magne met almost exactly, so it must be deliberate. Second, Iman says: she’s such a fake (referring to Saxa) and then says something like “maybe you and I can make Edda better.”

Is this girl going to be a Sif character? Sif had black hair before Loki cut it off. Sif was Thor’s wife…will this girl be Magne’s love interest in season 2?

Turid is the mother of Magne & Laurits. According to babynames, Turid is derived from Thor which means ‘thunder, thunder god’ ; fridr ‘peace, beautiful, fair’

Turid seems to have had a fling with Vidar way back in the day. Is the implication that Magne is Vidar’s kid? Or Laurits?

Why were Magne and Laurits cast to be so physically dissimilar? Conscious choice, I assume, but why? Different fathers in the show? A nod toward the Marvel comics depictions of Thor and Loki?

Erik, Isolde’s father, is several times shown wearing a shirt with “Parsifal” on it. Why? Isolde is primarily from Tristan & Isolde. Parsifal is a German spelling of Percival and refers to that knight. Why were those names used? Is Erik just a dirtbag? Did the costume change person fall down on the job? Continuity errors? Dunno.

Finally, Old Norse is spoken multiple times in the show by the Jutuls. It’s not translated, which I assume means that the language is also strange to the people in the show. Hopefully that’s the idea. Also, each show quotes the myths and/or provides some explication regarding mythic figures. Cool to show the roots like that.

That’s all I’ve got for now. What did I miss?

Would you yet know more? See my recent post on what mythic references may lie in wait for us in Season 2 of Netflix’s Ragnarok (it’ll be out sometime in 2021).

Links!

Click here to buy Kinsmen Die, book one (of three) in my series.

Click here to pre-order Dark Grows the Sun, book two (of three) in my series that brings you into the minds of the gods of Norse Myths.

The Untrustworthy Odin

As I’ve mentioned before, the Odin of myth is very different than how he’s portrayed in the Marvel universe — which is fine, of course.

Dr. Karl Siegfried provides an excellent summary and analysis of the first Thor movie and how it both draws on and diverges from Norse myth. Find it here.

In this post, I provide a short summary of how Odin acquires the mead of poetry — a topic I slightly touched on here.

Summary of the Myth

In his Skaldskaparmal (Prose Edda), Snorri relates the tale of how the mead of poetry was hidden away by the giant Suttung who then set his daughter, Gunnloth, to guard it.

Odin wanted the mead so he went to the place where Suttung and his brother Baugi lived. Baugi’s nine workmen were out reaping. Disguised, Odin offered to sharpen the scythes of the workmen with a fancy honing stone. They agreed and, blades sharpened, recommenced cutting.

The scythes cut so well they asked if Odin would sell them the honing stone. He agreed and set a high price on it. All the giants wanted it, so Odin threw it up in the air and the giants in their desire for the stone killed each other.

Workmen dispatched, Odin went to Baugi’s hall where he found Baugi lamenting over his lack of workmen. Odin, naming himself Bolverk (Evil Doer), said he would do the work of all nine men. But he wanted recompense equal to his labor — a drink from the mead of poetry. Baugi said sure, but that he didn’t have control over the mead but knew where it was.

Odin gets to the mead by boring through rock to the chamber in which Gunnloth guards the mead. He seduces her and over three consecutive nights, drinks all the mead. Then he escapes, transforms into an eagle and flies back to Asgard.

In this last paragraph, I’ve combined Snorri’s account with the one in the Havamal. They differ somewhat in the details.

In the Havamal, Odin says that the giants then went to Asgard and asked if one named Bolverk was among them. Odin says no and, presumably, the giants mosey on back to Jotunheim.

And from the Havamal….

Stanza 110 in the Havamal reads (quoted from Bellows translation here):

On his ring swore Othin | the oath, methinks;
Who now his troth shall trust?
Suttung’s betrayal | he sought with drink,
And Gunnloth to grief he left.

The translator notes in this version of the Poetic Edda read: “Othin is keenly conscious of having violated the most sacred of oaths, that sworn on his ring.”

Dr. Jackson Crawford translates the Havamal (and the Poetic Edda) into more modern-day English. Here are a few examples of how Odin is aware of his “evil-doing” nature (the numbers refer to the stanzas):

  • 104: Referring to Gunnloth, Odin says, “I would later giver her a bad repayment for her trusting mind…”
  • 107: “I made good use of the disguise I used; few things are too difficult for the wise.”
  • 108: “I doubt I could have escaped…if I hadn’t used Gunnloth…”
  • 110: “I believe that Odin swore an oath to them — but who can trust Odin?”

So, Odin is….

I condense and relate all the above to show how Odin:

  • Disguises himself and lies.
  • Seduces and betrays.
  • Is totally aware of what he’s doing.

The mead of poetry myth also shows how Odin does all of the above to achieve his own ends. This is consistent with how he instigates war among men so that he can harvest the best warriors to fight on behalf of the gods and men at Ragnarok. More on this in a future post.

“Stirrer of Inspiration”

I love this kinda stuff — such amazing fodder for the imagination:

The fossil is said to be the oldest-known evidence of modern humans living outside of Africa, and it could push back the evolution of Homo sapiens by 100,000 to 200,000 years, suggesting they originated in Africa some 300,000 to 500,000 years ago.

The full article was published in the NYTimes, but here’s where I found it.

World building is integral to pretty much any novel, it’s just the degree of it that varies.

I’ve been toying with several “origin story” type ideas for my Norse-influenced fantasy world. One thing I’ve hinted at both in the first book and in the (forthcoming) second is that the world is¬†much bigger than the Aesir, Jotunn and Vanir are aware.¬†It’s also inhabited by people unrelated to them.

In my world, one of Ymir’s sons was Muspell. After¬†Odin, Vili and Ve slew Ymir, Muspell gathered up those loyal to him and sailed southward before anyone could stop him — like a bloody minded Odin.

In Kinsmen Die and now, in Book Two, the Sons of Muspell have arisen and seem to be inciting a rebellion against the rule of Odin and Frigg.

So, Odin wonders if there’s a link between these new sons and the ones he remembers. When he sits upon the High Seat (Hlidskjalf) and looks out across¬†the realms, searching for where Muspell might have gone, he finds some things that surprise him.

And what does all of this have to do with homo sapiens perhaps having evolved 100,000 to 200,000 years earlier than thought?

Well, that’s a whole lot of time to play in. Throw in the Denisovans and Neanderthals and, dang, that’s a potent brew.

 

√ď√įrŇďrir — ‚ÄúStirrer of Inspiration‚Äú — more plainly, the mead of poetry in Old Norse myth. For more, click here.

 

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.

 

 

__

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.

__

* 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.