Finished Netflix’s Ragnarok

One of Netflix’s new (teen) drama 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, Rán is a mysterious goddess of death associated with the sinister aspects of the sea. Her husband in the myths is Aegir who is the life-giving aspects of the ocean. (In my books, Rán and Aegir are the gods revered by my characters. Aegir more by the Aesir; Rán 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 vólva), 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

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. 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?

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?

Aaand back, again.

A long time since posting, largely due to some unexpected family stuff (ongoing & unresolved). Since early December, I’ve been:

  1. Sitting on the finished version of Dark Grows the Sun. It’s uploaded to Amazon but I haven’t hit “publish” yet because I’m…
  2. Working thru some marketing/advertising stuff that I need to get a handle on if I want even modest success as an author. This stuff sounds simple — book blurbs, Facebooks/AMS ads & building an email list — but the nitty-gritty is tough and time-consuming. Doesn’t help that my time is already split a dozen ways. It’s also depressing af.
  3. I’m also considering un-publishing Kinsmen Die so I can serialize it on a different platform. I need to grow my audience and the only way to do that, basically, is generate awareness. I can’t leverage KD across other (or multiple) platforms while “shackled” to Amazon. I hesitate b/c this approach doesn’t solve the problem, it just creates different problems. But, different problems that are easier to solve? Dunno.
  4. Writing a “reader magnet” short story that shows a different angle on the same story in my novels. It’s meant to be a short, snappy intro to the world and conflict. I’d intended to finish it by Jan 6, but that didn’t happen. I have the story worked out. I just need to rewrite it a couple thousand times while…
  5. Planning & plotting my third book: I want the outline/framework as complete as possible before starting to write. I can tell that I’ll still be “pantsing” my way through some of it, but my goal is to nail the turning points before I start writing. The prior 2 books were much more fleshed out before I started writing unlike this third book. I’m hoping that a month spent planning will save more than a month of rewriting & revision. If it doesn’t, then I should’ve just pants’d the whole damn thing.

As I reread the above, I realize how down in the dumps it sounds. Can’t have a flow without an ebb, right?

3. Fire he needs | who with frozen knees
Has come from the cold without;
Food and clothes | must the farer have,
The man from the mountains come.

Hávamal (https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe04.htm)

Done again, for now

Yesterday afternoon I submitted my “final” manuscript. I should get the edits back in early October.

In my last week of editing I used ProWritingAid to focus on issues in the writing. Two reasons:

  1. I didn’t want to re-read every chapter. Not only would it take too long but I’d get bogged down.
  2. I wanted to focus on removing words w/o rewriting every other sentence.

Words removed!

Here are the results of that process:

  • Starting word count: 91,971
  • Ending word count: 88,000
  • Words removed: 3,972 (~4.3% of the book)

Got report?

I used three PWA reports on three passes per chapter:

  • First pass, Sticky sentences: Sentences overloaded with “glue” words (and, in, the, of, etc.). On average I had ten of these sentences per chapter. Sometimes these are fixed by removing words or, more often, by rewriting the sentence.
  • Second pass, Writing Style: This report highlights issues involving passive and hidden verbs, over-reliance on adverbs, repeated sentence starts.
  • Third pass, Real-time: My final (quick) pass thru the chapter just to catch anything the first two reports missed (very little).

PWA has many other reports: cliche, structure, readability, pacing, overused, echoes, etc. I’m sure some of those also would have been valuable. In my unscientific “tests” of those reports, the three I settled on seemed to provide the most bang for my time. YMMV.

Next steps

During the next 6 weeks or so, my plan is to:

  • Put some time & effort into learning how to advertise & market. More on that later. This is critical.
  • Revisit the 67K words I’ve written for Book 3. Ninety percent of them werds is trash — old ideas, bad ideas, crap writing, wrong POV characters, obsolete plot points, etc. My goal is to get BK3 thoroughly revamped and outlined by year end. After that, It’ll probably take two years to write. Which is depressing.
  • Keep writing by working on my Lit-RPG series. I want to figure out a way to work on BK3 while also writing ~1,500 words in Lit-RPG…with the goal of publishing ’em every month as a serial adventure. More planning needed.

And, finally, if all goes well, DGtS will publish in December 2019. So, yeah, done but not done.

Before and After

Here’s another short example of a first-round edit to a chapter hook — the bad before and mediocre after.

Here’s the before (128 words)

Frigg watched sparks fly from the hooves of the two goats—Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher—who hauled the cart through the sky. The skies rumbled like a rickety bridge beneath the wheels of Thor’s cart. At first, he was a speck in the sky no bigger than a distant bird. By the time she’d climbed down to the ground, Thor was overhead.

He circled the hilltop once, twice, leaning out over the rail as he peered down, and then guided the cart down to a bumpy landing. He stepped from the car, freed the goats from the traces so they could wander, and then in a booming voice said, “Why was the Gjallarhorn sounded? I see no army at the gates nor any trace of an enemy within miles.”

Matt Bishop, Dark Grows the Sun

What’s wrong with the above?

Nothing grabs you because:

  • Frigg is “watching” — inherently passive and boring.
  • The scene is about Frigg but the attention is on Thor.
  • Thor gets all the action, such as it is.

And here’s the after (107 words)

Frigg climbed down from Heimdall’s tower to greet the arriving Thor. The skies rumbled beneath the wheels of Thor’s cart as he circled above the hilltop, one hand raised in greeting. A pair of goats pulled his cart—Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher. Their shod hooves hammered sparks from the air.

Somber, Frigg raised her hand in reply. Thor wouldn’t know why he’d been summoned. He’d flown faster than the news had spread.

The hilltop boomed first beneath the cart as it landed and then again beneath Thor’s voice. “Why was the Gjallarhorn sounded? I see no army at the gates nor any trace of an enemy within miles.”

Matt Bishop, Dark Grows the Sun

What’s better about it?

  • Frigg is more active; she’s doing something
  • We’re more in her head — she’s somber, there’s an inkling as to why Thor is arriving…which the reader knows but Thor clearly doesn’t.
  • It’s a little shorter

What’s wrong with the revision?

  1. The second sentence is clunkier than Thor’s cart.
  2. It’s still more about Thor than it is about Frigg.
  3. I’ve basically just reorganized the existing text. The transitions from ‘graph to ‘graph feel stilted.
  4. I think I’m cramming too much into that first paragraph. The bit about the goats needs to go, maybe. Frigg knows their names, so that’s an infodump that could either wait till later or just never be provided. It’s not relevant to the scene.
  5. It’s still boring.

I suspect I’ll end up ditching the last two sentences of the first paragraph and/or rewriting the entire hook. Either way, I’ll let ye olde subconscious work on it for a bit.

8 Days Out

I have eight writing days until my deadline (the 19th). Yes, that math doesn’t work, but I typically don’t write on the days my wife works.

Eight days works out to roughly 30 hours of writing (assuming I hit my average hours writing per day). That’s not a lot (especially considering I dropped ~16 into one scene). I could probably scrape together another ~8 hours, but I can’t count on that.

The good news is that the work I’ve transitioned into is mostly “editing.” For me this means going through each chapter. Repeatedly. Here’s a short list of what I’m doing.

Revising chapter hooks

I make sure that the first sentence of each chapter begins with:

  • The POV character’s name
  • An active verb
  • A decent hook.

This can mean considerable rewriting…or not. Depends.

Tip: If your opening paragraph is passive / boring, skip down a couple paragraphs. That may be where the “action” starts. Put that bit at the beginning and either delete or splice in the original chapter beginning. Usually does the trick. But, it takes some work. In my case I often end up “killing my darlings” … which are almost always purple. Or just bad.

Revising chapter endings

Search “how to end chapters” and you’ll get a bunch of hits with advice on how to end chapters. Personally, I can’t keep all that advice in my head at once.

I just try to do two things:

  • Always end in the character’s POV
  • Have them doing/thinking/saying something cool (that relates to the plot, etc.).

Then I move on — which leaves me where I am now: going back and working out the kinks.

Tip: I also try to tie the closing words / concept / thought / action of one chapter into the opening of the chapter right after it. Doing so can help pull the reader through from one to the other. I’m pretty crap at this.

Multiple editing passes

DGtS happens over a nine day period & that’s how I’ve organized my Binder in Scrivener. Each day consists of multiple POV chapters.

In my first “editing” pass I stick to one POV per book-day. Example: Odin has 2 chapters during Day 5. I’ll edit his consecutively rather than go: Odin > Frigg > Loki > Odin. This helps me keep the POV voice consistent from chapter to chapter.

During my second pass, I will work consecutively through each chapter so I’d edit Odin > Frigg > Loki > Odin. In this pass I’m more focused on the chapters flowing smoothly from one to the other.

Throughout these passes I’m looking at words: Are these the best words? Which words can I remove? Can I use fewer words to say the same thing?

But I also try not to get too nit-picky b/c that’ll slow down the overall process. And my editor will do that. But the cleaner my copy, the better her edit.

Wait, what?

I’m also looking for inconsistencies, plot holes, opportunities to improve clarity, etc. .

Here’s an example. A bunch of rebels get captured in one of my early scenes…and are never referred to again. That makes no sense because in two later chapters Odin interrogates one rebel and then another.

So, I had to figure out a simple way of weaving in a reference to that first group of rebels. I can’t write a new scene b/c I don’t have time and it’d detract from what I’ve already written.

My solution: A two-ish line reference by Odin that essentially said “those bad guys were questioned but had no actionable info.”

Follow that thread

I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but there’s always a chance that when you change even a single line you have to fix everything else associated with that line. Just goes with the territory. I’ve chased quite a few already; hopefully won’t be too many more.

Overall, I’m confident I’ll hit my deadline. I’m at the point where more time won’t help…I’d just end up futzing with it. Gotta move forward!

Sixteen hours and counting

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been having trouble rewriting a scene with Frigg in Ifington. I’ve (mostly) figured out the geography & layout of the city and its environs — enough to write about it, at least.

Scene Goals

The bigger issue continues to be the scene’s goals. Frigg has two plot arcs in DGtS. The first deals with Hodr. The second deals with Baldr.

The goals of the scene, then are to:

  1. Transition smoothly to the 2nd arc.
  2. Make Frigg feel guilty about saving Baldr.
  3. Tie into what’s going on with Odin
  4. Worldbuild without forcing it and/or infodumping

So, pretty standard stuff. But in this case, for me, tough. So far, I’ve spent at least 16 hours working on this scene.

I’m working! No, really

That’s not all pure writing, of course. A lot of it is:

  1. Staring at the screen, thinking
  2. Jumping off on short research tangents — e.g., I had to give Frigg a matronymic that made sense. Another one is finding names for minor characters. Ordinarily I’d skip this step but I’m doing it now b/c I have to deliver the book to my editor in less than a month.
  3. Looking for new music to listen to
  4. Getting up & moving around
  5. Writing, rewriting, editing

Right now, the scene’s at ~2,400 words. Back in March 2019 this same scene was ~1,300 words long. None of those original words are in the current scene which is fine b/c the original scene was pretty craptastic. Here’s why:

  1. It was passive. Frigg was either listening to people give reports, or describing events from a distance. The original scene began with her literally flying over the city and describing what she saw. /yawn
  2. It didn’t advance/complicate the plot.

Fixin’ stuff

Here’s how I’m trying to fix these issues.

  1. Make Frigg active from the get go. In DGtS I’ve done a much better job of starting scenes in medias res but it’s still not second nature.
  2. Getting her active in the scene’s events. My next pass will focus on making this better. I’m trying to believably make her start feeling guilty about Baldr b/c it helps make what comes in later scenes more impactful. That’s my working theory, at least.
  3. Advance the plot: Still weak here. Maybe by working on the prior point I can make the scene more effective.

Over the next week or so I’ll probably spend another four hours (at least) reworking this scene. Lotta effort that I hope pays off. All told I have roughly 42-ish hours of writing time before I send the book off. Many other things to work through in that time besides this one scene.

ATM, DGts is ~92K words. Kinsmen Die clocked in around 175K words. Which is nuts. Having written that huge book this second one feels a whole lot shorter (cause it is) and as a result, a whole lot more manageable.

Maps!

Whenever I hit worldbuilding snags I tend to switch mediums. My current issue is with one of Frigg’s scenes that I’m rewriting. In it, she flies from Jarnstadr (pictured below) to Ifington — and then she flies over Ifington itself.

The problem was I didn’t have a good picture of what Ifington looked like. So I kept confusing myself, hitting iterative, unproductive loops on describing the city — and then I just gave up….and started drawing.

In KD, I described Ifington in very broad strokes…

  1. Had been a settlement founded by the Jotunn which the Aesir took from them
  2. Was on a long strip of land connecting Asgard to Utgard
  3. Was split in at least two pieces by the river Ifing (which in myth is a boundary between Asgard and Utgard)..
  4. Had an “old bridge”
  5. Had two newer bridges somewhere in the city
  6. Had the Bay of Thund to the west and the Great Sea to the east

Rather than start by mapping Ifington (which I eventually did), I started drawing my world. I’d actually done it before, but this time I really dove into it.

What I’ve posted below is the fourth iteration of one section of my world. I’m no cartographer — nor much of an artist. But, this crude map has helped a lot even though it’s not the “final” iteration.

A portion of the world in KD and DGtS

Here’s a list of the things wrong with the map:

  • Ugly, heh.
  • Scale is totally whacked.
  • Jarnstadr should be north of Ifington, not east
  • A little inconsistent with some of what I wrote in KD
  • I don’t like that peninsula cutting down into the Great Sea.
  • I wanted the Thund closer to Ifington.
  • There should be more continent “west” of Gladsheim.

My sketch of Ifington itself is even cruder than this one. But, it’ll help me finish rewriting the scene tomorrow — which was the whole point.

Because of my days-long tangent, I’ve found some good map-making & worldbuilding resources. Check these guys out:

  • WASD20: draws fantasy maps & has some good tutorials on how to do it. He mentions a few other resources as well (which I haven’t looked at).
  • Stoneworks: some worldbuilding tips based on the real world. Good for maps as well as helping make sure your world makes sense.

I also tinkered with Inkarnate and watched some videos of Campaign Cartographer (CC3). Last year I had bought a year-long license of Inkarnate (it’s not expensive) and tinkered with it here and there. CC3 looks pretty powerful but also time-consuming.

If I’ve learned anything from these past few days it’s this: I’m a writer who dabbles in map-making not the other way around.

From down in the weeds…

In the editorial report my editor sent me, one of her comments was this:

Inelegant variation and absolute phrases are no longer overwhelming the writing—where did the overwriting go?

I bolded the last part because I wanted to show an example of my own overwriting.

In working on DGtS I’ve been going back into Kinsmen Die to make sure I’m getting my continuity right — events, description, etc. As I do that I’m having to re-read my own writing…which is sometimes a little cringe-inducing.

Here’s an example of the old:

…as if they were caught amid a school of silvery fish. Below them, a river of frozen stars coursed outward, flowing like molten rock and singing with the voice of an avalanche.
The river stretched like a sea monster’s tentacle back into the Hvergelmir, which lay spread below them like an open-petaled flower. At this remove, the cauldron’s voice was the merest susurration, but the way it swirled and spun like fast-moving storm clouds entranced his eye just as it always had. It had thrown eleven giant arms out across the face of the Ginnungagap. The roaring cauldron was fed from above by a never-ending cascade of white fire and from below by red roiling fire.

Kinsmen Die, Matt Bishop

And here’s the new. I wrote it without first going back to see what how I’d originally described the Ginnungagap.

He stared down into a familiar place—the Ginnungagap. Red roiling fire blasted into the Gap from below; flowing ice plummeted from above. And where the two torrents met, the Roaring Cauldron churned, stretching out eleven mighty arms across the Gap. And still the Gap was unfilled.

Dark Grows the Sun, forthcoming, Matt Bishop

So I’m not saying the newer version is good per se, but I do think it’s better than what I wrote 2+ years ago.

And that’s some of the fun of writing — looking back and seeing the progress.

I bent my Wookie…

And then I broke my book. Here’s how.

My editor had said that my manuscript was pretty solid overall. Scattered throughout the chapters, though, were comments like “how does this advance the plot?” or “how does this complicate things for XYZ?”

Oh my darling…

For example, I have an encounter between Odin and a woman who’ll be important in Book 3. I like that scene for several different reasons, but it doesn’t really move Odin’s plot forward in the second book. I’m still wrestling with how to fix it (if it’s even possible).

Oh my darling…

Here’s another example. Toward the end of the book while Odin is spiraling downward into his “black moment of despair” he has a somewhat light-hearted conversation with a giant squirrel named Ratatoskr. There’s a lot of worldbuilding in the scene, good dialogue and some humor.

But the tone puts the brakes on Odin’s downward spiral. It relieves reader tension rather than intensifying it.

When I started trying to fix that scene I attempted to bend it to my will. Odin must speak to Ratatoskr! (Because I like the scene.) He must! It’s IMPORTANT! (Because I like the scene!)

Okay, fine, bending doesn’t work. It might be a good scene, but it’s in the wrong place.

The ripple effect

So I moved it. But that caused more problems: It had to be tweaked to reflect its new place in the book, and then I had to shift other scenes and tweak those, etc.

And then I had to solve time & place issues. These are particularly thorny because several events can only happen at certain times because, in part, it takes an established amount of time to get from Gladsheim to Helheim at a normal pace (three nights). I fudged it slightly b/c it could plausibly be done faster if you’re in a rush — but not twice as fast.

And when Hel and Hermod converse, Odin needs to be with or near Heimdall so that he can find out about it. And then they need to get word to Frigg which only Odin can do.

Yep, busted.

So, that’s how it gets complicated…and that’s how I broke my book.

Here’s the question, though, was it broken to begin with and I just didn’t realize it? My guess is “yes.” My editor spotted those flaws — maybe for a different reason entirely — pointed ’em out, and when I pushed on ’em…they crumbled.

With all that said, the book IS fundamentally good. I feel it in mah bones. But I need to set those bones and let ’em heal over.

And to put all of the above a different way: Kill your darlings.

After Ragnarok

I started writing in 2013. At that time I hadn’t ever read the Poetic Edda or the Prose Edda. I’d maybe read Padraic Colum’s book…maybe…and maybe some other secondary / derivative kid-focused books along with Simonson’s Thor stint, of course.

The Post-Ragnarok World

So when I read Voluspa (followed by the other Eddas) I was blown away for lots of different reasons. For example, I not only learned how the gods would die but that there was a world after Ragnarok. 

This post, then, provides an overview of what that world looks like based first on the Voluspa and then on a stanza from the Vafthruthrismol. In the former, Odin summons a volva (yes, that’s the word. It basically means “seeress”) from the grave and asks her questions (see the footnotes for an intriguing, alternative interpretation of that poem). In the latter, Odin engages in a battle of wits with the wisest Jotunn, Vafthrudnir. 

The Voluspa

The poem can be found here. There are online sources, as well. So it’s clear, my commentary (though it’s hardly sophisticated enough to merit that word) precedes the quoted stanzas. I don’t do justice to the poems or their nuances so I encourage you to read them.

Stz 59 describes how the renewed earth rises from beneath the waves. This is after Surtr burns the whole shebang. The “I” probably refers to the seeress. The alternative interpretation referenced below suggests that the seeress has summoned Odin and is interrogating him. I need to read that paper again b/c it’s a really neat way to interpret the poem.

59. Now do I see | the earth anew
Rise all green | from the waves again;
The cataracts fall, | and the eagle flies,
And fish he catches | beneath the cliffs.

In Stanza 60, the gods meet in Ithavoll which is the original area where they had met pre-Ragnarok. However, the gods meeting after Ragnarok are only the survivors: Vidar, Vali, Magni and Modi, Baldr and Hodr. There may be more gods who survive but they are not named.

The “terrible girdler” is Jormungandr — the Midgard serpent; Loki’s son. He kills Thor. The “ancient runes of” refers to Odin.

I don’t understand that “golden tables” reference except that it probably means the surviving gods have reclaimed and/or found some of the old wisdom.

60. The gods in Ithavoll | meet together,
Of the terrible girdler | of earth they talk,
And the mighty past | they call to mind,
And the ancient runes | of the Ruler of Gods.

61. In wondrous beauty | once again
Shall the golden tables | stand mid the grass,
Which the gods had owned | in the days of old,
. . . . . . . . . .

In Stz 62, we learn that Baldr and Hodr come back from Hel to dwell in Odin’s “battle-hall.” Also, the fields are fertile and “all ills grow better” – describing a new fertility after the fire and flood. Note that the “would you know yet more?” is a repeated refrain. It’s almost a taunt, as if the seeress (or Odin) is saying “can you handle knowing more?” Also note that virtually the entirety of the Voluspa prior to these stanzas has dealt with how the world is destroyed and how the major gods die.

62. Then fields unsowed | bear ripened fruit,
All ills grow better, | and Baldr comes back;
Baldr and Hoth dwell | in Hropt’s battle-hall,
And the mighty gods: | would you know yet more?

Who-nir?

Stz 63: For me, the meaning here is obscure since “Hoenir” is only referenced a few other times in other sources. In those references he’s associated with Odin but it’s never really clear exactly who Hoenir is. This line also says that the official brothers of Odin – Vili and Ve – live in “the Home of the Wind” now…but we’d no good idea of where they were prior to Ragnarok. Or does Vindheim perhaps mean “heaven” (as the Bellows notes state) meaning that the brothers are dead?

63. Then Hönir wins | the prophetic wand,
. . . . . . . . . .
And the sons of the brothers | of Tveggi abide
In Vindheim now: | would you know yet more?

In Stz 64 the seeress describes a hall “roofed with gold” which is where the righteous rulers dwell, and happiness will be there. Then in Stz 65 she continues saying that a mighty lord will come to rule in the hall upon Gimle. This sounds very Christian to me – which is what the footnotes in the Bellows translation suggest. But even that’s not entirely clear. In fact, the Bellows notes state that there may have been significant “interpolation” here and perhaps throughout the Voluspa (and other eddas). This simply means that new material was inserted at some point.  

64. More fair than the sun, | a hall I see,
Roofed with gold, | on Gimle it stands;
There shall the righteous | rulers dwell,
And happiness ever | there shall they have.

65. There comes on high, | all power to hold,
A mighty lord, | all lands he rules.
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .

The Corpse-laden Dragon

In Stz 66 the dragon Nithogg flies from Nidjafjoll (the Dark Crags) with the corpses of men on his wings. Creepy and brutal. 

Overall, I read it as Ragnarok happens, the world is roasted, flooded, some peeps and gods survive, re-emerge into a fresh new world with the best of the old world preserved…only for the dragon of death to make an appearance. Which is to say, sure, it’s good now, but just you wait…implying, perhaps, a cyclical view of time. 

The Voluspa concludes with the seeress saying “but now I must sink” — i.e., back into the grave from which Odin summoned her.

66. From below the dragon | dark comes forth,
Nithhogg flying | from Nithafjoll;
The bodies of men on | his wings he bears,
The serpent bright: | but now must I sink.

The Tale of Vafthrudnir

I immediately liked Vafthrudnir; just a cool character. Which, I guess, is why he made it into my books. The poem itself is a battle of wits in which Odin learns about the world from someone who is wiser than he. And then Odin pulls a fast one, wins the duel and Vaft loses his head.

In Stanza 45 of the Vathruthnismol Odin learns that “Lif” and “Lifthrasir” will emerge into the world after Ragnarok and have the morning dews for meat. The Bellows footnotes state that this pair are Life and Sturdy of Life, presumably male and female (and perhaps the same as Askr and Embla?). It is implied (imo) that this pair repopulates the earth.

Vafthruthnir spake:
45. “In Hoddmimir’s wood | shall hide themselves
Lif and Lifthrasir then;
The morning dews | for meat shall they have,
Such food shall men then find.”

In Stanza 50 Odin asks Vafthrudnir who will rule when the fires of Surtr have receded. Vaft answers indirectly saying that Vidar and Vali will dwell in the gods’ home afterward. And then he adds that Thor’s sons will have Mjolnir.

Wait, Who Dies?

When I was building my timeline for my books, this question implied that Odin already knew that the world was going to end…which meant he’d already spoken with the seeress in Voluspa. But, my hypothesis is contradicted elsewhere. Also, the first two lines are repeated throughout the poem.

Othin spake:
50. “Much have I fared, | much have I found,
Much have I got of the gods:
Who then shall rule | the realm of the gods,
When the fires of Surt have sunk?”

In Stanza 52, Odin asks how Odin dies in Ragnarok. Again, this question implies that Odin has already spoken to the seeress. Is he checking his sources against each other, looking for inconsistencies? Maybe a way out of his doom? /wink

Vaft answers, saying that Fenrir will kill Odin and that Vidar will avenge Odin’s death.

Vafthruthnir spake:
53. “The wolf shall fell | the father of men,
And this shall Vithar avenge;
The terrible jaws | shall he tear apart,
And so the wolf shall he slay.”

The final stanzas involve Odin pulling a fast one and Vaft losing his head over it. Think Biblo versus Gollum and the “what do I have in my pocket” question? It’s a cheap question, but the rules of the duel permit it.

Othin spake:
54. “Much have I fared, | much have I found,
Much have I got from the gods:
What spake Othin himself | in the ears of his son,
Ere in the bale-fire he burned?”

D’oh! 

In Stanza 55, Vaft concedes. But, for me the “thou” on the second line makes me think that Vaft knew he was dueling Odin either for the entirety of the poem or at some point midway thru (I’ll have to read it again to try & pinpoint it).

The “fated mouth” makes me think that Vaft had foreknowledge of this duel. the Bellows notes suggest that Vaft only figured it out at the end of the duel and now he knows he’s going to die. (In Crawford’s translation it is “doomed mouth.”)

Vafthruthnir spake:
55. “No man can tell | what in olden time
Thou spak’st in the ears of thy son;
With fated mouth | the fall of the gods
And mine olden tales have I told;
With Othin in knowledge | now have I striven,
And ever the wiser thou art.”

I think it’s cooler if Vaft had Odin pegged from the get-go and went thru with the duel anyway.

Free will vs Fate / Doom / Wyrd

All of the above, and more besides, has had me thinking hard about free will versus determinism / fate. To the point of watching random YouTube videos about the topic.

I won’t go off the deep end into those topics because this post is way too long as it is and I haven’t figured out how I want to incorporate this theme of free will versus fate into my books. It’s central to Norse myths and Odin”s character arc…and my second book. 

 

Note: Drinking from Odin’s Pledge, Henning Kure, 2006, is the paper that provides an alternate reading of the Voluspa.