Thor…Ragnarok?

So I saw Thor: Ragnarok. Really enjoyed it.

If you hate spoilers, then stop reading here.

 

Last Warning! 🙂

 

 

 

 

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 😉 (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’s hand in the wolf’s 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’t know how to settle disputes between men. I’m thinking of your right hand which Fenrir, my son, bit off.”

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 RĂĄn’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 (RĂĄn 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 “hell(e)” to translate “infernus” in Latin; while the the Gothic Bible used “halja” 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.

The traveling cast…

This past month I’ve eased up on the writing throttle. I dropped from a ~16 hour/week writing schedule back to about 6 hours/week. I’ve written a few scenes, edited some others but, mostly, I’ve focused on outlining.

In prior posts I’d mentioned how bloody that process was (and will continue to be). The new structure works pretty well (atm), but it needs a lot of work. Most of the existing ~60K words will get heavily edited or thrown out wholesale. Much of that’s b/c: the writing’s crap, scenes are moved around, characters removed (or added) to scenes, etc.

To reorganize BK2 I focused on travel times. Boring, but necessary since there’s a ton of travel. I’ve already mentioned Hermod’s journey, but along with that:

  • Frigg’s stuck in Gladsheim managing things, but then she leaves to speak with a Jotunn woman named Thokk. She has to be back in Gladsheim for the final scene(s).
  • Vaft & Hyrrokin have to get from Jotunheim to Gladsheim. Because reasons.
  • Odin arrives back (late) and aside from a quick jaunt down to see the Norns and then, a bit later, to the High Seat with Heimdall, he stays in Gladsheim.
  • Freyr and Freyja travel from Alvheim and Vanaheim, respectively, to Gladsheim. And, then, oops, Odin asks if Freyr brought Skidbladnir. No, Freyr, says, I rode Gullinbursti. Well dangit, Odin says, I need that ship. How long to get it here? (BTW, this is all prep for BK3.)
  • Thor zips into Gladsheim (b/c of the culminating event in BK1), Frigg orders him into Utgard’s frozen north (b/c of what Vidar found there), but he then HAS to be back in time for BK2’s climactic scenes.
  • Loki meets Odin “on screen” for the first time and then, at Frigg’s request, goes to Helheim. Then he has to get back to Gladsheim.
  • Vidar has to get back from Utgard, get to Vithi (his home), get to Gladsheim, get to Ifington, get back to Gladsheim and be present for the climactic scene.
    • One of the major changes I made was splitting up Vidar and Loki. In the “first” draft, I had them paired up for what I thought were good, dramatic, tension-raising reasons.
    • Then I decided it was silly and didn’t make sense time-wise. So, now they’re both alone & doing their own things.

So, with all that done, I’m really, really hoping that it’s not work in vain. Because, by Monday, I’ll have my editor’s comments back. Major changes to BK1 will ripple into the subsequent books.

/crosses fingers