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).

 

 

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 Járngreipr (iron grippers) — i.e., iron gloves. He also wears Megingjörd (power belt) which doubles his strength. (As I write this, I don’t remember if the belt is needed for Mjolnir or if it’s just a bonus. To the books!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, is Thor dumb? Not in my books. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Raven’s Eye View of the Vanir

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

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

The seeress continues, saying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***I allude to this as the “old wall” in several scenes.

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

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