Gods of the Vikings

This past week I was at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., with the fam. Fun time.

We spent part of one day at Epcot which was mostly a waste of time given that my kids are young, eat a handful of foods and want to be on rides.

I bring all this up b/c in “Norway” there’s a relatively new exhibit called “Gods of the Vikings.” (And here.) The exhibit isn’t tucked away somewhere, it’s right at the front of Norway and easy enough to walk through on your way to the more commercial stuff.

The exhibit is one room and there isn’t a whole lot in it, but it’s pretty cool seeing even one room dedicated to the source materials. As an example, that woman sitting in the picture is the völva from the Voluspa.

So, if you’re gonna be at Epcot, walk through Gods of the Vikings. It might please Thor.

 

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BTW, I snagged the photo for this post from a Google Image search that pulled from this site b/c we “disconnected” when we were at the parks.

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.

 

Óðrœrir — “Stirrer of Inspiration“ — more plainly, the mead of poetry in Old Norse myth. For more, click here.

 

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 Rán’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 (Rán 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.

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 Háls (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.

 

WoW, Norse Myth

Shockingly, I’m a World of Warcraft nerd. In past expansions of the game, I’ve enjoyed Blizzard’s integration of Norse myth into its universe — particularly with the Ulduar raid.The most recent expac (Legion) dives back into Norse myth.

So, I thought it’d be fun to note a few examples / references to Norse myths that I’ve seen so far.

References to Norse Myth in Legion

Edit: As noted, these are references in the Legion xpac. When I have time (since BfA has sucked me in) I’ll make a list for some of the other Norse-influenced in WoW.

  • Aegira: I play a monk. Aegira is integral to one of my quest lines & ends up being one of my followers. She’s a “brewmaster.” In Norse myth, Aegir had a cauldron (fetched by Thor from a giant named Hymir) in which he brewed mead for the Aesir.
  • Egyl the Enduring: Possibly a reference to the Icelandic poet/skald Egil (“Egil’s Saga”).
  • Fathnyr: Refers to Fafnir, brother of Andvari and Regin who, in Reginsmol, murders his father Hreithmar. Fafnir somehow became a dragon, as you do, and was subsequently killed by Sigurd in the Fafnismol.
  • Havi: One of the names associated with Odin in the Havamal. It means “High One.”
  • Helya: This is Hel, of course. In WoW, she’s the body-double for Ursula (yes, from The Little Mermaid) which is both weird, funny and not at all true to the myths.
  • Naglfar: The “Nail Ship” is made from the fingernails and toenails of dead men and women — cutting the nails of the deceased before they are interred means that fewer nails get to Helheim. Therefore, it’ll take Hel longer to build the ship. Once finished, Naglfar is the ship on which the dead, along with Loki and several others sail to Asgard at Ragnarok.
  • Huginn: “Thought,” one of Odin’s ravens.
  • Muninn: “Memory,” Odin’s other raven. He sends both ravens out at dawn to scour the realms for information; they come back at night.
  • Nithogg (and his brood): “The One Full of Striking Hatred,” is a dragon of death in the Voluspa. Due to drinking blood and eating corpses, Nithogg has serious halitosis issues. This dragon lives thru Ragnarok.
  • Odyn: Odin, the Alfather. In Legion, Odyn has a full, glowing beard of fiery hot magma.
  • Runelord Ragnar, Floki, Lagertha (fallen Val’kyra): All three are references to Vikings the TV show (History channel), as well as to Norse myth and sagas.
  • Val’kyr: The valkyrie are the “choosers of the slain.” Contrary to the image of beautiful spear maidens riding winged steeds, an older interpretation/conception suggests that valkyr were vicious, demonic creatures related to the disir (female spirits).
  • Vydhar: Found in a land “Filled with growing trees | and high-standing grass” (Grimnismol, 17), Vidar is a son of Odin — and one of my book’s main characters. In a jaw-dropping moment (mine, not someone else’s) I came across Vydhar in Stormheim. He’s a tree. My jaw dropped b/c in my BK3 I had Vidar turn into a tree. Once I saw that same idea in WoW: Legion, I ditched my idea and found another, better one. It’s better b/c it ties more directly to him as a character and what he gets up to. Saying anything more would be teh spoilerz!
  • Yotnar: Or Jotnar, which is the plural form of Jotunn. As a name for a dude, it’s a little silly, but so are gnomes dancing. In a good way.
  • Ymiron (the fallen king): Obviously a riff on Ymir, the Jotunn progenitor.

Many of those listed above inhabit Stormheim (Home of Storms) which also features a really cool, humongous statue of Thorim, I think (have to double check). One of the new dungeons is the Halls of Valor; it has a whole Valhol thing going on, including a glowing golden bridge up to where Odyn’s waiting for you to comb his magma beard.

Hymdall (Heimdall) is the first boss in the “Halls of Valor” dungeon which is fitting because he guards the main gate to the halls. He’s also a huge PITA. Fenryr (Fenrir, one of Loki’s sons) is another boss in that dungeon.

Anybody playing the game catch names/places that I haven’t included?

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.

Progress?

So, I pretty much lost a week of writing — business travel, kid stuff, etc. It happens.

The little I did do involved further tweaks to Frigg’s story. Here’s the basics:

  • Kept making her more active & made that activity directly related to earlier plot events
  • Turned the new activity into a diversion for Frigg — i.e., things that happen to her cause her to look one way while the real threat is from the other direction.

Here’s how I have it the plots interleaved before the run up to the final event (Midwinter celebration):

  • Odin is in Helheim figuring out what’s going to happen b/c he’s summoning, finally, a dead seeress. You know, as ya do.
  • Vidar is in Utgard getting his butt kicked.
  • Hyrrokin is on the team that’s doing the kicking.
  • Hodir is on his way to Gladsheim to reconcile with his family.
  • Vafthrudnir is with his buddy, the High Chief of the Jotunn, getting the troops ready.
  • Frigg is figuring out that there’s a plot against her son Baldr’s life. ZOMG. However, Odin’s learning the same thing — from the dead seeress.

Which character has the real scoop? The reader knows. Frigg thinks she knows, but she’s wrong. Hopefully that creates some tension. Also, the reader doesn’t really know why this “major event” is happening or how it ties into the overarching plot. I hope.

Looking ahead, I’m 23 days from sending the manuscript to my editor. Tick, tock. Next week I hope to publish something more involved on the nature of the struggle between the Aesir and Jotunn, but we shall see!

 

Somebody’s watching me…

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

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

Exactly who his mothers were is unclear — they could have been Aegir’s nine daughters, but that doesn’t agree with other accounts that say the nine were Jotunn women. I prefer the Aegir’s daughter’s explanation; it’s simpler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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