Just like the Spanish Inquisition…

…creativity strikes when you least expect it.

Last night I sat down to read and take notes from Myth and Religion of the North. I ended up getting distracted and spending about an hour knocking out 1,600 words of a story that’s apparently been rattling around in what passes for my brain.

Good distraction!

Why Odin takes warriors

The story began as a bit of dialogue between Odin and an unnamed warrior. I was trying to get into Odin’s head. As I’ve detailed in this blog, Odin favors strong warriors b/c he’s recruiting for the Einherjar–the army of undead men who will fight in Ragnarok against the Jotunn.

From a mortal’s perspective, we can’t explain why anyone is taken before what we might perceive as their time — particularly valiant and heroic warriors. So, wesay a “god” is responsible for the death. (By “we” I mean my conception of what a pagan Norseman might think…which could be totally off base…but that’s the mindset I’m trying to get into)

And, in some cases, Odin’s given the hero a weapon (Sigmund) to use and then Odin causes that weapon to break. Then a valkyr scoops him up and it’s off to Valhol to prepare for Ragnarok. Mortals might call that “betrayed” by Odin.

From (my) Odin’s perspective, though, he doesn’t think of himself as “a liar.” He thinks of himself as a man who will lie if he has to — to get what he wants, protect his people, etc. Not that that’s better, necessarily. He’ll also do other things–whatever it takes–to protect his own.

A little help here?

In my proto-story, Odin lies by omission to the warrior. Odin sees potential in the warrior (but how does he see it? ;)) so he says: “Warrior, I will help you, but you agree to fight for me in my army when you die.”

I’m specifically thinking of Sigmund and the sword Gramr (which means Wrath in Old Norse and is an amazing name for a sword). Odin gave Gramr to Sigmund. And with that sword, Sigmund became a mighty king over the course of many years.

Then a great battle began (read the Volsunga Saga) in which Sigmund, though old, fought so well that none could stand against him…

the battle had dured a while, there came a man into the fight clad in a blue cloak, and with a slouched hat on his head, one-eyed he was,  and bare a bill in his hand; and he came against Sigmund the King, and have up his bill against him, and as Sigmund smote fiercely with the sword it fell upon the bill and burst asunder in the midst: thenceforth the slaughter and dismay turned to his side, for the good-hap of King Sigmund had departed from him, and his men fell fast about him; naught did the king spare himself, but the rather cheered on his men; but even as the saw says, “No might ‘gainst many”, so was it now proven; and in this fight fell Sigmund the King,

Source: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/vlsng/vlsng13.htm

The man in the blue cloak is Odin; the bare bill is Gungnir. And if I remember correctly, in the Icelandic sagas if a man dons a “blue cloak” (or is seen wearing one) it signifies the intent to murder/kill. (And in the sagas there’s a legal difference between murdering and killing. It’s a murder if you don’t immediately go to the closest homestead and declare in front of witnesses what you did. Murder is despicable; a killing can be totally justified.)

Anyway.

That’s what I had in my head with respect to the help Odin would provide to my unnamed warrior.

My story then evolves from a scrap of dialog in which Odin and the warrior make their bargain to a scene in which the warrior, having died valiantly in battle b/c his sword turns in his hand, is caught up by a valkyr. He then awakens in another place, seemingly healed. He gets up and stumbles into a hall bigger than any he’d ever seen with gold-bright shields hanging from the ceiling.

Hundreds of warriors are in the hall and my unnamed warrior is pushed and shoved through the throng till he staggers out into the clear space before Odin’s throne.

My warrior is angry and confused. He feels betrayed. But one of the warriors around him (an Einherjar) presses a cup of Heidrun’s mead into his hand and whispers to him, “All here have stood where you are now. We all made fools of ourselves before the Valfather. But don’t worry, you’re among brothers.”

Or something along those lines. I forgot what I wrote exactly. There’s more to the story beyond this brief sketch. The POV is the unnamed warrior and he tells his backstory in flashbacks–which totally evolved as I was writing.

Enthusiasms

I’m not sure how “good” my story is or even where it’s headed. I’m just glad I WROTE.

Which then had me wondering about why I’m so blocked with respect to my 2nd book. I’m kinda thinking that I enjoyed, and was spurred on by, the act of making this new story up on the fly. Of discovering the story as I wrote.

With my 2nd book, I outlined the crap out of it. I’m not really able to discover–or I don’t think I’m able to discover–much about it. And when I do discover things I have to make sure they make sense relative to what I’ve already decided. And if the discoveries are better then I have to scrap the older stuff…which causes changes to ripple, etc etc.

Or maybe all of that’s in my head and I’m just making up excuses while shying away from some hard work. And in some ways it’s easier to write a story with nothing tied to it–it’s a lark. But the novel, oooh, that’s important. (Not really, but you know what I mean.) I’m so stressed about making it good that I’m robbing the joy from it.

Either way, the Einherjar story was — and will hopefully continue to be — a fun side project.

Now to re-find the fun in that other story.

 

Breakthrough?

Bit of a breakthrough this morning. As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, Odin has power over the dead. Hel also has power over the dead. Lots of spoilers for my second book in the stuff that follows. Just saying.

 

Arrr, ye been warned.

 

Who has the powah!

What I’d been having trouble figuring out from a story point of view is why Odin would let Hel gain power over something he controlled. My solution there was to mess with the timing. Odin gained the power first, dropped the ball on paying attention to everything, and that enabled Hel to gain a similar power. But the two of them have different powers over the dead which fits into my narrative.

Another problem I had was regarding a journey Odin (and Frigg) take into the spirit-realm to rescue the spirit of their son Baldr. This is part of the opening scenes of Dark Grows the Sun.

The myths are pretty clear — Hel has Baldr’s spirit and she ain’t giving it back.

Well, why? How did it get to that point?

In my book, Odin (and Frigg) go into the spirit world to get Baldr’s spirit back. They end up having bargain with Hel–which Odin hadn’t expected. He thought it’d be easy peasy.

One problem with this encounter was idiot-plotting. If I put those three at the table, then what would prevent them from hashing out a deal right then and there? (And if they did that, then there’s no story to tell.)

They all have something they want from each other, but Hermod still has to go to Hel and screw up — meaning that Hel keeps Baldr’s spirit — thus thwarting Odin’s (and Frigg’s) goal of bringing him back to life.

For a long time I could not figure out to make that happen without essentially forcing Odin and Hel into fake disagreement that resulted in what I wanted to happen (i.e., idiot plotting).

The opposite of that is creating a situation in which they naturally and believably can’t come to an agreement. Or they come to an agreement neither really likes but can live with (my long-winded way of saying “compromise”). Each of them are interacting in what they perceive to be their own best interests. So they have to do and say things that fit. Otherwise, the scene won’t ring true.

 

The breakthrough! (maybe)

So, I think I just figured it out. At least in the first draft. I deleted about 1500 words doing that, but hey, if they’re shit words then good riddance, right?

I’ll see how well this scene actually works tomorrow morning, but I think it’s 75% there.

Well, I hope it is.

And in fixing this stuff at the beginning, then future scenes should be more stable — even if I have to scrap and rewrite them — because then the foundation will be more stable.

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.

Dark Grows the Sun

Here’s the cover of my second book, Dark Grows the Sun. It’ll be published in about a year.

That’s Odin. Those are the Norns. Or were, at least. As I’ve mentioned before, my Odin is in the process of becoming the one recorded in our myths — or my interpretation of him, at least.

He’s not a kindly, wise, white-bearded old man who fades into golden sparkles on the wind. He’s got a brutal streak a mile wide. He can leap about |——| … and he has nasty, big, pointy — oh…wait…that’s something else entirely.

But, back to the cover. A few of those who I’d asked to provide their input on it had some reservations and pointed out some technical and consistency issues with respect to the art of Kinsmen Die.

And while I shared some of those reservations, here are a few reasons I went forward with this design:

  1. I liked it.
  2. The image is pretty powerful for multiple reasons. I’ll leave it at that 🙂
  3. I gave the artist several summaries of important scenes in the book. He chose this one and illustrated it. Even the first iteration was spot on to what happens in the book. If that was something that caught his imagination then maybe there’s merit in letting it ride — wasn’t like I had any better ideas at the time (or now, even).

I also had another reason for going with a different-looking cover:

  1. Sales of my first book are non-existent. Not unexpected but still disheartening.
    1. As an aside, a good friend of mine recently asked a pretty well-known author to provide some encouraging words to me since, as this blog shows, I’ve got a solid case of writer’s block.
    2. That author said that my writer’s block is because of those crappy book sales and that I needed to get over it. He’s right. And I’m working on it. Slowly.
  2. Why are sales of KD sales non-existent? A couple reasons, methinks:
    1. Nobody knows it exists
    2. People stumble across it and either:
      1. Aren’t drawn in by the cover
      2. Like the cover but don’t like the blurb
      3. Don’t like the whole thing.
  3. How can I can address these issues?
    1. Advertising and marketing
    2. Change the cover
    3. Change the blurb

I’ve experimented with advertising & marketing. Mediocre results likely due to it requiring a different skillset and more dedication than I have capacity for right now. I need to get more books written first.

I’m not spending the cash to change the cover of KD b/c I don’t know if that’s the issue. I’m not even reasonably certain that’s the issue. I’ve also changed the blurb a bit. But again, I don’t know where the problem is.

So, I’m going with a different cover approach on DGtS. People. Lighter. Maybe that will draw folks in. We shall see. In like a year, lol.

The main problem is awareness. And while it’d be great to invest the time and money into building awareness, I only have one book to monetize. The good folks over at the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Marketing podcast have consistently recommended:

  1. Launching an entire series at once so you have more books. Awesome if you can do it. I can’t.
  2. Marketing when you have more books b/c you can do things like “first book free” in order to generate sales of other books in the series…which I don’t have.

I tend to think they’re right.

And, this is the series I want to write. I have zero ideas for stuff outside of this Norse-inspired universe that’s rattling around in my head. Those future stories are pretty cool (imo, lol), but I’m not ready for ’em yet. Gotta get thru this 2nd book. Maybe then I jump ahead and write ’em…or maybe I stick to the plan and write book three in this series.

Dunno yet.

For now, I gotta work thru this writer’s block.

“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.

 

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.

 

 

__

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.

Spears, shields and spells

This week I’ve finished developing a Norse-sounding military hierarchy for my books. It’s  loosely based on very early (BC) armies — Roman, Greek, Etruscan, and what little we know about how the Norse / Vikings fought. I also made a lot up 🙂

My base military unit is a pair of warriors: a shieldbearer (front line) and a spear-wielder (second line). Two pairs of these warriors are the next biggest “formation.” There are 10 pairs of warriors in a shieldwall (if they’re making a square). The length of the line varies by terrain/tactics as does its depth. Every warrior also carries hand-to-hand weapons: mostly axes and long knives (seaxes), but there a few swords here and there (mostly used by Jarls).

Pure archers are a part of each Aesir (and Jotunn) warband, but about half of my “spears” are proficient enough with bows that they can switch if necessary. Each warband also has at least one healer who has been trained at Baldr’s academy (my invention).

The Aesir also have baresarkers (berserkers) but they are very few in number — these are elite, magically empowered warriors who report directly to the Alfather or Almother. Several baresarkers figure prominently in my first book.

I’ve organized my armies into warbands. Currently, each one is ~105 people strong. It is led by a Hersir and there is a short chain of command down to the warrior who’s in charge of each wall. I’ve tried to account for all the other duties that must exist — signals/comms, cooks, guards, latrine, smiths, etc. There are no independent/pure archer or cavalry warbands (among the Aesir and Jotunn).

To make things easier (for me and my readers), I’ve assumed that the basic military structure is the same for Jotunn and Aesir — despite a few key differences. The Vanir and Alvar fight differently, though, as do the Svartalvar.

The Aesir have three basic military groups:

  • Garrisons: Comprised of older men and women along with those young boys & girls who are learning about military life before they are compulsorily enrolled in the army. In my fictional culture, everybody learns how to fight. Most don’t end up doing that professionally, though.
  • Army: The largest fighting body of Aesir, led by Tyr and Ullr. It is comprised of multiple warbands. Their main job is border protection and internal security along the roads. These warbands are on their way to becoming more specialized (e.g.,. cavalry only, archers only, etc.).
  • Einherjar “Those who fight alone”: This is my elite fighting force — and are an important part of the story. To become Einherjar a warrior has to distinguish him/herself on the battlefield. Over time, and particularly since Odin went wandering in my book’s backstory, the Einherjar have grown large and begun to sprawl. (My Einherjar are not (yet) those you know from myth.)

All three of the above groups use horses (everyone knows how to ride) to get from one place to another, but they typically dismount to fight. They will also use ships to get from place to place, when possible.

Jotunn warbands are called “vegr.” That’s the Old Norse word for “road” or “way.” When speaking of death, the Old Norse would often say “he/she is on the road to Hel.” That phrase translates to Helvegr — which I thought  would be a cool name for a military group. So, all the Jotunn warbands are called XYZ-vegr. Helvegr is the best of them all and it is led by Beli.

The vegr are roughly the same size as Aesir warbands (about 105 warriors), with a few important differences. Namely:

  • The Jotunn use shaman who double as healers. The Aesir don’t have the same level of access to magic as the Jotunn do. For reasons.
  • Jotunn shaman also picked up a couple tricks from the Alvar and Svartalvar and the magic they use which allows the Jotunn to control wildlife.
  • And since the Jotunn don’t have access to horses, their shaman have figured out another way to move about Utgard’s vast desolation.

The people in my books refer to magic as “seidr.” In actuality, seidr is a sub-type of magic, but it’s the most common type. Seidr is what Odin learned from Freyja. But, Odin knows other types of magic: galdr, necromancy, runes & shapeshifting to name a few.

Each type of magic allows the practitioner to do certain things, assuming they have a power source. I show that power source being used in multiple different ways and I show the POV running out of that power source. Acquiring more is an involved process that I show Odin engaged in about mid-way through the book.

Note: Odin and others, including the Jotunn, use one type of power source, but Freyja (and the Svartalvar) have figured out other ways to power their magic. This becomes a thing in future books.

Certain practitioners only use certain types of magic — e.g., Freyja only uses seidr — but Odin uses them all (he is the Father of Enchanters, after all). Some don’t have any magic at all, like Frigg, but she uses items created from seidr. Thor is a hybrid (over which I’ll pull mystery’s shroud), but the visible source of his power are three Svartalvar-crafted implements: hammer, gloves and belt.

Overall, my magic system has rules and my characters use magic to do things important to the plot. In my initial books, the characters all take magic for granted so I don’t spend much narrative time explaining it — just enough to make sure the reader knows what’s happening and what the rules are.

There’s a lot more I could write about the magic system & how I developed it, but I think I’ll wait on that until I get some commentary back from beta readers of the line-edited book. Gamers are really good at figuring out what works and what’s broken.

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.