Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Jötnar

 

Jötnar, plural of jötunn–giants.

It may surprise folks who have only come to know me as an adult, but I was a very small child. Not only the shortest boy in my class, but the third shortest child in my grade (this was hammered home every year when we were arranged by height for school photos). If you consider a short, bookish boy in a small town, one who read about mythology instead of playing hockey, it also won’t surprise you that in a world where it felt like everyone was bigger than me, I identified giants as my boogieman monster of choice over vampires or werewolves (I wanted a dragon, and zombies weren’t a thing then).

The giants of Norse mythology are often brutish, and yes, violent, but they are far more than that. In Norse myth, our entire world was made from the bones and blood of the first jötunn, Ymir. Many jötunn, Loki included, have a gift for changing their shapes. Two such giants, chased after the sun and moon in the guise of wolves, fated to gobble them up at Ragnarök. Jötnar also found their way into the pantheon of gods (or at least into the beds of the gods).

They were seers and secret keepers. The Norns, who tended mortals’ threads of fate, were said to have jötunn blood. Odin traded an eye to drink from the well of Mimir to gain great wisdom (to which it must be remarked: wouldn’t it have been wiser to not rip out your own eye?). Even after Odin traded an eye for knowledge and hanged himself from the World Tree to gain mastery of rune magic, he still consulted jötunn seers from time to time.

Jötnar were also masters of illusion and trickery. One of my favourite stories of jötunn mischief is the story of Útgarða-Loki (or Loki of the Outyards, not to be confused with Loki-Loki) who managed to trick Thor into trying to drink the ocean, and even pulled the wool over his namesake’s eyes, matching the trickster god against fire personified in an eating contest.

Speaking of fire–and fire giants–there is Surtur who is destined to engulf the world in flames–and to pop up in Thunder Road*–but you’ll have to wait a few days to read about him.

*No spoilers, this is revealed on the back cover copy.

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Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Sif

 

The one story about Sif that stuck with me is the one story about Sif that anyone is likely to know–if they know the name at all: how Loki cropped the hair from her head; and then to assuage Thor’s anger, tricked the dwarves into replacing Sif’s hair with strands of gold. It’s a good story, but it has less to do with Sif than it does her husband’s reaction to Loki’s deeds. It’s also less about Sif’s new golden hair than it is about the other gifts Loki won from the dwarves, namely: Thor’s hammer Mjölnir and Gungnir, Odin’s spear that never missed.

Loki played another prank on Sif–one that D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myth sure didn’t talk about when I was a kid–he claimed to have had an affair with her. We don’t know Sif’s reaction to this, but in another story, the possibility of Sif having another lover is something Thor admits is “what seems worst to him.” So once again, it’s more about Thor than Sif (interestingly though, Thor is occasionally referred to as “husband of Sif” which seems progressive for the time).

Thinking on this, the character of Sif is one of the few instances where I prefer her portrayals in other media. In my old Dungeons and Dragons (if you’ve been reading along, this revelation can’t really surprise you) manual Deities and Demigods, Sif is portrayed as Thor’s wife, but also as the goddess of skill and excellence in battle. I like that. In Marvel’s Thor comic (and the Thor movie) Sif is also portrayed as a warrior (and a brunette), a lover of Thor, but not his wife (good thing too, comic book wives don’t tend to work out so well…), someone who could be Thor’s companion, his equal. Now that she has a starring role coming up in Thor’s old comic title Journey into Mystery (a young Loki just finished headlining this book) written by Kathryn Immonen and illustrated by Valerio Schiti, maybe she finally will be.

Thor’s Day Guest Post on As You Were

I’m hanging my hat over on David Jón Fuller’s blog As You Were today, talking about writing, music and how they came together in the creation of Thunder Road. Metal, Myth, Monsters; that’s what David promises on his blog, so if you read and enjoy my post, stick around and see what he’s up to, you won’t be disappointed.

Ragnarök and Roll: The Music of Thunder Road

 

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Odin

Happy Wednesday, and welcome to the second entry in Loki’s Guide to the Petty Gods and Monsters of Norse Mythology. Wednesday, or Wotan’s Day, is the day of the week named for the Norse God, Odin.

Odin, the All-Father of the Norse Gods carries over two hundred other names, usually kennings referring to his various roles as ruler of the pantheon. Names that when translated are: God of the Hanged, or Dangler; Odin hanged himself from the world tree for mastery of rune magic. Not surprising then that he was also referred to as the God of Runes. Accompanied by the ravens Huginn and Muninn, (Thought and Memory to us) Odin was also the Raven God. As a god who liked to travel among his worshipers, he was Shaggy Cloak Wearer, Broad Hat, Host Blinder (I imagine this one is because he hid his true identity from those who sheltered him, not because he went around stealing eyes–even if Odin was walking around one eye short). Over ten of Odin’s many names refer him as a “yeller”, a “blusterer”; “roarer”, leading me to think that he wasn’t shy about making his opinion heard. He’d have to be when he shared a table with Thor or Loki.

I find Odin–and the rest of the Norse gods–to be complex–and despite all the magical trappings, very, very human. He’s a father, a son; a husband, a lover; a creator of life and a killer. Odin holds long grudges, and at the same time ignored the gods’ hatred of giants to welcome jötunn-born Loki into his hall as a blood brother (not a foster son, if all you know is the comic version).

Right now, most people’s image of Odin is likely to be Anthony Hopkins in the recent Marvel Comics movie, Thor. I liked the movie, and liked Hopkins in it, but I prefer my Odin a little less…shiny.

Odin met his end at Ragnarök, swallowed whole by Loki’s son Fenrir, along with his spear that never missed, and his eight-legged steed (another of Loki’s children). Odin and his death cast a long shadow over the Thunder Road series, but death didn’t stop Loki from showing up in Thunder Road, will it stop a god also known as Hel Blinder too?

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Loki

 

Tricksters are hard to write.

You have to ride that fine line between keeping them chaotic enough to push your protagonist, create conflict (and help solve it) and at the same time keep them charming enough that your audience doesn’t wonder why your hero isn’t pushing back hard (your hero can hate the trickster plenty, in fact that’s encouraged).

There’s been a few trickster figures in fantasy that as a reader I’ve felt have been exceptionally handled: Coyote in Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue, Matrim Cauthon in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time (starting in The Dragon Reborn and onward; he irritated the hell out of me in books one and two), and Karen Dudley’s Hermes in the forthcoming Food for the Gods, among them. I hope Thunder Road readers will feel that way about my take on Loki.

As soon as I decided to write a book with a Norse myth focus, I knew it had to have Loki. So I thought about who would be most irritated and uncomfortable about having to share a mystical quest with a shapeshifting and gender swapping wise ass. My Alberta oil worker protagonist, Ted Callan, was in essence created and driven by Loki even before the story started.

What’s not to like about Loki?

Everything good or bad in Norse myth happens because of him. How did Thor get his hammer? Loki. How did Odin get his spear? Loki. Who was ultimately responsible for the god Baldur’s death? Loki. Who also ensured that Hel would not release Baldur from the underworld? That was Loki too. Loki’s children Fenrir and Jormungandur are responsible for the deaths of Odin and Thor. Loki and Norse watchman Heimdall died at each others hands at Ragnarök like a viking Holmes and Moriarty.

When there is talk of Loki’s family (and this comes up surprisingly often in my circles), it’s almost always about his monstrous children with the jötunn, Angrboða: Fenrir, Jormungandur, and Hel, goddess of the dead. But Loki had a family among the Aesir gods too. Once Loki was bound by the gods, his wife Sigyn spent the rest of her days catching the poison that dripped over Loki’s face. Was it simply blind devotion to the institution of marriage? I don’t think so. To me, there had to be something lovable about Loki. One of their children is transformed into a wolf and tears apart the other, whose guts are then used to bind her husband, and still she tried to ease his suffering?  I felt that act had to be honoured. Somehow.

The question is: will that lovable something be enough to keep Loki alive this time around?

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology

Somewhere in the editorial process I was asked to consider writing up an appendix with descriptions of the various Norse gods and monsters. The thinking was that at least some of my readers would be coming to Thunder Road and to the Norse myth cycle with little or no familiarity with Loki, Thor or Odin, let alone dvergar, einherjar, or Gleipnir.

I also wanted to ensure that this appendix was something that wouldn’t also be readily available on Wikipedia either, and so I decided to write the appendix in Loki’s voice. There were a couple of excellent reasons for this. First, early readers of Thunder Road really responded to the way I wrote the character. Second, and more importantly, he’s the god of lies and trickery, so I can bend his words to my purposes (ignore the author tenting his fingers and laughing maniacally).

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting the entries from Loki’s Guide here on the blog (and my haunts on Facebook and Twitter) for your amusement. Along the way, I’ll probably include some annotations such as: why it’s hard to write Loki, or: why Thor is a dick.

Tomorrow: Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology features…Loki. (C’mon, of course he’d start with himself)

A Blog About Blogging

Is it too meta to write a blog about blogging?

One of my goals for my holidays was to write a blog post every day. So far, so good. One of my goals when I started the blog was to post at least every week. If I look at my number of posts so far this year it looks like I’ve succeeded, but in reality, there were weeks with multiple posts, and stretches where my site was lying very fallow.

The thing I love about using WordPress, is the access to stats. A fellow could get lost analyzing them, breaking them down, and eventually, writing towards them. And why not? I want to draw traffic to the blog. So what have I learned since January?

1. People love my convention roundups.

My two biggest posts thus far have been my post on Keycon 2012 and When Words Collide 2012. What does this tell me? Step One: Go to more conventions. Step Two: Don’t know. Step Three: Profit! But seriously, Underpants Gnomes references aside, I love going to conventions, and love writing up the experience afterwards, so that’ll happen regardless.

2. When I post something, I get more hits.

This should have been self explanatory, but it’s nice to see the data backs it up. It would be very disheartening indeed to see blog traffic go down when I posted. Another thing I’ve noticed is that there is carryover to blog traffic the day after a post, but not much beyond that. Keep posting everyday and even if the numbers fluctuate up and down, the average views have been significantly higher than they have been. August has been my busiest month for page views as a result of this.

3. Most of my page views have been from Canada.

Another stat that I expected. Most of the people I know are from Canada, my publisher is Canadian, and I rarely travel outside of Canada. That said, there have been multiple views from The United States (also expected), Great Britain (interesting), Korea (really?) and Iceland (awesome!). I can only hope these aren’t the spambots that have been trying to comment about Search Engine Optimization.

4. Blogging everyday is exhausting.

I don’t know how folks like John Scalzi do it (maybe if I had a cat I could tape bacon to…no, that’s been done. Maybe pics of my belt buckles or bad moustaches?). I’m glad they do, because I love reading their posts. I’m still committed to blogging every day of my holidays, but I think I’ll need to find a schedule that suits me better, while continues to provide more benefit than the once a week goal that I had originally set for myself. Perhaps every other day or three days a week would work.

5. Once you start writing about any topic, it isn’t hard to wind up with five hundred words or so on that topic.

See, I just did it.

Write on.