Loki’s Guide To Norse Mythology: The Goat

The Goat

The Goat

A.K.A. Ted’s 1968 GTO.

A 1968 GTO was the first car I remember thinking was cool.

But that’s not the only reason why Ted drives one. Ted is a stand-in for Thor in Thunder Road, he received not only the power inherent in Thor’s hammer Mjölnir, but the Thunder God’s ability to control the weather. I didn’t have to look far for other touchstones that I wanted to make between Ted and Thor. Thor had a chariot pulled by the goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstur. And, the GTO is often referred to (and not just by Ted) as “The Greatest of All Time.”

So how could I pass up calling Ted’s chariot The Goat?

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Ted’s car was a dark brown, not black, but I think you can still get an idea of the car from this photo, and why, if I ever get my hands on one, I’ll never, ever let a trickster ride shotgun.

Write on!

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Loki’s Guide To Norse Mythology: Winnipeg

Winnipeg

One great city (to write about).

It was Winnipeg’s slogan, “Heart of the Continent”, that made me want to use the city as the centre of a return to a world of magic.

When I started writing Thunder Road it was going to be set in Winnipeg (and Manitoba) largely because I live here, so it cut down on my costs for a book I had no idea if someone would want to publish, but that I desperately wanted to write.

But I do love my home, and I think it makes an interesting setting. While it may not quite have the concentration of Icelandic or viking stuff that the town of Gimli does, it’s still here. Laxdal road, and Valhalla apartments (Edmonton has them too, more on that later) among them.

When your book deals with the goddess of the dead coming to town, it’s natural to think of every building that is supposed to be haunted, and pretty much every old building downtown Winnipeg is rumoured to be haunted. So that’s where I got a lot of my set pieces for Tombstone Blues. But there are also a few that have mythological significance. The “secrets” of the Knights Templar were big news at the time of writing Thunder Road and Tombstone Blues, as well as their potential connection to the Freemasons. The Manitoba Legislature is full of Masonic symbols, but there are lots of Greek, Roman and Egyptian references too. Winnipeg’s iconic symbol of The Golden Boy was modeled after a sculpture of the god Mercury.

I read up on a bunch of locales that I wasn’t familiar with, and then as the story found its shape I settled on using the ones that resonated most with me. The old Masonic Temple (which I remember best as a Mother Tucker’s restaurant, but it’s been a bunch of other things since. It’s also currently vacant, which allowed me to remake it exactly as I wanted) that became the nightclub, Spectres, The Hotel Fort Garry, the Manitoba Legislature and Union Station.

When I was writing in Winnipeg, I tried to choose neighbourhoods that had strong character attached to them, that I felt would come through on the page even for folks who don’t live here. Every city has its own version of Osborne Village, where night clubs, and restaurants, and tattoo shops all meet. Wolseley and its towering elms, old houses, and granola crunch was chosen because of how much it would irritate Ted to live there, as much as the beauty of neighbourhood.

And the city mostly survived Ted’s tenure as guardian.

Mostly.

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Write on.

Loki’s Guide To Norse Mythology: Tilda Eilífsdóttir

Tilda

Similar to my protagonist, Ted Callan, Tilda doesn’t appear in the myths, not specifically, anyway. The fortune telling and fate spinning Norns, however, certainly do.

My fascination with fortune telling and precognition was always tempered by potential downsides, a feeling that probably came out of the various comics I read and RPGs I played. The X-Men definitely took a turn for the more fatalistic after “Days of Future Past” knowing what was in store for them (in at least one of their futures, I’ve read X-men for thirty years and even I can’t keep it all straight anymore). I also had a sadistic gamemaster who’d punish you for using those very helpful powers and spells because they required more planning on his part. You know who you are.

Tilda showed up out of the blue in Ted Callan’s life and world. She popped up just as suddenly in my writing, there was no short story antecedent. One moment there was a dark highway, and then there was Tilda. She didn’t live in Gimli until that popped out of her mouth. I sort of knew I wanted a fortune teller of some kind to be a part of the book eventually, but just as the dwarves weren’t dvergar yet, that seer wasn’t necessarily going to be one of the “capital-N” Norns either.

I had a friend who used to hitchhike all over the place. She scared the bejesus out of me at times, but she was fun, and she had some great stories. She had seen some amazing things in her travels, and while Tilda is not her, there is definitely something of that friend in the young Norn’s literary DNA. I wanted Tilda to have a wealth of stories in her past, and to be more knowledgeable about not only the magical world, but the real world than Ted. Her broader life experience also helped close the age gap between them.

Spoiler alert for those who haven’t read book one:

Tilda gets all of the powers of the Norns, visions of not just the future, but the past and the present as well. I did this because Ted gets a lot of power in Thunder Road, and I wanted Tilda to be Ted’s match both physically and magically. Even though the book is about Ted, Tilda needed to undergo a journey of her own. And just as I wanted to write a post-Ragnarök story, I liked the idea of playing with the maiden-mother-crone concept. Mixing the magical and the mundane is one of things I love most about writing Urban Fantasy. Ted and Tilda fell together very quickly, fueled in part by the Norn’s belief that they are fated to be a couple, so in Tombstone Blues I wanted to examine how much “destined for one another” means when you move in together for the first time.

Loki’s Guide To Norse Mythology: Ted Callan

Ted Callan

Who?

Ted Callan doesn’t appear in any of the Sagas. But my protagonist certainly has roots there. One of my favourite stories growing up was the Story of Sigurd; a hero who became invulnerable–except for a spot where a leaf had landed against his body-when he bathed in dragon’s blood. I was checking this out of the library in between my obsessive readings of D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths and D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.

Sigurd obviously isn’t the only influence on Ted. He carries Mjölnir; he can control the weather, so obviously Thor was also in the mix. The earliest origins of Thunder Road are in an abandoned short story–the first thing I ever set out to write when I decided I wanted to be a writer–a story about Thor and Sif living in suburban Winnipeg and Sif deciding to divorce Thor. The seeds of Ted exist in that first version of the Thunder God (there’s a very different aspect to Thor showing up in Tombstone Blues): a blue collar job, the dissolution of a long relationship, the GTO–although it was not called The Goat yet.

I always knew I’d write something influenced by Norse myth, the stories have been a part of my life for too long not to creep into my work. I didn’t have a plan for it to necessarily be Thunder Road, I just wanted to write a story about a blue collar guy who got thrust into a weird and terrible world. The first scene I wrote for Thunder Road, was where the dwarves attacked and tattooed Ted, and at the end of that scene, I wondered: “who is this guy?” and “How did he up in that hotel room?” And so I went back and wrote that. Once I put him in a GTO, it was all over, and I was hooked. Ted voice showed up almost fully formed and steamrolled his way through the rest of the book.

I didn’t just read mythology as a kid. I also grew up reading comic books. In fact, they were the first things I read on my own. Looking back, I can see echoes of DC’s Viking Prince or Marvel’s Mighty Thor and Uncanny X-Men. Thor has faced Ragnarök  several times in the comics, which was one of the reasons I decided to set Thunder Road after The Fate of the Gods, because I found what the Thor writers did when they ended the cycle to be fresh and new. X-men probably gave me a taste of the dysfunctional family dynamic that exists between Ted, Tilda and Loki. Chris Claremont’s epic run on the book was also my introduction to long-form storytelling, which is why I’m hoping that even when the Thunder Road Trilogy is done, that I can keep telling stories in this world. And besides, super powers are cool!

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Ymir

Every mythology and religion, even those whose believers exist only in fantasy novels, have their own story about the origins of their world. These stories all a little weird when you think about them. Norse mythology is no different, and Ymir is at the heart of that weirdness.

Out of the primordial chaos was formed a primordial giant, Ymir. When he wasn’t feeding from the primeval cow, Auðumbla, he spawned children from his armpits and a six-headed jötunn from his feet. After Odin and his brothers killed Ymir, they fashioned entire worlds and oceans from the dead giant’s bones and blood. Odin even built a fence from those bones to keep the more monstrous denizens of the Nine Worlds from attacking the Earth (Midgard).

One of the common features of Urban Fantasy novels is a “Secret History” to explain why humanity doesn’t know recognize the existence of magic. The Thunder Road trilogy does have its own secret history, I know what the dvergar, the Norns, and Loki (and others) have been up to in between the days following Ragnarök and the events of Thunder Road, and I might even write some of those stories, if readers are interested. 

In Thunder Road, it is the fence built from Ymir’s bones that keeps magic from being seen by the majority of humanity. Fences do make for good neighbours, as the old saying goes, but as every homeowner also knows, no fence is perfect (or as Ted Callan would put it, “Shit happens.”). Things can slip through, once they do, and you are exposed to a world of magic, you’re in, and you’re in for life.

It’s a life sentence that doesn’t take very long to commute.

Another important feature in Urban Fantasy is the setting. The city is often as much a character as the protagonist. Winnipeg’s downtown has a bit of a tough reputation. While I’d rather my home city be known for something other than violent crime, missing persons, and murder, reading about these events definitely influenced me into choosing to make joining the magical world a death sentence.

Tombstone Blues releases October 15th, how much longer can the bones of Ymir hold?

Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: Jormungandur

I’ve always loved the Midgard Serpent. Even when I admired Thor more than I did Loki.

There was something powerful about a creature that was so vast it could encircle the world that spoke to then very tiny me. Even considering I grew up in a small town, and it was a great many years before I could fathom just how vast our world was, I knew Jormungandur was big. And even now, when every I leave my little corner of the world and travel somewhere new, I am amazed by what I see.

Or…maybe I just liked Jormungandur because he was a dragon (or a sea serpent, as Loki insists to Ted in Thunder Road).

Jormungandur was fated to kill Thor, but he was also fated to be killed by Thor. There are three stories of these two enemies that are commonly told, (There’s one of those magic numbers in Norse myth!) and I love them all. In one, the giant Utgard-Loki (no relation to Loki-Loki) tricks Thor by disguising the Midgard Serpent as a cat, and challenges the god of thunder to lift the beast. Thor does manage to get one of the cat’s feet off the ground–and considering Jormungandur’s size beneath that illusion, that is an impressive feet of strength. In another of the tales, Thor goes fishing with the giant Hymir and after catching two whales and Thor remaining unsatisfied, they head deeper out into the ocean. Eventually, Thor hooks Jormungandur with a hook baited with an ox-head (the head of Hymir’s largest ox, nice guy, that Thor). Before Thor can kill Jormungandur with Mjölnir, a terrified Hymir cuts the line and the Serpent sinks back into the sea. Third, and finally, is the meeting of serpent and god at Ragnarök. Thor does manage to kill Jormungandur here, but its kind of a bitter victory. Jormungandur’s breath is poison, and Thor stumbles nine steps to his death (there’s that other magic number in Norse myth).

That should have been the end of the Midgard Serpent (and Thor) but I had other plans. Since I cheated Ragnarök and kept Loki alive, I thought Loki would have told his children how to escape their dooms as well, and in Thunder Road, Jormungandur lives on, making his primary residence in one of Manitoba’s largest lakes.

Dragons exist in pretty much every myth and culture in some form or another that I’ve ever read about. And as the vikings were a seafaring culture, I’m hardly surprised that their biggest and baddest dragon (sea serpent) lived in the ocean. The first images that I ever saw of the Midgard Serpent, like most of my first images of mythology, came from D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths, followed quickly by pictures (and gaming statistics!) from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook, Legends and Lore. But it was Walt Simonson that drew one of the most kick ass World Serpents I’ve ever seen:

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(In fairness, Simonson did kick ass renditions of all of the creatures of Norse myth)

In addition to my childhood love of Norse myth, I developed an obsession with Scotland in my teen years (I blame Highlander). But in addition to wanting to run around in a kilt swinging a claymore or lochaber axe (and trying to develop a taste for scotch long before my palette was ready) I also wanted to look for the Loch Ness Monster. There were also Champy, Ogopogo and all the other lake monsters rumoured to exist throughout the world. It was a long time before I heard of Manitoba’s own resident monster, Manipogo though.

To some degree, I owe the existence of Thunder Road to Jormungandur. One of the first short stories I ever started after deciding to pursue writing seriously was one imagining that all sightings of lake monsters and sea serpents around the world, were in fact, Jormungandur. That story didn’t go anywhere, mostly because I never finished it. But there are sentences, even a paragraph or two that were lifted wholesale from that abandoned project and dropped into Thunder Road. Those words remain there, essentially unchanged. Deciding to overlap the Nine Worlds of Norse Mythology and my world, that is a debt I owe a debt to the big guy.

Next up on Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology: An even bigger guy. The biggest, in fact. Ymir, the primordial frost giant!

The Return of Loki’s Guide to Norse Mythology

loki's guide Loki

The most difficult part of writing the Loki’s Guide entries, is not coming up with the trickster’s snark, but putting it in the correct order. When it was determined to put a glossary of Norse myth into Thunder Road, I decided that it wasn’t worth writing if it was only information that the readers could get from Wikipedia. Instead, I wrote the glossary in Loki’s voice, which as most things the trickster puts his hands into, caused a ripple of unforeseen problems.

I’m not sure why I decided to make it stream of consciousness, as if the trickster was telling you things as he thought of them, but I did. And while it’s fun, every time I tweak the order of the telling, I have to tweak the text, which would not be necessary if I’d gone linear.

But then, Loki is not really a linear sort of fellow, is he?

I’ve got a couple of entries to post this month, Ymir and Jormungandur, and then I’ll be gearing up for a bunch of new Loki’s Guide blogs in the fall, when Tombstone Blues releases.

So tell me readers, are there any gods, monsters, or artifacts that I haven’t covered yet and that are crying out to be on the receiving end of some of Loki’s snark?