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.

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.

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)

Thunder Road Launch Poster

 

 

 

Look what just showed up in my inbox! An easy blog post you say? Why yes, yes indeed. But it’s also the promo poster for the Thunder Road launch. Huge thanks to Joel Schwab for doing the design, the poster looks great. I’m very stoked to see it plastered all over the bookstore. You know, like every surface of the bookstore. Just sayin’.
 

 

When Words Collide Roundup

Calgary’s literary festival “When Words Collide” is fast becoming one of my favourite conferences. Outside of maybe the World Fantasy Convention, this is most fun I’ve had as a writer. A lot of the credit goes to organizer, Randy McCharles (who also chaired World Fantasy when it was in Calgary–my first real con, FYI) and won an Aurora Award this year for founding and organizing last year’s festival.

Thursday I was supposed to attend the Bundoran Press launch of Hayden Trenholm’s Blood and Water, but by the time I’d finished supper with an old friend, the event was just getting underway, so it was a low key but very late evening of talking comics for me instead. Probably a good thing as loaded as the rest of the weekend was.

One of the things about being a Winnipegger, is that inevitably when you travel across the country (or the world) you end up hanging out with other Winnipeggers. So I did spent a bit of time with fellow ‘Peg specfic writers Sherry Peters and Gerald Brandt. It was also nice to see that Aurora nominated Greg Chomichuk attended the con (and brought his dad, Walter–lovely man). I also had lunch with Jean and Joedi, two publisher reps out in Calgary. It was nice to see them on their home turf. Normally we only get to talk over book catalogues in Winnipeg.

I didn’t take in much programming Friday, instead hanging around the Dealer’s Room catching up with old friends. I met the Tyche Books team–they’re doing some nice looking work, keep an eye on this rising Edmonton Press. They sent me home with some recipes from Krista Ball’s new book What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank (Brains and Butter! Together at last! Yum!). I also managed to reconnect with Seattle author Rhiannon Held. We met in Columbus, Ohio for the 2010 World Fantasy Convention and I interviewed her for the release of her debut novel, Silver. It was very cool that she made the trip to Calgary. I also caught the tail end of the Keynote speeches (Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta).

I took in the SF Canada and On Spec party which honoured the Aurora nominees as well as the joint launch party for Bundoran Press, Breathless Press and The Tenth Circle Project. Eventually I ended up at an impromptu scotch tasting (you’ll sense a theme here) that proved to be very, very dangerous.

Saturday morning I dusted myself off in time for my panel on Telling a Book by Its Cover (with former Saskatoon colleague Kent Pollard, Stephanie Johanson of Neo-Opsis, artist Dan O’Driscoll and publisher Justyn Perry). It went well–I think. Sometimes it can be hard to judge. I was moderating, I think I kept everyone in the conversation, and that we stayed mostly on topic. Page proofs showed up on my door the week before the con, so I didn’t prepare as well as I’d hoped–I also didn’t want to lug an entire suitcase of books with covers that worked and covers that didn’t on the plane with me.

You never know who’ll you bump into at these things, so imagine my surprise when Sarah Kades and I recognized each other in the hotel hallway. We used to work together at the book store before she moved to Calgary, where she now works as an archaeologist and writes adventure romance. I’ve made a mental note to check out her book.

I rarely go to the Kaffee Klatches, but I hadn’t seen mystery author Anthony Bidulka in a few years. Anthony is an amazing raconteur and had some great tales to tell. A fun, genuine guy and one hell of a writer. I’m really looking forward to his new series of books.

Next was the first set of readings I attended. Nicole Luiken read from her YA novel Dreamline, Jennifer Kennedy read from her Norse influenced story “Fingernails” which appeared in Danse Macabre, and Cat McDonald read from a work in progress.

Eventually, I shined myself up for the Aurora Awards Banquet; grey dinner jacket, salmon coloured shirt and matching tie and my Autobots belt buckle. The food would have been adequate if I had paid twenty dollars rather than forty for my banquet ticket, but at least there was cheesecake at the end (and whiskey throughout). My good friend Rob Sawyer won for best novel–which makes three in a row, his WWW trilogy has made a clean sweep of the award. When asked who will win, I always tend to vote with my heart rather than my head but this year I was wrong more than I was right on either count. One result I’m very happy to report I was right on in both regards was Helen Marshall taking the Aurora for Best Poem/Song. “Skeleton Leaves” is simply an amazing work.

I was also very excited for On Spec to take home an Aurora. It’s always great to see Barb Galler-Smith, Diane Walton and the On Spec team at conventions. They also published the first story I sold, and even cooler, the artist of the cover for that issue, Dan O’Driscoll, won an Aurora too.

Here’s the full list of winners:

Best Novel
Wonder, Robert J. Sawyer (Penguin Canada)

Best Short Fiction
“The Needle’s Eye,” Suzanne Church, from Chilling Tales: Evil Did I Dwell; Lewd I Did Live (EDGE)

Best Poem/Song
“Skeleton Leaves,” Helen Marshall (Kelp Queen Press)

Best Graphic Novel
Goblins, Tarol Hunt (Webcomic)

Best Related Work
On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic, Copper Pig Writers’ Society

Best Artist
Dan O’Driscoll

Best Fan Publication
Bourbon and Eggnog, Eileen Bell, Ryan McFadden, Billie Milholland, and Randy McCharles (10th Circle Project)

Best Fan Filk Musician (for music based on sci-fi)
Phil Mills

Best Fan Organization
When Words Collide, presented to founder and chair Randy McCharles

Best Fan (Other)
Peter Watts, “Reality: The Ultimate Mythology,” Toronto SpecFic Colloquium lecture

Saturday night was party night (More parties! Woo!). There were several going on around the hotel. IFWA (Calgary’s Imaginative Fiction Writers Association) honoured the Aurora Award winners. EDGE publications had a party to celebrate the launch of their fall line. Eventually I ended up at the ChiZine Publications room party. Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi were there of course, as was Napier’s Bones author Derryl Murphy. I also met author and publisher at Faery Ink Press Clare Marshall and hung out a bit with Colleen Anderson. I may have also accidentally pitched a book I haven’t written yet while complaining about how hard I find it to do elevator pitches for my own work (I do a pretty good job of selling other people’s stuff–eleven years of bookselling helps there, but I find it almost impossible to think of a good tagline for any of my own stories). I left the party with an advance reading copy of Robert Shearman’s forthcoming collection of short stories Remember Why You Fear Me.

Sunday came all to soon after three straight late nights and early mornings.

At the EDGE Fall launch, I read from “Back in Black” and was told by the Sheriff of When Words Collide, one Cat McDonald, that I rocked the mic like a bulldog. Everyone at the launch delivered great readings (Dave Duncan, Tim Reynolds, Jennifer Kennedy, Randy McCharles and Adria Laycraft). Immediately afterwards, I read with fellow Turnstone Press author and writing group chum, Karen Dudley. I read from Thunder Road, Karen read from Food for the Gods. It wasn’t my best reading, I’m afraid. My EDGE reading was near the end of the slot, so there was only ten minutes or so between it and my Thunder Road piece. Didn’t quite have the batteries recharged, or didn’t switch gears fast enough. Not the end of the world, but disappointing. I will say big thanks to Eileen Bell, Erika Holt, and Ryan McFadden for being among the audience, especially since Eileen and Erika were at the readings Karen and I did at Keycon.

I stayed in the room for the next group of readers: Bob Stallworthy, Susan Forest, and Colleen Anderson. A little bit of poetry, a little bit of prose. Very good stuff. After a late lunch, I took in the Tenth Circle Project readings with Eileen Bell, Randy McCharles, Ryan McFadden and Billie Milholland. This is a great neo-noir shared world series with some fun science fictional elements.

The Dead Dog party is a convention staple, where the con survivors take in one more night of socializing and fun. So glad I stayed in town for it this year. There was a crazy lightning storm (which despite arriving several beers in, had me scribbling notes in my notebook) that a bunch of us writer types watched from the hotel’s exterior balcony. I didn’t quite close the joint down, at 3:30 am I decided that turning into a pumpkin was in my best interest.

Best part of the con is how many friends I have out in Alberta now. I’ve already bought my membership for next year.

Guests at When Words Collide 2013 include: Patricia Briggs, David B. Coe, and my publisher, Jamis Paulson of Turnstone. When Words Collide is changing venues for next year, and while I loved the open central area of the hotel that allowed you to see who was currently in the bar or having a meal (and those exterior balconies), the place was also hot as Surtur’s ball sack. I definitely won’t miss that. Hopefully new venue, the Carriage House Inn will be a good fit.