For this week’s author guest post Tessa Gratton (author of The Lost Sun) delved into what exactly makes Norse mythology interesting to her. For those of you who haven’t read The Lost Sun, it is set in a world where the Norse gods still roam and are worshipped. Tessa lets us into her thought processes and passions regarding this ancient and interesting religion, and we can see how it influences her work. Enjoy!
There are so many tiny little things that brought me to Norse mythology: my dad reading me a passage from Beowulf , an early interest in Vikings because of my Nordic grandfather, a love of poetry and humor, the desire to look into gods that I didn’t grow up knowing anything about, and even the simple fact that halfway through my graduate program I realized I didn’t want to keep pursuing it.
Odin is a god of war and trickery, magic, disguise, danger, death, and… poetry.
In 2007 while researching ancient Nordic beliefs (ancient as in Iron Age and Migration Period, long before the actual Viking era) for a historical novel I was writing (that has never been and may never be published), I read H. R. Ellis Davidson’s Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe. It’s a book I highly recommend (along with her Gods and Myths of Northern Europe for a more strictly Norse subject matter) that first introduced me to the idea that Odin, primarily remembered and prayed to as a god of war, also created poetry.
It struck a chord in me, the divine connection between violence and poetry. We often talk about writing (and revising) in destructive, bloody terms: we use a cleaver or a scalpel to edit, we burn scenes down, we drag words from our twisted intestines, we bleed onto the page. It’s nothing strange or new to me, to think of writing and violence in the same breath, but the Norse – they tied them into the definition of the same god.
That captured my imagination and I read everything I could about Odin. He’s a mysterious god, despite being the “king” of the gods, the “Alfather.” It wasn’t until late in his history that he became so – other gods, Tyr and Freyr and Thor held the same leadership positions, sometimes sharing them, sometimes apparently vying for the supreme position in the eyes of their people. At first, Odin was a mysterious death god, known for magic and playing tricks, for riddling and mayhem. Then he became the dishonorable king, the tricky one, who manipulated people and used magic, which was considered to be a womanly art. Freya taught it to him, and in some stories, she only did so after he lived as a woman. There are some scholars who believe fifteen hundred years ago Odin and Loki were the same god, but when the Christian influence required a stricter division between Good and Evil, they were separated so that Loki could become the counterpart to Satan.
Probably it was more subtle and complicated than that.
To me, Odin is a great antihero, a fascinating, gray character shifting meaning and loyalty – one of the names of him is even “Gray One” or “Wanderer” (a la Gandalf the Gray, who was based on one of Odin’s personalities). So although Norse mythology has everything I love, everything that makes up the human experience – death, sex, magic, love, and humor – it has always been Odin the Poet, the Mad God, the Magician, who drew me in. And I suspect it will take years and a few more books before I’m finished dancing with him.