The Realm Eternal: Asgard – The Beacon Of Hope, Shining Out Across The Stars
And A Source Of Limitless Possibilities For My Fiction…
“Once, mankind accepted a simple truth: that they were not alone in this universe. Some worlds Man believed home to their Gods. Others they knew to fear…” – Odin All-Father.
There was a great noise of shouting and fury in the Palace of Jotunheim where the great Norse Giants lived.
“What have you done, Rungnir?” some of the Giants were shouting at one of their number. “You have agreed to fight the great god Thor! You are mad, quite mad!”
“Thor is our greatest enemy, Rungnir,” other Giants cried in alarm. “…You have brought disaster upon us! Not even a Giant can resist Thor with his mighty thunder and his deadly hammer Mjolnir!”
And no one can resist the God of Thunder as his latest adventure: Thor: Ragnarok has conquered the box office (and deservedly so) on Midgard (Earth) this past fortnight. Having thrilled me with its wholesome cosmic fun, Thor: Ragnarok slings me back along the Bifrost of nostalgia to a time when all-things-Norse were craved. The more scintillating aspects of that mythology seeped – wholeheartedly or inadvertently – into my own otherworldly works.
So, away from the hassle, tech difficulties and trolls of the 21st century, and let’s return to the great beards, moody Giants (and Trolls) of the Nine Realms.
Pre-Christian Vikings shared a common view of the universe. The one insurmountable truth held that the Norse pantheon of gods, known as the Æsir, made their home at Asgard. This is a compound name, whose first part As- refers to the Æsir, while the second part gard means an ‘enclosure.’ Hence Asgard is ‘the enclosed region where the Æsir live.’
In order to understand the rudiments of Norse mythology, one must refer to The Prose Edda – the most renowned of all works of Scandinavian literature and our most extensive source for Norse mythology – written by the 13th century Icelandic chieftain: Snorri Sturluson (1178-1241). Mayhap ’twas the un-Viking way in which he met his own violent end against the King of Norway’s assassins – cowering in his own cellar – helps explain why his name is not hailed among other historical literary giants.
However, through his seminal work, numerous Old Norse words crept into the English language; for one, it is from Sturluson that we get the word: ‘saga.’
“The Prose Edda… summarizes the pagan Germanic myths and reviews the rules of skaldic rhetoric. The mythology documented in these texts reveals an earlier, peasant stratum (associated with the thunderer, Thor)…” – Joseph Campbell.
“I came up with Thor. I know all about Thor, and Mjolnir, the hammer. Nobody ever bothered with that stuff except me. It was the thing that kept my mind off the general poverty in the area. When I went to school that’s what kept me in school. It wasn’t mathematics and it wasn’t geography – it was history…” – Jack Kirby.
“…Thor is the foremost among them. Called Thor of the Æsir [Asa-Thor] and Thor the Charioteer [Oku-Thor], he is the strongest of all gods and men. He rules at the place called Thrudvangar [Plains of Strength], and his hall is called Bilskirnir…” –
Before the Viking Age, in a time known as the Migration Period (from the fifth to the seventh centuries CE), when various tribes laid siege to the last remnants of the Roman Empire, numerous heroic stories originated, formulating a tremendous Scandinavian oral tradition.
The most substantial section of The Prose Edda, is known as Gylfaginning, in which the characters we have become accustomed to via Marvel’s comics and movies – the Æsir, namely Thor, Odin, Loki, Heimdall, et al. – were originally introduced.
Of equal intrigue in the Eddas is the portion called Skaldskaparmal. Skald is the Old Norse word for ‘poet,’ or ‘scribe’; skapr means ‘creation’ or ‘craft’; mal is ‘language’ or ‘diction’ – thus Skaldskaparmal means the ‘language of poetry.’ This section in particular – a combination of dialogue and third-person storytelling – collects those oral traditions that arose from this Migration Period.
The most celebrated hero of Skaldskaparmal is Sigurd the dragon-slayer. He and his treasure: the Rhine Gold, not only formed the basis for the Saga of the Volsungs and Thidrek’s Saga, but the epic poem of South Germany: the Nibelungenlied, wherein Sigurd is known as Siegfried. Classical composer Richard Wagner made Siegfried the hero of his epic Ring Cycle opera: Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Thus, the epic prose of Norse mythology converted into epic music.
As you may have gathered, music has always played a decisive, inspirational role in my creative writing. Whenever epic storytelling had to be undertaken, nothing like Wagner could set the right mood, tone and atmosphere for conjuring the right words. Admittedly, my jaw-dropping introduction to the wonders of Wagner‘s music came through watching Excalibur, John Boorman’s lavish 1981 depiction of the Celtic legend of King Arthur and his Grail knights.
Interestingly, incorporated into Skaldskaparmal is the story of the ancient Danish warrior King Hrolf Kraki, who – much like King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table – was accompanied on his multifarious exploits by a dozen champions.
“The universe hasn’t seen this marvel since before my watch began. Few can sense it, even fewer can see it. But while its effects can be dangerous, it is truly beautiful” – Heimdall.
“If a Ragnarok would burn all the slums and gas-works… I’d go back to trees…” – J.R.R. Tolkien.
“The gods seated themselves on their thrones and held counsel, and remembered how dwarfs had quickened in the earth…
By the decree of the gods they acquired human understanding and the appearance of men, although they lived in the earth…”
There is clear evidence that John Ronald Reuel Tolkien – Oxford Professor of Old English/Anglo-Saxon and Middle English language and literature – used the Edda as inspiration for his literature. Many of the names he used in his most celebrated works: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were taken from this source material.
Like the One Ring of Sauron, an all-powerful ring: Andvarinaut, forms the basis of Der Ring des Nibelungen.
“Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases,” Tolkien insisted, keen to assuage his critics. Nevertheless, the figure of Gandalf – named after one of the dwarves mentioned in The Edda – was particularly influenced by Odin in his incarnation as “The Wanderer”: an old man with one eye, a long white beard, a wide brimmed hat, and a staff.
Tolkien’s depiction of Giants, Elves and Dwarves are very much drawn from the Old Norse originals. And – oh yes – an extra slice of cake for those of you who spotted that the Balrog of Moria and the collapse of the Bridge of Khazad-dûm was an exact rendering of fire-giant Surt[ur]’s destruction of Asgard’s Bifrost [the Rainbow Bridge]!
And so, you enquire – cleaving this rambling prose in twain like the fabled blade of Andúril isself! – how did Norse mythology inspire me?
Ah yes – just like King Kirby – bored senseless by Geography homework, my impatient, cartographic mind escaped, instead, into creating my own fantasy world, fuelled by Fighting Fantasy gamebooks – “where YOU are the hero!” – which became all the rage for much of the 80s.
Aeons ago – almost lost in the mists of time – at the dawn of the Teen Age 😉 Bradskald created Atlansia.
In the accompanying “Atlansian Manual,” maps of both West and East Atlansia – plus the islands of Thalios and Kalonth – were meticulously drafted. As for the fantasy epic that threatened to come to fruition, in true Tolkien style, long ago (of course), along the northeast coast of Atlansia, Sentinels from the Ion Hills constructed the Great Wall of Mithris, to deter the advancing evil-most-foul hordes of Doragar (a sorcerous crossbreed of Orcs and Trolls).
Scouring my yellowed and crumpled pages again after all these years, the Norse inspiration still shines through: Frost Giants reigned in the Icypeak Mountains to the far north; Dwarfs kept themselves to themselves high in the rocky citadels of the Moonstone Hills; while down to the southeast, Elves dwelt deep within the Silver Forest…
Amazing to think how this exotic – yet extraordinary – Bradworld has lain dormant and unexplored for over three decades…
Ha, if those brazen berserkers – the Doragar – should decide, once more, to raid and plunder the hamlets to the east, then doughty Bradskald will sally forth – trusty broadsword: Fopslayer slung across his back – to smite the unholy threat.
Or maybe he will just remain atop the ancient Book Tower in ye olde village of Crickhaven and simply write off said hordes with a (hopefully deft) flick of his mighty quill…
“Bradskald…?! I thought he was a myth…” 😉
“This book is called Edda. Snorri Sturluson compiled it in the way that it is arranged here. First it tells about the Æsir [the gods] and Ymir [the primordial giant], then comes the poetic diction section with the poetic names of many things…” – Codex Upsaliensis.
“From Ymir’s flesh
was the earth created,
from the bloody sweat, the sea,
cliffs from bones,
trees frow hair,
and from the head, the heavuns;
And from his eyelashes
the gentle gods made
Midgard for the sons of men;
and from his brains
all the oppressive
clouds were formed” – The Lay of Grimnir 40-41.
Með krafti Bradskald! Borðuðu köku og vertu glaður!
By The Power Of Bradskald! 🙂