I’m tired of talking about politics and civil rights and how everyone is so mean to everyone else and how dare they, so I’m going to talk about something more fun here. Mythology. More specifically, Norse Mythology.
Over the weekend, I had a “me day”. A day to just go do the things I enjoy and not think about problems or overindulge in online media to the point that it stressed me out. I’ve been thinking about picking up both “The Prose Edda” by Snorri Sturleson and “The Poetic Edda”, which is a collection of poems by various poets (called skalds). I had wanted to get an unabridged version, but alas, the extensive cost (between $120 and $200) kind of bumped that out of the picture. So, on my “me day” I finally broke down and picked up a copy of “The Prose Edda” by Sturlson, with translation and notes by Jesse Byock, and printed by Penguin Classics. I purchased the book from Barnes and Noble, then did that stereotypical thing that you see all the hipsters doing, and sat in front of my laptop at the in-store Starbucks. Cliche it might have been, but it was damned relaxing.
At first, I sipped my iced-coffee-shake-thing and skimmed over my new book. Then, figuring I had time, I actually started to read the book. I emerged from the B&N front door about three hours later with a lot more knowledge, a dopey grin on my face, and ideas for writing stuff swimming around in my head.
Several cool things emerged from reading the book.
Did you know Gandalf was a dwarf? Maybe not in Tolkien’s version of Middle-Earth, but in the Edda (Which means great-grandmother.) he was. Also, dwarfs were created by the gods because the gods wished to set aside crafts for loftier work, so they took the maggots which were feeding upon the corpse of the giant Ymir and gave them intelligence and human form so that crafting would continue while the gods went on to govern, drink mead, and beat up giants. Beating up giants was important back then, you know. Very important.
I’m finding the cosmology delineated in the book, and the simply made diagram of Ygdrassil and the associated cosmos, to be quite clarifying. Trying to read the Wykipedia articles just adds a lot of confusion to a subject already muddled by pop culture. It isn’t that I don’t like what Marvel and other companies present, but rather that they’ve taken bits and pieces from the Eddas and made them into something digestable for the mass market. Now, when you’re wanting to do your own thing and use the Edda for your own Norse-inspired spin-off, their worlds tend to confuse things, so you need to go to the source. The Edda makes the cosmology simple, and the reasoning easy to digest. And the diagram used in the book is beautifully illustrated and sits as an easily understood reference.
The more I read this book, the more ideas I have with regards to a story that I’ve been trying to write for months now. I can even see how to avoid some of the stereotypical roles (as in, no, Loki did not cause ALL of the problems that the Aesir ever faced) we see in modern retellings of Norse legends. I had given a character certain traits, and now I know WHY he has those traits. I had wanted a more subtle Odin, and now I know HOW to make him more subtle. I want the gods to be a group that has little to do with humanity directly, and a lot do do with us indirectly. I want strong female roles, and I can see inspiration for them. I have new characters that I am coming to admire for their depth (Frigg and Baldr for instance), and some I just have simple glee for as always (Odin, Thor, and Loki). Let us not forget the magical toys. Thor is more than Mjolnir, and Odin much more than his two feathered friends.
I have a ton of questions still unanswered, but at least I’ve found a source that organizes everything into a comprehensive and simple format. Good on you Snorri. Now if only you’d made better political choices and not gotten yourself killed in your cellar. But there we go with the politics again…