11.21.12: An Author’s Journey: Some Inspirations & Influences in Crafting The Codex Lacrimae, Part 2.3: The Greek & Norse Myths
The Norse Myths (1): Sails of Imagination Filled with Winds of the Viking Age
I was very young, and bored out of my mind while my mother and Grandma were having one of the many conversations they’d have every week over a pot of tea at the end of Grocery Shopping Thursday. I was in my mother’s old bedroom, lying on the floor, and making a serious effort at counting the number of flowers in an intaglio of floral designs on the wallpaper. I glanced across the carpet and saw a series of children’s books on the bottom shelf of a bookcase. The books were a series from the 1950s entitled Collier’s Junior Classics.
What initially caught my eye were some brightly colored spines, arrayed in red, light green, orange, and brown, with each volume clearly numbered, titled, and depicting a relevant character: Jack climbed a beanstalk on the spine of Vol. 1, Fairy Tales; an armored Galahad knelt before a shining Grail on Vol. 4’s Hero Tales, Tom Sawyer stood with straw hat, paintbrush, and bucket in front of a fence on Vol. 6’s Stories about Boys & Girls, and so on. But, it was the royal blue spine of Vol. 3, Myths and Legends that caught my eye, because there was a centaur strumming a lyre. I later came to learn that the centaur was actually Chiron the Educator, reputed to have taught many of the heroes of Greek mythology, including Ajax, Jason, Hercules, and Perseus; however, it wasn’t the selection of Greek tales that caught my attention upon opening the book, because a quick scan revealed that those stories were all ones I already knew.
No, what positively impacted my life was the handful of Norse myths collected inside. I’d never read such stories before! I started reading about Odin on a quest for knowledge and was entranced. As the shadows of the huge fern that always scratched against the window lengthened outside, suddenly my mother and grandmother couldn’t converse long enough. That late afternoon’s reading soon made me an enthusiast of Norse mythology.
Why? First, these tales were new to me. Each one kept revealing a Scandinavian world totally foreign to my experience. Whereas the Greek creation story had Chaos, Gaea, and Erebus as foundations, and the Judeo-Christian religion had God creating Heaven & Earth, Creation in the Norse myths explicitly reflected the Dark Age of the Vikings. These newly discovered myths had a cosmology informed by harsh Scandinavian climes, where First Things and the Creation of the World were as elemental as Fire and Ice — flames like the campfires into which Norsemen stared after a raid, and snows like the arctic blizzards that blasted against the wattle-and-daub walls of their winter homes.
Moreover, I came to realize that the Norse myths still lingered in western culture. As I grew older, I learned that the names for four of the seven days are named after Norse deities (Tyr’s Day = Tuesday, Odin’s Day = Wednesday, Thor’s Day = Thursday, and Freya’s Day = Friday). The Norse myths have also inspired many cultural expressions, from operas like Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelung (The Ring of the Nibelung) to books and films; for example, Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods (2001) has main characters who are part of the Norse pantheon, while Jim Carrey’s 1994 film, The Mask, had one of Loki’s magical disguises as the titular device. Immediately accessible to me when I was a kid was The Mighty Thor comic book, (produced by Marvel Comics since the 1960s), with last year’s film version of the character already getting a sequel forthcoming in 2013 (Thor: The Dark World).
The more I learned about Norse mythology, the more captivated I became by the myths’ collective settings in Scandinavian and Germanic lands. I didn’t know it back then, but in that initial encounter with legends from northern Europe in the Middle Ages, I’d taken the first steps on a different, history-loving journey that would ultimately go far beyond tales of Asgardians and the Nine Worlds… .
But, that’s a tale that needs to resume on Saturday…I need to go help my wife prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow!
Happy Thanksgiving to American Readers of this blog (& well-wishing to those in the international community)!
Next time: The Viking Age and Snorri Sturluson’s “Prose Edda!”