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11.24.12: An Author’s Journey: Some Inspirations & Influences in Crafting The Codex Lacrimae, Part 2.4: The Greek & Norse Myths

The Norse Myths (2):  Intimations of Becoming a Medieval Historian — The Viking Age and Snorri Sturluson’s “Prose Edda!”

Jotunheim Mt. Range (view from Knutshøi; Wikimedia)

The Norse myths themselves were, of course, all idealized visions of the northern European countryside and waterways, but you’ll recall from earlier blogs that any exposure I’d had previously to mythology was a sun-drenched one, marked by the libidinous and temperamental gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece and warm & bright Mediterranean locales! In the Viking myths was a worldview that saw the First Movers as the Fire World of Muspelheim and the Mist World of Niflheim, with those two places clashing in a cataclysm of heat and cold within the great chasm of Ginnungagap to form Ymir (the first of the giants), and Audumla, an ice cow!  The more stories I read, the more magical creatures and mysterious locales fixed themselves into my imagination.

Skald Reciting Poetry & Sagas

On the way to becoming a medievalist, I’d later learn that the Viking tales were a blend of Germanic (Teutonic) and Nordic folklores whose oral tradition we can trace to the Scandinavia and Iceland during the Viking Age (8th through 11th centuries).  But, as with most mythologies, those oral traditions had roots that stretch millennia into the past.  These tales and sagas had been told by skalds (court poets) that entertained their audiences with family stories and myths during the long, cold days and evenings of Norwegian winters.  Most notably, Snorri Sturluson in his Prose Edda finally recorded the myths in literary form in the 13th Century, and other skalds followed suit, contributing to the historical record with the Poetic Eddaand the Sagas from Iceland and Greenland.  All of these works related Scandinavian history & Viking culture in ways that hadn’t been captured before.

Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda (18th c. ms)

Those historian-related discoveries were for the future, though, and even while studied seriously as part of my training, the Norse myths, languages, and literary tradition weren’t going to become a formal course of study or specialized professional interest for me (I’m a 12th century Church historian).  No, in thinking about the “author’s journey” that led me to writing The Codex Lacrimae, the Norse myths became a wellspring of inspiration and creativity for my creative-writing side.

Odin with Magic Spear, Gugnir (H. Hendrich, 1906)

Loki Gets Thor to Dress as Freya (E. Boyd Smith, 1902; Wikimedia)

In these sources I found a writing career’s worth of story ideas and fantastical landscapes that could inform all kinds of tales, most of which I’ve included in my fantasy series, The Artifacts of Destiny. Although I’d later come to study the Eddic poetry and sagas on which the selection of myths I’d read were based, an admiration (and amazement) at the Norse legends remains with me to this day. I was entranced by these northern worlds, and wanted to learn as much as I could about the medieval European society from which these Norse myths sprang.

Loki & the Rhine Maidens

Sigurd Roasts Heart of Fafnir the Dragon (Wood Carving, 12th C.)

So, returning to that late afternoon discovery of the volume of Collier’s Myths and Legends, after losing track of time in these new Scandinavian lands while my mother and grandmother talked, I reluctantly had to stop reading and leave the book behind until our next visit.  Within a short time, however, I’d begun the same routine I described with the Greek myths, going to the library and getting “real” books on Norse mythology that revealed more of the legends and characters than had been possible in the Collier’s children edition, and as I matured into young adulthood, I retained a special place in my heart for the Norse myths.

Next time: Epic Fantasy and Medieval History in the Early 20th Century (Or, Norse Mythology, the Nazi Appropriation of Teutonic Legends, and the OffsettingWorks of J.R.R. Tolkien & C.S. Lewis)

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