Saturday, June 27, 2009

A chess game played by Aesir and Jötuns

Why don't Scandinavians make better artistic use of our norse heritage? We treat our sagas as historical relics, when they should be an inspiration for living myths. The only locals who use it well are metal bands, and the odd novel or movie. For more we must go abroad: Neil Gaiman has made good use of norse mythology in Sandman and American Gods, and he also wrote the script to Beowulf.

And here's Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword, a tragic epic written like a norse saga. Anderson's mythology is inclusive - even Satan and his witches play a part - but the norse myths dominate, and especially the Icelandic family saga style, where an axe-murder may begin and end within a sentence.

Orm is a Danish viking who settles in England. Because he worships neither the old gods nor the White Christ of his wife, their thus unproteced firstborn is stolen by an elf and replaced with a changeling, (it happens). The true child grows up a hero in the world of soulless elves, while his changeling twin becomes a berserker. Outside forces find it convenient that the two should meet, and plot their confrontation.

Published the same year as the Lord of the Rings, The Broken Sword is the more faithful reinvention of Northern European mythology. Good does not defeat evil, victory is not glorious. All creatures are the pawns of the gods and the fates, and what their purpose is with all this bloodshed who can say?

(Btw: I read the original version.)



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