The events of the last few days weigh heavily on me, and apparently writing is my emotional outlet. So this is where I need to process, and that’s what I will do.
My heart is breaking for all the people across the United States that feel like they system is set up against them. Because it is. It’s not some grand conspiracy that includes cell phone towers, the New World Order or lizard people. It’s really very simple. Racism is passed down from family member to family member like a disease. And for so long everyone acted like racism was an active thing. Like a lynching or a hate-inspired beating was the only way you could be racist. For a long time, that was unacceptable, but that’s no longer the case. Now, it’s much more insidious than that. Police have decades of experience at obfuscating the truth, and it’s the advent of cell phone video that has allowed the truth to be known.
“I have a black friend.” is a refrain so common as a way to say ‘I’m not racist’ that it’s a joke. It’s been a joke for a decade, and I still hear it said. There is a part of it that is profound. The person knows someone of another race. They break the mold. They are not the stereotype that the person expects. And the people who hold theses beliefs see evidence they’re wrong right in front of them, but reject it. They are more willing to accept those beliefs they were raised with than the evidence, a literal friend. And that is profound and sad to me. But it is also informative. As a new parent, it’s critical to know that someone’s upbringing guides their experiences through life, even when faced with evidence to the contrary.
The events of the past weekend have me reflecting on my childhood. I can say unequivocally that I made a lot of inappropriate jokes as a high school-er and college student. I look back on those moments with a degree of shame. I know that I said those things in jest, trying to be inflammatory or illicit a reaction from my friends. I know that even saying that is a form of permissiveness that I would be unlikely to forgive now. And I know I would never want my daughter to say those same things.
Another moment from my childhood that bubbled into my mind is a birthday party. Like most birthday parties around the years 2000-2002, it was a Halo party that included a lot of Blood Gulch (a map on Halo) and probably pizza and soda. At some point during that party, someone decided to make a fort that would be a Ku Klux Klan fort. It included pillows, blankets, and a ping pong table, and if not for the KKK designation, it would have been a great fort. I’ll be honest, a lot of the details are fuzzy, but I know that of about 10 kids (5-6th grade), only myself and one other person refused to join the KKK fort. I remember the feeling of refusing to join, sitting on the couch feeling left out. This is not intended to be some sort of convoluted humble brag. It’s a self-conscious look back on my upbringing and the event’s I experienced as a child that seemed so benign at the time. This was hardly the only experience with what I viewed as benign racism as young person. Xbox Live was rife with racism and inflammatory language. As a kid it’s easy to go with the behavior being modeled.
Knowing what I know now, those ‘benignly racist’ moments were anything but. I am thankful that my parents modeled the behavior that allowed me to sit there on the couch and refuse to join the KKK fort that night, when all the peer pressure in the world said join. But that is clearly not enough. It’s not enough just to not be terrible. We, as middle class white people, need to be more. We need to be anti-racist, as so many instagram and social media posts are saying right now. Confronting benign racism isn’t easy, but it’s the only way forward to equality.
My wife and I just watched a great webinar on raising children to understand race dynamics from EmbraceRace.org. Link to webinar. The most important take away that I had from the webinar was that if you want your child to behave a particular way, model it. If you want them to stand up to racism, model it. I am proud of the behavior that was modeled for me in my life that allowed me to sit on the couch and not join the KKK fort, but I want to take it one step further. Racist jokes are the target, because that was OK for me growing up. Even in the basement of houses where no person of color hear the words spoken, it was damaging. The same as using the word ‘gay’ as a slang for the negative. It wasn’t until college that I realized how ignorant it sounded and changed my behavior.
So my hope for my daughter is that I can bring her up not only avoiding doing harm, but being the kind of ally needed in the struggle for equality. Because while there are claims of equality, anyone with a critical eye knows that’s not true. The people in the street know it’s not true. The police profiling minorities know it’s not true.
Do you know it’s not true? I’d be happy to discuss with you in a civil setting. The only way forward is together, but together won’t include everyone. Will you be a part?
I am currently about a third of the way through my second draft of ‘Into the West’, and let me tell you, editing sucks. It’s healthy, it’s important but it’s brutal. As I continue to plow forward very slowly – the goal was to have the second draft done by June – I am finding so many things that need to be changed. Character motivations, story structure, inciting incidents, even basic scene and story beats need significant changing. I have a lot of good stuff here, but it’s an uncut gem in just about every way. OK, it may be more of a uncut quartz. Or perhaps an uncut river stone. TBD on what kind of stone it is. It may just be a piece of asphalt trying to be a diamond. I think it would settle for quartz, because at least some people think they’re valuable, so that would be a win.
So far, I have nearly completely reworked my first act. My primary point of view’s path to the inciting incident has completely changed multiple times. Initially, his path to the Lewis and Clark-like expedition was being pursued by a criminal underworld, stumbling into a parade and being swept up in it. I liked the spontaneity of that scene, but Por was being pursued because he stole from a rich family. As I considered his character and motivation (money for tuition), it just didn’t make sense for him to steal. It’s not something he would choose to do. The second option was that he be shanghaied out of nowhere, and that just isn’t compelling or interesting to his character. So Por must now swallow his pride and ask for help in the form of funding from a Noble House, at the expense of serving as their House Scholar (essentially an indentured academic).
As I ended my first act, I realized that it may be superfluous. Do I need to show Por struggling with the decision to ask for help, or can it be relevant backstory later so we can get to the good stuff? I’ve intended to set the stage and the normal world my characters come from, but the story is really about the journey from Sidenia to Galatia and the conflict over the mountains, and that doesn’t begin until the second act. The magic, monsters and gods are all in Galatia for the time being, so let’s get there fast, not after 25,000 words (~100 pages).
You can see my uncertainty set in below, where my word count flattens. I began to question much of the structure of the novel, and whether or not it has the necessary components that I think it does.
To not mince words, April was a rough month in terms of word count. I like to keep meticulous data on my word count, which may or may not be beneficial, but it’s nice to track progress.
It’s not all bad. One of the characters I met in the late stages of draft one is now a point of view character, and will serve as an important catalyst for the original POVs. We are introduced to her in Galatia, where she serves as an Emissary for the King, and we get to see the big bad conflict of the story rear its ugly head, complete with lightning from clear skies and magic users, long before Por and Xero cross the Khulsan mountains.
One of the other challenges I’ve had the last month is that I got a bug in my ear on a new project. Like Odysseus’s sirens, it keeps drawing my creative attentions which keeps me from making progress. I’m still working on keeping myself strapped to the mast of Into the West though, because I feel that if I move on from the project the likelihood I ever go back is low. After quickly creating a simple plot for the story, I feel like it’s in a point I can leave it and jog back to Into the West.
As far as my endeavors into learning and compiling folklore for writing research, (Gaelic Folklore or Norse Mythology) I am currently working on an essay on Mongolian Folklore. This has led me to reading We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson, which is a lot of fun. In We Ride the Storm, there are 3 primary races of people Kisian (Japanese inspired culture), Chiltaens (Roman-inspired culture), and Levanti (Mongolian-inspired culture). So far (63% done at time of writing) it’s been a fun ride and definitely diverged from some expected fantasy tropes nicely. I recommend for anyone looking for a fresh voice in the fantasy genre.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Tell me if you did below or on twitter @larkinwriter, I am curious.
Quarantine for COVID-19 is quite a trip. As of posting, I have been work from home for a full month. I haven’t spent this much time on social media since college. My dog loves the extra snacks, my wife is happy to have me home all the time to spell the childcare, and it turns out I love it too. I see so much negativity online that I can’t help but reflect on my own experience, and the reality is: I don’t hate it. I haven’t driven my car in two weeks. I get to just skip the communte time and reclaim that time for the family. We are living in an unprecedented time, something it was insane to consider just a few months ago, but we are really lucky.
“The quarantine has allowed me to be myself by staying home all the time”
In my post about our birth experience I mentioned that we moved with a two week old baby. While stressful at the time, I am so so grateful we did. I can’t imagine being stuck in our old townhouse, and I can’t imagine how difficult the quarantine is for those of you in studio or one bedroom apartments around the world. We are lucky enough to not have concerns about the ability to pay rent, or be furloughed. We are not high risk for getting COVID, so the quarantine, although stressful, is not debilitatingly so.
We have separate space, I work from home downstairs in the basement now. We have a fully fenced yard for the first time, so when the sun decides to show itself, we can be outside with the dog and not stress too much. All in all, we are really blessed. We can take that intensely stressful time moving and count it as life store credit that we are cashing in now that we are quarantined.
The other great thing about this quarantine is that it gets to act as a second, transitional paternity leave. Obviously with me working full time, I am not able to help as much as a real paternity leave, but it is still beneficial. If needed I can run upstairs and grab the baby and take her downstairs with me so mom can take a shower, make herself some foot, or just have time to herself.
As this is supposed to be a writing blog, I suppose I should address how that process has been coming along. Long story short, it’s been painful. I have re-written the majority of my first act, and after completing it I sat back and said “ugh”. I have found myself more interested in new characters that were not point of view characters last draft, and found my protagonists less compelling then draft one. As you can imagine, this has been quite disheartening as I am more interested in writing about things that aren’t driving the plot forward than I am about important original character development chapters. Asking how people have managed this on twitter was helpful, and I got some good suggestions, but the problem isn’t solved. I need to have a more compelling first acts. It needs to be one where my two main characters Por and Xero draw the audience in. Right now, they are flat and boring and not exciting. But that doesn’t mean I am giving up. I am plowing ahead with draft two while I continue to get to know my characters better and better. It turns out Xero loves animals while still being a murderous outlaw. And one of my antagonists Ambroos is an intensely self-conscious hypochondriac. I have read that irony is key, so I am trying to weave more irony into my story. One example of this is that Por loves nature and the natural order of the world, but is absolutely terrified of leaving the city.
I hope to continue posting to this blog more, there is lots of time sitting at home but I am prioritizing the book first!
At this point, it’s affecting everyone. Social media is inundated with all the things we should and should not be doing in relation to the global pandemic. Pictures of empty shelves are everywhere and most importantly no one know how much longer they’ll be able to have a clean butt.
I took a personal day today to take my dog hiking for the first time since the baby was born. I’ve had the personal day planned for a couple weeks. We’ve had lots of city walks and a couple nature walks since December, but no mountain trail hikes since before Thanksgiving. For the last four years hiking time has been my time to recharge and bond with my dog. Not having for a few months has been tough, but understandable.
As I thought last night about getting out of the city and hiking, I felt a sort of profound unease at doing so. And it wasn’t because I was actively afraid I was going to contract the virus and bring it home, it was different. Hiking, or any sort of leisure activity outside the house just feels irresponsible. I don’t actually think it is, but that’s the way it feels.
As of today, I have been work from home (WFH) for two and a half weeks and it’s been amazing to watch opinion shift in Seattle. I stayed home on Monday March 2 with the sniffles. It felt absurd, but Fred Hutch was recommending anyone with any symptoms stay home. Luckily I had my laptop and was able to easily plug in and WFH that day. As it turns out, Friday February 28 will be my last day in the office for at least two full months with the mandatory work from home now extended to April 24.
When I started staying home the jury was still out. Cases had started popping up and reports that COVID19 had been spreading through Seattle for weeks had been published. Still, I felt ridiculous. Sniffles, keeping me home? I’m really just being lazy and taking advantage of the situation. But my coworkers were more than grateful, and productivity wasn’t bad. So I stayed home a few more days until the mandatory order came down.
Since March 3, opinion has changed dramatically in Seattle. Most people thought measures were being overblown, and even Fred Hutch (my employer) admitted they were ahead of the game, and the Mandatory WFH policy seemed aggressive, but they were trying to flatten the curve as early as possible. I am so grateful for the proactive leadership we have here at Fred Hutch, and the huge strides they took to prevent employees from getting it (no employees have tested positive as of today), as well as the strides they’re taking to learn and combat the disease.
So this changing opinion here has been dramatic. People are bought in. COVID19 is real. It’s dangerous, and we as a community have to prevent it to protect the most sensitive Seattlites. Russell Wilson and Ciara pledge 1 million meals to community yesterday which is amazing. Contrast that with spring breakers in Florida and I am simultaneously grateful for the Seattle community and scared for other communities around the country. The whole Seattle (and Washington State) community has rallied in ways I haven’t seen before. People who are generally contrarian or sniping at local politicians for their responses, or dismissive of science are bought in too. There is finally a sense of unity that is refreshing after so long of stark lines dividing populations in the state and country.
This is real, and together Seattle is combating COVID19. I don’t think the same thing can be said for communities that aren’t affected yet, and that’s disheartening. People will die in Florida because someone decided their spring break trip to the beach was more important than making sure they didn’t spread the disease. That’s heartbreaking, but it doesn’t mean that people in other places can’t do more. The silent spread of COVID19 is the most scary, for me at least. If I contracted it three days ago, I could have been spreading it without knowing.
Last week, I was frustrated. I saw many people of the opinion that the government was overreaching and being dramatic. There is a paradox for the government to live right now: be slow, non-responsive and wait until its a disaster to act (once people are bought in) OR be proactive, head off the disaster and have people complaining that it was never a disaster and never going to be a disaster. This was really upsetting me last week, because the government is in a no-win situation. But I have seen those criticisms evaporate over the last week or so. And as San Francisco and New York move to a shelter in place, the question for Seattle is now if not when. Instead of criticisms for over-responding I am now hearing “what are they waiting for, let’s do it.”
As always now, wash hands, socially distance and stay home when possible. You all don’t need to feel my guilt for wanting to leave the home, but it’s something to consider. I think the Seattle community is doing a good job of being cognizant of how their actions affect others, is your community doing the same?
Thanks for reading. Thoughts? Questions? Hate Mail? Comment below!
For the second essay in my Fantasy Inspiration series, I want to talk about the history and use of Gaelic folklore in Fantasy. From my experience the most prominent examples of Gaelic myth and folklore in Fantasy are from Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series of books, and Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. If you’ve chatted with me about fantasy books, I’ve probably proselytized to you about Wheel of Time. It was finding the close ties Robert Jordan wove into the Wheel of Time that drew me to Gaelic folklore. From there I have loved digging into these myths and legends, and found more parallels as I read and researched for this post. I hope you enjoy.
Brief History of Gaelic Folklore
Gaelic Folklore, like Norse myth, originated in oral tradition. Unlike Norse Myth though, there is is significantly more extant texts of pre-Christian Gaelic Mythology. Though some of the known texts have been lost to time and Viking raids, much more survives to create a rich tapestry of mythology. The documents that survive describe four cycles, each of these cycles are overlapping stories about the Ireland. There are so many great resources online to read about each of these cycles, I will just touch on them briefly.
The Mythological Cycle tells the tale of the Tuatha De Danann. The Tuatha De Danann (translated as Tribe of Danu) are a God or God-like people that were some of the original inhabitants of Ireland. Christian sources are known to have explicitly avoiding referring to other beings as Gods, so it is likely that when these stories were written down, the gods of Ireland were changed to god-like beings. The Mythological Cycle tells the tale of the six invasions of Ireland, starting with the Tuatha De Danann and ending with the Milesians (mortals) driving the Tuatha de Danann into sidhes (fairy mounds). Though not described in the Mythological Cycle, the Tuatha de Danann may have come from the ‘Celtic Otherworld’, known as Tír na nÓg (Land of the Young).
The Ulster Cycle mainly focuses on the reign of King Conchobar mac Nessa. Many of the stories focus on his family. One of the most famous poems included in the Ulster Cycle is “The Cattle Raid of Cooley”, which describes the nephew of King Conchobar, Cu Chulainn defending their lands from Medb (anglicized Maeve). Cu Chulainn acts as a great hero would, defeating all the heroes Medb can throw at him and successfully defends their lands by himself.
The Fenian Cycle, also called the Ossianic Cycle, is narrated by Oisin. Chronologically it is the third of the cycles and focuses on a hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill and his soldiers. Oisin is a poet and the son of Fionn mac Cumhaill. I don’t want to just paraphrase the Wikipedia article so I will link here.
Cycle of the Kings (Historical Cycle)
The final cycle in the chronology is the aptly named Cycle of the Kings. This takes us through a medieval history of the mythic Kings of Ireland starting as early as the 431 BC.
The Tuatha Dé Danann are a mythical race of supernatural beings that inhabited Ireland. The Tuatha Dé Danann ruled Ireland for a long period of time, fending off many invasions. Readers of Wheel of Time will recognize the word tuatha immediately, as it is used multiple times in the series. Robert Jordan used this word in much the same way as it is used in Celtic tradition. Jordan uses ‘tuatha’ as the Old Tongue for ancient groups of people. Tuatha’an and Atha’an Miere, the Traveling People and the People of the Sea.
Though I have for a long time thought that Tolkien leaned heavily on Celtic folklore, a topic you can find an essay on here, it turns out to not be the case. If you dig into the essay itself, you’ll notice that the author notes that Tolkien has ‘vehemently denied’ any link between the Tuatha Dé Danann and his elves, but they then say it’s ‘irresponsible’ to not draw the parallels. The author then goes on to reject Tolkien’s rejection of Celtic influence, instead arguing that the cultural influences that are present in Tolkien’s works and the similarities between elves and Tuatha Dé Danann are more than coincidental. I would trust his own words over an essay written eighty years later:
“Needless to say they are not Celtic! Neither are the tales. I do know Celtic things (many in their original languages Irish and Welsh), and feel for them a certain distaste: largely for their fundamental unreason. They have bright colour, but are like a broken stained glass window reassembled without design.”
Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (p. 26). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.
After the Tuatha Dé Danann were driven out of Ireland by the Milesians, they started to become refereed to as the aos sí, or the people of the mounds.
The aos sí are also known as aes sidhe or daoine síth, or the ‘people of the mounds’. They are frequently described as stunningly beautiful. My mind immediately makes the leap to the Aes Sedai of the Wheel of Time universe and the Aen Seidhe of the Witcher universe. Aes Sedai are magic users with the ability to channel the energy of the Wheel of Time. It’s possible to see these magic users as god-like beings because of their ability to control the the power of creation. The aos sí are known to be strikingly beautiful. One of the most prominent characteristics of Aes Sedai is their ageless beauty, a side effect of the use of magic.
In the world of the Witcher, the Aen Seidhe are an elven race very similar to Tolkien’s elves. They arrived on the Continent, where the tales of the Witcher occur, several thousand years before humans. They are subsequently forced into hiding by the humans, where they wage a guerilla campaign to retain their land.
Both the Tuatha De Danann of Gaelic myth and Aen Seidhe arrived in their lands and inhabited them for a long time, only to be forced out by the arrival of humans. Besides the cultural and situational similarities, many of the names of the Aen Seidhe carry characteristics of Gaelic culture.
The Aen Elle, a separate race of elf-like characters in The Witcher, reside in Tir na Lia. Tir na Lia is a city in separate world from the main story, from which the Aen Elle interact with the primary characters. In Celtic myth, Tír na nÓg is the Otherworld and realm of the Tuatha De Danann. Though the Aen Elle seem to more closely resemble dark elves of Norse Mythology, the naming convention is a clear parallel.
Originally I intended this post to be longer, but as the needs of parenthood, work and novel writing have stressed my time, I think I will leave my brief analysis here for the time being. That said, there are many many more parallels in literary Fantasy drawn from the Gaelic Myth that I have not delved into here. I will quickly run through some of the one’s I intended to dig further into but did not.
Seanchan – Wheel of Time invaders from across the Aryth Ocean. Seanchai, are traditional Gaelic historians. The derivative word seanchai means ‘bearer of old lore’ in Irish Gaelic. This aligns nicely with the role the Seanchan play in the Wheel of Time story, as they return from across the sea bearing the lore of a thousand years before. Additionally, the writer Senchan Torpeist was Gaelic-Irish poet married to Brigit, a potential reference to Brigitte Silverbow.
Bran the Blessed – A character from the Welsh side of Celtic myth was the King of Britain. You may recognize Bran as a famous name in the Game of Thrones Stark Family. For an on the nose reference, Bran means raven in Welsh.
Star Wars Sith– Whether or not this is an intentional reference, the word síth in ‘daoine síth’ is Scottish Gaelic for the ‘aos sí’. Having dug into this on the internet, I could not find anything indicating the reference is intentional, and the connections seem tenuous enough I would not confidently state that George Lucas drew on Gaelic Mythology.
Thank you for reading. What did I miss? I have barely scratched the surface of Gaelic Mythology and it’s influence on literary fantasy. I’ve found that having returned to work following an extended paternity leave I don’t actually have nearly as much time to work on and research for these posts as I hoped. I would like to continue producing these comparisons as I find them fascinating, but they may come more sporadically in the future.
Disclaimer: After writing this, I realized that I have been using the terms Gaelic and Celtic mythology interchangeable. This is incorrect. While Gaelic Mythology is part of Celtic myth, the opposite is not necessarily true. Celtic culture spanned a wide part of western Europe, including the northern part of the Iberian peninsula as well as Welsh, Cornish, and Breton culture in addition to Scottish and Irish culture. These cultures all produced unique myth which I have not explored in detail. I may return to these other mythology groups another time.
If you’re enjoying my writing, or find a factual inaccuracy, please let me know! You can find me on Facebook @writerlarkin or on Twitter @larkinwriter. Thanks again for reading.
Edit: Spoiler Warning – there are some slight spoilers for the Wheel of Time series included below.
Recently, I’ve been playing the 2018 edition of God of War. Installments in this video games have traditionally been Greek themed, but this game takes place in Midgard and of course, the Norse Gods and myths are all real. I paused to look around at the lore and I was struck with how pervasive Norse Mythology is in modern media and culture. This is, I think, thanks in large part to Chris Hemsworth’s quippy, golden-locked Thor and Tom Hiddleston’s nefarious Loki. But even Marvel aside, there are so many other examples of Norse Mythology in media that I wanted to dig deeper. The story of Ragnar Lothbrok is more and more well known thanks to History Channels ‘Vikings’, and also served in piquing my interest in the topic. As I was playing God of War, I began to listen to Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology again (quick six hour listen, highly recommend). I was quickly swept away in the stories of Idunn and her apples of immortality, Ivaldi’s sons and their forging of Mjolnir, and Ragnarok, ‘the Twilight of the Gods’.
The main characters of Norse Mythology are well known. The trickster Loki. Hammer-wielding, giant smashing Thor. Odin, the devious and many times sinister ‘all-father’. There are many other lesser known gods and goddesses, a pantheon of similar scale to the Greek, Roman and Egyptian pantheons. Their stories are interesting as well. Like stories of Angrboða. She is a giantess and the wife of Loki. She is mother of Fenrir, the world serpent Jormungundr and the Goddess Hel. The pantheon is full of stories of giants and dwarves, many of which play critical roles in the creation of Midgard as well as in Ragnarok.
After several dozen hours of game play, I began to ask myself how the themes and characters of Norse myth have insinuated themselves into modern works of fantasy.
A (Very) Brief History of Norse Mythology
The history of the Norse pantheon and their deeds were, for many centuries, oral stories passed down. The first appearances of the Norse gods are chronicled in Roman texts, where Tacitus references the gods of the Germanic Suebi tribe.
“Of the gods, Mercury is the principal object of their adoration; whom, on certain days, they think it lawful to propitiate even with human victims. To Hercules and Mars they offer the animals usually allotted for sacrifice.“
The Germany and the Agricola – Tacitus (Gutenberg.org for full text and citations)
Tacitus is performing a behavior common of Romans (called interpretatio romana) when they interacted with other cultures. They often mapped Roman gods onto those of other cultures based on their characteristics. Here, Mercury is in reference to Odin, while Hercules and Mars are Thor and Tyr, respectively.
It was not until the 13th century, well after the introduction of and conversion to Christianity for much of the Scandinavian population that Snorri Sturluson, Icelandic historian and author of the Prose Edda, wrote down many of the stories for Norse Mythology. By this time, many of those who had passed down the oral stories of Tyr, Freya, and the Frost Giants of Jotunheim had converted away from the traditional belief system. In addition to the Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda, as a part of the larger Codex Reginus manuscript, makes up the vast majority of extant knowledge of Norse myth. Though Christianity arrived in Scandinavia as early as the 9th century, it did not make easy inroads into Scandinavian society and culture as there is evidence of people appealing to Valkyries for help as late as the 13th century. But you can imagine that the original myths would have taken on a Christianized form well before they were ever written down. Between the tradition of oral history and the co-mingling of Christianity with traditional Norse beliefs for so long before oral histories were written down, many of the tales from Norse Mythology are now lost to us.
“It is, perhaps, as if the only tales of the gods and demigods of Greece and Rome that had survived were the deeds of Theseus and Hercules. We have lost so much.”
So it comes as no surprise that the stories that are told in modern media surround these heroes, Thor and Loki. It’s possible to assume that most of the stories that are extant are what contemporaries considered interesting and expedient to their daily lives. The creation of Thor’s hammer, Odin stealing the mead of poetry and Ragnarok are all riveting tales, and many of them also serve to explain natural phenomena. It is an unfortunate reality that the less compelling stories about minor gods were deemed not as critical for preservation. A similar phenomenon happened with the lost books that accompanied the Iliad and the Odyssey in the Epic Cycle. The most interesting (and exciting?) works were the ones most likely to be carried through to later generations and have managed to survive to today. I am saddened to think of all the tales that are lost to time.
Norse Folklore in Fantasy
Switching gears away from the history of Norse Mythology, I want to discuss the influence these tales have had on the genre of fantasy.
The tradition of Norse folklore started early in the genre of Fantasy, with it’s godfather J.R.R. Tolkien himself leaning heavily on the mythos of Scandanavia for his world building. A quick look at Tolkien’s dwarvish runes reveals obvious similarities with Norse Elder Futhark ones.
Many of the runes are simple modifications of the originals. Quenya (one of the two Elvish languages created by Tolkien) takes inspiration from elsewhere leaning heavily on the Finnish language.
The similarities between Tolkien’s works and Norse Mythology do not stop there. Many of the names of the dwarves in the Hobbit are taken from a poem within the Poetic Edda, the Voluspa. I’ve highlighted a few of more the obvious ones below.
“11.Nýi, Nidi, Nordri, Sudri, Austri, Vestri, Althjófr, Dvalinn, Nár and Náinn, Nípingr, Dáinn, Bifurr, Bafurr, Bomburr, Nori, Ánn and Ánarr, Óinn, Mjodvitnir. 12.Veggr and Gandálfr, Vindálfr, Thorinn, Thrár and Thráinn, Thekkr, Litr ok Vitr, Nýr and Nýrádr, now have I Dwarfs, Reginn and Radsvidr,rightly mention.13.Fili, Kili, Fundinn, Nali, Hepti, Vili, Hanarr, Svíurr, Billingr, Brúni, Bildr and Buri, Frár, Hornbori, Fregr and Lóni, Aurvangr, Jari, Eikinskjaldi.”
The Prophecy of the Seeress, The Poetic Edda
Clearly Tolkien utilized his vast knowledge of Anglo-Saxon history and wove what he knew into his work. I remember how disappointed I was to learn this. I wanted Thorin and Gandalf and all his other characters to be purely the works of the author’s imagination. But that’s not the way most world building works. Inspiration is all around us, but so many implausible things have happened throughout history, it would be silly to ignore them when digging for inspiration. In fact, Tolkien going to a self-translated 13th-century text for his naming content is about as original as it comes with world building. Without the internet as an endless resource, this took intense effort. It took me 30 seconds to Google the passage of the Poetic Edda that includes the names of Tolkien’s dwarves. On that note, there is a popular recent fantasy book called The Age of Myth that has a protagonist named Persephone, spelled and pronounced the same of the daughter of Zeus captured by Hades. No spelling change, and no, the book does not take place in anything like a Greek mythological setting. With that in mind, understanding the lengths Tolkien went to to derive his work is inspirational.
He was never shy about acknowledging his sources, if you’re interested in learning more about that, click here.
The Wheel of Time
Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time has many characters similar to ones of Norse Mythology. Perrin Aybara wields a hammer, mah’allenir which sounds similar to Thor’s Mjolnir. Another character hangs from a World Tree equivalent in order to receive the gift of knowledge akin to Odin’s sacrifice on the boughs of Yggdrasil and has several other character traits that tie him closely with Odin. The Wheel of Time also has a ‘Wild Hunt’, a concept many fans of the Fantasy genre are familiar with thanks to the rampant success of the Witcher game of the same title. In Norse Myth, during the Wild Hunt Odin rides through dramatic winter weather with his armies, and one may see ghosts in the forest if you were caught outside during the Hunt. Even the series’s main character,Rand al’Thor, bears the name of a Norse god, .
Neil Gaiman’s American Gods also includes the classic characters of Norse Mythology. Loki, Odin and Thor must all find their way in a world that now believes more in consumerism and technology than the Gods of old.
Game of Thrones
One could dig into a lot of the world of Westeros and see inspiration from Norse Mythology, though I don’t care to dig so deep here. The end of the series still angers me. The denizens of the Iron Isles are essentially Viking raiders, White Walkers, Ice Giants and the Children of the Forest all carry elements of Norse myth.
Joe Abercrombie, author of the great First Law series has discussed his use of Norse myth and culture on his website here.
It seems as though many of the best and most popular Fantasy books carry with them elements of Norse Mythology. Many more subtle references appear through fantasy literature, Mark Lawrence, author of the Broken Empire and the Red Queen’s War, has a character named Snorri. As the genre diversifies with new voices across more and more cultures I expect to see this influence wane, but maybe we will see continued fresh takes on the old tales. What are some other books that leverage Norse Mythology? I am sure I’m missing some obvious examples.
Norse Influence in Video Games
God of War is a great way to learn much of the lore surrounding the Norse Gods, with obvious deviations for plot cohesiveness. The way the game blends real lore with great game play makes learning the stories of the Norse gods fun and exciting. Santa Monica Studios created a great system of exploring and learning the nine different realms connected by Yggdrasil and the inhabitants of each.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Another great and unique game that utilizes Norse themes is Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. In this game, you take on the role of a schizophrenic young Pict woman, who must battle with the gods and giants of Norse Mythology in order to save her lover from Hel. I have never experienced a game like Hellblade before, but I absolutely loved it. Fighting with Surtr, the fire giant who begins Ragnarok was as awesome as it was intense. The second game is due to release with the new Xbox.
Another unique game that is heavily influenced by Norse themes is Banner Saga. The aesthetic is drawn directly from old Norse tradition and creates a beautiful and sad world as you and your convoy attempt to survive the death of the Gods. One of my favorite parts of the game was arriving with your convoy at a Godstone, which are shrines for dead gods. I think this game unintentionally influences many of my ideas regarding my College of the Gods world, which two manuscripts I have written are set in.
One final game that is heavily influenced by Norse Mythology is an obvious one, Skyrim. The culture of the Nords in Skyrim and the aesthetics of the game are like stepping into a magical Viking world. For me, it was the first introduction to many elements of Norse myth. I first learned the name of Thor’s hammer in the game once I acquired the weapon Mjolnir, and what an exciting Easter egg that was. Enemies like draugr and the afterlife sovngarde were fun ways to see Norse Mythology come to life.
For a Mythology that has been truncated by time, it is extraordinarily flexible in it’s uses for the genre of Fantasy. I know I personally can’t wait to get into the more obscure corners of the mythology and add those to my own writing. The genre of Fantasy owes much to Snorri Sturluson and the authors of the Codex Reginus, passing on those tales to later generations. Fantasy is richer for the inclusion of Norse elements, though we have come to a point where Viking-like Northmen, wise ravens and wolves and metal-working dwarves are overplayed tropes. This doesn’t make using them bad, but I look forward to new cultural elements invigorating the genre.
What is your favorite example of Norse Mythology in modern media? Marvels Avengers? ‘Vikings’ Floki and Lagerta? Mr Wednesday in American Gods? Write me a comment!
If you’re enjoying my writing, or find a factual inaccuracy, please let me know! You can find me on Facebook @writerlarkin or on Twitter @larkinwriter. Thanks for reading.
Through all the podcasts I’ve listened to on writing, all the reference books on outlining and structure I’ve read, one this is a common theme. Revision’s suck. There are several “the hardest thing in writing is…” that pop up frequently. The ‘hardest thing in writing’ is:
Starting to write
Turning off your internal editor
Finishing the first draft
Finishing a second draft
Getting traditionally published.
All those things, at least the ones that I have experiences (the first 3) have been difficult, but doable. Even if it did take a decade or so. I’ve been writing since before I can remember, but the dropping the internal editor is a recent revelation for me and it’s been so critical in my ability to get words down. It’s important because even with a significant outline, it’s so easy to get ten chapters in and realize what a bad idea the outlined plan was. Or alternatively, you meet new characters and new, interesting challenges and that changes the story completely. So fighting off the internal editor is important, and really disinhibited my word count enough to finish two first drafts in 2019. But it seems unanimous that revisions are the truly hardest part, or at least the part that’s most painful. So now that’s where I sit. I have a $50, spiral bound copy of my first draft, colored pens, highlighters and a head full of fresh ideas on how to improve the draft.
Common Wisdom in Revisions
My manuscript first draft is about 70,000 words. The common wisdom is that as much as a third of that is fluff and needs to be cut out. That leaves me with a much shorter novel. I intend to add a lot of description I overlooked on the first draft as I raced to get to 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo last November. The easiest thing for me to write is plot, so it may be 70k words, but it’s bare bones when it comes to character depth and world building.
The other common wisdom is that you need to step away from your manuscript for at least about a month to six weeks in order to get enough distance from it to be honest with yourself about it’s quality. Hence, a writing blog intended to help me keep the momentum rolling and the words flowing. I’m approaching the month mark this coming Monday (Feb 17,2020) and I am feeling antsy to get going.
I already have so many changes I want to make, particularly in the first act of the book. My main character Por (short for Porwether; the book started on the frame of the Lewis and Clark expedition) needs a motivation for getting out of his city. I had a motivation I liked but as time goes on it bothers me as something the character wouldn’t actually do. Which is a good thing, I suppose. It means I’m getting to know my characters. Part of the revising process if continuing to get to know my characters better and better, and conducting interviews with them.
One thing that’s clear is that I have a lot to learn. I am still kicking myself for never taking creative writing classes in college, and Coursera is great but only gets you so far. All these books are super helpful though, and as I go through this process it makes it easier and easier to do it again. Draft two will be leaps and bounds better than Draft one just by simple experience I have under my belt.
Cheers to Draft 2, may it be less painful than expected!
PS. I will be posting some of my thoughts about Norse Mythology in Fantasy this coming weekend. If that’s something that interests you, keep an eye out Sunday afternoon!
Disclaimer: I originally wrote this to be the introduction and first post of my blog, after the birth of our daughter, I ended up writing another post that has already been published you can read here.
Hi everyone, I’ve decided to add another avenue to my hobby of writing by creating a blog. Now, why, you may ask, do I have anything of note worth reading? Well, maybe I don’t. Especially if you’re not interested in the genre of fantasy or my own self-important musings. My hope for this blog is to add a second way for me to keep writing if/when I have lulls in my own fiction writing. I love it, but some of those scenes where I don’t know what happens next can get scary.
In 2019 I was proud to finish 36 books, most of which were Fantasy and Writing Reference books. The majority, I listened to on audible.com which is my go-to, but I also made a conscious effort to go back to some of my favorites (The Gentleman Bastards Series) and read them in paperback instead of just listening. My audible library is massive at this point, and I feel like it has given me a good ear for the flow in writing, but I want to develop an eye for it as well.
If you are not interesting in my musing on the genre of fantasy, stop here. If you think that perhaps, I may have an opinion you find interesting, keep scrolling!
The Heroes (First Law World, #5)
The First Law (The First Law #1)
Arm of the Sphinx (The Books of Babel, #2)
Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel, #1)
The Works of Julius Caesar: The Gallic Wars
Caesar, Gaius Julius
Legion versus Phalanx
The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock Holmes, #5)
Doyle, Arthur Conan
Kings of the Wyld (The Band, #1)
Writing Vivid Settings: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors (Writer’s Craft Book 10)
Revenant Winds (The Tainted Cabal #1)
New Spring (Wheel of Time, #0)
A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time, #14)
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Grey Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #2)
Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #1)
Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #1)
Prince of Fools (The Red Queen’s War, #1)
King of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #2)
Emperor of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #3)
Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentleman Bastard, #2)
The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1)
The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard, #3)
Promise of Blood (Powder Mage, #1)
Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Shattered Empire
The Time of Contempt (The Witcher, #2)
Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1)
Theft of Swords (The Riyria Revelations, #1-2)
Sullivan, Michael J.
The Crown Tower (The Riyria Chronicles, #1)
Sullivan, Michael J.
The Black Prism (Lightbringer, #1)
Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development
Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success
The Rage of Dragons: The Burning Series
Rock Your Plot: A Simple System for Plotting Your Novel
Rock Your Revisions: A Simple System for Revising Your Novel
On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
Diversity of Genres is not my strong suit this year
This book recently won the Reddit r/Fantasy ‘Stabby’ Award for Best Debut Novel, and it is well deserved. Winter takes on classic fantasy tropes that would probably be tired if they were in the same old medieval European setting, but it’s not. The story takes place in an African-like culture where two races have been warring for hundreds of years and are stuck in a virtual stalemate. Tau, the protagonist, is thrust into the conflict when the opposing force attacks his home village, and the book just never stops from there. It includes demon realms, gladiator combat and lots of awesome action.
I was initially turned off of the book when I saw the title. Rage of Dragons is about as generic as it gets, but the book is hardly generic. I would highly encourage anyone who is looking for a fresh voice in the realm of Fantasy to pick up The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter. You won’t be disappointed.
I have heard that this book is super popular. I see Reddit comments frequently talking about how this book has revitalized their interest in a stagnant genre. The premise is based on the idea of a band getting back together for a reunion tour, but instead of a musical band it’s a war-band. OK, awesome. Love the premise. A bunch of over the hill old warriors get together for one last performance.
It was a big swing and a miss for me. Despite the intriguing premise, the book felt too chaotic for my taste. I think what draws a lot of people to this style of fantasy is that it feels like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. It’s fast-paced, constant action, constant new threats and monsters. I get it. There are a ton of people that love this style; the races are familiar, the magic system is clear. I think this makes a lot of readers feel cozy and comfortable. There is nothing wrong with comfortable, but apparently this is not what I look for in fantasy. I don’t know if that makes me a traditionalist or an obscurest, but I know that I am going against the grain a bit here. All that said I still have The Bloody Rose, the sequel, on my To-Read list. As writing podcasts harp on, if you want to be published, you’ve got to have a beat on what is selling!
Again, this book was a breath of fresh air in a genre loaded with poorly done tropes. Tom Senlin, a school teacher from a fishing village, takes his wife on a honeymoon to the Tower of Babel. It is clearly modeled after the biblical location, but Bancroft uses initial similarities as a runway; the book takes off with character of it’s own immediately. Each level of the tower has different characteristics and acts as a gate to go higher up the tower. And each level has many nefarious and sinister things going on behind the scenes. Senlin Ascends is a wonderful adventure about a man trying to find his wife. It’s refreshing to have a book with such a narrow scope. There is no Evil Lord trying to subjugate humanity, just a man trying to find his wife.
There are some clear themes here among the three books, all of which were published in the last few years. Fantasy as a genre, thanks in large part to the rampant success of Game of Thrones, is really living in a golden age. It seems as though publishers are willing to take a lot more risks on different kinds of fantasy in order to roll the dice on a genre in its heyday. But that also means there are loads of books that are telling very similar stories. I know personally, unless the characters are dynamic and engaging, I am pretty bored with classic fantasy. Whether the uniqueness of the books I discussed is due to me searching out fresh fantasy, or it says something of the genre at large, I could not tell you. But one thing that’s for sure is that there are increasingly diverse voices in the genre, and that only continues to be more and more true as time goes on.
Thanks for reading. My goal is to have weekly posts from topics ranging from the current books I am reading/listening to, to my current writing work, to the trials and tribulations of attempting to have a side hustle while also having a newborn (newborn still pending). If you like what I have shared here, please let me know! I am mostly writing for myself, but I am very interesting in knowing what people think about my opinions.
Quick Disclaimer: I intend this blog to be primarily discussion surrounding super-nerd Fantasy related content. But following the birth of my first child last week, I wanted to write up and share our experience for posterity sake and for any curious friends and family.
When people find out that you are going to be a parent the first thing they start to do is tell you what you’re going to experience, and how unfathomable it is. You’re never going to sleep again, you’ll never have free time. Your priorities all completely change. Over nine months, I heard these countless times. It all comes from a place of good intent, but by the end of my wife’s pregnancy, my slight smiles at the comments had turned to frustrated eye rolls, and ultimately rants at my wife about why people think building up a ‘sleep bank’ is even possible. But this post is not to for me to air grievances about completely normal things. It’s about how if someone told me what my experience in the first week of being a parent would be, I would have laughed in their face at the sheer improbability.
On January 16, my wife and I took a last look around our home and said bye to our dog. She was 41+ weeks and it was time to head into the hospital for induction. We had, so far, had what we considered a ‘vanilla pregnancy’. Every symptom was mild, no concerns from the Midwives. So we had no reason at all to worry while heading into the hospital. We must have said ‘vanilla pregnancy’ one too many times.
After getting set up in our antepartum room (a word I learned that day) and a brief disagreement with the charge nurse about whether or not Amanda needed an IV, we relented and it took the nurse four attempts (and about 40 minutes) to get the IV in. Not a great way to start the night, so we ordered some hospital dinner and milkshakes, started watching Arrested Development and dozed off. The plan from there was for Amanda to get a single dose of a drug to induce contractions every four hours. The first dose was 10pm. I fell asleep after a beer and some pesto pasta.
At 12:08 (1/17) I was awakened by four nurses streaming silently into the room. No lights were turned on, so I quickly scanned the room to see what was wrong. The baby’s heart rate was in the 70’s, when it should have been between 140-160 beats per minutes. With solemn efficiency, the nurses hung IV fluids and coached Amanda on how to turn to ‘get the baby off the cord’. It worked, and in a matter of seconds the baby’s heart rate was back up to where it should be. But we were sufficiently shaken, all of this was only explained afterwards.
It turned out our baby would not tolerate contractions at all. This deceleration happened half a dozen more times that night between the hours of 2am-4am. The leading hypothesis is that the placenta was sufficiently small and aged that it was no longer providing our baby what it needed. By 5am the attending doctor had recommended (as the only path forward) a C section. This was devastating to Amanda, who had gone to great lengths to avoid just this outcome. We now know that there was no other way for our baby to come. The official story now is that she was too vain to squeeze out the normal way, so she insisted on her own exit.
At 8am, we had been prepared and wheeled into the operating room, where a resident took five attempts to get the spinal nerve block, and still ended up handing it over to the anesthesiologist who had to take three attempts themselves. Amanda, bless her heart, through the tears told the anesthesiologist ‘Either I have some weird physiology or you’re bad at your job”, to which the whole OR (anesthesiologist included) laughed uproariously. It lightened a tense mood, which we were grateful for.
A few short minutes later, our baby was being pulled from the womb. Our midwife spoke the first words to describe her, which she will be frequently reminded of in her teen years.
“Oh, the baby is poopy. Oh, the baby is REALLY poopy.”
It turned out she had been marinating in meconium for over 24 hours, and the nurses raced to pump her stomach, clear her eyes and nose. But she was healthy. I will never forget those first, wavering cries from the heating table.
And she was a girl. Amanda asked me three times, ‘it’s a girl?’ through her fentanyl-induced haze. We were shocked. Tears may or may not have welled. Got a little choked up, perhaps. Despite the official Larkin party line being ‘we don’t know’, Amanda and I had reasonably convinced ourselves we were having a boy.
But she was happy and healthy, as was Mom. And we could not have been happier. Baby was born in the morning of 1/17. Writing from nearly two weeks later, the twelve hours of checking into hospital to birth of our daughter feel like a blur of chaos and anxiety. A terrifying realization in retrospect is that she would not have survived full contractions. Our plan had been, thanks to our ‘vanilla pregnancy’, to labor at home as long as possible.
Our crazy first week of parenting was just beginning though. After bonding and healing in the hospital for two days, we headed home. I dropped Amanda and the baby off at her parents first so I could introduce our dog Tuck to her scent. After introducing Tuck to the baby, which he did great with, we settled in for several weeks at home. Relaxing, learning, healing and parenting.
It’s at this point that I should point out that Amanda and I chose a word on New Years Day that we wanted to embody our 2020. We knew change was coming, so we both independently came up with ‘flexibility’ as our word. We had already been flexible, riding the wave of traditional birth into an urgent c section. We were through it and ready to settle in for the long recovery and bonding.
Then, midway through the 3rd quarter of the NFC Championship game, I plugged a space heater into our outlet. Our wonderful friends dropped off a casserole, and I popped some in the microwave for Amanda while she rested and fed the wee one.
BOOM. The power drops, breakers flipped. OK, no problem right? Well, when I went to go check on it and flip it back (breaking through several coats of pain over the box itself), I saw smoke from the box. After a second and third try (and seeing small amounts of smoke still), I was sufficiently freaked, and still had no power. Whether or not this was a logical decision, we bundled the babe and mother out of the house to her parents. I had no idea what the electrical situation was, so I called an emergency electrician. My landlord was pissed, and clearly didn’t want to pay.
For the sake of brevity, I will say, four nights in a hotel, four nights at my in-laws and a lot of heartache over the safety of our home got us to where we are now. The intervening time included signing a lease for a new house, setting up a generator in the driving rain (and subsequently moving our freezer out of the house in the driving rain) and now preparing to move.
The first one and a half weeks of our daughters life has been eventful. Throw in rare sleep and all the other difficulties that come with being new parents, and we have a great story. One of my major takeaways from this whole experience is how intensely grateful I am for our family and friends. We would have been in a much worse situation without their help bringing us food and offering us a place to sleep. This is certainly an experience I will never forget, and a true lesson in being flexible in ways we had no way of knowing.