Norse Mythology and the Middengard Sagas

So….Middengard. What’s it based on? Did I make all that stuff up? No, I’m not clever enough for that, I’m afraid. We all need inspiration. Norse mythology was mine. (I’m in great company: Tolkien anyone?).

Norse mythology is fascinating – and quite complex. I only wanted to use bits (hey, I’m a writer, I can be choosey). So here’s a very, very high level summary. And then a bit about what I used and why.

Cosmology

There are nine worlds in Norse mythology, all with wonderful names:

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Niflheimland of fog and mists          Muspelheim – land of fire and lava

Asgard – home of the Gods                    Midgard – home of the humans

Jotunheim – home of the giant            Vanaheim – home of the Vanir

Alfheim – home of the light elves        Svartalheim – home of the dwarves

Helheim – home of the dishonorable dead, thieves and murderers

All nine worlds are held in the branches of the world tree, Yggdrasil.

So, I was a bit selective here. Midgard became “Middengard” – which is an alternative spelling in Old English texts for our world, or the earth. But in my stories, Middengard is the hidden world, the world that existed before the earth was populated by men, after the Final Battle (see Ragnoräk, below).

I also chose to combine the characteristics Niflheim and Helheim, to make one terrible place, where Alice’s mother is imprisoned.

Gods and Goddesses

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Freya – Goddess of love, war and death

There a number of Norse Gods and Goddesses, some more familiar to the modern reader (or filmgoer) than others. The male Gods are known as the Aesir and the female Gods as the Asynjur. The Vanir are also Gods, who fought with the Aesir but made peace with them after Rangoräk. They are known for their sorcery and ability to see the future. (Following this? Come on – keep up!).

Now, everyone knows about Thor (don’t they?) and possibly Odin, so here they are, along with a few important others:

Odin (Aesir): the most powerful God in Asgard, Odin can see across all the nine worlds.

Thor (Aesir): son of Odin. He is the strongest of all the Gods and the protector of mankind.

Frigg (Asynjur): married to Odin and stepmother to Thor, she has the power of prophecy.

Njord (Vanir): father of the twins Freya and Freyr, Njord came to live in Asgard once the war between the Aesir and the Vanir was over, bringing his children with him.

Freya (Vanir): daughter of Njord, she is the Goddess of love and known for her beauty, but is also associated with fertility, gold, war and death.

Freyr (Vanir): the beautiful male God of fertility, who is also associated with wealth and a good harvest. He rules in Alfheim and is Lord of the Elves.

In the Middengard Sagas (to date), only Freya has made an appearance. I have elevated her power, leaving the male Gods largely out of the picture. Her tears – the Doom Stones – are entirely a story of my making. She plays a crucial role in guiding Alice to fulfill her destiny and is the Goddess whom the Hilderinc most revere.

Importantly in Stone Quest, the character Isolde is of the Vanir. Her powers are wide-ranging – but luckily she only uses them for good. (Or does she? That’s why you need to read Book Three when it comes out….).

Ragnoräk

If you like epic fantasy, you’ll be familiar with “end of the world” scenarios. In Norse mythology, Ragnoräk is the final battle between Gods and giants, when everyone will die, including humans. Ragnoräk will take place on the plains of Vigrid. The signs that the final battle is coming are three uninterrupted, long, cold winters with no summers between. (Dare I mention – “winter is coming”?).

After Ragnoräk, most of the Gods will die, but a new world will rise up, and a man and woman who sheltered in Yggdrasil will repopulate the earth again. Several Gods will survive and these Gods will go to Idavoll. There will be a new terrible place, a hall on Nastrond, the shore of corpses. All thieves and murderers will be imprisoned in this place.

The concept of Ragnoräk, and what came after, is an important thread in the Middengard Sagas. Stanor tells Alice about the final battle in Stone Keeper. I don’t use the name Ragnoräk as I felt this might be too confusing. In my version of the story, the Hilderinc are contributors to (if not the instigators of) the final battle, and to punish them the Gods give the world over to men, leaving the Hilderinc in a guardianship role. It is frustration with this role (and the associated loss of power) that drives Geraint, whereas mankind’s ill-treatment of their gift (the earth) is one of the factors driving Alice’s unknown enemy in Stone Quest. Stone Quest also references Nastrond and the shore of corpses, where Ellie walks to pass the interminable days of her imprisonment.

Anything Else? What about the Hilderinc?

Ah yes, the Hilderinc. All my invention, I’m afraid. I needed some kind of “super human” with warrior characteristics – like a Viking on steroids. The word “hilderinc” comes from Old English and means “warrior” or “fighter.”

Which reminds me, talking of Old English (no, it doesn’t mean English spoken by old people). It used to be called Anglo Saxon and refers to the form of English spoken in parts of modern day England, between the fifth and late 11th centuries. I borrowed words from primary texts of that era. Here are a few of them:

Aetheling – means “lord” or “ruler”. I used this term for the Gods in Middengard, as I didn’t want to make an outright reference to the Norse Gods by calling them the Aesir. There are other Gods/Goddesses in my books that I invented, so this seemed the best way round it.

Anhaga – means solitary one, recluse, outcast. The Anhaga is such a person, as Stanor tells Alice in Chapter 10 of Stone Keeper.

Dõm – means judgement. This word eventually morphed into the modern day word “doom”. It’s an important concept in the Middengard world, as Alice’s stone is a “doom” stone, being a symbol of the judgement Freya passed on the Hilderinc after the Final Battle.

Ealdor – means prince or Lord. In Stone Quest, I gave this title to the ruler of the Skellstor Council, with a focus on the latter meaning. Importantly, the Council leader is not a king, as Middengard is a form of democracy, with no reigning monarchy.

 

Books That Changed My Life

So – you’re on my Facebook author page, or my website, so you must like reading. You probably love reading. Some of you will love fantasy, but have never read, say, biographies. Others might love everything. You might be the sort of person who reads the back of other people’s newspapers, if you’ve nothing else to hand (or possibly not these days, because who reads newspaper when you’ve got 24 hour news feeds on your phone?). Anyway….I thought it might be interesting to start asking people of my acquaintance the question: what book/books changed your life and why?

So here are some of the responses. I’ve collected a surprising number, so I’ll post a few month. (As some of my dear girlfriends (DGFs) across the globe prefer to keep their anonymity, please forgive my naming system…). And if you’d like to share, send in your nomination via the “contact” page.

John (husband) Age: prefers not to reveal. Clue: definite baby boomer. Lives: Australia

“A book that changed my life? Must have been “Principles of Accounting” in Grade 8. Yep. Never looked back.”

DGF1      Age: prefers not to reveal (spotting a trend?) Lives: Australia

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. It was so evocative of time and place and the story was so sad and moving, the family so poor, I had to keep putting it down and waiting a week before I could tackle it again. I was an adult when I read it and living in another State, but it conjured up many thoughts and emotions in respect to my own growing up in Perth. When I look back, I think it made me appreciate what I have, what we all have, and how you can change your life, with determination.”

Former colleague and friend (male)

“Books? Never read them. No time. Plus I’d have to sit still. I’ll read your book if you like though. Well, maybe the first chapter. Or tell you what – can you do me an Executive Summary?”

Jinx the cat. Age: 14 Lives: with me at home.

“Books? I can’t read – I’m a cat. And if I could, it wouldn’t be yours. I heard a dog features prominently in Chapter One of Stone Keeper. I’m hugely offended. Now go away, I’m trying to sleep.

Me (June) Age: cough. Well, you can probably work it out. Let’s say 50 something.

“Books – there are so many I’ve loved to death. But the first standout, the one that scorched its way into my teenage consciousness, was Wuthering Heights. Not because I was thirteen and it was a love story (which I always argue it isn’t, at least not in the normal way) but because it was the first time I realised the full power of language. The way description of character and place can knock you for six, leaving you feeling drained, literally suspended in another world. If you haven’t read it, do.”

DGF2      Age: similar to me. Occupation: writer, sculptor, artist.

“The book that changed my life…? There’s more than one. I guess the first was The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I grew up in a wealthy family and had not seen poverty, let alone imagined what it would be like. I read Steinbeck’s novel in 1974, when I was about 14. The events he wrote about felt close: a history just behind my back. The book awakened within me empathy for strangers. I read it again as an adult and it read like propaganda so I’m not sure about re-reading these most significant books. The next book that changed my life was Mila 18 by Leon Uris. I read it when I was about 15. I hadn’t known about the holocaust, or that there were Jewish people in the world, until I read that book. The book triggered my commitment to human rights and strengthened my dislike of patriotism and the opinions of the crowd. The next book was The Women’s Room by Marilyn French, after which I became a feminist and extricated myself from my misogynist marriage. Hopefully, there are more to come.”

William Shakespeare (ghost of). Occupation: World’s Greatest Writer

“A book that changed my life? Surely thou jest. The mountain hath no interest in the molehill. And betimes, I’m much occupied with keeping yon Tudors happy: a task that takes all my ken.”

Ruth (ruthrowlingwrites.wordpress.com) Age: fifty something                   Lives: Norway

“Once I started reading, which was a struggle as I’m dyslexic, I never stopped.  So the most momentous reading experiences were the first ‘proper’ books I read as a child.  The first was Prince Caspian from the Narnia series.  I didn’t really know what was going on, but it felt magical.  The second was Shadow the Sheep Dog by Enid Blyton, a homely tale that turned my everyday life into a romance (I grew up on a farm).  I remember these books as a huge breakthrough: the moment I discovered I could read and absorb a story without just struggling with the words.”