Friday, July 31, 2015


Edmund's decapitated head cries out while guarded by a gray wolf
English illustration, c. 1475
Translator's Note

The Anglo-Saxon Abbot Ælfric of Eynsham (c. 955-1025) was a prodigious hagiographer, writing over thirty accounts of the lives of saints. His Life of St. Edmund, based on a Latin text by the French monk Abbo of Fleury, is of particular importance to readers with an interest in Viking lore, since his account of the martyrdom of the ninth-century East Anglian King Edmund (on November 20, 869) includes two Danes called Hinguar and Hubba.

This pair of Norsemen are better known as Ivar the Boneless and his brother Ubba, sons of the legendary saga hero Ragnar Lothbrok (Ragnarr Loðbrók), who has himself surprisingly become a recognizable figure in contemporary popular culture, thanks to the History Channel's Vikings television program, which is (very, very loosely) based on his adventures.

Those with knowledge of Norse mythology may be surprised that this Christian tale includes the appearance of a gray wolf guarding a talking head and a dead body with the power to “make his enemies... blind, or deaf, or terror-struck” (as Snorri Sturluson writes of Odin). Some mythic ideas cross religious boundaries.

Those who think anti-Semitism is a recent phenomenon may also be surprised by a couple of nasty slurs that appear in the text. Sadly, such bigotry was often part of Christian teaching long before the twentieth century.

The full text in Old English of the Life of St. Edmund can be found in Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson's A Guide to Old English, which is now available as a paperback in The Norse Mythology Store under BooksDictionaries & Language.

Ælfric's Life of St. Edmund
Translated from the Old English by Karl E. H. Seigfried

The Danes torture King Edmund
Illustration by James E. Doyle (1864)
In the day of King Æthelred [968-1016], a certain very learned monk came from the south over the sea from the place of Saint Benedict [the French monastery of Fleury] to Archbishop Dunstan [of Canterbury] three years before he died, and the monk was called Abbo. Then they conversed until Dunstan related about Saint Edmund, just as Edmund’s swordbearer related it to King Æthelstan, when Dunstan was a young man and the swordbearer was elderly.

Then the monk set down all the narrative in a book and afterwards, when the book came to us within a few years, then we translated it into English, just as it stands hereafter. Then within two years the monk Abbo returned home to his monastery and was immediately appointed as abbot in the same monastery.

Edmund the blessed, king of the East Anglians, was wise and honorable and always honored the almighty God with noble practices. He was humble and virtuous and thus remained resolute that he would not yield to shameful sins, nor to either side did he bend from his practices, but was always mindful of the true teaching, “You are appointed as leader? Do not raise yourself up, but be between men just as one of them.” He was as generous as a father to the poor and to widows and with benevolence always guided his people to righteousness and punished the cruel and blessedly lived in true belief.

The Vikings Arrive

The Viking Ship by N.C. Wyeth (1922)
It eventually befell that the Danish people set out with a fleet, ravaging and attacking far and wide throughout the land as is their custom. On that ship were the foremost leaders Hinguar and Hubba, united by the devil, and they landed on the land of the Northumbrians with spears and laid waste the land and slew the people. Then Hinguar returned to the east with his ships and Hubba remained behind in the land of the Northumbrians, victory having been won with bloodthirstiness.

Hinguar then came rowing to East Anglia, in the year that Prince Alfred was twenty-one years old [869], he who was later famous as king of the West Saxons [as Alfred the Great]; and the aforementioned Hinguar suddenly like a wolf stalked on the land and slew the people, men and women and the innocent children, and shamefully mistreated the innocent Christians.

Hinguar's Ultimatum

Calling of Vikings by Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926)
He then sent immediately afterwards to the king the threatening message that he should submit to his service if he cared for his life. Then the messenger came to King Edmund and quickly delivered the message of Hinguar to him: “Hinguar our king, brave and victorious on sea and on land, has the power of many peoples and now has come suddenly with the army here to the land so that he may have here winter quarters with his host. Now he commands you to quickly share your hidden hoards of gold and the wealth of your ancestors with him, and you be his under-king, if you wish to be alive, because you do not have the power that you can withstand him.”

Lo, then King Edmund summoned a bishop who was nearest to him, and considered with him how he ought to answer to the fierce Hinguar. Then the bishop was afraid because of the sudden misfortune and for the life of the king, and said that it seemed advisable to him that he submit to that which Hinguar commanded him.

Then the king fell silent and looked at the earth and then at last regally said to him, “Oh, bishop, the poor people of this land have been shamefully mistreated, and it would now be preferable to me that I would fall in battle, so long as my people might be allowed to enjoy their homeland”; and the bishop said, “Oh, you dear king, your people lie slain and you do not have the support that would enable you to fight, and these Vikings will come and bind you alive, unless you protect your life with flight, or you protect yourself by submitting to him.”

Then King Edmund said, as he was very brave, “Of that I desire and wish with my spirit, that I alone should not survive after my beloved retainers who with their children and wives were suddenly slain in their beds by these Vikings. It was never customary to me that I would take flight, but I would wish rather to perish if I needed to for my own homeland; and the almighty God knows that I will not ever turn from his service, nor from his true love, whether I die or live.”

After these words he returned to the messenger that Hinguar had sent to him and said unafraid to him, “Certainly you would now be worthy of slaughter, but I do not want to defile my clean hands in your foul blood, because I follow Christ, who so set an example for us; and I will gladly be slain by you, if God so preordains. Go now very quickly and say to your cruel lord, ‘Edmund will never yield to Hinguar alive, to the heathen commander, unless he first submits with faith to Christ the Savior in this land.'”

Edmund's Martyrdom

Then the messenger turned quickly away and met the bloodthirsty Hinguar on the road with all his army, hastening to Edmund, and told the dishonorable one how he was answered. Hinguar then commanded the Viking host with arrogance that they should seize that one king, who rejected his command, and bind him immediately. Lo, then King Edmund, when Hinguar came, stood inside his hall, mindful of the Savior, and threw away his weapons: he wished to imitate the example of Christ, who forbad Peter to fight against the bloodthirsty Jews with weapons.

"...until he was completely covered with their missiles"
English illustration, c. 1130
Lo, the dishonorable ones then bound, shamefully mocked, and beat Edmund with cudgels, and so afterwards led the faithful king to a tree firmly rooted in the earth and tied him thereto with hard bonds, and again beat him for a long time with whips; and he always cried out between the blows with true faith to Christ the Savior; and then the heathens became furiously angry because of his faith, because he called Christ as help for himself. They shot then with spears, as if for entertainment for themselves, thither, until he was completely covered with their missiles, as it were the bristles of a hedgehog, just as [Saint] Sebastian was.

Then Hinguar saw, the dishonorable Viking, that the noble king would not renounce Christ, but with resolute faith ever called out to him: he ordered them to behead him, and then the heathens did so. While he was still calling out to Christ, then the heathens took the holy one to the slaughter and with one stroke struck the head from him, and his soul travelled blessedly to Christ. There was a certain man nearby, held hidden by God from the heathens, who heard all this and afterwards said it just as we say it here.

The Wolf & the Talking Head

"They hid the head in the forest somewhere"
English illustration, c. 1130
Lo, then the Viking army fared again to the ship and hid the head of the holy Edmund in the thick brambles so that it would not be buried. Then after a time, after they had departed, the people of the land came thither, who there was then left, where the body of their lord lay without a head, and became very sorrowful in spirit because of his slaughter, and especially that they had not the head to the body. Then said the witness who had seen it, that the Vikings had the head with them, and it seemed to him, as it was completely true, that they hid the head in the forest somewhere.

Then they went all together to the wood, seeking everywhere, through bushes and brambles, if they could find the head anywhere. It was also a great wonder that a wolf was sent by God´s guidance to protect the head against the other wild animals through day and night. Then they went seeking and always crying out, just as it is customary for those who often go in the wood, “Where are you now, comrade?,” and the head answered them, “Here! Here! Here!,” and so frequently cried out, answering them all as often as any of them called out, until they all came to him through the cryings out.

"They were astonished by the guardianship of the wolf"
English illustration, c. 1130
There lay the gray wolf which had guarded the head and with his two feet had clasped, greedy and hungry, and because of God dared not to taste of the head but held it from the wild animals. Then they were astonished by the guardianship of the wolf, and carried the holy head homewards with them, thanking the Almighty for all of his wonders; but the wolf followed forth with the head, until they came to town, like he was tame, and then afterwards returned back to the wood. Then the people of the land afterwards laid the head near to the holy body and buried him such as best they could in such haste, and erected a church above him immediately.

Edmund's Body is Healed

Then after a time, after many years, when the harrying ceased and peace was given to the afflicted folk, then they joined together and splendidly made a church for the holy one, because there were frequently miracles at his grave at the prayer house where he was buried. They wished then to carry the holy body with public honor and to lay it within the church.

Then was the great miracle that he was just as whole as if he were alive, with a clean body, and his neck was healed, that before was cut through, and was as it were a red silken thread about his neck, as evidence to men how he was slain. Also the wounds that the bloodthirsty heathens made on his body with frequent missiles, were healed by the heavenly God; and he lies as whole up to this present day, awaiting resurrection and eternal glory. His body reveals to us, which lies undecayed, that he lived without wantonness here in the world and with a clean life traveled to Christ.

A certain widow, named Oswyn, dwelt at the grave of the holy one in prayer and fasting for many years afterwards; she would cut the hair of the saint each year and neatly trim his nails with love and keep them in a coffer as a relic on the altar.

Thieves in the Night

Dead abbots in coffins at Bury St. Edmunds Abbey (1903)
Then the people of the land honored the saint with belief, and Bishop Theodred greatly endowed the monastery with gifts in gold and in silver as an honor to the saint. Then came on a certain occasion eight wretched thieves in one night to the honorable holy one: they wished to steal the treasures that men had brought thither, and tried to discover with skill how they could come in.

One struck the hasp mightily with a sledgehammer, one of them filed around with a file, one also dug under the door with a spade, one of them with a ladder wished to open the window, but they labored in vain and so wretchedly fared, in that the holy man wondrously held them, each one as he stood struggling with a tool, that none of them could perpetrate that crime, nor could they move themselves from there, but stood so until morning. Then men wondered at that, how the criminals hung, one on a ladder, one bent to digging, and each was bound fast to his work.

They were then all brought to the bishop and he ordered them all to be hanged on high gallows, but he was not mindful how the merciful God spoke out through his prophet these words that stand here: eos qui ducuntur ad mortem eruere ne cesses [Proverbs 24:11: “Do not fail to release those who are lead to death”] “those that one leads to death, always release them out”; and also the holy canons forbid the ordained, both bishops and priests, to be among thieves, because it does not befit them that are chosen to serve God, that they should assent in the death of any man, if they be the servants of God.

Afterwards, when Bishop Theodred later looked at his books: he repented with sadness that he set down such a cruel judgment for the wretched thieves, and after regretted it until the end of his life, and bade the people zealously that they would fast with him fully three days, asking the Almighty that he should pardon him.

The Body of the Saint

The Shrine of St. Edmund in an 1843 illustration
In that land was a certain man, named Leofstan, powerful with respect to the world and ignorant with respect to God, that rode fiercely to the holy one with arrogance, and very insolently ordered them to show the saint, if he were whole; and so as soon as he saw the body of the saint, then he immediately went mad and raged horribly and wretchedly ended with an evil death.

This is similar to that which the faithful Pope Gregory told in his narrative about the holy [Saint] Lawrence, who lies in Rome – that men always wished to see how he lay, the good and the bad; but God restrained them, so that there perished in that viewing at once a group of seven men. Then the others ceased to look at the martyr with human error.

We heard of many wonders in the vernacular speech about the holy Edmund, which we will not set in writing here, but everyone knows them. In this holy one is clear, and also in others, that God almighty can again raise man on the day of judgment whole from the earth, he who holds for Edmund his body whole until that great day, although he came from the earth. Worthy is that place because of the venerable holy one, so that one honors it and furnishes it well with pure servants of God for the service of Christ, because the holy one is more glorious than men can imagine.

Saints of England

A contemporary icon of St. Edmund
by Bulgarian artist Marchela Dimitrova
England is not deprived of the saints of the Lord, when in the land of the English lie such holy ones as this holy king, and [Saint] Cuthbert the blessed, and Ætheldryth [a.k.a. Saint Audrey] in Ely, and also her sister [Saint Sexburga], whole in body, as confirmation of belief. There are also many other holy ones the English nation that work many wonders (just as it is widely known) as praise to the Almighty, whom they believed in.

Christ reveals to men through his glorious holy ones that he is Almighty God who makes such wonders, although the wretched Jews utterly forsook him, wherefore they are accursed, just as they wished for themselves. There are not any wonders worked at their graves, because they believed not in the living Christ, but Christ reveals to men where the true belief is, when he works such wonders through his holy ones far and wide throughout this earth.

Therefore to him be the glory forever with his heavenly father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This modern English translation is © 2015 by Karl E. H. Seigfried

Friday, July 24, 2015


Click here to read Part One of the article.

J.R.R. Tolkien in 1968
This post continues The Norse Mythology Blog's photo-essay on the J.R.R. Tolkien archives at Wheaton College's Marion E. Wade Center. Tolkien is not the only author that the Wade Center focuses on, and the essay concludes with some wonderful items connected to C.S. Lewis. The author of The Chronicles of Narnia was a longtime friend and colleague of Tolkien, and both writers were members of the informal literary discussion group known as the Inklings.

The Kilby Reading Room

The glass-fronted bookcases of the cozy and welcoming reading room include a great number of works by and about Tolkien in several languages. The archives and library of the Wade Center are non-circulating, but they are available for use in the reading room (smoking of pipes not allowed). You can search the Wade Center's holdings by clicking here, and you can see a list of books, magazines and pamphlets now in the collection that were originally owned by Tolkien himself (many with his personal library bookplate) by clicking here.

The Kilby Reading Room

Update (July 24): A detail-oriented member of the Tolkien Society has pointed out that the "personal bookplates" were added by a later bookseller, not placed by Tolkien himself. To be clear, the books were actually owned by Tolkien; the labels were simply added after they left his possession.

Label added by bookseller to books owned by Tolkien

The Alcove

Directly off the reading room is a small annex that houses a variety of materials. In the bookcases on the left are journals relating to the Wade Center's featured authors; on the right are dissertations relating to them. You can read about the Wade Center's own journal, VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review, by clicking here. On the far wall are oral history transcripts and original letters by the authors, including serveral by Tolkien. The file cabinets contain articles, including a print version of my own piece on Éowyn, "Tolkien's Heathen Feminist."

The Alcove

Basement stacks

The bulk of the Wade Center collection can be found in the basement stacks. The mechanical movable bookshelves pictured here are packed with works by and about all seven of the featured authors.

Basement stacks

Tolkien stacks

There's enough here to make any Tolkien fan weep with want. Every edition of every Tolkien work, maps, board games, magazines, toys... It's pretty amazing.

Tolkien stacks

Laura Schmidt in the Tolkien stacks

Wade Center archivist and Wheaton College Tolkien Society staff advisor Laura Schmidt was kind enough to give me a guided tour of the entire Wade Center. Here, she explains something fascinating about the collection in an erudite and sophisticated manner while I distractedly drool over deluxe editions of The Hobbit.

Laura Schmidt in the Tolkien Stacks

The Hobbit section

So you think you have an impressive Tolkien collection? These are just some of the editions of The Hobbit held by the Wade Center. I may have left teeth marks on the green boxed edition with the gold dwarvish runes on the spine. Sorry.

The Hobbit section

C.S. Lewis's dining room table with Hobbit display

C.S. Lewis's dining room table with Hobbit display
Back upstairs in the main display room sits the work table of C.S. Lewis, used in his rooms at Magdalen College. It later served as the dining room table at The Kilns, his home outside Oxford. Purchased for the Wade Center in 1974, it now houses a collection of memorabilia related to The Hobbit, including a DVD of the 1977 Rankin/Bass cartoon (my own introduction to Tolkien when it first aired on television) and various games and toys.

C.S. Lewis's desk and chair

Maybe there's a rivalry between Middle-earth fans and Narnia fans, like there is (or used to be) between Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans. I'm not sure. I grew up loving all four mythologies, so I was also interested to see the desk and chair from Ireland, used by Lewis at Magdalen College and then at his home at The Kilns. It's a bit strange to stand in a room with the writing desks of both Tolkien and Lewis!

The Wardrobe

If you grew up with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as I did, you'll understand why it was so wonderful to see this. Adzed, assembled and carved from oak by Lewis's grandfather with handmade hinges and nails, it stood at Little Lea, Lewis's home as a boy in Belfast. It was later moved to the main hallway at The Kilns near Oxford. Lewis's brother stated that this wardrobe was the inspiration for the one that served as an entrance to Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. With Laura's permission, I pushed the coats aside and felt the back of the wardrobe. It was solid wood. Sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't.


Information on the Marion E. Wade Center was kindly provided by archivist Laura Schmidt. Details on objects in the main room are taken from explanatory materials in the center. Thank you to Laura and the Wade Center staff for all their help!

Stay Tuned!

My new public classes on The Silmarillion start in September. Students will read Tolkien's brilliant epic of the early ages of Middle-earth and learn about the work's roots in Norse, Celtic and Finnish mythology. Registration details will be posted on the Norse Mythology Classes page. Also, if you're on Facebook, be sure to follow the Tolkien Project!

Friday, July 17, 2015


J.R.R. Tolkien with his beloved pipe
In late 2013, I took a group of my students to visit the J.R.R. Tolkien Collection at Marquette University in Milwaukee. The field trip was open to students from my class at Chicago’s Newberry Library on "The Hobbit: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mythic Sources," from my class at Carthage College on Norse religion, and from the Tolkien Society I founded at Carthage College. You can check out the photo essay from the 2013 visit to the Marquette Tolkien archives by clicking here.

We were joined on the trip by Laura Schmidt, archivist at the Marion E. Wade Center and staff advisor for the Wheaton College Tolkien Society. She arranged the visit and brought students from her institution's Tolkien Society to tour the collection and interact with my students.

This year, Laura invited me to give the Wheaton College Tolkien Society Annual Scholar's Corner Lecture. In February, I visited the Marion E. Wade Center and gave a multimedia presentation on " 'Riddles, Runes and Icelandic Dwarves': The Hobbit and Norse Mythology." Laura was a fantastic host, the capacity audience was greatly attentive, and everyone stayed for a wide-ranging question-and-answer session after the lecture.

Before my talk, Laura gave me a tour of the Marion E. Wade Center's Tolkien archives and was very patient while I asked a lot of questions and took a lot of photographs. It was wonderful to see the Tolkien materials up close.

The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College

The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College
Wheaton College holds a variety of objects and papers related to Tolkien and his work. The collection was conceived in 1965 by Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, professor of English at the college, who began the preservation program by assembling letters of Tolkien's friend and colleague, C.S. Lewis. Family and business associates of Marion E. Wade, founder of the ServiceMaster Company, established the center in the businessman's memory in 1974.

The Marion E. Wade Center moved to its current location in a faux English manor house in 2001, and it now houses a major research collection of work by and about seven writers from the United Kingdom: Owen Barfield, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorthy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams.

In Wisconsin, the Marquette University collection contains original drafts and manuscripts of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Farmer Giles of Ham and Mr. Bliss. In England, the Bodleian Library of Oxford University holds manuscripts of The Silmarillion, Tolkien's original Middle-earth artwork, and his personal and academic papers. Here in Illinois, the Wade Center has its own wonderfully diverse and unique collection of Tolkien material.

Note: You can click on the photos to see larger versions.

Tolkien's writing desk

Tolkien's writing desk
The main display room of the collection features Tolkien's writing desk, the one that he used for the entire process of writing The Hobbit. On this desk, he wrote and typed the text of Bilbo's adventure and drew and painted the illustrations that were included in the original edition. The desk was also used by Tolkien for drafting portions of both The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. There is a signed letter by Tolkien on top of the desk describing its use in the creation of his Middle-earth mythology.

Tolkien's dip-pen

A reminder of the long-age era when Tolkien wrote his first tales of Middle-earth, the dip-pen in the collection was given to him by Humphrey Carpenter, author of J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography (1977) and editor of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981). Tolkien used the end of the pen to damp his ever-present pipe, hence the melted material at its tip. The Wade Center also owns several manuscripts by Tolkien; you can read the current list of holdings by clicking here.

Tolkien's dip-pen

Commemorative Tolkien medallion

Commemorative Tolkien medallion
Faith Lucy Tilly Faulconbridge was the first wife of Tolkien's youngest son, Christopher. They were married in 1951, separated in 1964 and divorced in 1967. She designed and modeled this cold-cast bronze plaque after J.R.R. Tolkien's death in 1973. The characters at the bottom are in Tolkien's Elvish script and translate as "friend," the word that Gandalf spoke to open the West-door of Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring:
"I was wrong after all," said Gandalf, "and Gimli too. Merry, of all people, was on the right track. The opening word was inscribed on the archway all the time! The translation should have been: Say "Friend" and enter. I had only to speak the Elvish word for friend and the doors opened. Quite simple. Too simple for a learned lore-master in these suspicious days. Those were happier times. Now let us go!"

Tolkien's letter explaining the origin of the Inklings

This typed and signed letter was written in 1967 to William Luther White, chaplain at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois. It details the beginnings of the informal discussion group than included Tolkien, Owen Barfield, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams and others. The writers gathered to read their latest creations aloud and to critique each other's work. At one of these meetings, Tolkien performed his first reading of The Lord of the Rings. The Wade Center has an impressive collection of Tolkien's letters; click here for a detailed list.

Tolkien's letter explaining the origin of the Inklings

Original cover art by Pauline Baynes for The Hobbit

This is the original painting that Pauline Barnes created for use as the wraparound cover of the edition of The Hobbit released by Puffin Books in 1961. It shows the Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and the thirteen dwarves as they make their way through the Misty Mountains. Next to it is a copy of the Puffin edition. Strangely, Ms. Barnes decided to paint her work at actual printing size. The minute detail of the work is very striking in person.

Original cover art by Pauline Baynes for The Hobbit

Portrait of Treebeard

Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, the Wheaton professor who started the collection, was given this wood carving by Jeanne Clark, a former student. The piece was created by Jim Nelson of the Ozark Folk Center in Stone County, Arkansas. Ms. Clark thought the work was reminiscent of Treebeard, the Ent who appears in The Lord of the Rings.

Portrait of Treebeard

The Hobbit display

The Hobbit display
Wade Center staff member Shawn Mrakovich made this fantastic three-dimensional map of Bilbo's journey in The Hobbit as a way to welcome young readers. From Bilbo's home in Shire across the snow-capped Misty Mountains, through spider-infested Mirkwood and past Lake-town, to Smaug and his golden treasure-hoard beneath the Lonely Mountain, the display provides a charming and information-packed introduction to Tolkien's timeless classic children's book of 1937.

To be continued in Part Two.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

ART CONTEST – Adult Winners, Midsummer 2015

We received an amazing array of international entries in the adult division of this year's Midsummer Art Contest. Wonderful works were submitted from Canada, Czech Republic, England, Sweden and the United States. All were at a very high level, and we had a very difficult time ranking the many entries received.

I'd like to thank my fellow judges Simon Fraser (comics artist for Doctor Who and Judge Dredd) and Merrill Kaplan (Associate Professor of Folklore and Scandinavian Studies at Ohio State University) for the time they spent considering the entries and for their thoughtful comments on the works created by these talenting young people. This contest would not be possible without their participation.

Congratulations to our winner! The assignment was to create a piece that related to an excerpt from the Old Norse poem Sigrdrífumál ("Sayings of Sigrdrifa") from the Poetic Edda, the great collection of mythological and heroic poems from medieval Iceland.

At this point in the poem, the dragonslayer Sigurð has just woken the Valkyrie Sigrdrífa (who may or may not be the heroine Brynhild under another name). She had been mystically put to sleep by the god Odin as punishment for vanquishing his chosen hero in battle.

As she wakes, the Valkyrie sings a beautiful song of celebration. In the classic 1923 translation by Henry Adams Bellows, she sings:

Hail, day! Hail, sons of day!
And night and her daughter now!
Look on us here with loving eyes,
That waiting we victory win.

Hail to the gods! Ye goddesses, hail,
And all the generous earth!
Give to us wisdom and goodly speech,
And healing hands, life-long.

Congratulations to the five featured artists! These were our favorites in a very competitive division. We hope to see more art from all of these artists in the Midwinter Art Contest later this year.

Note: You can click on the art to see larger versions.

Eric Matzner
Age 20
Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada

Eric writes, "I chose to illustrate the mood that the excerpt conveyed to me. When I read this passage, I imagined an invigorated Valkyrie jumping up to greet the sun after a lengthy slumber. To keep in touch with the Norse and midsummer themes, the painting is located atop a rocky knoll in the high north, the line of suns to show the progression of the arctic sun on the longest day of the year."

At age nineteen, Eric won first place in the Midsummer 2014 contest. At age twenty, he now wins first place in the adult division. Like last year, Eric was voted first by unanimous agreement of all three judges. I love Eric's work, and I think this painting has a mystical feeling that evokes the dreamlike landscapes of Salvador Dalí. It's fantastic in every sense of the word.

Simon says, "This feels truly Norse. Maybe it's the use of color. It also has a mythic, iconic quality that feels very right to me."

Merrill comments, "The midsummer sun dipping low and the lovely curve of lakes echoing its arc: it’s such a strong composition. The color scheme, too, reverses the yellow sun on blue in the blue lakes on a golden plain. The visual harmony of binary elements captures exactly the excerpt Karl presented to us. Any viewer sees a joyful greeting of night and day and the bountiful earth, even one who’d never read the poem."

First Place: Eric Matzner

Levi Simpson
Age 34
Sedro-Woolley, Washington, USA

Levi calls this piece Sigrdrífa Sings in Summer. He writes, "I settled on a simple idea. I wanted to capture a moment of Sigrdrífa singing her poem, happy to be awake and looking up at a sun-filled summer sky. I tried to illustrate this image with the idea that perhaps it was discovered during an archaeological dig, painted on a wall and well-preserved, with light just hitting it for the first time in a long time."

Levi won first place in the Midwinter 2014 contest with a strikingly beautiful image of Frau Holle and the Yule Goat. His entry this time around is equally impressive and again demonstrates his unique artistic vision.

Simon comments, "This has a bold, graphic quality that immediately makes it stand out. The drawing is also very good."

Merrill writes, "It’s the strong graphic quality of this piece that captures me visually. Thematically, the bird motif on the helmet echoes the feathers in the foreground. Are they part of a cloak? A physical wing? The ambiguity is appropriate to the material, as Valkyries overlap with shape-changing swan maidens, and shape-changing is often figured as the donning and doffing of a hamr or skin/cloak. But instead of a swan, I see a bird of prey, which is appropriate to Sigrdrífa’s associations with battle. The conceit that we’re seeing an ancient painting, newly brought to light, is lovely. Both the painting and its subject are seeing the sun for the first time in many ages; the idea is really quite moving."

Second Place (Tie): Levi Simpson

Emma Häthén
Age 26
Karlshamn, Sweden

Emma writes, "My piece is an illustration of Brynhild/Sigrdrífa waking up from her magical sleep. I wanted to focus on the human act of waking and her joy. The glow and the sign is the touch of magic and power within her that reveals her as a Valkyrie."

I simply love this piece. Emma really captures a young woman's joy in the simple act of waking up from a long sleep, and she simultaneously imbues the moment with spiritual power. The depth of emotion and meaning is striking, as is Emma's talent as an artist.

Simon comments, "This is the most engaging and human of all of the images."

Merrill writes,
Emma does catch the spontaneous human moment. Sigurð is not really part of Sigrdrífa’s experience here. Maybe she’ll notice him in a second, but right now it’s all about her feeling life again. She’s unselfconscious and invigorated, feeling her body from the inside before she knows someone is looking at her and perhaps evaluating whether or not she’s attractive to him. The viewer, too, feels what she feels instead of assessing her female charms. Western art history doesn’t give us so many moments like that. 
Meanwhile, the sign hovers midway between representation (dragon? serpent?) and symbolic meaning (power!). It’s behind her, like her life as a valkyrie, but it illuminates her still. Emma’s style reminds me a little of Jeff Smith’s Bone and the affection with which he renders Thorn.
Second Place (Tie): Emma Häthén

Genevieve Terry
Age 33
Fallbrook, California, USA

Genevieve's piece is titled Hail the Day. She writes,
As someone with synesthesia (I "see" emotions, sounds as shapes, colors, textures, and movements in my mind's eye), the art I typically create tends to focus on representations of my mental "pictures" of emotional feelings and the senses. When I read the poem, especially Sigrdrífa's song, I saw an image in my mind that was one of hope and overcoming "the dark" (i.e., death, endings, static states). I associated this with reds/yellow/oranges, and blue/purple/black, and with sweeping wave-like movements (light) and spiky, pitted textures (darkness). To translate the movement and textures of the picture in my head into a visual medium, I used plaster on the canvas. I then used acrylic paint for the colors.

As midsummer is the longest day of the year, it is a day that is one to focus on and celebrate passion, growth, hope for the future, and action. This attitude and message is an important part of Sigrdrífa's song, and it made a picture in my mind of the brightness overcoming the darkness. Sigrdrífa emerges from the cave (darkness) into the sun (light); not cursing the darkness, but rather recognizing that both are different yet worthy of praise as parts of the great cycle of life, and that right now, it is time for life and progress. Without the darkness (death, "cave") we would take the sun (progress, "day"/sun) for granted.
Even when viewed on a computer screen, Genevieve's painting has a physical depth that draws the viewer into its world. What a wonderful work!

Simon writes, "I appreciate the painterly use of texture."

Merrill comments, "I love a good impasto! The obvious physical texture of this piece makes me wish I could see it in person. Together with the vibrant colors, Genevieve really communicates her synæsthetic experience to viewers who don’t experience the world as richly. That purple makes me want to go buy more art supplies."

Thank you to all the kids, teens and adults who entered this summer. We really enjoyed everyone's work. See you in November for the Midwinter Art Contest!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

ART CONTEST – Teen Winners, Midsummer 2015

What happened to the teenagers this summer? The teen division of this year's Midsummer Art Contest did not have the depth and quality of entries that it has had in past midsummer and midwinter competitions. I almost didn't publish a post of teen winners at all, but one piece was so strong in the eyes of all three judges that we had to feature it. We salute Nordhild for her fantastic work, and we hope that her excellence will serve as a challenge to other teen artists around the world to put down their iPhones and create some quality art.

I'd like to thank my fellow judges Simon Fraser (comics artist for Doctor Who and Judge Dredd) and Merrill Kaplan (Associate Professor of Folklore and Scandinavian Studies at Ohio State University) for the time they spent considering the entries and for their thoughtful comments on the works created by these talenting young people. This contest would not be possible without their participation.

Congratulations to our winner! The assignment was to create a piece that related to an excerpt from the Old Norse poem Sigrdrífumál ("Sayings of Sigrdrifa") from the Poetic Edda, the great collection of mythological and heroic poems from medieval Iceland.

At this point in the poem, the dragonslayer Sigurð has just woken the Valkyrie Sigrdrífa (who may or may not be the heroine Brynhild under another name). She had been mystically put to sleep by the god Odin as punishment for vanquishing his chosen hero in battle.

As she wakes, the Valkyrie sings a beautiful song of celebration. In the classic 1923 translation by Henry Adams Bellows, she sings:

Hail, day! Hail, sons of day!
And night and her daughter now!
Look on us here with loving eyes,
That waiting we victory win.

Hail to the gods! Ye goddesses, hail,
And all the generous earth!
Give to us wisdom and goodly speech,
And healing hands, life-long.

Nordhild shows how emotional and intellectual engagement with Norse mythology can lead to the creation of powerful works of art. I hope to see more teen entries at this level of quality in the Midwinter 2015 contest!

Note: You can click on the art to see a larger version.

Nordhild Siglinde Wetzler
Age 16
Lemnhult, Sweden

Nordhild wrote this about her entry:
I chose to paint the emotion of the song and scene. I've known this story since I was a little girl, and the feeling I always had when Sigrdrífa/Brynhild awakens was that of joy.

I think that even though she was asleep, she still felt the long passing of time. So, when Sigurð finally comes for her, she not only wakes up but comes back to life. She greets the day and the night because she is so happy to be alive again that she will face whatever challenges life may have to offer.

Since she has been sleeping alone for so long, I picture it as if the wilderness has begun to creep back in. Vines grow over her body and her bed is made of moss. When she awakens, she regains her strength and tears herself free from her bonds. I wanted my painting to show the joy of life.
Nordhild won second place in both the Midwinter 2013 and Midsummer 2014 art contests. Her art always shows a deep connection to the spirit of the mythology. I look forward to seeing more of her wonderful work in the future!

Simon writes, "This is actually really good! Beautifully drawn and conceived. This might be my favorite piece of all of them [in the three age divisions]. To be this good at sixteen is impressive."

Merrill says, "Flame-haired Sigrdrífa! Sometimes one tires of blonde valkyries, which seem to be the modern standard. In the nineteenth century, Brynhild often got dark hair to contrast with blonde Guðrún, and to mark her as dark and thus evil. Ugh. (Disclosure: Yes, I am dark haired.) This red is original, full of energy, and a great echo of the flames. I like the idea of nature having crept into the tower while she slept. It’s a great way to signify the passage of time without mixing in ideas of decay. Who knows? Maybe the deep canyon before her was not so deep when she’d first lain down. The shape of it suggests that it was cut by water rather than glaciers."

First Place: Nordhild Siglinde Wetzler

Adult winners will be announced tomorrow!
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