|M. D. Lachlan (a.k.a. Mark Barrowcliffe)|
|Featherstone's Skirmish Wargaming|
The shield wall, for instance, is something I was very familiar with. What I didn’t know was what it was like to be in one. For this reason, I used research material from battle reenactors. I think they have a lot of valuable stuff, because they try to recreate the fighting styles and lives of the Vikings and therefore encounter similar problems and emerge, you would presume, with similar – or at least plausible – solutions.
|Reenactors who haven't quite mastered the shield wall|
|On the deck of the recreated Viking ship Íslendingur (built 1996)|
|Robert E. Howard's room in Cross Plains, Texas|
ML - I think you’re right. I’m always wary of sounding like a lunatic in interviews on this subject. I don’t think the creative impulse comes from outside but that’s certainly how it feels. This is why I have difficulty answering some of your questions where you ask exactly where certain things originated and I feel almost that the best reply I can give is, "Er, somewhere."
|Hesiod Listening to the Inspirations of the Muse by Aman-Jean (circa 1890)|
KS - You write that "Authun was a Volsung, a direct descendant of the gods and was a vessel for their powers," but that the "battle-fond poet [Odin] felt threatened by his fierce descendant and had cursed Authun to sire only female children. He could not risk him producing an even mightier son." This is the exact opposite of the relationship between Odin/Wotan and the Volsung family in Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelungen, in which the god manipulates events specifically to create the mightiest human warrior possible. In Norse myth, Odin wants to gather the greatest human warriors to build his army for the final battle with the forces of chaos at Ragnarök. Why did you decide to flip this relationship between Odin and his descendants on its head?
ML - Again, I can’t claim premeditation. It just seemed right, seemed to fit with the feel of Norse mythology and of my story. To talk of "decision" in creative writing misses the essential nature of the process. I did not decide. I just wrote it. The decision, I suppose, came in the editing, when I decided to leave those words in. You’re right, though – the sentiment seems more Roman or Greek than Viking. I suppose it does tie in with Odin’s treacherous nature, however, and partly explains it.
|The Binding of Fenris by Dorothy Hardy (circa 1909)|
ML - It’s possible. Fenris gets treated pretty badly. He hasn’t actually bitten anyone by the time he gets tied up and seems quite a civil sort of wolf. I tend to do that by instinct, to look at things backwards. As I say, I don’t really deal in heroes or villains – at least not in this story. It’s just a matter of seeing the various interests of the competing characters. The gods want to live, they’ve restrained Fenrir because of that. That doesn’t make them evil, it makes them pragmatic. The wolf wants to kill them. Again, that doesn’t make him evil – it’s an understandable reaction to being tricked and trapped. It’s possible to have a story where everyone is acting correctly according to their morals and for them still to be in opposition with each other.
|The Wild Hunt / Furious Host by Emil Doepler (1905)|
ML - My Odin is just one aspect of the mythic Odin, but my interpretation is justified by looking at his names. Bale-worker, Gallows-burden, Raven-friend, Ghost King (not sure about the translation on that one), Frenzied One, Deceiver, Lord of the Hanged, Ruler of Treachery, Slain God. I wouldn’t call him negative. I’d say that he is unguessable, alien, godly, mystic and inhuman. One of the central horrors of Wolfsangel is that the characters are trapped in the schemes of a god whose mind is too alien for them to grasp.
I wanted a god that was appropriate to my idea of magic – something won by great privation and self-sacrifice and also something that is very dangerous for the practitioner. This comes from a variety of sources but primarily from Odin’s sacrifice of his eye at Mimir’s well and his hanging on the tree. It’s a matter of feel, really, and my Odin felt right both in respect to the myths, to the names he’s given in the sagas and the Edda, and to what we know of some of his actions. I’m not pretending to offer a mythologically-complete version of Odin, just a dramatic and plausible interpretation. And he’s certainly more true to the myth than the Thor film version – a peace-loving patriarch!
|Tollund Man - possibly sacrificed in a bog (circa 300 BCE)|
KS - At one point in the novel, the character Vali decides that "one day he would drink Odin’s blood, tear that god down and make him pay for his corpse lust." Although Norse myth has many instances of Odin’s ambivalence and untrustworthiness, he is also the chief god in the Eddas, provides the gnomic wisdom of Hávamál ("Sayings of the High One"), brings life to humanity, and gives wisdom, poetry, runes, and so on. Doesn’t this use of Odin as villain forward the contemporary fantasy trope of focusing on auxiliary characters as protagonists and questioning central figures? Prominent examples of this trend include John Gardner’s Grendel (1971), Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (1983) and Gregory McGuire’s Wicked (1995). There is a real postmodern delight in taking the side of the underdog or villain of the piece. Is Western society so jaded that we can’t get any pleasure from C. C. Beck’s Captain Marvel, but must always insist on Frank Miller’s Dark Knight? Are we in such a dark place as a culture?
|The Dark Knight and the Big Red Cheese|
However, that’s as far as it goes. I think there is a definite value system in Wolfsangel which is modern but not postmodern. It’s certainly not Viking, though the characters themselves display Viking ways of thinking – with the exception of Vali who is characterized as a very progressive individual. Wolfsangel is not relativist. It upholds the values of humanity and almost of the mundane. It champions ordinariness against heroic action while – in a way that is either postmodern, ironic or hypocritical, depending on your view – centering the narrative almost exclusively on heroic action.
Vali wants to be a farmer, not a hero; Feileg wants to be a man, not a half-wolf. The gods are not the central focus in Wolfsangel – the people are. It’s a human story and the humans in it are, on the whole, flawed but decent people.
|Nicholas Cage in The Wicker Man (2006)|
Odin is not a villain. He is the enemy of one of the central characters, true, but I don’t think that equates quite to "villain." And remember that Odin is in the story in many forms, and, like every other character in it, he’s seeking primarily to protect himself or what he holds dear.
|Spider-Man, God of Thunder|
|Bradley's The Mists of Avalon|