|M. D. Lachlan (a.k.a. Mark Barrowcliffe)|
ML - Félagi or Félagr are names meaning "fellow" and it’s an adoption of those – as I generally prefer to avoid accents whenever I can. I thought there was a source for it in one of the sagas but, like you, I can find no trace of it now, which is annoying. Again, I go back to the academic/creative writer thing. I don’t have to do a glossary so I don’t keep track of my references.
|Unfortunately for the monks, Lindisfarne Castle wasn't there in Viking times|
ML - It is modeled on Lindisfarne. I couldn’t find out if the Vikings actually used the name "Saxons," so I settled on West Men as a generic term. I found it very difficult to establish exactly what the monastery would have looked like at this period – the people at the Lindisfarne museum didn’t really know, so I had to base my description on other, contemporary descriptions of monasteries. It’s not meant to be Lindisfarne exactly because it’s a flatter island, and it’s made clear (I think) that raids are already underway.
|Berserker chess piece found in Scotland (from circa 1150)|
ML - I don’t find him villainous. I find him a bit stupid but he has a strong moral code and is prepared to die by the laws he lives by. He’s not a coward and, though he likes a scrap, there’s nothing other than his opposition to Vali that qualifies him as villainous. He’s an antagonist, but is that the same as a villain? He kills some slaves they can’t fit on a boat, he picks unnecessary fights, but he’s bound by his oaths and he seeks fame and glory. I rather liked him! He gives respect to Vali when he proves himself in battle, he’s brave and applies the same standards to himself as he does to others. I took the name because I liked it and it had a good association with Beowulf which gave me a solid impression of what he looked like while I was writing the book. He is modeled on contemporary accounts of berserkers and freebooters who would use holmgang law – the right to decide disputes by combat – in order to steal whole farms from people.
|Maybe Freya - Viking pendant|
from Tissø, Denmark
Aside from Odin and Loki, however, the Norse gods don’t appear in your book. They are mentioned by the human characters, but it isn’t clear that – in the universe of your novel – they actually exist. Do they, or are Loki and Odin the only "real" gods in your fictional world? You give one of the meanings of the Wolfsangel symbol as "thunderbolt." Does this mean that Thor will be appearing in a later novel?
|Maybe Thor's goats - another find from Tissø, Denmark|
KS - The absence of other gods in Wolfsangel gives "the endless battle between the wolf, Odin, and Loki" a flavor that, again, seems to fit more into a Judeo-Christian worldview than a polytheistic one. Odin and Loki’s battle – and the position of the werewolf between the two mystic forces – feels like the struggle between the Christian God and Satan, with Jesus as the character given physical, earthly form. Why did you decide on this somewhat Manichean view of Good (Loki, friend to mankind) and Evil (Odin, bringer of death) instead of a more ambivalent, polytheistic setting?
|Maybe Odin with Raven Helmet|
(also from Tissø)
I do accept that I’ve cut the number of gods who appear in Wolfsangel and, in that sense, you could see a Judeo-Christian style opposition in the story. This was for dramatic reasons. The focus is the human characters. I just didn’t want to start cramming lots of other gods in as they would be distracting.– although Freya is in the original WWII version.
|Freya by James Doyle Penrose (circa 1890)|
When you describe the piles of treasure in Gullveig’s horde, you write: "Jewels were called the tears of Freya, after the goddess who was said to weep them. He had thought it just a story for winter. But now he saw that tears and precious things have their fates tightly bound." This is a very interesting idea; it explains the kenning for gold ("Freya’s weeping") by connecting wealth to misery. I don’t think it spoils your book’s plot to say that Gullveig is not actually Freya. Did you give her this name to deepen the mystery surrounding the character, or are you putting forward the idea that Freya is merely a reflection of Odin – a sort of valkyrie messenger or “wish maiden”? How does this fit in with your use (or not) of the Norse pantheon?
|Gullveig's Execution by Anker Eli Petersen (2003)|
In that version she was an incarnation of Freya and when the Nazis summon her, they get a lot more than they bargained for because of her insatiable appetite for gold. There was a really fun scene where the chief Nazi psycho contradicts her and finds himself unable to speak any more. The Nazis don’t realize she’s appeared in their midst – they only know that one of their officer’s wives is showing uncanny powers of prophecy. When they try to control her, a rising panic goes through their ranks as they find out that Norse goddesses are not so easily controlled and, in fact, are a whole lot more used to controlling.
When I rewrote the book, I kept the name but not the correspondence. I didn’t actually see who Gullveig really was until about half way through the book. It came as a surprise to me. The description of the necklace is inspired by the Brisingamen necklace that belonged to Freya. In the original Wolfsangel, it’s described as "burning with all the colors of a city on fire."
|Egill Skallagrímsson raises níðstöng|
("scorn-pole") by Gustav Vigeland
Feileg and Kveld Ulf, like the berserkers in the novel, drink mushroom potions and hallucinate. They put on wolf skins and prey on hapless travelers, like Sigmund and Sinfjötli in the Völsunga Saga. You have said that many of the tropes of the werewolf – full moon, silver bullets, etc. – are really Hollywood creations of the 20th century, and that "my wolf is closer to the wolf of the Norse myth." However, Vali’s first "transformation" occurs under "a huge full moon." Aren’t the werewolves of Norse legend really metaphorical or psychological? When it comes down to it, aren’t your men in wolf skins more like saga werewolves and the mystical monster of your book more a creature of the modern horror genre?
|Full moon and northern lights in Norway|
But yes, the men in wolfskins are more akin to saga werewolves than the mystical monster. My Kveld Ulf may not be a true werewolf, but he does a good impression. He’s mistaken for a wolf by Feileg when he first sees him. I would say the monster is nearer to other mythic traditions – Greek and Roman, where the werewolf does not get to change back – than it is to modern horror. However, there’s undoubtedly the influence of modern horror there, it’s just not swallowed hook, line and sinker.
In fact, if there’s an inspiration for the mystical werewolf in Wolfsangel, it’s Kafka’s Metamorphosis. What level of horror can love survive? How much must someone change before they’re no longer really them? Kafka asks those questions and provides his answers. I came to the same conclusions.
|8th-century Irish crucifix|
ML - Clearly there’s an awful lot relevant for contemporary life with Christianity – at least in the USA, where it has a firm cultural hold. One of the things that’s always amazed me about American friends is how atheism seems to be a statement of some sort for them. In the UK it’s the default position – I knew no one who went to church until I met my wife and you never hear politicians thanking God the same way you do in the US. You’ll notice Blair – a religious man – just said "we don’t discuss that" when asked about God during his time in office. He feared his faith would lose him votes. It’s a surprise in the UK to meet people who are religious, and – particularly in metropolitan, educated circles – it comes as a shock if you discover one of your friends is. It’s also something that’s more likely to hamper you at work than get you on. I can’t think of many corporate types who would happily admit to being churchgoers. You’d be seen as a little weird. I don’t share that view myself, or I wouldn’t have married a Christian, but I mention it as it’s a key cultural difference between the US and the UK.
|Thor with iPod by Marko Djurdjevic|
The Norse myths have great relevance for anyone who cares to read them. In particular, Hávamál – the Ballad of the High One – contains very good advice on everything from how to get on with people at a dinner to the transitory value of worldly goods. Some of the advice is inappropriate to our modern society, but some of it is timeless.
Both myths, of course, contain the destruction of the world as a certainty. That is irrelevant for modern life – our future is in our hands.
|Drekkingarhylur (Drowning Pool) in Þingvellir|
Do you know how to carve, do you know how to interpret,On the neopagan side, Disa has her hair braided "at the back in three tight knots," which you describe as "the hanging knots of the dead lord’s necklace – symbol of Odin." Elsewhere, you call this symbolic shape "the three tight interlocking triangles – the dead lord’s necklace, sign of the god Odin, the berserk, the hanged, the drowned, the wise and the mad, the god to whom she had dedicated her life." This seems to reference Alby Stone’s idea of connecting the ancient (but mysterious) symbol to both the hangman’s noose and to ancient hairstyles. Did you research neo-pagan beliefs while writing the novel? Did you attend rituals or correspond with any contemporary practitioners?
Do you know how to stain, do you know how to test out,
Do you know how to ask, do you know how to sacrifice,
Do you know how to dispatch, do you know how to slaughter?
|So-called "Valknut" on 9th-century carving from Lärbro, Sweden|
I’m aware the bog sacrifices show a combination of hanging, stabbing and drowning, and Wolfsangel contains an explanation of why that might have been. The sorcerer goes to the bog (in Wolfsangel it’s called a "mire"; "bog" is British slang for "toilet") to contact the other world. He may be possessed by dark forces and so his friends wait to kill him, if he is. This is, clearly, a step too far in interpretation for any historian to make. However, I’m not a historian so I can use the ancient religious practice as a jumping off point for my imagination.
KS - Describing your version of seid (simply put, “sorcery” or “magic”), you have said that "it is basically the magic system that operates in the real world. When I say that, that doesn’t mean I believe in real-world magic, but this is what people attempt when they attempt magic in the real world. Christian ascetics – i.e., people who go to the desert for thirty days, thirty nights or longer, live in the desert, starving – Indian yogis, American Indian holy men, particularly shamen from all cultures suffer in order to invoke magical visions or magical consciousness inside themselves." Your portrayal of a "magic of suffering" in Wolfsangel feels right; it emotionally resonates as an elaboration of the rituals hinted at in Norse myth and saga. Were these scenes in the novel based on any personal experience with, say, meditation or hallucinogens? Were they based on research that you’ve done, or did you imaginatively follow the implications of seid as it is described in the Old Norse texts?
|norsemyth.org does not endorse drug use.|
Poster by R. Crumb (1971)
The reason I stopped taking mushrooms was that I genuinely feared being tipped over the edge into madness. That significant downside of the experience is in Wolfsangel, too.
The descriptions are equally influenced by the experience of being extremely tired, working late or – as a kid – doing all night wargames. Time becomes elastic, minutes stretching to hours but suddenly snapping back when you realize it’s becoming light.
There are descriptions of Norse vala – female magic practitioners – sitting on high chairs to conduct their ceremonies. It occurred to me that this might be because it’s very difficult to sleep on a high chair, and that went into my description of the ceremony Disa conducts. There’s no historical reason to think this was the case, but I thought it an interesting idea.