|Joanne Harris travels through the Nine Worlds|
I’ve always wondered about the localization of Big Important Mystical Events. Gods with the power to shape existence and travel throughout the universe only seem to appear to very small groups of people in very specific locales. Yahweh never holidays in Alaska; Njord doesn’t seem to notice that there are some really nice beaches in California. How do you imagine the inhabitants of your world reacting to the fact that the disagreements of a bunch of Anglo-Saxon godly types bring all of existence to the edge of destruction? In the world of Runemarks, do other lands have gods as physically real as Odin and Loki? If so, are these other gods secretly observing the battles between the Northerners?
|Tlaloc, Aztec god of thunder (& etc)|
Of course, in the Rune books, the concept of “world” is limited to the world we know. This has been true throughout history, and religions – which tend to adapt to local conditions – reflect this pattern too. That’s why Jesus is traditionally shown as very Anglo-Saxon-looking in Europe and America, and the Nativity is most often depicted under snow.
|Little blond baby Jesus in the snow|
I’ve also touched on the idea that gods might appear in different aspects to suit the time and place. Therefore the god of thunder, for instance, might have multiple personae – appearing as Thor in one place, or Tlaloc in another, or Jupiter – to suit the current perception of what a thunder god should be. Even the figure of Jesus, I would argue, has borrowed a number of aspects from previous religions, from Osiris to Mithras – all of them aspects of the same archetypical figure sacrificed at Easter and later reborn into godhood.
|My Little Pony wielding the flaming sword of Surt|
Awesome painting of Rainbow Dash by ColinMLP
The sky’s bird struck fire
made a flame flare up.
The north wind burnt the clearing
the north-east quite consumed it:
it burnt all the trees to ash
reduced them to dust.
Skadi is listed as “of the Ice People” in your character list, not specifically as a giant. Why did you choose to leave the big fellas out of the story?
JH – The word most often translated as “giant” in Old Icelandic is open to a number of other interpretations, including “demon.” That started me thinking about the relationships between gods and giants/demons, and how little we hear about the actual physical size of these “giants.”
|Thor, Loki & Thjalfi emerge from the glove of the giant Skrymir|
I came to the conclusion, then, that the word “giant,” like the word “god,” might be metaphorical – closer to the concept of “hero” or “superhuman.” We do, after all, refer to “literary giants” and “gods and goddesses of the screen.” Because of that, I wanted to use a word that didn’t necessarily convey monstrous size in every case, reserving the word “giant” for the actual “big fellas.”
KS – When in Aspect (her mystical appearance), Maddy’s hair is “loose instead of being sensibly braided, and in the place of her usual clothes she now wore a belted chain mail tunic of what she judged to be immodest length.” This reads like a description of 19th-century artistic depictions of Valkyries. For novels that center around some very powerful female characters (and butt-kicking teenage girls), the Valkyries are notable by their absence. Why did you choose not to use these mystic warrior-women in your books?
JH – I was never entirely taken by the image of the Valkyries. They always
seemed to me tainted by those 19th-century depictions – more the
manifestations of some teenager’s wet-dream than actual symbols of female
empowerment. They exist en masse, with no characterization or
real means of telling them apart – like the chorus of We Will Rock You, rewritten by Wagner after a particularly
dissolute Oktoberfest. I didn’t know what to do with them or how they would
contribute to my story. And so I chose to leave them out altogether,
concentrating instead on re-inventing the (somewhat male-dominated) Norse
pantheon to include some kickass female characters.
|Norwegian painter Peter Nicolai Arbo's 1869|
Valkyrie shows a bit of leg for the lads
KS – At the beginning of Runemarks, Maddy is fourteen years old – the age you were when you first began imagining new tales of the Norse gods and the age your daughter was when you finished the novel. You’ve described Maddy as “a mixture of myself at fourteen and of my daughter as she is now. In fact, we’re pretty similar personalities.” How do you think things have changed for strong-minded young women from your generation to hers? Is there a difference in the way today’s real-life Pippi Longstockings interact with peers and adults?
|Pippi Longstocking, matinee idol|
In the Seventies, we felt that feminism was on the rise. We felt that women were coming of age; we were optimistic. Now, I think that feminism has lost its way. So many girls nowadays seem to think that laddishness is “empowering,” rather than just childish. So many of them seem to think that marrying a footballer, or becoming a reality TV star, or getting a boob job and becoming a pole dancer, or just winning the Lottery counts as “living the dream.” I remember when dreams were better than this.
|Maddy on the cover of "The Secret Words,"|
the Italian edition of Runemarks