|Red Horse Hill on the Runelight cover|
JH – Of course, and my fiction in no way pretends to cast any light on their nature. Rather, what I’m trying to do is ask questions about the changing nature of belief, the way our perception of the Divine changes to suit our changing society, and to ask the question why we need those gods in the first place.
KS – Your characterization of Sleipnir is fascinating. He’s the carving on Red Horse Hill come to life, and you explain his eight legs by saying that he “has a foot in each World except in Pan-daemonium.” You describe him like this:
This seems a spot-on description of the Valkyrie welcoming Sleipnir on the Tjängvide
stone, down to the red color. Elsewhere in Runelight, Sleipnir
appears as “a regular horse – a strawberry roan with a long black mane.” Throughout the books, you make a distinction between the physical appearance of
the gods (and associated characters) and their true Aspects – how they manifest
in more purely spiritual forms. This ties in with a discussion in modern
heathenry that asks whether the gods are physical beings or disembodied Powers,
whether they are actual or metaphorical. Would you explain your concept of
Aspect? Aside from its use as it a plot device, how do you think this idea
relates to modes of religious belief, both ancient and contemporary?
It looked like some madman’s dream of a horse. The body’s proportions were almost right; but the legs – all eight of them, no less – were grotesquely long and thin, like the legs on a midsummer crane fly, digging so far into the ground that they might have been the roots of trees and reaching so far above her that Maddy had to tilt her head back to see the creature standing over her, its colours like St. Sepulchre’s Fire, obliterating half the sky.
|Valkyrie & Sleipnir on the Tjängvide image stone|
JH – I think it relates to both. In Runemarks, the gods have mostly lost their divinity as new beliefs took over. Of course, this is the way the Edda depicts the gods – as warlords pretending they were gods in a world where Christianity was gaining popularity. But in Runelight, the gods rebuild Asgard and re-acquire their godlike Aspects. This could be seen as a metaphor, if you like, of the way paganism has grown over the last few decades.
The idea of Aspect gives room to believe in either the physical or the metaphorical, as we choose. It suggests that – although our perceptions of the Divine may differ radically from one another – we all see some version of the truth and take from it whatever we can.
|1882 Carl Emil Doepler illustration of Odin enthroned with|
spear (Gungnir), ravens (Hugin & Munin) & wolves (Geri & Freki)
JH – I’ve always been interested in mythology and religion. You might see it as a lifetime’s study, which is what I mean when I say I don’t do much research. I’ve been reading about the Norse myths since I was seven years old, and I guess it was inevitable that a lot of what I’d read would find its way into the story on some level.
However, while I was writing Runemarks, I started to teach myself Old Icelandic, which I found unexpectedly rewarding, both in terms of reading texts in the original – and arguing about translation! – and in terms of the insight that learning a language gives you about the priorities and preoccupations of a culture. Some of this also found its way into the books; I’m not sure how much. I allow the ideas that interest me to enter the story through intellectual osmosis rather than any kind of formal planning.
|Wotan (Odin) & Loge (Loki) in a 1910 Arthur Rackham|
painting illustrating Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen
JH – No, this is always how I’ve envisaged Loki. As a child, I wrote a great deal about him and did a great number of drawings. Looking back at some of them now, it’s clear that my early pictures and descriptions of Loki are very similar to the way I describe him in Runemarks. I only discovered Rackham later, when I developed a passion for the Pre-Raphaelites and their artistic descendants. For a long time, my only visual point of reference for Loki and the Norse gods was a book by H.A. Guerber called The Myths of the Norsemen, which contains a number of illustrations. Like a child watching a bad movie based on a favorite story, I felt that the gods were not portrayed at all as I imagined them.
KS – In Runemarks, Loki gives Sugar a
common pebble marked with runes that “make a sigil that was unmistakably
Loki’s” – a plot device similar to one M.D. Lachlan’s Loki uses in Wolfsangel. In Runelight, Thor’s hammer appears as a sort of wisecracking midget,
a bit like the talking hammer in Iceland’s Legends
of Valhalla animated film. Your works predate both of these others, and I’m
not saying there’s any cross-pollination here; similar source material often
leads to independent arrival at similar ends. I’m just curious about your
relationship to contemporary fantasy, whether in literature or film. Do you
keep up with the latest releases? Do you follow modern fantasy or steer clear
|Thor & his talking hammer in Legends of Valhalla: Thor|
The horror! The horror!
|Thor's actually pretty awesome in the Dungeons & Dragons|
Deities & Demigods manual. Check out his hit points!
|Thor's hammer Mjölnir on the Runelight cover|
|Loki figure by Wendy Froud|
|Joanne Harris wanders on ancient paths|
Photograph by Jennifer Robertson
JH – I’d love to see what people make of my books, regardless of the medium. I’ve seen a great deal of fan art and fan fiction, much of it very imaginative. It just goes to show what affection there is for these characters. Of course I would like to see a film, as long as I could choose the director. I’d love to work with Guillermo del Toro, for instance, and if anyone ever felt like developing Asgard! The Musical, I’d be their friend for life.
KS – Many, many months (and sixteen single-spaced pages of notes) after I first asked you for an interview, that’s finally the end of my questions! There’s definitely a depth of concept in your work, and I feel we’ve only scratched the surface here. Thank you for your patience and willingness to dig into these matters.
JH – Well, thank you for your very interesting questions. I don’t think I’ve spoken as much to anyone on the subject of my personal beliefs, or spent quite so long on a single interview. But I really enjoyed it. I hope you find it useful.