Demon Tamer

N E W   R E L E A S E !

Sometimes, stories become books, or books become stories. So it happened with this new novelette. I took an excerpt from The Wolf Lords, lovingly repainted it to cast it into its own thing, and voila! A tale about a hedge witch, two dodgy ravens and a sea monster with a score to settle.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Old women tell tales of Otherworld beings one must never tangle with. Powerful, elusive and malevolent, these beings will lay traps around one’s ignorance and need, if given the chance. But once in an age, a mortal comes along who dares to either cross or bargain with such creatures…and a darker tale is born.

Ingifrith, an ordinary hedge witch, thinks little of such tales until she falls afoul of the Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. They know her secrets. They know her weaknesses. And she has something they want.

So does the sea witch who lures and traps her into a nasty bargain—in return for protection from the Brotherhood’s reach. Fleeing for her life with nothing but a scrap of advice given to her by a demon warlord, Ingifrith must use her wits to trick a seasoned pirate out of a stolen charm, a feat that will either get her killed or placed in the hands of the sorcerers hunting her.

It’s always a good idea to heed old women.

Novelette
Pages: 43
Add to Goodreads

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iTunes
Kobo
Smashwords

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Weighing In: LGBTQ Characters in Fantasy

I grew up in the 70s in Houston, Texas, in a relatively old neighborhood near Rice University. Across the street lived a couple named Bob and John. My mother once told me they were married. Looking back, I’ve realized that couldn’t have been true in a legal sense, but at the time I didn’t question it. Bob was a radiologist and John was an animal trainer. Their house was decorated in rich colors and full of antiques and interesting artifacts. They had an old cat, a pair of ferrets and a cockatiel, and their tiny backyard was a jungle of exotic plants. When they went on vacation, I had the honor of taking care of their plants and critters; and when we went away, Bob and John returned the favor. They were awesome and I loved them.

I ate, drank and slept fantasy novels as a kid. It was sanity; it was identity. My first experience of LGBTQ in the genre was Elizabeth A. Lynn’s Chronicles of Tornor. Many of the characters were LGBTQ, and I liked how it was presented, as a matter of fact. Like Bob and John. A big deal wasn’t made of it one way or the other.

Eaglin of Ostarin

Eaglin of Ostarin

When I started writing fantasy, I unthinkingly followed suit. I wasn’t purposefully drafting LGBTQ characters or anything. When it comes to writing, I’m one of those whack jobs who needs to take every step in darkness and see where it leads. And as any author will tell you, characters have a life of their own. They are who they are, straight, queer or whatever. I suspect trying to assign or remove identity would no more work than it would on a flesh and blood person.

When characters with LGBTQ inclinations do appear to me, however subtle, casual or intense–mortals, immortals, elves, warriors, prostitutes, spies, whoever–they do so without taboos or religions trying to shut them down. They might be good or evil or somewhere in between, but their sexual preferences aren’t singled out, marginalized or labeled, let alone persecuted. This isn’t to say horrible things don’t happen to them, or that some jerk won’t take a shot there for lack of something better, but that sort of intolerance is not part of the culture. Frankly? There’s enough of that bullshit in this world, and I’m not about to map it into mine beyond the throes of love, lust and heartache that everyone deals with. So you’re a man and you prefer to fuck men? Huzzah for you. Grab a sword, we have incoming.

Anyway, a protagonist will step up now and then. Here are a few mentions.

Water Dark Cover Art“Love knows all paths, where even gods and cats are blind.” – from Water Dark

My first LGTBQ character, so dear to my heart, is named Urien. He belongs to the highest order of the Keepers of the Eye, a hierarchical order of wizards who maintain balance in the world of Ealiron. Among other things, Urien can shapeshift into flora, fauna, earth, or fog, and he can cast an apparition or merge with the minds of gods. For years, he has haunted the fringe after having loved and lost a powerful male wizard on the verge of ascension. But such secrets do not hide well. When he delves into the darker powers at the bidding of a shady priestess with a hidden agenda, Urien finds himself facing the loss of everything he loves.

Fortunately, his erstwhile lover has a secret, too.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“On soft white pads, he slipped unseen into the trees to the singing of blades and the shudder of the earth drinking blood.” – From “Deathseer”

Liros is the protagonist in “Deathseer,” a short story included in the collection Wizards, Woods and Gods. The commander of an occupying force in a foreign land ruled by the presence of a mysterious alien observatory, Liros has the ability to see the hand of Death, a secret he hides for the sake of sanity, as his commanders would stop at nothing to use it to their own ends.

When a terrible dream drives Liros to check on an outpost, his lords send his lover Thorn, an assassin, to accompany him. Liros knows him well enough keep him close. As Liros’s gift betrays him and exposes a devastating breach of honor by his men, he and Thorn must choose between duty and love, both choices involving bloody consequences.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Arcmael handed the charm to the sorcerer. Leofwine studied it intently, his face drawn. After a moment he said, ‘This is old magic. Very old.'” – From Outpost

Leofwine Klemet is seneschal to the High Constable of the King’s Rangers. Knowing that the quiet, watchful man’s duties to their lord involve something more intimate than those of a seneschal, the rangers suspect Leofwine is a spy belonging to a dark and ancient sorcerers’ brotherhood. So does the suspicious, vengeful high constable. After fleeing for his life on the eve of war, Leofwine becomes a friend and ally to a ranger who also gets on the wrong side of the high constable after discovering a plot behind a curtain of sorcery. Here, Leofwine’s arcane knowledge comes in handy–for he is a sorcerer, of course. And a spy. But no one needs to know about that.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“Leofwine breathed a foul string of words, the blood on his body and the void of his lover’s death giving them form, the culmination of spit, roots, hate and tears, eyes that never closed, hunger that was never sated. A sudden gale rose up from the north and whipped the trees into a frenzy.” – From The Wolf Lords

In The Wolf Lords, Leofwine’s full potential is revealed, complete with a host of demons, torments and nasty enemies. An adept sorcerer of the Fenrir Brotherhood, Leofwine has given up espionage and now serves a hall in a remote forest as a protector of their interests. It is a thankless job but for his lover, a prince, and shelter from his enemies, both mortal and immortal.

Fenrir sorcerers tend to have long shadows, and Leofwine is no exception. When his enemies catch up to him (which enemies always do) and reveal a devastating secret involving someone he holds dearer than life, Leofwine goes berserk and summons a demon capable of destroying the entire realm in a maelstrom of blood. This redoubtable act gains Leofwine not only the condemnation of his order but also the title of Wolf Lord, a wry designation used by otherworldly beings such as demonic warlords and sea witches to refer to the servants of Loki.

And this is only the beginning of his troubles.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Chronicles of Ealiron
The Fylking
Wizards, Woods and Gods

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Outpost Goes on an Adventure

It’s that time again! Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, has left the Kindle Unlimited building and ventured out like an ornery cat into the great big world. If you do Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo or Smashwords, you can now get Outpost for only $2.99.

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iTunes
Kobo
Smashwords

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

In a war-torn realm occupied by a race of immortal warlords called the Fylking, trouble can reach cosmic proportions. Using the realm as a backwater outpost from which to fight an ancient war, the Fylking guard an interdimensional portal called the Gate. The Fylking’s enemies, who think nothing of annihilating a world to gain even a small advantage, are bent on destroying it.

After two centuries of peace, the realm is at war. A Gate warden with a tormented past discovers a warlock gathering an army that cannot die. A King’s ranger is snared in a trap that pits him against the Fylking’s enemies. And a knitter discovers an inborn power revered by the gods themselves. Caught in a maelstrom of murder, treachery, sorcery and war, they must rally to protect the Gate against a plot that will violate the balance of cosmos, destroy the Fylking and leave the world in ruins.

The god they serve is as fickle as a crow.

“The tone is excellent, reminiscent of some of the earliest examples of grim Norse fantasy.” – G.R. Matthews, Fantasy Faction

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

The Warrior Within

Othin of Cae Forres

Othin of Cae Forres, Ranger of the North Branch

The primordial image, or archetype, is a figure–be it a daemon, a human being, or a process–that constantly recurs in the course of history and appears wherever creative fantasy is freely expressed. ― Carl Jung

I once kicked a hole in the kitchen wall. This happened some time ago, in another house, another life. I honestly don’t recall what triggered it. I was wearing a pair of Doc Martens, which made the act particularly satisfying. I can still feel the sensation of the wallpaper exploding as the sheetrock caved in.

I left that hole there for some time, like a sacrifice to a war god. Then one day I knelt there, fixed the sheetrock and lovingly pieced a matched swatch of wallpaper over the wound like a mother patching up a scraped knee. There, there. These things happen.

How This IsDon’t get me wrong, this aspect of my personality as gotten me into trouble aplenty. He’s rising to his feet now, yelling, “Yeah only with people who fucking deserved it.” Debatable; however, my inner warrior stepped up like a boss on the battlefield of my childhood, where I took on a legion of thousands-year-old collective beliefs designed to bully women into being safe and predictable. Girls aren’t supposed to kick holes in walls. Keep it under control, don’t threaten the Powers That Be or you’ll be sorry. No talking back. No swearing. No waving swords or apple tree wands. Throw your weight around and we’ll throw you out. Yada yada. At some point I pushed all that noise off the cliff into the sea.

I like my warrior.

Building a Better Battlefield

Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it. ― Lloyd Alexander

There’s this quaint idea that fantasy isn’t real, but only worthy as entertainment or worse, escapism. This is right up there with the idea that dark, extreme music makes people angry or violent ― another garden cart load of crap. As a child, unfortunately, I adopted and then chafed under these ideas because I wanted an escape and I wanted the truth. The whole thing just pissed me off.

In fantasy novels I found my warrior, alive and well and ready to teach me how it’s done. I started out reading books and watching movies, until the forces of an ever hungry and curious psyche drove me into writing. After many years cutting my teeth on worldbuilding, the development of writing skills and the maddening vagaries of the traditional publishing industry, an assassin named Lorth of Ostarin stepped out of my subconscious and into the light. “Would you rather kick holes in walls, or tell my tale?” he inquired. Four books later, Lorth has proven himself to be an exemplary spokesperson for my warrior side.

Lorth of Ostarin

Lorth of Ostarin

Since nothing is complete without music, this tune sums up Lorth nicely:

 

Variations on The Warrior Archetype

The term “warrior” can evoke many images, some of them simplistic; say, a person engaged or experienced in warfare. But there’s nothing simple about this archetype. There are infinite variations. Here are some of my favorites.

The Noble Warrior

Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the sea to the kingdom of Gondor. ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Aragorn

Who doesn’t love this guy? He has legendary ancestors, lofty titles, powerful friends and a destiny. He’s done his time. He plays by the rules. His sword has an elven name you can’t pronounce. The golden standard by which all variations of the warrior archetype are defined, he can send you and your shit packing with a deadpan stare.

A Tolkien votary from a young age, I was properly initiated by Aragorn. But I was so innocent. Like a little hare beneath the gaze of a great horned owl.

The Initiated Warrior

A warrior acts as if he knows what he is doing, when in effect he knows nothing. ― Carlos Castaneda

In ancient Norse traditions there were berserkers and warrior shamans called úlfheðnar (wolf-hides), who underwent brutal, powerful initiations. In the wilds they lived like wolves, to reach a state of possession and thereby acquire the beasts’ strength, fearlessness, and fury.

Ripley vs. The Alien Queen

Initiation rites for warriors are as old as time. But sometimes, a person with a warrior’s soul may not be aware of what she’s capable of until put to the test. To my mind, Ellen Ripley of Alien fame fits this aspect well. A warrant officer and first mate of the Nostromo, she becomes the badass we all know and love as the crew starts to realize what manner of thing they’re up against. The sole survivor of a terrifying battle with a superior life form, she goes on to set the record straight for every scientist, android and military type who crosses her path. Who knew?

The Reviled Warrior

Nobody loves a warrior until the enemy is at the gate. ― Unknown

Geralt of Rivia

Geralt of Rivia, the protagonist of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series, is one messed up dude. Trained as a child by a dark order of warriors called Witchers, he develops supernatural abilities via rigorous training and a ghastly transformation involving sorcery and narcotics, thereby rendering him capable of hunting the nonhuman fiends and beasties that haunt the wilds. With the eyes of a viper, milk-white hair and a collection of scars, he is hated and feared across the land ― until some constable’s daughter ends up shredded by a harpy or something, at which time they are happy enough to hire him.

A thankless job, but somebody has to do it.

The Broken Warrior

He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior. ― Confucius

Elric of Melniboné

Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga is old-school sword and sorcery at its finest. The protagonist, Elric of Melniboné, is the reluctant emperor of a mighty race with a well-earned reputation for cruelty. Elric is born flawed, an albino with weakness he is only able to overcome with drugs made from herbs and such. Disgusted by his own people, he ventures into the greater world to find his fortune. But he serves Chaos, and wields a malevolent sword named Stormbringer that drinks the souls of its victims, an addiction to which our hero swiftly succumbs, as the blade gives him strength as nothing else can.

Thus tormented, Elric destroys everything he loves, slaughters his own race and at some point has no fucks left to give. He tries to destroy Stormbringer, to bury it, to hide it away. But of course, “What you resist, persists,” and it’s only a matter of time before he’s driven to pick it up again. So it goes.

I’m still rooting for him.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Finally, if anything sums up the more shadowy aspects of the warrior archetype, this song does. And well, you know, Seether. C’mon.

Sleep with one eye open…

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Georgie, Herald of Wickedness

I recently had the honor of sharing this on Mighty Thor JRS, an awesome blog to follow if you’re into Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Vikings and Norse Mythology. Here it is again in case you missed it.

Beasties

When I was a little kid, my mother would read me stories from a vintage 1960s Childcraft book. Well (clears throat), it wasn’t vintage then but whatever. My favorite story was called “Georgie,” about a ghost that haunted an old New England house and its kindly owners. Georgie wasn’t a bad ghost, just a little confused. I related to him. The addition of Herman the cat and Miss Oliver the owl permanently embedded this tale in my subconscious—or perhaps it was the other way around. Hard to tell.

Anyway, as it turns out, Georgie was a herald. All my favorite tales involve the Otherworld in one way or another, whether it’s a ghost, a vampire, an elf, a god or mortals such as shamans or witches who negotiate with such beings. I went from devouring high fantasy, swords and sorcery, and fairy tales to creating worlds of my own in which, despite Georgie’s charm, I quickly discovered a natural penchant for the darker side of things.

Of course, “dark” is a complex term that means different things to everyone. In my head it might take shape as a creepy, sightless demon that chews your face off, a malevolent phooka that will promise you one thing but deliver another, an elven warlock that might be your friend but probably isn’t, that cold finger on your spine at the thought of traveling through that particular forest, or the grim, sickening despair in your gut after a sorcerer curses you and you know you’re going to die.

Poor Georgie! He fell in with a bad crowd. Well, that’s what happens when you listen to the cat.

Being a votary of Tolkien since around Georgie’s time, I am strongly influenced by Northern European folklore and Norse mythology, which formed a custom groundwork in my high fantasy series The Fylking. Add to this palette works like The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski, which is a motherlode of creepy, nasty fairytale monsters and the bastards who hunt them, or Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné, one of my favorite anti-heroes, and inspiration knows no bounds.

Here are some of my favorite beasties.

Draugr, Goblins and Phooka

Draugr. The draugr is an undead creature in Norse mythology. While often compared to a zombie, this creature is a bit more sophisticated. In Old Norse, draugr means “ghost,” but it’s closer to a vampire. Accounts vary, but generally, the draugr are described as walking dead warriors with superhuman strength, the ability to shapeshift, and the unmistakable stench of decay. They are implacable, seek vengeance and will kill anything that crosses their nightly rampages. In Outpost, these beasties bear these traditional attributes, but they are also given life by an immortal warlock with his own agenda. They are not bound to the night and, because of their otherworldly origin, they appear half somewhere else, are demonic and malevolent, cannot be killed and can only be released by the magician who created them.

Forget honor. While inhumanly strong, the draugr are only as skilled in arms and familiar with the land as the men they once were. Distract and disable. If overrun, flee.Outpost, Book One in The Fylking

 
Goblins. Nasty, foul-mouthed, wicked creatures. You would not want to cross their path, let alone offend them. Arcmael, the protagonist of Outpost, does both. He is a seer and a servant of the Fylking, immortal, unseen warlords who hold dominion over the realm. Arcmael lands on the bad side of the Otherworld, where most beings revere the Fylking as gods. But goblins revere nothing. They capture Arcmael and throw him in the bowels of their palace. Aside from his being fed some really disgusting fare, I won’t spoil what happens.

Truss him up! Drag him hither! Bind his limbs! Make him slither!Outpost, Book One in The Fylking

 
Phooka. The name has many variations which show up in Celtic cultures throughout Northwestern Europe. In Irish, púca means “spirit” or “ghost.” The Old Norse term pook or puki refers to a “nature spirit.” This creature is a shape changer, part human at times, or part or all animal such as a goat or a horse, always with dark fur. Bleak, uncanny and generally wicked, the phooka is best to be avoided; yet can also be beneficial depending on mood or circumstance. In Outpost and The Wolf Lords, a phooka summoned by a desperate sorcerer wreaks havoc as only a phooka can.

The village girl who went missing and was found on the last dark moon, floating in her uncle’s millpond, was said to have been fey and prone to accidents. A comforting tale. Leofwine saw the poor creature’s death in the runes: drowning by twilight, the pale green eyes of the phooka glinting on the surface of the pond.The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking

The Phooka

So if you’re into monsters, creepy creatures, fiends and the idgits who cross them, I have goodies for you. The books in the following series are available for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Don’t worry. I won’t tell Georgie.

 
The Chronicles of Ealiron features wizards, warriors, gods, a wolfish apparition with an agenda, clever ravens, a dastardly winged predator and an immortal sea serpent.

The Hunter’s Rede, Book One. Lorth of Ostarin is a hunter of men. Lawless, solitary and obscure, he is trained in magic and its inherent order. This uneasy combination of pitilessness and structure has made him the highest paid assassin in the land. It is also about to throw his life into chaos.

The trouble begins when Lorth returns home from a long absence to find his old haunts compromised by a cruel, upstart warlord who has invaded the realm and pushed it to the brink of war. Lorth’s cavalier attempt to elude a political sandpit quickly deteriorates into a series of skirmishes that he negotiates with a sword and a reckless penchant for using magic against the rules. He flees with a price on his head; but no angry warlords, wizards, foreign aristocrats or spooky apparitions can rattle him from the dark stability of his profession—until he is captured and condemned to execution by a formidable wizard who serves the old powers.

In his quest to prove his innocence and loyalty to the realm, Lorth discovers the value of his conflict between war and wizardry. But his quest turns bloody when love for a priestess and a will to avenge his homeland drives him to infiltrate an enemy occupation bent on domination and a blatant disregard for the forces of magic. This brings him to his greatest test, where he must surrender to the darkness of his nature to become a hunter unlike anything he has ever known.

 
The Fylking involves immortal warlords, elves, goblins, phooka, draugr, demons, warlocks, witches, sorcerers and all the trouble one can find dealing with them.

Outpost, Book One. In a war-torn realm occupied by a race of immortal warlords called the Fylking, trouble can reach cosmic proportions. Using the realm as a backwater outpost from which to fight an ancient war, the Fylking guard an interdimensional portal called the Gate. The Fylking’s enemies, who think nothing of annihilating a world to gain even a small advantage, are bent on destroying it.

After two centuries of peace, the realm is at war. A Gate warden with a tormented past discovers a warlock gathering an army that cannot die. A King’s Ranger is snared in a trap that pits him against the Fylking’s enemies. And a knitter discovers an inborn power revered by the gods themselves. Caught in a maelstrom of murder, treachery, sorcery and war, they must rally to protect the Gate against a plot that will violate the balance of cosmos, destroy the Fylking and leave the world in ruins.

The god they serve is as fickle as a crow.

The Wolf Lords, Book Two. The Destroyer of the Math Gate has not been idle in the sun’s turn since he nearly defeated the Fylking, his ancient enemies. Wounded, bitter and bent on reprisal, the immortal warlock has gathered an army. He has acquired a spell that will damage the veil between the worlds. And he is waiting.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Haunted by a dark history, the brotherhood keeps to itself—or so it is generally believed. But the older something is, the more secrets it keeps, and the Wolf Lords have not only unleashed an army of demons across the land, but also let the Destroyer in.

When the Veil falls, war erupts and the realm is faced with legions of Otherworld beings, it is left to a sorcerer hunted by the Wolf Lords and a company of King’s Rangers broken by grief and trauma to find a hedge witch whose secrets could change everything.

Unfortunately, she is hiding between the worlds.

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

The Fylking: Omnibus

Fylking Omnibus

War has the ears of wolves. High fantasy woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery.

In the worlds of their dominion they are called the Fylking, lovers of strife, song and steel, an immortal race of warriors akin to the Otherworld. Their empires span the heavens; their deities, ruled by the elusive Raven God, embody the forces of war, wisdom, passion and nature. This series tells the exploits of the Fylking and their mortal observers — warriors, royals, seers, lovers, warlocks and mercenaries — generations upon generations coexisting in uneasy peace with the Gods of War.

This omnibus edition includes both books in the series, Outpost and The Wolf Lords, a glossary and a link to a high resolution map. Read it for free with Kindle Unlimited.

“The tone is excellent, reminiscent of some of the earliest examples of grim Norse fantasy.” – G.R. Matthews, Fantasy Faction

746 pages
Edited by Leslie Karen Lutz
Map – Link included in the Table of Contents.
Read it for free with Kindle Unlimited.
Amazon

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking. In a war-torn realm occupied by the Fylking, trouble can reach cosmic proportions. Using the realm as a backwater outpost from which to fight an ancient war, the Fylking guard an interdimensional portal called the Gate. The Fylking’s enemies, dark, malevolent beings who think nothing of destroying a world to gain even a small advantage, are bent on destroying it.

After two centuries of peace, the realm is at war. A Gate warden with a tormented past discovers a warlock gathering an army that cannot die. A King’s ranger is snared in a trap that pits him against the Fylking’s enemies. And a knitter discovers an inborn power revered by the gods themselves. Caught in a maelstrom of murder, treachery, sorcery and war, they must rally to protect the Gate against a plot that will violate the balance of cosmos, destroy the Fylking and leave the world in ruins.

The god they serve is as fickle as a crow.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords Cover Art The Wolf Lords, Book Two in The Fylking. The Destroyer of the Math Gate has not been idle in the sun’s turn since he nearly defeated the Fylking, his ancient enemies. Wounded, bitter and bent on reprisal, the immortal warlock has gathered an army. He has acquired a spell that will damage the veil between the worlds. And he is waiting.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Haunted by a dark history, the brotherhood keeps to itself—or so it is generally believed. But the older something is, the more secrets it keeps, and the Wolf Lords have not only unleashed an army of demons across the land, but also let the Destroyer in.

When the Veil falls, war erupts and the realm is faced with legions of Otherworld beings, it is left to a sorcerer hunted by the Wolf Lords and a company of King’s Rangers broken by grief and trauma to find a hedge witch whose secrets could change everything.

Unfortunately, she is hiding between the worlds.

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Wolves, Ravens and the Hooded One

This post originally appeared as a guest post on Mighty Thor JRS, one of my favorite book blogs. If you’re into Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Vikings, Norse Mythology and the like, do check it out.

Wolves and ravens. Romanticized, vilified and deified, these intriguing creatures reflect our dreams and shadows like few others. One source of their fame in popular imagination began in ancient Scandinavia, where reverence for wolves and ravens was not only pragmatic, such as the symbiotic relationship in which the animals led hunters to prey and shared in the spoils; but also pantheistic, by connecting to and identifying with the animals as helpers, shamanic totems, and messengers of the gods.

Enter Odin, the Allfather in the Norse pantheon. A deity par excellence, Odin is the one-eyed, all-seeing god of war, magic and wisdom. He is a complex and enigmatic figure, associated with poetry and inspiration, madness and battle fury. He hungers for knowledge. A notorious shapeshifter, he is known as a trickster who might grant favor to a devoted follower only to vanish when most needed. Odin is a patron of shamans, poets and magicians who, in their search for truth and pattern, endure grueling trials of hardship and isolation.

Wolves and ravens are Odin’s familiars, of a sort.

Among the many names attributed to Odin is Raven God. The connection between Odin and ravens is deep and ancient, existing before the Viking Age. A god of death and war, Odin was naturally associated with these carrion birds, the beneficiaries of sacrifices and battlefields, and harbingers of the god’s favor. In keeping with Odin’s intellectual nature, ravens are also extremely intelligent. Two of these birds, Hugin (thought) and Munin (desire), fly over the land and tell him of all they see and hear.

In traditional animal lore, crows and ravens are given the honor of belonging to both the seen and unseen realms. They are creatures of the hinterlands, mysterious, powerful and devious. That these birds tend to accompany death also makes them ominous, both feared and revered by their presence on the carcasses of animals, the condemned, or fallen warriors. They are omens, symbols of the implacability of death, and bringers of information from the other side.

Odin is also accompanied by two wolves, Geri and Freki (both meaning “ravenous” or “greedy one”). He gives his wolves all of his food, and drinks only wine. The wolves are said to roam over battlefields, devouring carnage. As the ruler and bestower of battle madness, Odin is the patron god of berserkers and warrior shamans called úlfheðnar (wolf-hides), who underwent powerful initiations in the wilds, living like wolves, to reach a state of possession and thereby acquire the beasts’ strength, fearlessness, and fury—much to the terror and dismay of their enemies.

On the flip side, Odin is the enemy of Fenrir, a monstrous wolf sired by Loki, a wily and ambivalent trickster god. When Fenrir grows out of control, the gods are compelled to chain the wolf using deception, a stunt that comes with a great sacrifice. Fenrir will break free at Ragnarok, the fall of the cosmos, and devour everything in his path, including Odin. Another story tells of Fenrir’s sons Skoll (One Who Mocks) and Hati (One Who Hates), wargs that chase the sun and moon through the sky in hopes of devouring them. At Ragnarok, they will catch their prey, and the sky and earth will darken and collapse.

The wolf, with its ferocious and apocalyptic reputation in Norse mythology, its prowess and grace in nature, and a distinctive howl that puts a primordial chill on the flesh, is an exemplary metaphor, an antagonist in many a dark tale, and a patron of warriors.

Given the frequent appearance of wolves and ravens in mythology, legends, folk and fairy tales throughout the ages, and their remarkable natural traits, it’s easy to see why they are so common in works of fantasy. Battle prowess, cunning, guile, mystery, trickery and darkness—imagery and metaphors abound. My own work is no exception; a love of Northern European mythology and the grim and sublime traits of wolves and ravens inspire me to no end.

In the Chronicles of Ealiron, an ancient hierarchy of wizards holds the raven as the highest level of attainment in the magical arts. The wolf takes on its spookier characteristics in the lore of the Old One, a goddess of life, death, and transformation. In her darkest aspect, the Destroyer, she appears in the shape of a wolf. Water Dark, a novella that takes place in the world of Ealiron, delves deeply into the shadowy, fickle nature of this being, who commands a high price for being summoned, good or ill.

Lorth of Ostarin, the driving force in the Chronicles of Ealiron, is an assassin raised by a wizard. He has the eyes of a wolf and an affinity for ravens, which, being the opportunistic creatures they are, tend to follow him around in much the same way they follow wolves, and for the same reason: to clean up the mess. Lorth and his grim companions also appear in “The Om Tree,” a short story told by an ancient tree that gets its best gossip from—you guessed it—ravens.

The Norse gods haunt many worlds, not just Earth. In Outpost, Book One in The Fylking, Odin, in keeping with his nature, appears at strange times and in strange ways, leaving our protagonists to wonder what he is and whose side he’s on. He goes by many names: Hooded One, Wanderer, Magician. He is served by the Fylking, immortal, Viking-like warriors who take the shapes of wolves and ravens, among other things, though even they can’t guess his agenda. The Wolf Lords, Book Two, delves into the Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North, including, it is said, Loki himself. Fenrir is their patron, a force used in a variety of nasty ways that don’t always serve the ones who summon him.

Odin, of course, lurks in the shadows, watching and waiting.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

If you’d like to see something beautiful about the value of wolves in nature, watch this: How Wolves Change Rivers

And if ravens fascinate you, do check out the work of Bernd Heinrich, a naturalist who has done fantastic research on ravens in the wild:
Ravens in Winter
Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds

Norse mythology? Here’s a good website, and it includes a reading list: Norse Mythology for Smart People

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Chronicles of Ealiron
The Fylking
Outpost
The Wolf Lords
Water Dark
The Eye of Odin
The Om Tree

© F.T. McKinstry 2018. All Rights Reserved.