I was a Tolkien geek as a kid, in the 70s. There were no epic movies back then — well okay there was that 1978 version that thoroughly offended me — but anyway, Lord of the Rings changed my life. I knew Tolkien was influenced by Northern European mythology but I didn’t jump into that at the time. I was busy being distracted by every fantasy, science fiction and occult book I could get my hands on. The Norse gods came later.
My favorite character in LOTR was Gandalf. This isn’t a cute statement reflecting the innocence of youth. My fascination with Gandalf was archetypal. The first time I read LOTR and the wizard fell into the chasm in Moria with the Balrog, I was shattered. Seriously. A part of me went in there too and while now I smile fondly because I was just a sensitive kid, I’ll admit that scene still gets to me.
It is extensively remarked upon that Gandalf was inspired by the Norse god Odin. Considering the realm of Tolkien’s studies and expertise, this is not to be wondered at, though there are differences between the two beings. Tolkien himself referred to Gandalf as an “Odinic wanderer.” I didn’t make this connection until I started delving into Scandinavian literature. Then I realized why I had loved Tolkien so much without realizing it.
Needless to say, I am fascinated by Odin, the one-eyed, all-seeing god of war, magic and wisdom. An ambivalent figure, he hungers for knowledge, is a notorious shapeshifter, and rules madness and berserkers. He is also known as a Trickster who might grant favor to a devoted follower only to vanish when most needed. The archetypal Trickster is a shamanic figure, a terrible force that turns things upside down and brings one before the Unknown, the source of wisdom and new experience. Odin himself undergoes this initiation when he hangs on the World Tree for nine days and nights in agony before picking up the Sacred Runes deep beneath the roots.
Interestingly, in like tradition, Gandalf plunges into the nameless depths of the earth in battle with the Balrog, an initiation from which he is reborn as Gandalf the White.
Whether you call him a god, an entity, a patron of shamans or a part of my psyche, I became devoted to Odin. He provides a vital source of inspiration for my work. Here are some relevant projects:
The Eye of Odin
“The Eye of Odin” is a science fiction story about a warrior with a turbulent ancestry who gets on the wrong side of an interplanetary military contractor called Odin Systems. They modeled their headquarters and inventions after Norse themes from ancient Earth history. But they are dealing with forces bigger than technology. I made up my own verses of Odin’s tale and wove them into this story in relevant places, shadowing events.
In this short story, a knitter discovers the strengths and pitfalls of an ancient power through the love of a swordsman named Othin (an alternate spelling of Odin), named after the god himself. In keeping with his otherworldly namesake, Othin lands into a cruel pickle when the gods pull a fast one on him. But as fate would have it, his witchy lover has other plans.
This story is included in Wizards, Woods and Gods, a collection of short fantasy stories.
Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. Woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery, this story takes place in a war-torn realm that contains a portal to the stars. The Otherworld beings who built it brought their gods with them. We know these gods as the Norse pantheon, the gods of the Vikings. But these beings haunt many worlds, not just Earth. Odin, in keeping with his nature, appears in this story at strange times and in strange ways, leaving our protagonists to wonder what he is and whose side he’s on.
The Poetic Edda, translated by Lee M. Hollander
The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson
Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H.R Ellis Davidson
The Norse Myths, by Kevin Crossley-Holland
© F.T. McKinstry 2014. All Rights Reserved.