"Writing a book is the art of listening to oneself."-Brad Cameron

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dragons in Norse Mythology

Recently, I spoke at the Rad/Con Science Fiction Fair in Pasco, Washington.  I felt honored to be part of not one but four panels that discuss everything from the business of Indie publishing to the advent of magic in medieval and renaissance fiction. However, the one that I was most excited about was the panel titled “Dragons and their Evolution”.  My emphasis, of course, was dragons in Norse mythology. So, as a dedication to the very fine, though quite unusual people that inhabit the Con circuit, I would like to rehash some of the finer points that I made during my speech.

I have mentioned before - in earlier blog entries - the makeup of the Norse universe with its nine worlds and the great ash tree, Yggdrasil, which binds them all together. However, it may be interesting to note that, apart from the many residents that make up the nine worlds, there are also several creatures that inhabit the limbs and branches of the tree. These beasts take their toll on the tree (which is constantly under repair by the Norns - another topic for blog discussion), as a result, the tree is constantly in danger. Its roots are rotting.

At the bottom, near Niflheim, sits Nidhogg, a serpent, or, perhaps more appropriately stated, a dragon. Nidhogg has scales, wings, and bristles that spike over its spine. Nidhogg is a being that gnaws one of the three roots of Yggdrasil. It is believed that the roots are trapping the beast from the world (Midgard). This root is placed over Niflheim and Nidhogg gnaws it from beneath. However, other than the creature’s conversations with the giant squirrel that scurries up and down the tree, passing insults from the dragon to the great eagle that sits atop Yggdrasil; little else is said, other than the fact that eventually the dragon will gnaw its way through the roots. The first sighting of the dragon will signify the beginning of Ragnarok.

The first indication of a fire-breathing dragon appears in the Old English retelling of “Beowulf”, an epic Norse poem that describes a hero’s eventual confrontation with Bane, a nocturnal, treasure hoarding, fire-breathing creature that brings about the death of Beowulf. The Beowulf dragon is the earliest example in literature of the typical European dragon and first incidence of a fire-breathing dragon. However, because a Christian Monk probably wrote the poem with Northman ties, the symbols have most likely become tainted. For instance, the fire is likely symbolic of the hell-fire of the Devil, reminiscent of a monster described in the Old Testament. The Pagan would not have known any such place. Nevertheless, the author appears to be trying hard to appeal to his audience.

 In the story, Beowulf eventually returns to his home and becomes king of the Geats. After ruling for fifty years, a servant awakens and angers the dragon, stealing a jeweled cup from its lair. When the dragon mercilessly burns the Geats' homes and lands, Beowulf decides to kill the monster. He and his men climb to the dragon's lair where, seeing the beast, the men run away leaving only Wiglaf to battle at Beowulf's side. When the dragon wounds Beowulf fatally, Wiglaf slays it.

Contemporary stories and films have taken the dragon myth to a completely new level. It is important, however, to keep in mind that its beginnings were nominal. The stories existed, but they were symbolic at best. The message I believe the Norse would want us to take from their myths is that nothing is forever. Their gods were not immortal, powerful, yes, but not immune to death. Dragons represent powers that can inflict our day-to-day struggles. They gnaw away at our roots. Nevertheless, we need to be aware of their existence and fight each day to shore up our own selves.
References: Crossley-Holland, Kevin. The Norse Myths. New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1980. Print

Friday, February 8, 2013

Guest Blog- Katie Mettner

Katie Mettner is our guest blogger for this week.  Katie grew up in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and moved to the Northwoods where she now resides with her husband and three children. As a young adult Katie enjoyed ballroom dancing and like Sugar, she didn’t let her physical limitations hold her back from what she loved. Katie writes The Sugar Series, Sugar’s Dance and Sugar’s Song, a Christian romance series. Her stories are a reflection of her love for family intricately woven with life experience. When the gales of November blow early you can find her at the computer with a cup of joe, listening to Michael BublĂ© and working on Sugar's Night.

“Are you there God? It’s me, Katie.”

Judy Blume was always my favorite author as a child and I would often find myself praying that sentence off and on for 20 years. I bartered and begged with Him, but for the life of me I couldn’t get Him to answer my questions. So sneaky like I started asking the question “why” using fancier words, that’s what authors do, right? I found this more productive; I’d ask a question and He would put someone in my way with the answer. This went on for years until February 16, 2011 when I was laying in a hospital bed as a left below knee amputee. That night I reverted to “Are you there God? It’s me, Katie. Now what?” I was waiting for an answer when a nurse came in with a CD. I listened to the voice of Michael BublĂ© and John Mayer and this peace washed over me. His answer was obvious, “Now we dance.”

So you might be asking yourself what this has to do with being an author. My series of Christian romance, The Sugar’s Series, features Sugar, a mid western ballroom dancer who, like me, lost a lot in life and found herself Dreaming with a Broken Heart. I began to write Sugar’s Dance while waiting to walk again and found her story came faster than I could type it. My intention was not to write Sugar’s story as a Christian romance, in fact I really had no intention of even publishing it. My intention was to write it for me. As I wrote I found Sugar asked “Why God?” a lot. I was pretty uncomfortable with it, but since this was her journey I carried on. Then one night I said, “Are you there God?” and I poured my heart about how I wasn’t sure if it was “right” to write a book that could be construed as a Christian romance, if I ever did publish it, when the underlying theme of the character’s relationship with Him was, “I’m still mad at Him and He knows that. I can agree to be friends with Him, but I haven’t figured out how to love Him again.” When I got up the next day I avoided Sugar like the plague. I didn’t want to admit to myself maybe there was a little of me in Sugar, so I put my MP3 player on and the first two songs were ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘Say’. I blew out a breath and opened the document. Without even thinking this is what came through, “That is one of the most frank admittances of imperfection I have ever heard. You are a surprise around every corner Sugar. The fact that you still come out here to talk to Him and you believe in that higher power is admirable considering what you have been through. I’m inclined to believe that He loves you for your honesty because I don’t believe He gets that from a lot of his worshippers.” And with that we began to waltz.

As the days turned into weeks Sugar’s story flowed and I continued to let her ask “Why?” As her story progressed she began to see the reasons why and so did I. By the time I had the first solid 14 chapters of the book written I was up walking on two feet again, just 5 weeks after that night in the hospital, lucky to have a very talented friend helping me. When I hit chapter 25 I needed to do some hardcore research of the Twin Ports. We spend a lot of time in the Duluth/Cloquet Minnesota area because it’s where my husband grew up. When I decided Sugar would live there I knew the book had to be as close to 100% accurate as I could make it and that meant lots of trips north. It's summer now and I’m holding my husband’s hand as he walked me through Canal Park. I’m smiling as I see another reason for the last 20 years; appreciation of the simple things like holding hands. By the time summer comes to a close I have the final chapter to write. Needing to get this scene EXACTLY right I found myself staring down the sand covered path that led to the beach on Canal Park. Sand isn’t easy for an amputee, but with some slipping and sliding I found myself standing in Lake Superior! As I stood there with the cold water lapping over my foot smiling for the camera, I was sure our waltz was over and I had the reason!

Nope, not even close. After much painful consideration and encouragement from friends I hit publish. Okay dance over, her story is told! Nope. Don’t get me wrong, it felt great, but I was comfortable now in the dance and knew there was more. I started getting emails telling me Sugar had changed their perspective and validated their own struggles and others asking me to finish her story, so I answered Him with Sugar’s Song. Once again He put people in my path that I needed to meet. There were friends from Sugar’s World (Duluth) who shared their struggles with me. I met two wonderful groups of authors, locally and virtually, who became the lamp unto my feet during a time this summer when I struggled to finish her Song. It’s November and I hit that publish button again and this time I didn’t question if I had the reason, because I knew I didn’t. Sugar had an encore to dance and I sat down to write Sugar’s Night. As the words poured out He laid Sugar’s “why” right out in front of me. BAM! I got up and walked around before reading it again and yup there it was in black and white. Being a good author I’m not going to tell you Sugar’s “why” for that would ruin the journey. I will tell you I have found the answer to mine. As I type this short waltz through my last two years a new opportunity to help fellow amputees just arrived in my inbox, so I no longer ask “Are you there God?” Now I simply say, “I’m here God, lead on.”

Twitter: @katiemettner
Facebook: facebook.com/pages/Katie-Mettner-Author/228147413916391
Website: www.katiemettnerbooks.com