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

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Warrior Within: Lessons From the Valkyries

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time editing, a process that never seems to end for an author. My first novel, Odin’s Light, will appear very soon in its third edition. The Serpent’s Ship will follow very quickly with its second edition and The Gates of Asgard, the third book in The Zeke Proper Chronicles, is scheduled for its first publication in late September.

The hours I have spent in front of my computer making revisions to my work has allowed me the opportunity to revisit specific scenes in my novels that I am particularly proud. For instance, near the end of The Serpent’s Ship, during an especially intense scene, Zeke faces imminent death. At a moment when it appears that all is at a loss, a miracle happens.

Finally, Zeke, gaining a measure of courage, took his eyes off Loki, feeling the presence of another person nearby.The woman who appeared to Zeke’s right was beautiful. He stared at her in complete amazement as her still, tall, and slender form, commanded instant authority. Zeke felt an immediate desire to obey whatever command she put forth; her power and strength was at once recognizable.”

Before him, standing regally and authoritatively is one of the Valkyrie. Zeke describes her like this:

Her hair was long and blond, braided down the length of her back and held fast with a solid gold clasp. Her features were sharp with high cheekbones and her skin was completely unblemished, as if she were Galatea herself, a polished sculpture that would soon take on a life of its own. Her eyes were a striking aqua blue, the color of a warm tropical sea, and from them there seemed to radiate an intensity that held power and confidence. In her left hand, she held a shield bejeweled with what appeared to be rubies and diamonds. In her right, she held a sword that glimmered with a light that shone from the woman herself. Her frame was covered with sparkling armor that extended to her knees, and her feet were shod with sandals, leather straps wrapped crisscross up the length of her calves.”

Norse mythology describes the Valkyrie as a group of twelve women warriors who assist the All Father, Odin, in his task as keeper and gatherer of the fallen warriors - those valiant souls who die bravely in battle. Their mission is to scoop down on the field of war and gather the dieing heroes, transporting their souls to the great halls of Vahalla. Among the Valkyrie are Shaker, Mist, Axe Time and Raging. These also take turns filling Odin’s horn with mead while the other Valkyrie tend to the needs of the fallen warriors as they celebrate by feasting, drinking and fighting in the great hall. It is important to consider that their only focus is to the fallen warrior. They care not for those who have died from age or sickness. It therefore leads one to consider why a Valkyrie would choose to appear to our lowly hero, Zeke Proper.
Near the end of her brief visit with Zeke, the Valkyrie asks a question.

Shaker, the woman, the stalwart figure who stood beside Zeke, shifted her eyes and stared at him. “You must leave the Mist now,” she ordered, her lack of emotion unsettling.“First tell me who are you,” Zeke said. “Where did you come from?”The woman seemed to pause, and though Zeke wasn’t completely sure, because her expressions were subtle, he could have sworn that she was troubled by the direct question. As if it had never happened before.“I am Shaker,” she finally answered. “I am one of the twelve sisters who serve Odin. We are the Valkyrie. It is our charge to watch over the warriors and bring them home to Vahalla.” She stopped speaking and her eyes softened. She turned and looked directly at Zeke.“Are you a warrior, Zeke Proper?”

Zeke is taken back by the question, but answers her simply:

“No,” he answered quietly. “No, I am certainly no warrior.” 

As the story progresses into book three, The Gates of Asgard, Zeke struggles with the question presented by the Valkyrie. Perhaps a bit like we all do when it comes to viewing ourselves through our own eyes. Zeke sees himself as a simple boy, one who is incapable of great deeds. However, the Captain, a most unlikely heroic figure, reminds Zeke what a true hero really is:

‘The Captain took a long draw on his pipe, letting the blue smoke escape from the corners of his mouth, shrouding his wrinkled features in a sagely haze. “You’ve mistaken honor with bravery, lad. Sometimes doing the right thing requires something far beyond mere bravery. The greatest warrior conquers incredible odds not because he’s brave, but because it’s the noble, honorable thing to do. Sometimes our greatest motivator is our integrity and our desire to protect the things that are most precious to us.”’

Sometimes it’s difficult to see beyond our own images in the mirror. We are constantly holding ourselves up to someone else’s standard, unaware that they might be holding themselves up to ours. The lesson we learn from the Valkyrie then, is not that we must be the overwhelming berserker who screams his way into life’s battles, but rather the persistent doer. Battling the difficulties of life is just as important as a true field of conflict. If we persist, perhaps we will one day find ourselves sitting in the great hall of Valhalla while a Valkyrie pours us another horn of mead.