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Showing posts with label Nordic Folk Tales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nordic Folk Tales. Show all posts


Gods and Goddesses of the Ancient Norse (2001)

Written and Illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher

Holiday House

I haven't done a Leonard Everett Fisher book in a while, and I was surprised to see that this one was from 2001. Whenever I hold one of his books, they always seem to have the feel from a bygone era, not something nearly so recent. Paul Galdone has the same effect on me. There's nothing at all flashy or ironic about anything he produces, his books are uniformly handsome and solid.

In this volume, we get exactly what the title promises: the Gods and Goddesses of the Norse people, including fan favorites Odin, Thor and Loki, but who here are given no more special attention than Frigga the goddess of Marriage (from whom 'Friday' comes) and Bragi the God of Poetry. I do appreciate, however, that only Loki's designation is given qualifying quotation marks: "God" of Mischief.

After all the characters have been introduced and their relationships between one another spelled out, it all comes to a head in the final entry: Ragnarok: The Last Battle. Everyone dies, and in very specific ways: Odin will be swallowed alive by Fenris the wolf, Fenris the wolf will be killed by Vidar, and on and on, a death chain. "Once the gods are dead, the last two surviving giants would gulp down the goddesses of Asgard, and then devour the suin, the moon, and the stars. Then they too would disappear. Finally, the great tree Yggdrasill collapses, bringing down the entire universe, leaving behind a cold, empty, and black universe."

This really does sound like the death of the universe, the Big Crunch as some call it, though Stephen Hawking thinks the cosmos will just spin out further and further until everything is too far away from anything to survive. But I prefer imagining everything being devoured and collapsing, the oscillating universe, the Big Bang followed by a Big Crunch followed by another Big Bang and so on. I guess the Norse agree: "After a while, the dark void would give way to a new universe. New worlds would be born. And the gods and goddesses would rise again, to rule a world without evil."

But will they be the same gods and goddesses? Or different iterations of the old gods? How can they say for certain that there will be no evil? Perhaps everything will be doomed to repeat itself. Freya's husband Od will leave her once again, and again she will cry herself to sleep with tears of gold.



Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins (1993)

Retold and Illustrated by Lauren Mills

Pen-and-ink and watercolor

Text set in Horley Old Style

Little, Brown and Company

It's a nice bit of meta-storytelling, I thought, for Lauren Mills to begin her book with the dedication: "For twins." This is a story about twins, and what an awful lot of twists and turns the tale takes before arriving at is final destination.

It begins in Norway, in which a barren Queen - at the behest of a young beggar child - has ventured into the midst of a fairy-ridden forest, and there to find two flowers.

"One will be very beautiful, and the other will be an ugly weed. You must eat the beautiful flower and leave the weed there," instructs the beggar child. "Go alone and do not tarry. If you reach the flowers before the sun has set, no harm will befall you."

The Queen journeys into the woods.
I like this presentation of magic: matter-of-fact yet inexplicable. There are no rules to this magic, or if there are, they are well beyond our understanding. The narrative doesn't attempt to bring us up to speed. It just is what it is. The Queen, of course, does not reach the fateful flowers until after the sun has set. As if that weren't enough, she then proceeds to consume both the beautiful flower and the weed. Clearly, she is not good at following directions.

Faries disperse. Enter hobgoblins.

Twelve of them - a good number - small and cunning and wicked. Later in the text they are referred to as "demons."

"You will have two daughters," declares the leader of the hobgoblins, pointing a gnarled finger at the terrified Queen. "One will be very tame and beautiful, and the other will be wild and strange. Bring the wild and strange one here to us on her twelfth birthday. Now be gone!"

It is this wild and strange child who is the hero of the tale. "Tatterhood," she is called. She wears only ragged clothes, has wild, unkempt hair, and spends her days waving a wooden spoon about and riding upon her pet goat. And it is this Tatterhood who does battle, journeys across stormy seas and arrives at the Island of the Hobgoblins for the grand climax.

And if that wasn't empowering enough, at the end she is crowned Queen!

The twins.


Seven Fathers (2011)

Retold by Ashley Ramsden

Illustrated by Ed Young

Cut paper collage

A Neal Porter Book

"I was intrigued by this uniquely Nordic version of a spiritual quest," writes Ed Young. "No one thought it was ideal children's book material, even though I've always maintained that children are perfectly capable to comprehending much deeper thoughts and feelings than we are willing to acknowledge."

This is an Ed Young book, and that mean it is going to be beautiful to look at, beautiful to flip through, beautiful to hold. So damned artful in it design and presentation. I love the brown pages, the splatter of white paint for snow, the rough, charcoal outlines of his characters.

"One winter's evening, a lone traveler trudged down a winding forest road looking for a place to spend the night." A more classic beginning to a folk-tale than any I've heard. Coming across an old house where an old man chops wood, the traveler asks for a place to stay.

"You'll have to ask my father," is the response. "He's around back, in the kitchen."

Inside is another old man, "older than the last," and the traveler again asks for a place to stay.

"You'll have to ask my father. He is in the parlor."

The trick of the narrative begins to unveil itself. Indeed, in the parlor, sits an old man, "much older than the last." On and on. Ramsden's writing becomes more playful the further in we go. The traveler meets, "a very, very, very, very, very old man. His head was small and shrunken with just a wisp of white hair on the pillow."

Followed by: "a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very old man, so small, so shrunken, he was no bigger than a baby."

The traveler closed his eyes and listened for a reply, bit all he could hear was a gurgling noise than fluttered and quivered and shook until finally he was able to make out some faint words: "I am not the father of this house."

I couldn't help but think of ill-fated astronaut Dave Bowman, navigating his way through the interior of the monolith, and wondered if Kubrick had any Nordic blood in his directorial veins.

"In the storytelling tradition, we often say, 'Behind me is the one I heard this story from... and behind that storyteller the one who told them the tale...' and so on," writes the author, who is himself primarily an oral storyteller. "Amongst the first peoples there was always a profound sense of how we are all connected to the one who came before us and the spiritual origin that underpin our entire existence."
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