Academic journal article Mythlore

Christian, Norse and Celtic: Metaphysical Belief Structures in Nancy Farmer's the Saxon Saga

Academic journal article Mythlore

Christian, Norse and Celtic: Metaphysical Belief Structures in Nancy Farmer's the Saxon Saga

Article excerpt

"Of 'pagan' belief we have little or nothing left in English. But the spirit survived." J.R.R. Tolkien, "Beowulf: The Monsters & the Critics" 36

The recreation of human experience in quasi-historical circumstances is one of the many uses of the modern medievalism which undergirds much of post-Tolkienian fantasy. Although they may only be partially true to historical facts, medieval worlds employed in fantasy are often based on detailed research and can immerse the reader in the structure of belief which informed historically identifiable pre-modern societies. In confronting the modern with the historical, fantasy not only helps contemporary readers learn about mythological and historical legacies of specific cultures from the past. It also creates a detached contextual frame to view and perhaps better understand a number of issues relevant to the globalized reality of post-9/11 world.

One of those issues is the friction between different belief structures held by individuals and societies alike. Metaphysical beliefs have been one of the most recurrent causes of human conflicts, and disagreements over beliefs have been among the most difficult to resolve. At the same time, in many cases the belief structures of the parties in conflict--although conceived by each side as radically different--shared a considerable overlap when seen by an outside observer. (1) In this article I will examine the interplay of three metaphysical belief structures in Nancy Farmer's The Saxon Saga: The Sea of Trolls (2004), The Land of the Silver Apples (2007), and The Island of the Blessed (2009). I argue that the three belief structures--medieval Christian, Norse, and Celtic--are represented by Farmer as alternative and equally consistent narratizations of human spiritual reality. I demonstrate that by adopting this pluralist perspective, one that does not exclude or privilege any single belief structure, Farmer suggests that a difference of beliefs does not have to be a source of conflicts. On the contrary, diversity of beliefs can be used to enrich every individual with insights and understanding that are not possible within one's own belief structure.

Nancy Farmer's The Saxon Saga is one of the best recent examples of mythopoeic fantasy as I defined the genre in One Earth, One People. Addressed primarily to teenage and young adult audience, the books of the series affirm a holistic worldview that sees life as a continuous whole--a web of planes of existence represented by the tree of life Ygdrassil, all planes sustained by the same life force. They tell a story in which the fantastic and the real blend to create "an imaginative experience of a world in which metaphysical concepts are objective realities and the protagonists' responses to those realities reflect on their lives" (84). The story is constructed "from a variety of artistically reimagined and reconfigured mythic elements"--all of them presented as believable by realist criteria (84). It recounts the protagonists' attempts to meet specific moral imperatives, thus suggesting why similar imperatives in the primary world demand certain kinds of behavior. The saga's mythopoeic dimension is best seen in the novels' secondary world: offering a panorama of 8th century Anglo-Saxon England, Pictish Scotland, and Norse Scandinavia, The Saxon Saga introduces the reader to the mythical realms that were recognized as real by those cultures: Jotunheim, the land of trolls in Northern Scandinavia, Elfland, the realm of fallen angels hidden deep under the English soil, Notland, the realm of the Finfolk to be found north of Orkneys, and the Islands of the Blessed--the Celtic paradise located somewhere northwest of Ireland. The Saxon Saga also features mythical beings such as dragons, trolls, elves, hobgoblins and Finfolk; old and new gods of various cultures--Norns, Yarthkins, Odin, the Forest Lord, and the devil--and, of course, magic. There are magical beings, magical items, magical lore, magical healings, magical transformations, and magical learning. …

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