"Nobody Owns the Myths": Adaptations of Old Norse Myth in Tor Age Bringsvaerd's Var Gamle Gudelaere

By Zilmer, Kristel | Scandinavian Studies, Summer 2018 | Go to article overview

"Nobody Owns the Myths": Adaptations of Old Norse Myth in Tor Age Bringsvaerd's Var Gamle Gudelaere


Zilmer, Kristel, Scandinavian Studies


INTRODUCTION

"Norron mytologi bedre enn X-files" (Old Norse Mythology Better Than the X-Files)--such was the title given to a short interview with the Norwegian author Tor Age Bringsvaerd, published in 1996 in Aftenposten (Bringsvaerd 1996). The title was inspired by the words of Bringsvaerd who, during the conversation, touched upon the mythological concept of the world being made out of the body of Ymer, (1) the primeval giant of enormous proportions. Bringsvaerd said: "Tenk sa fantastisk at vi lever pa et lik! Mer fascinerende enn X-files" (1996) [Just imagine, how fantastic that we live on a corpse! More fascinating than the X-Files]. (2) The author was interviewed in connection with the publication of his book Den enoyde (1996; The One-Eyed; illustrator Hilde Kramer), a collective textual edition based upon the series Var gamle gudelaere (Our Ancient Godlore) that appeared over a period of 10 years, from 1985 to 1995.

Var gamle gudelaere is the focus of the present article, which analyzes the adaptations of Old Norse myth by Bringsvaerd and the illustrators of the series. In a book dealing with the reception, adaptation, and appropriation of Norse myths during different periods of time, Heather O'Donoghue writes that Old Norse myth has had "a major impact on Western culture--an impact which continues to the present day" (2007, 85). When it comes to the present-day adaptations of mythology, emerging in a variety of contexts, the principal emphasis of the book is on the Anglo-American literature and popular culture. (3)

The wide-ranging influence of Old Norse literature and mythology and its post-medieval and modern reception have been the foci of various individual studies and joint research projects. (4) Common research topics include the inspiration some well-known writers of historical or fantasy novels have derived from the myths, alongside adaptations in drama, poetry, art, and music. An increasingly important area of academic interest is the political and ideological exploitation of the Old Norse material, in historical and contemporary perspective. More recently, the analysis of Old Norse themes and motifs in children's literature, comics, and graphic novels, as well as games on different platforms, has entered the scholarly arena. (5)

Various contemporary Scandinavian works of fiction and their responses to Old Norse myth have, interestingly enough, not gained that much scholarly attention. Perhaps it is taken to be self-evident that the myths and their retellings are a part of the Nordic cultural legacy (despite their apparent misuse in some ideological settings). (6) School textbooks with adapted versions of the myths form but one example of such a cultural-historical emphasis. Old Norse myth has also been, and still is, a source of varied inspiration in Scandinavian literature. Examples occur in a range of genres and across different media, including story and picture books, (historical, fantasy, and science fiction) novels, comics and graphic novels, films, and TV shows. The mythological influences may appear as subtle allusions created through the names of some characters or places, or the inclusion of motifs and elements derived from the myths. At the other end of the spectrum, there are works that engage with the myths extensively and explicitly--adopting, adapting, and re-imagining them in various ways.

The picture book series Var gamle gudelaere is an illustration of the latter. As a creative project that unfolded over a period of 10 years, it makes an interesting object of study. The purpose of this paper is to explore the adaptations of Old Norse myth in Var gamle gudelaere, analyzing the verbal and visual interpretations of the myths, with a particular focus on the representation of the chief god Odin. As part of the concluding discussion, the books will be viewed in the context of the contemporary understanding and use of mythology.

THEORETICAL PREMISES

Before entering the Old Norse world of Var gamle gudelaere, some theoretical premises have to be clarified. …

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