Posts Tagged ‘ Lord of the Rings ’

Underneath it All

What does Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Game of Thrones all have in common?  Well, aside from each being a fantastic amalgamation of fiction they all have the same  roots.  Check it out.

Any fan of Tolkien knows that Middle Earth was in part inspired by Germanic  mythology, more specifically sagas.  Yes kids it’s the word of the day, say it with me now, saga!  Tolkien and Wagner both have adapted Volsunga Saga and rightly so because it rightly displays why Odin would beat Zeus’s adulterous ass with one eye…well…gone.

Close enough.

Sagas are stories about ancient Scandinavian history, they are chock-full of viking voyages, viking battles, family feuds between vikings. It like taking reality TV show where all the contestants are given axes and told to survive a winter in Iceland.  The result is a medieval warrior society surprisingly more humane than The Hunger Games.  At least in 10th century Iceland the penalty for killing someone was to either offer compensation to the family of the victim, or to be put in “time out” for a few years where they could still raid all the Europeans they wanted but if they were found in Iceland they were fair game for bands of homeland militias who made it their business to kill you.

Sagas are defined as non-realistic epic work of fiction, yet, these tales were passed down by story tellers who used the stories to make their history lessons more enjoyable.  King Harald of Norway is a consistent character in most sagas and even most battles and word events like the conversion to Christianity are reflected in the sagas making them a useful tool to historians.  This blend of fact and fiction makes for truly bad ass protagonists wielding magic who were tied to real and everyday problems.

Your average sage might read a little like this:

Thord was an unmatched fighter and had two brothers Brynjolf and Thorkel. They were drinking one winter day and soon became outrageously drunk. Unable to think clearly they decided on a game called “hit the horse rider on the head”. The game was fairly simple, involving the use of large objects to cause injury and dislodge riders on the local road. It started out with small branches and rocks but quickly graduated to objects only liftable by men of their time. Brynjolf, to prove his position as the strongest of the brothers decided to use a horse from a neighboring farm, for his next and last turn in the game. At that exact, ill fated  moment, another neighboring farm’s son who no one liked due to his crazy insistence that there was more to life than money, killing and honor, happened to be passing by the spot where the brothers were playing their game. Brynjolf threw the horse as hard as he could at the passing rider and hit Hamund in the side of the head as he rode by, killing him at once. Brynjolf named witnesses to the killing and sent a messenger to Grim Bardsson, the rider’s father in Mork to tell of the accident and offer compensation, giving Grim self-judgment. Then he buried the boy.

Take Egil Skalgrimmson for example, as one of the first immigrants to Iceland after a blood fued with the king of Norway, was like the George Washington of Iceland.  He is described in his exploits as being very hard to wound and he was thought to have magical powers because of this.  When his grave was excavated he was found to have Paget’s Disease, where the skeleton of the person inflicted grows indefinitely.  That’s right, Egil was the viking version of the super villain who finally delivers the killing blow to Superman.

Egil also enjoys long walks on the beach.

I’m sorry, I’m getting side tracked, I got your hopes up about relate able pop culture, thinking that you would find the first sentence fun and instead used the opportunity to plug away on a history lesson.  What is truly unique to sagas isn’t the dark pagan mysticism, the unique culture, or the lure of ancient society but the great span of time they cover.  Sagas often tell a story that spans across three generations or more, lineage gets developed and characters come and go.  Scandinavian story tellers used these tales to explain anything from landmarks to alliances to the rules of the land.   immortalizing Egil Skalgrimmson in his Saga makes sure that all Icelanders will remember their heritage and some lucky few will be able to identify  a relative by his appearance in the tale.  And in the end a dwarf just isn’t a dwarf without his family name, his time honored crest or his reputation for being able to drink more ale than anyone you know.