Guest Blog: Susan Krinard on Mythology in Fantasy

October 3, 2014 Guests 0

A big welcome to Susan Krinard who is here to telling us about Mythology in Fantasy and celebrating the release of Black Ice, Midgard #2 (published on August 12, 2014 by Tor).


Mythology in Fantasy


Susan Krinard

When I set about writing my first Norse-mythology-based urban fantasy, Mist, I had a lot of preconceptions. Silly ones. Like, “I should stick as closely to the actual myth as possible,” and, “if I create my own version of the myths, people will criticize my research.”

I no longer feel bound by these concerns, but they aren’t completely without foundation. I attended a local science fiction convention some years back, and was on a panel about vampires, werewolves and the like with several other authors, including one who was also a scholar of mythology. As a romance writer, I was one of the first authors to feature a “non-cursed,” biologically-based shapeshifter/werewolf protagonist. During the panel, I explained how I’d created these shapeshifters, only to be told by the “scholar” that since I had deviated so far from the traditional myths, my characters were really not “werewolves” at all.

Needless to say, I found that idea ridiculous, and still do. Mythology and legend don’t need to be followed slavishly; they’re merely jumping-off points for the storyteller.

Norse mythology is a particularly interesting case, because most of it was written down centuries after the legends were an essential part of the pagan Norseman or Norsewoman’s daily life. In fact, the foremost chronicler of the myths, Snorri Sturluson, was a Christian who almost certainly filtered them through the lens of his religion, and subtly changed the characters and their stories. He, like other authors, probably took what he wanted and left the rest.

In recent years, Marvel Comics has created a “cinematic universe” (MCU) of Thor and his fellow gods, based loosely on the myths but featuring many significant changes. In the myths as set down by Sturluson, Thor is only one of several sons of Odin, the king of the gods of Asgard. Loki is the son of two giants (Laufey and Farbauti, where Laufey is the mother, not the father) and a “blood-brother” to Odin . . . more of a demi-god than a true god. Freya is a goddess of fertility, battle, and sex, while Frigga was the queen of the gods and able to foretell the future, though she could not change it. In the films, Odin’s other sons go unmentioned, Loki is Odin’s adopted son, Freya is completely missing and Frigga has no gift for seeing the future. The “gods” are actually more like aliens, with advanced technology in some areas but an almost medieval set of customs and values.

So, though the MCU is probably many peoples’ first introduction to Norse mythology and the world of the Norse gods, the Aesir, it leaves out many fascinating aspects of the original myths— such as the Valkyrie, the “Choosers of the Slain,” who swept over the battlefields on their flying chargers and gathered up the bravest of the fallen warriors to join Odin in his hall, Valhalla. These warriors, the Einherjar, would later fight for the gods against Loki and his giants at the final battle, Ragnarok, which was to end the old world and give rise to a new one of peace and plenty.

When I set about writing Mist and its sequel, Black Ice, I had to choose which elements of the original myth I wanted to keep, which I wanted to alter, and which I wanted to add. For instance, Freya is generally shown as benevolent in most retellings, though like all the gods she has a dark side. Some tales say that she’s among the most approachable of the gods, and though Loki accuses her of being promiscuous, she denies it. She is also a practitioner of Seidr—an ancient form of shamanic magic—which I developed in my own way, and to which I added the “glamour,” Freya’s ability to mesmerize others with her beauty and sensuality.

In Black Ice, Freya is not at all what you’d expect a typical “goddess of love” to be. I chose to emphasize her dark side, as part of an overarching plot that ends—in the third book, Battlestorm—with a deeper understanding of why Freya is what she is . . . and why Mist, the trilogy’s protagonist, is what she is. Much of Freya’s and Mist’s stories are about the nature of the self: who we really are, and what goes into making a whole person.

I chose to stick with the original concept of Loki as a shapeshifting demi-god who is at times allied with the gods, at other times opposed to them. The Loki of myth was a true trickster in the sense that he kept the world of the gods constantly off-balance—changing loyalties at the drop of the hat depending on the advantage to him, and behaving recklessly because of an unchecked ego and endless delight in mischief. No one can beat Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal, but the Loki of MCU isn’t the one who, as a mare, gave birth to an eight-legged horse, or could literally become a fly on the wall. My Loki can, and it’s tremendous fun to make use of the full range of his tricks.

There are mysterious gaps in the myths transcribed by Sturluson. For instance, elves are mentioned almost in passing, described as high beings with their own world, Alfheim. They are ruled by the god Freyr, Freya’s brother, and commonly dine with the gods in Valhalla. Little more is said of them—certainly nothing of their appearance except that they are beautiful, and nothing of their magic or of Alfheim itself. Tolkien drew on the concept of the “light” elves from Germanic folklore, but he built his own mythology based on the traditions of many cultures.

No author can entirely escape Tolkien’s vision, and with my elven character, Dainn, I chose to follow in that tradition, with “high elves” as elite near-equals to the Aesir. My elves base their magic on nature in concert with rune-magic, or Galdr . . . of which Sturluson says very little, except in enumerating the kinds of spells Odin learned when he discovered the magic of runes by hanging himself from the branches of the “World Tree” Yggdrasil. While there are practitioners of Galdr today, I didn’t lean much on modern traditions, but developed my own concepts of how such magic might be used.

As for the Valkyrie, relatively little is said of them in the extant writings. We know many of their names. We know that they were said to deliver dead heroes to both Odin and Freya, and to spend much of their timeserving alcoholic beverages to the Aesir and their guests in the gods’ great feasting halls. They were not, in fact, warriors themselves, and I played up this idea by suggesting that Mist wasn’t happy with her role as a deliverywoman and serving-wench when she resided in Asgard. Sent to Midgard, earth, to guard one of the Aesir’s great Treasures from Loki and the bad guys, she trained to become a warrior and exceed the limitations that her position—and myth—imposed upon her.

The final battle between gods and giants, Ragnarok, traditionally marks the end of the age of the Aesir. In the Midgard trilogy, I altered the way in which “Ragnarok” occurs, and use it as a stepping-stone to a plot about changing destiny through the acts of individuals and their relationships with one another.

Ultimately, myths are more interesting when they’re about people. And altering myth to serve that purpose is really what storytelling is all about.

 Susan Krinard has been writing paranormal romance and fantasy since 1993, when a published author friend read a short story she’d written and advised her to try writing a novel. She sold her first novel to Bantam Dell, and has since written for Bantam, Penguin, Harlequin/ Silhouette, Harper Collins, St. Martin’s Press., and Tor Books. Her output includes twenty-three novels and twelve novellas and short stories.
Susan’s love for Science Fiction and Fantasy began when her fourth grade teacher read Madeleine L’Engles’ A Wrinkle In Time to the class. She attended her first Star Trek convention at the age of 14. Since then she’s continued to read voraciously and has attended numerous local and World Science Fiction conventions. Her first major urban fantasy series is the “Midgard” series, beginning with Mist, a July 2013 release from Tor Books.
Susan and works in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband Serge Mailloux—whom she met because of a mutual love of the works of writer C. J. Cherryh—dogs Cagney, Nahla and Freya, and cats Agatha and Rocky.

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 Black Ice by Susan Krinard


Available on August 12, 2014 by Tor


Centuries ago, all was lost in the Last Battle when the Norse gods and goddesses went to war. The elves, the giants, and the gods and goddesses themselves were all destroyed, leaving the Valkyrie known as Mist one of the only survivors.
Or so she thought.
The trickster god Loki has reappeared in San Francisco, and he has big plans for modern-day Earth. With few allies and fewer resources—but the eyes of the gods and goddesses of an old world upon her—it’s up to Mist to stop him before history repeats itself.

Read an excerpt

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