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Monday, November 7, 2016

The Hammer of Thor (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #2) by Rick Riordan

Norsk myth is not as vast as Greek or Roman myth when it comes to the gods. The fragmented Skaldic poetry is difficult to decipher with its kennings and the narrative framework is skeletal at times. However, they are rich in meaning showing pre-Christian beliefs and practices in a dramatic narrative. A good storyteller retells the myths in new versions that are their own but also represent the originals. Rick Riordan does just that crafting heroes, gods, goddesses, and giants from myths that are a twist on the original tales with contemporary conflicts and pop culture adding humor and unique characters. Take Heimdall, the god that guards the Rainbow Bridge; he loves to take selfies on his phablet and checks out the world only through those selfies. He's bored and no longer doing his job particularly well which is to listen to threats in the world. The heroes of the story have to coax him back into doing his job.

Riordan layers his characters with themes presenting them as entertaining stock characters or contemporary ones giving depth to the story. Thor is presented as an egocentric dork that loves to stream movies and take the credit for everything along with his wife, Sif, who is vain; yet, both come through when needed by the heroes. Thor was the most popular god for the average person in ancient times. In the Icelandic Sagas by Snorri Sturluson, the adventure he tells of Thor and Loki where Thor poses as a woman marrying Utgard-Loki is full of humor and loss of face for Thor. Riordan weaves this story brilliantly into his plot so that the humans have to face the similar issues, but with the help of the gods are able to outwit the giants.

Riordan also peppers his stories with strong females. The Utgard-Loki marriage shows the female giant is the brains of the operation. The children of Loki are gender fluid characters, Alex and Sam. They are complex, strong, and vulnerable as they search for their identities. Alex can't control her gender changes and has suffered prejudice from others her whole life. It makes her or him aloof and temperamental, but Alex embraces his or her identity and is more confident than Sam, her sister. Sam is gender fluid as well but has never changed into a boy. She is a devote Muslim that works for the gods and while her religious identity is solid her personal identity is shaken as Loki can control her.  Alex says it is because she has not embraced her gender fluid side. Her character arc is not finished and it will be interesting to see what happens in the sequels.

The Viking myths, according to Kevin Crossley-Holland in "Norse Myths," relied on the family unit as they were stronger as one versus individually. They were fiercely loyal to friends and family and they strongly believed in Fate; however, Fate didn't give them a negative outlook - instead they admired those who laughed or endured a noble death. Riordan captures this in his books. The overarching message is that the protagonist, Magnus, values family whether they are blood relatives or not. His adventures carry the strong theme of courage, loyalty to friends, and embracing diversity in each other.

Skaldic poems contain myths, eulogies, and elegies that celebrate people or gods during the 9th to 13th century. They are difficult to understand because of their metaphorical references to contemporary people. The word, "gold," might mean "Freya's tears," and a modern-day reader would have to know the story of Loki tricking Freya by cutting off her hair and replacing it with gold to understand the poetic line. Riordan pokes fun at kennings making up his own or using some originals. My favorite made-up line is directed at Thor, who is referred to as, "Bright Crack" and Alex making a wisecrack about a "Plumber's Crack". Actually, Thor's hall is called, "Lightning Crack" or "Bright Crack" or "Bilskirnir".  Other metaphors difficult  to interpret are: "Bane of wood", that means, "fire"; or "bloodworm", that means "sword." Riordan adds much humor using irony and play-on-words.

The story of the cursed ring  is cleverly worked into the plot (I guess if I had to make up a kenning I'd call it, "Andvari's tears"). It takes the original Norsk tale and places it in a realistic portrayal of a deaf elf whose father has rejected him and blamed him for the deaths of his son and mother - a universal theme that readers can relate to today as much as in ancient times. The ring corrupts the bearer in both the original and here, and the reader will have to wait for the sequel to see what happens to the elf's father. Between Sam's unfinished business and the deaf elf, I'll be picking up book three.

4 Smileys

1 comment:

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