Unless you have been hiding from a Balrog under a moss encrusted rock, you have seen ads for Amazon's new TV series on the "Lord of the Rings." Several moss-encrusted decades ago, I read the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy during college. The new series takes place thousands of years before Frodo and pals graced Middle Earth. It also takes place without the guiding hands of J.R.R. Tolkien, being created from whole Mithril by writers living in the second decade of the 21st Century. Since Professor Tolkien sailed off in 1973 to the Gray Havens to join Bilbo, I am pretty sure he had nothing to do with the upcoming series. Feeling grumpy about his story being assumed by lesser writers than Tolkien, I decided to investigate the back story from whence Middle Earth emerged.
Norse mythology is as colorful as Greek mythology is convoluted. Tolkien was a fan of Norse mythology. Today we shall wander through and mangle Viking theology.
My first exposure to the Norsemen came in the form of an excellent 1958 movie called "The Vikings" with Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis and the star of McHale's Navy, Ernest Borgnine. The Vikings were a rough bunch with an equally tough bunch of gods. The opening of "The Vikings" recites a line from the "English Book of Common Prayer": "Protect us, oh Lord from the wrath of the Northmen." So, hop on board Mr. Peabody's Way Back Machine to head back to the 11th Century when the Vikings were doing their thing.
Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga was inspired by the Norse story of Andvari's magic ring. According to Mr. Google, Andvari was a dwarf who enjoyed humidity and lived under a waterfall. Andy, as his friends called him, could turn himself into a fish on demand. Why he wanted to become a fish is beyond the scope of this column. Andy owned a magic ring called Andvaranaut, which allowed him to find gold at will. One day when Andy was swimming about as a fish, he had the misfortune to be caught by the Norse god Loki. Loki strong-armed Andy into giving him the magic ring and all his gold. Naturally, Andy was not happy by this turn of events.
Andy put a curse on his stolen ring that whoever had it would come to a bad end. It's not nice to steal from dwarves, even if they are in the form of a fish.
Loki's background is nontraditional. When Loki was male, he was the proud father of a daughter named Hel, the goddess of the Underworld. Loki also had two sons. Loki was a bit of a jokester. Being bored one day, he turned himself into a mare and managed to get in the horsey family way by a stallion. While in his mare form, Loki gave birth to an eight-legged colt. Loki enjoyed shape-shifting and appeared as a number of critters, including a fly. He used the stolen ring to bribe Odin to give Loki a pass for killing the son of a god. A whole bunch of sword fighting, dragon-slaying and talking birds ensue from the curse of the ring. Lots of Viking folks end up with the ring, with each coming to a bad end. In one version, Queen Gurun ends up with the ring. Gurun then marries Attila, the Hun who succumbs to the ring's curse, losing his war with Rome.
Loki's bribe to Odin ultimately led to the death of one of Odin's sons. When Odin discovered Loki's role, he and his buddies are sorely vexed. Trigger warning: Don't upset Odin. Odin turned Loki's son Vali into a wolf, who then chowed down on Loki's other son Narfi creating shredded Narfi. The gods plucked out Narfi's unchewed organs and turned them into iron bands. Odin used the iron bands to fasten Loki to a rock. Some might consider being chained to a rock with the vital organs of a child to be a pretty harsh punishment. But not the Norse gods. Oh, no. Like Karen Carpenter once sang, they had only just begun. The goddess of the moon, a lass named Skadi, wanted to get in on the action.
She caught a giant drooling poisonous snake. Skadi tied the snake over Loki's head where it would drip venom right onto poor Loki, causing him pain and great mental anguish. This punishment lasted for quite a while until Loki's sweet wife Sigyn found Loki. She brought her favorite Calphalon pot to catch the venom as it dripped down on Loki. Sigyn is still sitting by Loki, catching venom even as you read these words.
Unfortunately, Sigyn must empty the pot when the venom fills it up periodically.
When she takes the pot away, the snake drool keeps hitting Loki while the pot is being emptied. The impact of the venom makes Loki shake in pain. The Vikings explain that Loki's shaking causes earthquakes.
So, what did we learn today?
Even if you can turn yourself into a fish, don't do it.
Don't anger the Norse gods.
And always be nice to your wife if you don't want venom dripped on your head.