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Inspirational Reads

Well, a Happy Odin's Day to You, Too!

August 4, 2010

Last week, the trailer for the Thor movie was released in the wake of San Diego Comic Con. Since I don't have enough money to even hire hookers, much less pay someone to dispose of their bodies, I couldn't attend Comic Con. Therefore I had to wait and download the trailer online.

Now, I'll say that I've never really followed the Mighty Thor in comic book form because...well...Marvel's vision of the Norse pantheon and my vision of the Norse pantheon don't exactly jive. However, I was never a big fan of Iron Man, either, but the movies have been good (I say that having only seen one), so I thought I'd at least give Thor a try. Plus, it's being made by Kenneth Branagh, who is probably the first in a line of man-crushes for me. Dead Again is one of my favorite movies, and not just because one of the characters is named Roman.

See? Yeah, that's kind of a joke toward me. Get it? Fine.

Anyway, while perusing various blogs and other sites where the clip could be found, I saw a lot than aware people...who were complaining about Sir Anthony Hopkins' "pirate eye patch". In case you're unaware, Hopkins is playing Odin in the movie.

I'm not going to critique the trailer. It looks pretty, I'll go see it for no other reason than it's a Kenneth Branagh film and because Natalie Portman is in it. Clothed, but what can you do? And Australian Christopher Hemsworth looks like a fucking Viking god...which is appropriate, since he's playing Thor.

I did this for Athena a few months ago, which was received rather well, so I thought I'd give you a quick primer on Odin, and maybe explain why he's wearing a pirate's eye patch.

Odin is, of course, the chief of the Norse Pantheon, and head of the family known as the Aesir (which I think means "the older ones", roughtly). He is married to Frigg (or Frigga), but like some other naughty gods (Zeus, Poseidon), he had a bit of a wandering eye. He is credited with fathering Baldur and Hod with Frigga, and then Thor, Vali and Vidar with other various supernatural beings. Hermod is either a son of Odin or a servant, but is sometimes referred to as a brother of Baldur, which would make him another son of Odin. There's also a mortal hero named Hermod, who may or may not be one of Odin's offspring. He is also tied to fathering several heads of noble and royal lines across the Scandinavian and Germanic countryside. Take note: Odin was not the father of Loki.

Thanks to all this, Odin was known as the "All Father". This is not to say that he was the creator of the Earth (or Midgard, as the Norse termed it), but that he was prodigious in producing bastard sons to rule houses in the Nordic lands. He is also the father of the runic language, which he learned when he sacrificed himself to himself (a sacrifice made to the highest god, which was Odin) on the trunk of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. There the magic runes as well as magic songs were revealed to him.

Not satisfied in simply knowing some magic spells and some magic letters, Odin went to Mimir's well, the Well of Knowledge, in order to learn everything he could. Mimir wouldn't give up his secrets willingly, though, so Odin had to sacrifice something to the well. He chose his right eye. Plucking it out, he threw it in the waters and then drank from them, learning of the fates of the gods and the world. This, coupled with the Yggdrasil experience, made him associated with knowledge, and thus he became a wisdom god.

Knowing that the world would end with Ragnarok, Odin set about wandering the world. He also established the notion of the Einherjar, which are the spirits of warriors who died in glorious battle. The Valkyrie took the dead spirits to Odin's feast hall of Valhalla, where they would train during the day and get drucking funk during the night, all in preparation for the final battle. For this, Odin became known as a war god as well a god of death and dead souls. To bring this full circle, Odin was also the Father of Victory, for if you were victorious in battle, Odin surely chose your side to win.

In Germany, he was known as Wotan, and while the Germans were trading with the Romans (I couldn't leave them out of this, right?) they learned about the names of the days of the week from the Roman traders. The Romans called their day in the middle of the week "Mercury's Day." Mercury was a psychopomp--a leader of souls into the afterlife--which is also what Odin did. Since the Germans didn't worship Mercury, they altered the name to "Wotan's Day", which we now know as "Wednesday" (and that explains the fucked-up spelling for 'Wendsday'). This is why he appears in Neil Gaiman's American Gods as "Mr. Wednesday". Like the Romans, I can't leave him out of the mix, either.

The eye patch is a signature symbol for Odin. He is also associated with his two ravens, Huginn and Muninn (whose names mean "Thought and Memory" respectively), who fly around the world viewing everything. They return every evening to sit on Odin's shoulders and whisper in his ears what they've seen. He has two wolves, Geri and Freki, who flank his throne in Valhalla. He feeds them the food from his plate, since he only consumes mead and wine. He carries a dwarven-made spear named Gugnir and rides an eight-legged steed named Sleipnir into battle. Sleipnir was born of Loki, when Loki turned into a mare in order to fool a frost-giant's horse into running off. Care to guess who Sleipnir's father is?

When not wearing his black-and-gold battle armor (he's a fucking Purdue fan?), he usually wanders the world wearing a drab, gray cloak and a wide-brimmed hat that helps to cover up the eyepatch over his missing right eye. He usually has a long staff with him, as well as a signature white beard. In this guise, he is thought of as a charlatan, a huckster, or a con artist. He's also a bit of a shapeshifter, and as such he assumes the form of an eagle from time to time. He is doomed to die during the events of Ragnarok.

With that in mind, J.R.R. Tolkien formulated the image of Gandalf, whose Elvish name was "Mithrandir", meaning "The Gray Wanderer". Some have also associated Santa Claus as being a modern-day interpretation of Odin. Odin also shows up a lot in the Final Fantasy series of games, usually as a summoned monster/creature. Most of the time, he's riding Sleipnir.

In someone else's current manuscript in progress, the Norse god is only peripherally present. As such, the main characters simply refer to him as "Old One Eye", which is supposed to be a bit of an insult. You know, because a dick is also called "one eye".


Jidai said...

I do enjoy the marvel universe, but Thor has always been, well undefined in my mind. You have Iron Man dealing with alcoholism, X-men with discrimination and Spider-Man with the social life from hell.

While Thor and to an extent the Marvel hero Hercules have the worst family situations, you know, ever. Your own brother wanting to kill you, that's pretty hard to understand for a lot of people.

Also that whole speaking in old English throws some people off.

If you want a recommendation for reading I would suggest the recent reboot of The Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction. It really is a great read.

Wynn said...

It's really interesting and well, I am a little bias, but I just LOVE the though of our weekdays not being influenced by christianity.

Sun-day and moon-day, then comes Tyr, Odin's son (tuesday), Odin (wednesday), Thor, (thursday), and Freyja, (friday).
Here saturday is the washing-up-day and is not called after Saturn.

Makes me just a tad wetter in my knickers.

DEZMOND said...

I love Chris Hemsworth as Thor (and generally), I also love Anthony Hopkin's super charming eye-patch, I love (and always have) Kenneth Branagh .... I don't like Portman and don't really see her in this movie and I'm not really sure about casting most of the other actors in supporting roles, but since it's Branagh I'll give him a benefit of the doubt.

Sully said...

Now I'm dusting off my Hilda Ellis Davidson stuff.

Scope said...

Before I sold them off, Thor was the longest continuous comic book run I had. And Beta Ray Bill was BAD ASS!

Lisa-tastrophies said...

I swear I learned more about my Nordic roots reading this entry than I ever did listening to my mom try to explain it all. Then again, she didn't have "Australian Christopher Hemsworth looks like a fucking Viking god" to get me to pay attention.