Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Asgard and Settings

I don't talk enough about Norse Mythology on this blog for someone who is writing a book heavily influenced by its gods. (Among others.)

I have already delved into what I think of the character of Thor, and a little bit about the problems we have reading the source material and learning about the gods, and I've mentioned Loki and Sif in passing, of course, because you can't talk about Thor without talking about them, too. But today, I want to talk about Asgard itself. Asgard, in particular, as it applies to The Book of Generations.

It took me a while to get comfortable with Asgard as a setting. I knew, generally what I wanted to do with it, what I wanted it to be, but it wasn't until a few months after I had finished the first draft of my book that I was able to really get down on paper how I wanted it to be SEEN. This imaginary home of the gods isn't something that's been addressed en masse by the great painters of the world, or really shown by anyone outside of Marvel's comic book pages. That leaves me with a pretty blank slate, or will, until the movie comes out in May 2011. Even then, I'm not sure how much of Asgard they intend to put on screen, or if the movie bombs, how much exposure it will get.

But I also had another problem with describing Asgard, as I wrote Generations. The only character seeing it, had built it, lived in it, and known it down to its last stone, for centuries. Through Thor's eyes, how much of the grandeur of Asgard can we really see? How much note will he take of the gardens, or the carvings that decorate the doors to Odin's Hall? Would he really pause to admire them as he goes about his business? So how do I convey the setting of Asgard as I want it to be seen, without compromising the character of Thor?

My first round Betas were adamant that something had to be done. They wanted to see Asgard, and I had largely ignored its description up to that point. But there was really only one good place in the book to expand on it, and it didn't really have room for more than a few lines at best. But I'm a layerer. Thor doesn't spend a whole lot of time in Asgard in Generations, but I know he'll come back to it. And I know, if he has things his way, he'll bring along some friends. Each revision since has given me the chance to add in a line here or a line there, until, I hope, a picture of Asgard was painted within the manuscript.

All right. So instead of talking about Asgard, I just spent three paragraphs talking about my struggles with it in the book. So what about Asgard as more than just setting? What's the heart of Asgard as a place? What does Asgard mean?

In my book, Asgard has been built stone-by-stone by Thor and Odin and was completed some time roughly before the birth of Moses. It isn't the first Asgard, and it certainly won't be the last, but it's the only Asgard of Earth-- of this plane of existence. It's not exactly part of the world, but it isn't exactly separate from it. It's where the gods dwell, much like Olympus for the Greeks, but it isn't somewhere that anyone can walk into, or even find. Asgard exists in and of itself, somewhere in the North, and it's only accessible by the Norse gods themselves, or by explicit invitation. I suppose that other gods from other pantheons could show up, but it would probably start a war if Odin hadn't given them the greenlight in advance.

Asgard is built around the World Tree, Yggdrasil. In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil connects the nine worlds, from Asgard to Hel to Jotunheim to Midgard, and so on. In my book, the existence of the nine worlds lies outside of this one. The catalog of Norse Mythology becomes, in essence, a history of the migratory Norse gods who have settled within our world. It turns out, this was also a convenient way to subvert Ragnarok as the ultimate end of the world, and make room for the other pantheons involved on Earth, and their own histories. When the Norse gods left their original home, they uprooted Yggdrasil and brought it with them. Every Asgard has been built around Yggdrasil. It is the only constant as they move from world to world, rebuilding themselves and their city as they go.

I want to end with a bit of an excerpt. If you visited Gary Corby's blog recently, you'd have seen a little bit of Asgard in the comments, by way of describing Thor himself, as part of a writing exercise, but  there's so much more to Bilskirnir (Thor's hall) than just a single room and some frustrations with antiquated kitchen equipment. As aggravating as Asgard could be to me, it turned out that when I finally got to showcase it, I had a really great time! (full disclosure: this is a first draft. Thor is showing a friend his hall and the scene is written from this friend's perspective.)

[excerpt deleted]

Annnnd I'm going to awkwardly stop here before the end of the scene, because it's too long to post all of it, but you get the picture?

Are there any physical settings giving you a hard time as you write your novel?


  1. I love the excerpt and all the background info. Yay for new brain wrinkles! You've got such a great setting to describe- so fun!

    Settings in Egypt tend to all be brown. Working on Book #2, I'm having a hard time coming up with new ways to describe the same stuff. I'm hoping when I actually sit down and concentrate on writing it will go a little smoother.

  2. Stephanie: I thought you did a great job with it in Hatshepsut. Your settings were very vivid to me. (And I will be sending you your manuscript very soon-- I had company this weekend and got behind on my work again. RAR! but it's coming!)

    I think the excerpt loses something taken outside the context of the scene itself, but oh well...

  3. I love me some Norse myths and world-building. Loki is featured quite prominently in 3 of my works.

  4. Mythology is so fascinating. I haven't studied it much, but I sure love reading about it when it's put in front of me!

    Descriptions are probably my weakest point. I love dialogue, emotions, character... My descriptions are brief at best. I keep telling myself it's easier to add them in later anyway... *grin*

  5. I think you did great! We all love a good story about the gods. :-)

  6. Bane: Loki is like, the best source of conflict in the world. I can't imagine a story with him being dull.

    Nisa: I do the same thing-- layer in the description later as necessary. I don't really have a lot of patience for reading paragraphs of description in stories, anyway, I usually kind of skim over it.. >_>

    Shannon: Thanks! I know I do, anyway--hopefully everyone else will too :)


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