Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Seven Viking Romances: Arrow-Odd

I'm reading Seven Viking Romances (Penguin Classics, edited by Hermann Pálsson) right now -- a fantastic Christmas Gift from my brother, who has read more of this stuff than I am likely to ever manage -- but I'll be honest with you, the first "romance" ARROW-ODD is kind of, well... Odd.

Odd himself is kind of a jerk, and not the least sympathetic. I'm not really surprised by this, because it was a different culture and a different time, and when you read the stories of Theseus and Pirithous and Heracles from the modern perspective, they're kind of jerky too. But Odd isn't just a jerk, he's pretty ungrateful and demanding, from the start. As a young man, he's gifted arrows by people (I don't know why, I wouldn't give him anything) and leaves them lying around for people to sit on and hurt themselves, and then when his foster-father takes him to task for it, he demands the man slaughter one of his goats to make him a premium-grade quiver to keep them, because, he says "I'd have thought you could only blame me if you'd given me something to keep them in," (p. 27).

Then, when that's settled (what a little punk kid!) his father invites a prophetess to give them their fortunes and tell them their fates -- but for some completely unexplained reason, Odd thinks this is a terrible idea and is furious with his foster father for doing it, even more so when the woman gives him his fortune, that he'll live 300 years before he's killed by the skull of his horse. He's so mad, in fact, that he ATTACKS HER with a stick, and bloodies her nose. (what!?)

And this is all before he ditches his foster parents (good-riddance) and starts going out and killing people, completely unprovoked, just to prove that he's "the better man." Oh. Okay, then. On one of these quests, for example, this exchange takes place (p. 59):
'[...] Shall we carry on fighting or part now, because I can tell you how our battle is bound to end. Your sworn-brothers Hjalmar and Thord will both fall here, and so will every one of your followers. All my warriors will be killed, too, only the two of us will be left standing, and then, if we fight it out, you will be the death of me.'

'On with the game then, till all our men and yours are dead,' said Odd.
In  contrast, his "sworn-brother," Hjalmar comes off as downright AWESOME when he proposes these rules for Viking-ing to Odd (p. 49):
1) His people don't and won't eat raw meat. (I'm not sure what the cultural significance is to this but I kind of want to find out.)
2) Never rob merchants or peasants beyond what is needed to cover IMMEDIATE needs.
3) Never rob women. No matter how alone or how rich or how easy a target.
4) No woman is to be taken against her will, upon penalty of death.
Odd agrees, sure, because he perceives Hjalmar as his equal, but the first time things don't go his way, he's ready to throw number 4 out the window for revenge, and is only stopped by the bribe of a magic shirt. I'm still kind of hoping that it will poison him before the end of the story -- but alas, we already know Odd's fate: He gets to live 4 times longer than he has any right to, to continue being a jerk to people in four countries.

I'm hoping the story of King Gautrek in the next romance will offer me some kind of hero I can root for.


  1. Ummmmm. So Odd is pretty ODD... Uhh. I totally wouldn't gift him arrows..

    1. I KNOW. I wouldn't either!! Ungrateful so-and-so!

  2. Holy crap! I'm raging at Odd and I haven't even read the story, haha.

    It sounds like a really interesting book, though! You'll have to let me know if the other stories in it feature any better characters.

    1. You will not want to rage at him less after reading the real thing, I can promise you. It's definitely interesting, but a totally different time, you know? And even knowing that, I still can't find anything redeeming about Odd the way I might for Theseus or Pirithous or Heracles. I feel like even Pirithous would be like "..." if faced with Odd.


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