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A friend fox (spirit?) is your companion and second playable character throughout, so here is a hasty bit of fanart from yours truly.

A friend fox (spirit?) is your companion and second playable character throughout, so here is a hasty bit of fanart from yours truly.

Myself and many of my folklorist friends have been excited about the new game Never Alone, finally out now. The game was developed in tandem with Alaskan native storytellers, and as you progress you unlock short snippets of what is basically a documentary about traditional native Alaskan life. The game looks beautiful, the cut-scenes (and to a degree the overall side-scrolling character of the game) referencing the scrimshaw aesthetic of native Alaskan art, and I’ve been enjoying the narration (not in English–there are subtitles, don’t worry). Unfortunately my laptop is too aged to really play it, so I’ve only been able to get past a few checkpoints–I’m still not really out of the “tutorial” stage since my computer keeps crashing. :/  I got it through Steam, but it is also available for Xbox 1 and PS 4 (I only have a PS 2 and Xbox 360, so no luck for me there… incidentally, I do need to buy a new computer, so if you want to help me out with that purchase go to Redbubble and buy some of my stuff! T-shirts are on sale today for Cybermonday!). I’ve also had some issues with the controls, but that may be my computer again–I am afraid I just can’t comment much on the gameplay itself so far, given my technical difficulties (or the story, since I haven’t been able to get very far yet). What I do know of the story is that it is based on a traditional tale of a never-ending blizzard that makes it so the hunters are unable to get food for their families. The protagonist is a little girl, who I assume will be resolving this problem. With her is a fox companion who grants her special access to the world of the spirits and follows along to help her on her journey. So far the story is more of a struggle with the harsh environment (and presumably a mystery as they try to get to the bottom of the never ending blizzard), rather than being centered around a conflict with a specific antagonist, but like I said, I haven’t been able to get very far yet. As you progress you unlock snippets of the documentary, and it gives you the option of watching these immediately–I recommend waiting till later to watch these, as it breaks up the action of the game, making it feel less like a game and pulling you out of the narrative. The context is nice for building up your understanding of the world you are engaging with in the story, so you should definitely watch them, but do it at the end of your gaming session, or better, at the beginning of your next session–or every half hour or hour, if you are playing for a long time.

I’ve been getting really interested in the narrative world of video games lately, partly thanks to a friend whose PhD deals with artificial intelligence and narrative in video games, so it is really fun to run across a game that attempts to bridge the gap between traditional narrative and video gaming in a way that is not simple appropriation and exploitation. At one point in the documentary portion of the game the native participants speak of the “authenticity” of the project. I know “authenticity” has become a bit of a dirty word in folkloristics (I’ve referenced Regina Bendix’s book on the subject several times), but we should note that the suspicion of that word comes out of the paternalistic attitude towards the “folk” on the part of early folklorists, as well as the appropriative, exploitative tendencies of the market–in other words, outsiders constructing the cultural products of the insiders as childlike, “ethnic”, naive, etc, making it acceptable to harvest it without credit or respect for the culture and people who made it, as well as serving to construct those people as “Other”, exotic, museum pieces rather than contemporary agents. In terms of these power dynamics, I think it is quite appropriate to think of “authenticity” in terms of who is doing the “speaking”, so if a native participant in the making of the game wants to sell its authenticity, I am all for it. Which is not to say that things might not be more complicated–from what I understand, this is to be the first in a series of “world games,” exploring traditional cultural material from all over the world, so obviously there is a bit of the usual mining of “traditional culture” for commercial commodities going on here. I think it will be interesting to see how they go about it, and how the populations they work with feel about the end result.

And below, the embedded trailer of the game! It seems great to me so far, despite my technical difficulties, so I recommend getting your hands on it!

This was never a contest entry, but hey, it's a nice winter pic. From my Tomte and Friends series (of three only, so far...)

This was never a contest entry, but hey, it’s a nice winter pic. From my Tomte and Friends series (of three only, so far…)

Yay, it’s that time of year again! The Midwinter Art Contest is ON at the Norse Mythology blog! I’ve been fortunate enough to be at least mentioned in each of the last three contests, but the last one (the 2014 Midsummer contest) I got first place!! Whoohoo! I’ll post my previous entries below, along with one of my pen brush sketches that I am thinking of redoing in photoshop for the contest. I don’t actually know if I’ll have time for that though, as I’m pretty overloaded with my teaching and translating obligations at the moment–plus, hey, I’m a total amateur, and I know there are a lot of artists out there who like doing Norse stuff who are WAY better than me, so I want everyone to apply!! EVERYONE! There are also parallel contests for kids and teenagers, so whether you are young or old, you get to participate! Celebrity judges and everything!

My winning midsummer pic had an Yggdrasil theme, so I'm considering turning this sketch into a more thorough and Wintry digital painting. We'll see... I may not have time for anything.

My winning midsummer pic had an Yggdrasil theme, so I’m considering turning this sketch into a more thorough and Wintry digital painting. We’ll see… I may not have time for anything.

My entry "People Watching"

My last midsummer entry “People Watching” that I got first place for! :D

I only got honorable mention for this Midwinter Entry, but that's fine--there were awesome winners, and I got a nice comment from the guy who designed the Norse myth postage stamps for the Faroe Islands.

I only got honorable mention for this Midwinter Entry, but that’s fine–there were awesome winners, and I got a nice comment from the guy who designed the Norse myth postage stamps for the Faroe Islands.

My entry for the first contest, Midsummer 2013--I think I got 3rd place (if I remember correctly). More about the idea of midsummer, rather than dealing explicitly with any Midsummer myths or practices. Also, part of my Tomte and Friends series. I really need to get back to that--I do have a sketch that might fit, but it is oriented vertically, breaking the widescreen trend in these pics...

My entry for the first contest, Midsummer 2013–I think I got 3rd place (if I remember correctly). More about the idea of midsummer, rather than dealing explicitly with any Midsummer myths or practices. Also, part of my Tomte and Friends series. I really need to get back to that–I do have a sketch that might fit, but it is oriented vertically, breaking the widescreen trend in these pics…

Halloween trolls

Inktober Troll 001Yikes, I haven’t done any posts yet this month–and tomorrow is a new month! Well, Halloween is a good excuse, I suppose–and this will be as much as I do for Halloween today, as I’ll be working late into the night.

Last year I posted about the politics of costuming and put up a picture of a post-colonial sci-fi teddy dressed as a Viking (cultural appropriation!), and the year previous I had a couple Halloween-related posts, one with some reading recommendations, and one with some notes for those wishing to put together an (admittedly very basic) Viking costume. This year will be about those most Scandinavian of Monsters, trolls. Well, OK, I already have a post on trolls, or more particularly, on John Lindow’s recent book on the subject, which, as I mentioned before, I highly recommend. So I’m not really going to write much today (no time in any case). Instead, here is a sketch of a troll (OK, very different visualization than what you usually get with Scandinavian representations of trolls)–my final sketch for Inktober 2014, which I’ve been occasionally contributing to on my tumblr and deviantart.

Additionally, here is a movie recommendation: Troll Hunter! I’ve mentioned it before, but I still love this Norwegian movie. OK, if you want something scarier but still Scandinavian, try the Swedish Let the Right One In (there is an original Swedish version, which I’ve watched, and a remake), based on Jonas Ajvide Lindqvist‘s novel (I recommend more of his work in one of my posts linked to above). If I have time for a break from work tonight, I will watch one of those two movies (last I checked, both are on Netflix). Trailer for Troll Hunter embedded below (if I manage to do it right), though honestly, part of the joy of the film is the tension as you wait to finally glimpse a troll–so I say just go ahead and watch the full movie! Also, apparently a remake is in the works–I don’t know why, as the original is pretty much perfect as is. :/

Happy Halloween.

Readers of this blog know that I am a bit of a Tolkien buff–not saying I’m great with the trivia, but JRRT has definitely inspired and shaped the goals and arc of my life quite a bit since I was a wee lad. I read and loved the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings at an early age (fourth grade… I may have read the Hobbit in third, can’t remember), but it wasn’t too long before I moved on to the Silmarillion, and after that discovered Christopher Tolkien’s editions of his father’s earlier drafts of the Silmarillion and other unpublished work. While I’d already decided that I wanted to “be” Tolkien, I suppose it was these posthumous bits and all their accompanying learned notes that first gave me a taste for any sort of scholarly approach to texts.

I don’t remember how old I was when I read the two volumes of The Book of Lost Tales–I may have been in Jr Hi or High School when I finally got to volume two–but at some point early on (probably in one of the non-authorized biographies, now that I think about it) I learned that the start of JRRT’s mythos was a poem about Eärendel the half-elven mariner who… um, shoot, you should probably at least read the Silmarillion before I spoil that for you. Here’s a hint, he comes into the family line of both Elrond and Aragorn in a big way…

Eärendel is derived from Éarendel the “day star,” “brightest of angels” in the Old English poem Crist by Cynewulf (there is a prose translation here), but the name is attested elsewhere in the Germanic languages as well. I don’t have time to write much on this (as much as I would like to dig into this more for myself as well)–classes start Thursday–but in my own particular field (Old Norse mythology) we know him as Aurvandil, whose toe was turned into a star by Thor (and in Saxo’s version he is Hamlet’s/Amleth’s father–will the connections never cease). And of course the Old Norse scholar Peter Foote just had to name one of his collections of essays Aurvandilstá (A’s toe)…

The occasion for this post is the fact that, the day after it was relevant, I ran across this article on the centenary of Tolkien’s Eärendel poem, and so the centenary of Middle Earth. I won’t comment on it (again, lack of time), but it’s pretty interesting, not least with its notes re: a suggested bit of intertextuality with reference to one of Shelley’s poems (said interpretation makes Tolkien come off as a sort of belated English version of the Swedish Gothic Society, I think, in that they also consciously replaced the Classical fetish of earlier Romanticism and Neo-Classicism with a more “Germanic” National Romantic fetish).

And of course I’m posting on this rather late, but that’s because I felt like I just HAD to have some sort of illustration of my own for it, being a rabid Tolkienite and all. My pen brush sketch is pretty rough, but I hope to redo it in photoshop eventually (like I did with my pic of the Valkyrie Mist). More inspired-by than an illustration-of. The poem (or the final version) you can find in volume 2 of The Book of Lost Tales, but I will post the first stanza here (the original version of the first stanza you can find in the article I link to in the previous paragraph):

Éarendel arose where the shadow flows

At Ocean’s silent brim;

Through the mouth of night as a ray of light

Where the shores are sheer and dim

He launched his bark like a silver spark

From the last and lonely sand;

Then on sunlit breath of day’s fiery death

He sailed from Westerland.

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Science Fiction and Progress

I’ve just run across Neal Stephenson’s Hieroglyphs project, and it sounds pretty cool to me. The project page is here, and a summary on wikipedia is here to supplement the video embedded above, but in short it seems to be an attempt to return to a more conscious attempt to harness the imaginative power of science fiction for the benefit of progress in society at large. It seems to be partially in response to the predominance of dystopian literature in recent years, but I believe some of the authors involved are still careful to note that dystopian can be as essential as utopian imaginings of the future when it comes to motivating and enabling progress. I haven’t gotten too far in my exploration of the project (looks like they have some forums online, a story collection, and lots of other cool stuff going on), but I do recommend the radio program on the project that they link to, which includes interviews with major authors and performances of the three winners of a short story contest the radio show held. I really like Kim Stanley Robinson’s comments on the project, though I also wish someone would have made more of an explicit point of the connection between the material bases of production and the social, cultural, and other possibilities we have for the ways in which we live. KSR’s comments to gesture towards that a bit, though, if I remember correctly. Just finished the final interview with Samuel Delany, and enjoyed that as always (more for Delany than for the interviewer).

Would love to comment on this more (and juxtapose this particular aspect of sci-fi with the other ways in which speculative fiction fosters a healthy imagination), but I have to get back to translating. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy exploring the Hieroglyph project! I will have to pick up a copy of the book soon…

Moving to LA

Hey folks, sorry for the lack of posts lately–earlier in the month I got a last-minute one-year position at UCLA teaching Swedish and a few other things for this year, and I’ve been pretty taken up with trying to get ahead on this translation so that I have less to stress about when I get down there and start teaching. I’m excited that I get to teach a course on Norse Mythology this Fall quarter! Always my favorite. Sounds like I’ll teach another favorite of mine, Other Worlds in Scandinavian Literature and Film, for Winter 2-15. We had to add the Mythology course fairly late, since I only got the position the last couple of weeks, so if you know anyone at UCLA who might enjoy it, let them know! I threw together a super quick flier with info and some old illustrations of Norse Mythology from the likes of John Bauer, so check that out below, and feel free to share!!! [edit–a friend noted I’d accidentally written “2012” on the flier, so I’ve fixed that]

Scandinavian Mythology Flier 2014

 

Tove Jansson at 100

IMG_2951The great Finnish children’s writer (and illustrator/artist) Tove Jansson was born 100 years ago today! I first ran across her work when finishing up a final semester of undergrad in Lund, Sweden, and have been a fan ever since. As a “finlandssvensk” she wrote in Swedish, but of course her work is available in all sorts of crazy languages.

IMG_2952I was hoping to do an illustration of my own, but I just don’t have time today–maybe later, I’ve been thinking of doing a moomin illustration for a long time. Meanwhile, here are images (see below) of almost all my Tove Jansson library–excluding, unfortunately, the first book I read by her (and still my favorite), Trollvinter (in English as Moominland Midwinter), which I stumbled through with my still shaky reading Swedish back in 2001, and which I enjoyed skimming through last winter in Minnesota (seeing as I finally actually had a midwinter to experience). Funny enough, while the Moomins hibernate through the winter (that being a key plot point for this story, in which poor old Moomin wakes up while everyone else is asleep), the fact that I read this book first (and during the Fall/early Winter in Scandinavia, though we got no snow in Lund) has forever associated the snow-man shaped moomins with winter for me. Ah well.

IMG_2949A couple years back I found out that Tove Jansson had done a comic strip based off of the Moomins as well, and for the London Evening News no less, so it is in English from the start. I can’t say how closely the strip and the children’s books are supposed to be aligned (haven’t read enough of either), but they certainly seem to share the same overall sensibility.

IMG_2950Of course the children’s book illustrations generally feel a bit more polished, while retaining a tasteful simplicity and legibility, and the strip illustrations are a bit more “busy” and rough–but just as enjoyable as their own “thing.” Actually, the strip illustrations for some reason have a bit of the feel of some of 50s era cartoons–well, this is just a feeling that came on me now, but for some reason these strips are evoking (very distantly) some of the harshness and angularity that I feel from, say, some of the 50s and 60s non-feature Disney animation. But I think I may be pushing that comparison quite a bit… And yes, I realize “angularity” is hardly what you think of looking at the rounded Moomin figures, is it. Well, I think there is something that feels like a pictorial Zeitgeist going on here, but I think I’ve failed to find an adequate knee-jerk articulation of it…

Meanwhile, here are all my Moomin books! Minus Trollvinter and a picture book I picked up for my nieces when they were much much younger. Oh, and remember to check out the Moomin cafe next time you are in Japan!

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