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Archive for the ‘Sagas’ Category

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Grettir according to a late 1600s manuscript

Grettis saga, or The Saga of Grettir the Strong (I’ve used both the Scudder translation and the Fox/Palsson one) was the first saga I taught, way back in 2003, my first time as a Grad Student Instructor doing Reading and Composition for the Department of Scandinavian at Berkeley. It is counted as one of the Icelandic Family sagas, or Sagas of Icelanders, which were set in the period of about 930-1030. Some of these sagas take place primarily before the conversion to Christianity in 1000 (eg, Egils saga, Gisla saga--parts do take place after the conversion, but the main action takes place in the late pagan period), while others straddle the conversion (Brennu-Njáls saga, etc). Grettis saga, as far as the main character goes (the story of the earlier generations takes place in the pagan period), primarily takes place after the conversion. The saga itself is also believed to have been written relatively late compared to the other Sagas of Icelanders (they are generally thought to date in their original written forms from the early 1200s to the early 1300s), and has often suffered in comparison to the shining reputation of, say, Njáls saga, often seen as the height of the (classic, family) saga form. We can lay the blame on Grettis saga‘s relatively scattered plot (we can point to some central conflicts, but the story-matter itself tends to be very episodic) and the “folkloric” (read: monster fights) elements.

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A (very cartoony) image of Grettir lifting a rock–there are standing stones in Iceland that are referred to as “Grettir’s lift”, and the saga tells us of one or two such stones that he supposedly lifted while lazing about waiting for someone. Grettir continues to make a point of reminding us that he is the strongest even across all these centuries…

Of course the more casual reader, especially the one raised on Tolkien, Martin, Rowling, etc, will probably enjoy the saga for precisely the over-the-top elements, though do brace yourself for the episodic nature of the story. Where the more “respectable” sagas can be read as largely revolving around a central feud or chain of feuds (it has even been suggested that the structure of the sagas corresponds in essence to the structure of a feud–for more on feuds in Medieval Iceland check out WI Miller’s Bloodtaking and Peacemaking), I suggest reading Grettis saga as revolving around the growth of the main character–well, OK, this is debatable, but I feel like the person who compiled the material for the saga (I am assuming here that much, not necessarily all, of the material was circulating in various forms in oral tradition, and we have some evidence of that with this saga) put it in its final form with an eye towards Grettir’s arc from “coal-biter” (a sort of male Cinderella, unpromising youth eventually rising to prominence–though in the male versions it is not so much a matter of being poor and badly treated, but of being a lazy, cocky little shit who doesn’t seem like they will ever make something of themselves) to tragic outlawed hero, doomed by the fact that he takes to long to (mildly) repent his hubris. Well, look for that arc and see what you think–I admit it does take a bit of work on the part of the reader…

Also, a quick trigger warning–a late scene in the saga appears to involve the rape of a serving girl. The saga frames it such that one of my students (long long ago) argued fairly convincingly that we were supposed to understand it as consensual, but the very patriarchal world of the sagas (in spite of the presence of many strong female characters) did not always distinguish so strongly between rape and “seduction”–at issue were the interests of the nearest male kinsman rather than the woman involved. As a woman of an unlanded family the serving girl of course did not have anyone to take issue, and the saga shows some of the typical saga disdain for the lower classes by portraying her as a “naughty wench who had it coming”. I don’t point all this out to excuse things, saying “oh, you know how the Middle Ages were…”, just a heads up since we do run across these things. :/ This particular episode is the most explicit thread in the ongoing “short sword” joke that runs through the saga. The erased bawdy poem Grettisfærsla is probably evidence that the traditions surrounding Grettir were often enough rather titillating–not a surprise when it comes to folklore about a famous outlaw, I would think.

Some last notes:

-The monster stories are interesting in that there are a decent number of echoes between individual episodes, and if you have read Beowulf (no, none of the movie versions count) you can try your hand as a scholar yourself and consider whether or not you think there are any plausible connections between the early 1000s Old English poem and the 1300s Icelandic saga. I do think the parallels between the monster fights in both works are compelling, but I’m willing to see them as migratory legends rather than direct borrowing.

-Speaking of monsters, one of the interesting points of Grettir’s character is how much he resembles the monsters he deals with. Well, don’t go thinking he is a simple brute–he is also a poet, and his orneriness initially manifests more in his obnoxious use of poetry and proverbs to deal with his father than in his strength–though his strength is enormous. As a great hero, Grettir ends up being the “who ya gonna call” guy, dealing with ghosts (not the same sort as in Ghostbusters tho), bears, trolls, you name it he’ll kill it. Many of these stories, like Beowulf, or like many other heroes of a more mythic cast, I expect, have Grettir standing in as either 1) the defender of human space (think Beowulf defending the Hall against Grendel) or 2) the invader of monstrous space (think Beowulf attacking Grendel’s mother and the dying Grendel in their underwater home–but for both of these, also consider the relationship between the gods and the giants in Norse myth). The tragedy seems to be that Grettir is a bit of a monster himself, or often confused for one, and at times more at home in the world of monsters–it is the world of other men that causes him trouble.

-The saga concludes with a mini-saga (a “thread” is actually the technical term) where Grettir’s half brother goes to Byzantium to get revenge on his behalf and the story suddenly turns into a Romance (in the sense of Tale of Chivalry–though there is romance in the modern sense as well), so those into the likes of King Arthur, Tristan and Isolde, etc, will get a special treat at the end.

Well, those are a few quick thoughts, and now I really ought to go–sorry for this super late post, and sorry that it is only this one so far this month. I’m presenting at a conference this weekend, plus had some health issues, so I’m a bit delayed. That said, I have managed to keep up with Inktober on Tumblr and Deviantart, so check out my art there!

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IMG_2833This is sort of a belated review, but John Lindow’s book Trolls: An Unnatural History is out now, and EVERYONE SHOULD BUY IT!!! OK OK, I’ll try to quit the salesperson schtick. This book is  a solid overview of the topic from a leading scholar in the field of Norse mythology and Scandinavian Folklore,  but is also super accessible (well, as much so as a book can be while still remaining academic in nature). John has always been very at home with both the super-erudite discourse of academic journals (OK, that’s a given for a professor in the field…) as well as with articulating the state of the field in a readable and understandable way for those not in the field–note, for example, his Norse Mythology Handbook. Take this and the two Eddas and you’re well on your way to being a super-duper Norse mythologist.

The book is a slim one, at 154 pp, so it is not like this is a comprehensive book of everything about trolls–but it is an excellent overview, and is the only text I can think of that follows the term/concept “troll” all the way from its earliest attestations through it dissemination and transformation in international culture. Chapter one covers the earliest Norse attestations, chapter two the slightly later Medieval attestations (well, this is a slightly problematic distinction, as the Viking age texts were themselves written down in the Middle Ages, but it still works), chapter three covers the trolls of folklore, chapter four the transformation of the troll in the early printings of popular collections of folklore (and the illustrations are great in this chapter for showing the progression towards the more sensational, big-nosed, distinct-species of troll that we are more familiar with now), chapter five covers “trolls in literature,” inclusive of one of my favorite movies, while chapter six gets into trolls in children’s lit and marketing–and then there is the epilogue, which gets into the slang use of the word “troll” in contemporary society, from patent-trolling to the trolls who haunt the internet.

A carved version of one of illustrator John Bauer's trolls, done by my late granduncle Dave Olson. The cover of John Lindow's book is also a Bauer illustration.

A carved version of one of illustrator John Bauer’s trolls, done by my late granduncle Dave Olson. The cover of John Lindow’s book is also a Bauer illustration.

Legend Trolls vs Fairy Tale Trolls

The first two chapters were mostly a review of trollology I’d learned (from John, of course) early in grad school, but I really appreciated the overview of the later reception of the idea of the troll the latter chapters, in particular in terms of the history of the visualization of the troll (seeing how I am slowly venturing into illustration myself, and have a few troll pics, or trollish-pics, which I’ve put below). I also appreciated the observation (which I believe I’d heard before, but had forgotten) that trolls, in the more general sense of supernatural beings, are more ambiguously colored in the legend tradition (i. e., tales that are ostensibly true and less about narrative entertainment), where, for example, it is open to debate whether these Others are subject to the same salvation that the Christian, human, insiders claim, while in the fairy tale tradition (more explicitly ludic, fictional, and escapist, and often told by the rural proletariat) trolls are more explicitly Bad, playing the role of Villain, and, according to Bengt Holbek’s interpretation (which John does not get into in this book, though he does have a very thorough review of in a 1989 or 1990 issue of Scandinavian Studies), the negative symbolic embodiment of authority figures like landowners, employers, or parents (in-law).

A trollish portrayal of Thor's mother Earth.

A trollish portrayal of Thor’s mother Earth.

Trolls, Fantasy, and Good and Evil

This got me thinking about the priority of the escapist function in Fairy Tales, especially since I’d just been reading Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories–while the rural proletariat may be more aware than most of the potential for moral ambiguity and abuse among those who are supposed to be “in the right” (as of course those in charge would think), or so my left-leaning sympathies had me thinking, the fact that it was primarily the poorest of the poor who tell fairy stories certainly highlights the importance of escape in their situation (a point Tolkien makes about all of us–it is the jailers who argue against escape–but let’s keep in mind the fact that some are more jailed than others), and we shouldn’t be surprised to find that one aspect of escapism is the isolation of Good and Evil, at least in certain places within a story. As horrible as it is when someone gets so bad that they are Just Bad, it is also a bit of a relief, isn’t it? To just say “THEY ARE BAD” and “THEY ARE GOOD.” But maybe a more nuanced take is possible as well–let’s keep in mind a key aspect of Tolkien’s celebration of the human ability to create coherent things which do not actually exist–green suns and the like. If I remember correctly, one of his points is that this linguistic ability to see green grass as both green and grass is at the root of the sort of work we do when we create fantasy worlds which are simultaneously coherent and yet impossible. Fantasy draws its power from the way in which it dances with the real world–if iron is ennobled by the forging of the sword Gram (as the Big T says), then our real world experiences of Good and Evil are legitimated, enhanced, sharpened, and affirmed by our fictional manipulations of these things (our reification of them, our treatment of them AS things) in a fantasy world. Green is greener by our ability to separate it from the grass that we perceive it on, and similar things could be said about Good and Evil. (gooder ? eviler ?  Hm, maybe I’ll work on this idea…) Of course, that is not to deny the great evil that has been done by the various fantasies of… well, of evil, that have been transferred into the real world and used to justify everything from rape to genocide–there needs to be a sufficient about of reflexivity if our fantasy is not going to just drive a two-dimensional ideology of us versus them.

Trolls trolls trolls

One last note–while John does not pursue a very developed thesis in this regard, he certainly does touch on the ambiguity of the world “Troll” itself (troll as magical, troll as extraordinary (if still maybe human), troll as generic supernatural creature, troll as giant, troll as a specific sort of monster, etc…). I’ve been meaning to write on this for a while, but just don’t have time at the moment–but well, now you can read his book! You can also read this article by Ármann Jakobsson on the topic (starts p 39, I think), which also reviews the academic literature a bit–but be warned, the article is written for those who are already “in” the academic conversation about trolls, so it won’t be quite the same sort of experience. I have to run now, but may revise/expand this review a bit… we’ll see.

Meanwhile, here are some more troll pics! (FYI–these are just for fun pics. Like, let’s pretend we are making up new creatures for a video-game type fun. Not authentic at all. You’ve been warned.)

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Lava Troll_edited-1

Ice Troll Sketch_edited-1

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Hardanger Fjord seems Norwegian enough a thing to head up this post. Image from wikicommons.

Not only is May 17th the birthday of my amazing brother, AND the day after the birthday of one of my amazing sisters, it is also Norwegian Constitution Day! (not “independence” day as I once mistakenly referred to it–Norway had just switched over from Danish to Swedish control at the time, and the Swedes weren’t especially happy with the new holiday…) What’s more, this year we get the bicentennial of Constitution Day! Whoo hoo!

My cheesy Viking superhero, in the colors of the Norwegian flag... kinda.

My cheesy Viking superhero, in the colors of the Norwegian flag… kinda.

I am a quarter Norwegian-American through my dad’s side, so I grew up with the Norwegian flag coming out this time of year. No traditional “syttende mai” celebrations though–must have been interference from our Swedish side. 😛  While Norway spent much of its post-medieval history bound up with either Denmark or Sweden, it was kind of a big deal in the Middle Ages, as you can read in many of the sagas. The easiest to find (and the most comprehensive) would be Heimskringla, a collection of sagas about Norwegian kings from legendary times up through the Middle Ages by the Icelander Snorri Sturluson (though I have seen arguments against his authorship). There are at least two translations current if you want to check Amazon, and there are some free ones online, but honestly, I’m not especially happy with any of the offerings out there, especially in their rendering of the skaldic passages (I say this not having looked into it for a while, but I’ve checked my own translations against these before, and usually find something to get frustrated with… but OK, I don’t specialize in the Kings’ sagas) The English translation that I picked up a while back (because it was what was there) is this one, and it is fine for a casual read–plus the version I have has some old illustrations from an earlier (I think) translation. EDIT: OK, never mind, I totally forgot about the 2011 Finlay-Faulkes translation, which is now available online for free in the first two volumes--shameful of me, as I am a fan of both Alison Finlay and Anthony Faulkes (met Alison at a palaeography seminar and relied heavily on Faulkes’ edition of Snorra Edda for my dissertation). 

Well there you go! Happy syttende mai! Go read some Ibsen or something!

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Of course they exist. And they even feature ninja hamsters in one of the books.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I stumbled on this while doing my own informal Grim Bunny series, but it was kind of a kick to find this series of children’s books anyway. Be warned, they are aimed at a VERY young audience. I can’t claim to be the best judge of lit for that age group, but hey, VIKING BUNNIES. I read this book with the ninja hamsters for free online (so you can decide whether your kids will like it or not–I’ve got to say, I was a little annoyed at how the 3rd person narrating voice was typed into the speech bubbles along with the dialogue, but I imagine that’s not a problem when reading aloud…). If you think your child will enjoy them, hardcopies are also for sale at the site–and from what I understand, they are also setting it up so that you can create your own Viking Bunny character! WOOHOO! And I think there is a game on the way too.

My take on a Viking bunny. Note the ears braided into a Viking beard. :)

My take on a Viking bunny. Note the ears braided into a Viking beard. 🙂

Now before you get too excited, these books will NOT help you pass your course on the Icelandic Sagas or Old Norse mythology. The costumes are cartoony fantasy stereotypes of Viking dress (is there a Baby Wagner dvd?), and in the story I read they are basically written as pirates (which makes the story I read an entry into the age-old Pirates vs Ninjas conflict, I suppose). Oh well. That’s fine. It ain’t SparkNotes (also, stay away from SparkNotes for class–I got SO SICK of reporting students for plagiarism on their Beowulf papers, and it was SO OBVIOUS that they were getting some info/interpretive material from outside proper academic sources, more a high school textbook than a scholarly journal. OK, rant over…)

And you know, after all the silly stereotypes we’ve had floating around of ninjas and pirates over the years, the Vikings can probably stand a few miniature faux-Wagnerian Care-Bear with swords bunny Vikings, right? Right. Meanwhile, I’m jumping on the Viking Bunny bandwagon with a sketch of my own. Maybe I’ll try some more, since I seem to have gotten myself into the bunny-business already…

EDIT: This person won the Viking Bunneh cuteness contest. I give up.

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Wolverine as a viking berserkr

Wolverine as a viking berserkr. The word “berserkr” could mean “bear-shirt” or “bare-shirt”–since many of the stories of berserkrs have their skin made invulnerable to iron, I’ve made him Bare here (even if slightly cutesy-chibi-style). He has a sword instead of his claws, but you know, if a Berserkr had claws, I think he would just use those. The all-but-berserkr Egill himself kills an enemy who is invulnerable to iron by biting out his throat. @_@ Note also that Wolvie’s shield has been gnawed upon here–berserks apparently had a reputation for biting their shields in a fearsome manner (a strategy that doesn’t go well for one bersekr who faced off against Grettir… but you will need to read that saga for yourself).

Wolverine as Berserkr

[For the movie review, skip below–first one w/o spoilers, second with spoilers] One of my favorite comic book characters growing up was Wolverine. I suppose it was some combination of the grittiness, the fact that getting hurt didn’t matter to him, the mysterious backstory with his missing memory (always more to discover), and the simultaneous tragedy and wish-fulfillment of his immortality. There was also his “berserker” side–while potentially antithetical to his status as hero, his tendency to go crazy and lose himself in a fight was both scary and fascinating, his ability to be a hero itself founded on the fact that he had one foot on the side of the monsters. Wolverine’s character (like Punisher, Hulk, and others) is an exaggerated version of the type you find all over comic books and westerns (not just anti-heroes, though they are maybe the primary version…), someone who is too powerful/unusual/monstrous to really be part of society, but continually comes in to save it. Batman (who he “really” is, according to the program where I first heard about this) can’t exist normally alongside everyone else in Gotham, so he has to go around “disguised” as Bruce Wayne. The rogue gunman saves the small town, but he can’t settle down there–he has to keep moving on at the end of the movie. The two scholars who came up with this interpretation (sorry, can’t remember their names) thought that this was a symptom of a democratic society–we want the person who is bigger and better than us to save us from those others who are above and beyond the norm, but they don’t get to stick around (I suppose that implies a more general Western “Jantelagen-lite”). And given the proto-democratic nature of Icelandic society (and, well, the fact that Wolvie’s “berserker”-ness is taken from the Old Norse figure of the berserkr), well, imho we do see this sort of figure in the sagas as well (though if you are explicitly labelled a “berserkr” in the sagas, you are mostly likely just a plain old bad guy).

Some sketches for a possible Grettir comic...

Some sketches for a possible Grettir comic…

I’ve talked about this with reference to Grettis saga before, as he is the saga hero who most obviously seems to illustrate this phenomenon–he is fairly monstrous himself, never fitting in and always getting in trouble, thriving only when living away from humanity (or, interestingly enough, when under the guidance of a very understanding and strong leader whom he respects), fighting monsters or living among them. One (reductive) theme that we could draw from the saga is “it takes a monster to kill a monster”–but no one wants that monster to stick around after the battle (except maybe a certain widow near the end of the saga…). Among the “monsters” Grettir fights are berserks, representative (during the Christian period in which the sagas were written down–centuries after the events described) of the less reputable elements of the pagan past, scapegoats for the saga authors as they attempted to simultaneously recover and repudiate their pre-Christian heritage (a strategy made possible, or even thinkable, by the fact that they came to conceive of it as “heritage” at all–but that is a theory-heavy essay for another time).

IMG_2392Similar (a bit…) to Grettir, Wolverine’s character gets drawn into a berserkr rage which one the one hand allows him to beat all the monstrous baddies (OK, Grettir does not “go berserk”), but which also marks him as unsuitable for normal society. In fact, the battle between his “animal” self and his human self is the theme which prompted the comic book miniseries that the new movie is based on. A key chapter in this “bestial vs human” or “Wolverine vs Logan” struggle is the Weapon X story arc, which I recommend for the other Wolvie fans out there. Great artwork by Barry Windsor-Smith, and an interesting (if trippy and not entirely resolved) plot, way better than the one in the X-men and Wolverine: Origins movies.

What exactly the historical “roots” of the berserkr figure are is a contentious topic, but they are certainly fascinating characters as they show up in the sagas. I may return to the subject in more detail, but for now check out the extended caption to my picture at the start of this post for some details re: my representation of Wolvie as a berserkr (said pic is also up on my tumblr).

The Wolverine: Movie Review (no spoilers… yet)

IMG_2391As a kid I had a copy of the final issue of the Japan-story arc miniseries (one of my more valuable comic books–I think the first appearance of Gambit was my most valuable one though), and I was always more emotionally invested in Logan’s relationship with Mariko, rather than with Jean (her relationship with Cyclops was always primary for me). The movie is fairly loosely based on the miniseries, but both are pretty enjoyable. Actually, I like the new Wolverine movie better than any of the other X-Men movies so far (though First Class was pretty cool too), even if I have some issues with both the movie and the original miniseries (but those will be discussed in the spoiler section). The movie does a pretty good job (for a comic book movie) digging into the potential in W’s character. OK, there is a lot of “let’s make him into a big white Hollywood tough guy hero” stuff, but considering how (painfully) inevitable that is, a pretty decent amount of legit story material came through. Actually, it is closer to the end of the movie that it kicks into “comic book mode”–in high gear. By the end it just felt a bit too ridiculous, but then you need to remind yourself that OK, it IS a comic book movie…

Don’t watch it if you haven’t seen the X-men movies at least (the first Wolverine movie would be good to watch too, though not essential), but reading the comic book miniseries (available in trade-paperback–click on the picture to go to Amazon) won’t make a difference–the stories are too different for spoilers. It’s fun to compare them, but comparison is not necessary. In any case, Frank Miller’s layouts are really great in the comic book (for that era, certainly), even if I sometimes feel like the quality of his art varies.

Further Notes on the Movie [SPOILER ALERT!!!]

OK, now on to some analysis/griping. This will involve spoilers. Also, these gripes are not meant to deter folks from watching the movie–I’ve seen it several times now, and still enjoy it.

Right before the movie was a preview for the new Keanu Reaves movie 47 Ronin, and I joked with my friends about it being another “white guy saves the exotic Other by dressing up like them” film (well, OK, he is supposed to be a “half breed” in the movie–still…). Then we went on to watch Wolverine, in which the white male lead is the only unambiguously “good guy” male character, the other two “good guys” were hot asian girls (who are allowed to be tough and competent, but only so long as the white lead still gets to save them), and Japanese men did things like try to kill their daughters, try to live forever by killing the white male lead (stealing what is rightfully his), get caught in their underwear with white strippers after trying to kill off their hot asian fiance (giving the white guy a reason to push around and ridicule an asian man), support the bad guy in the hope that the hot asian girl will like them again instead of the white guy, embed themselves in a mecha-suit (stereotypically Japanese, incidentally) and then get stripped out of it bit by bit by the muscular white hero, to reveal a tiny japanese man inside… I mean geez, this is like a textbook example of Western patriarchal representation of the Other (and, incidentally, appropriation of the “exotic powers” of the other–Wolvie gets to be a samurai, after all). It is… the same but different in the comic books, where Wolverine is still the white-guy hero (often the super tough but still good guy in the midst of the scum of Eastern crime syndicates), but is better integrated, fluent in Japanese, and with a presence in the area going back far enough (thanks to his long life) that he is presented as an adopted part of that world, on that world’s terms, rather than an interloper… but OK, I am maybe being overly generous in my interpretation there.

Now look, I’m not saying this is a conspiracy, that Hollywood is out to culturally beat-down minorities or anything like that–I assume this is all “coincidental”, a result of the need to limit the number of good guys, and the fact that we have two of the good guys being women. But it is ridiculous how standard this veneration/elevation of the white male against/via the ethnic Other STILL is. Does this mean we need to go out of our way to counter this sort of thing? DAMN RIGHT. I mean, look, you don’t get to just pretend all this isn’t part of the culture you were born into, white or otherwise–our ability to represent things is founded on a history of previous representations (to put it in more technical terms, human cultural/social being is inescapably and irreducibly intertextual), and we have to deal with the fact that this semiotic history IS complicit in some really shitty stuff. If you are going to be human, and in relationship with other humans, then yes, you have a duty to be responsibly human, competently engaging in a nuanced way with the Otherness of those next door to you as well as across the world (especially when those of us in the West so drastically affect the lives of of everyone else on a daily basis), and culturally competent when it comes to navigating these differences. And no, for my fellow white males, it does NOT mean a finger is being pointed at us trying to make us feel bad. All that is being asked is that you open your eyes and look beyond yourself. And OK, doesn’t mean that is always easy, but don’t make it personal when it isn’t. OK, will step off the rant-box…

As far as women go, this movie feels like a mixed bag to me (I am not even going to get into the blonde man-hating lizard woman who pushes around asian men–that’s an article in itself), but I felt like there was some good stuff here. OK, I kinda fell in love with both of the female leads, so I guess I’m a bit biased–they are really appealing characters though, once you are given time to get to know them.

On the one hand, there is a lot of “damsel in distress” syndrome here–but that is on the part of the movie, not the female characters (mostly…and if we are allowed to actually differentiate there). Logan calls Mariko “princess” while lecturing her on her apparent naivete, but while that does get milked a bit, as we move on it becomes clear that she is more in the know than he. She is also revealed to be powerful in her own way–not just physically (she has a limited amount of martial arts, but is a champion knife thrower), but in ways that we are culturally inclined to define as ‘female’–how positive we might be re: that characterization may depend on what brand of feminism we espouse, but I did like the fact that she was powerful in a non-action-movie way, regal in some scenes, pragmatic in others, and nurturing in others (and yeah, would maybe be good to have more men playing similar roles).

Yukio’s character was interesting as well, and I appreciated that she was not just a tough-girl-emotionally-and-sexually-exploited-to-make-the-white-hero-look-good type, which is more the case in the comic book miniseries. That said, while she is set up as a tough badass, she is increasingly forced into a sort of damsel-role herself as the movie goes on. My main beef–at the start of the movie Logan sees Shingen fencing and says “He’s good”–Yukio responds “He’s alright” with a bit of a sneer. But when Shingen, nearly dead from poison, attacks Wolverine while he is incapacitated (busy doing heart-surgery on himself… and yeah, it goes heavily into extreme-comic-book mode from here on), Yukio is easily outmatched by him (HE IS ALMOST DEAD!!!), and visibly desperate. In her case, her concern for the male lead incapacitates her, while the male lead (here and in every Hollywood movie) is empowered by his concern for the female leads. OK, maybe that’s not a universal in this particular movie, as Mariko’s self-possession in the face of Logan’s apparent doom allows her to participate in the climatic battle (and free Logan up to fight again). But speaking of which, let me say that the female damsel killing her (grand-)father in favor of her lover (and generally siding against her nefarious family in favor of the male lead) is very Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, imho–I guess the daydreams of the patriarchy (or teen boys) don’t change much over the centuries. Oh, and let’s also note that Wolvie’s “Knight in Shining Armor” role and the personal narrative arcs of the two women are enabled by projecting paternalistic chauvinism onto the Japanese males–which may lead us to forget that the West has got its own gender issues (OK, not saying you don’t find that in Japan too–again, the issue is the fact that ALL the asian men in the movie are shoved into this role).

In the end (got a lot more to say, but should really finish this…), there is certainly a good bit of orientalizing going on here, but I admit that it is better than a lot of movies out there–and apart from some (legit) issues with the representation of women in the movie, the two female leads are pretty decent, and in my mind primarily sympathetic viewpoint characters (after a while) rather than exotic dolls. Let me know what you think!

ALSO: some more commentary on Orientalism in The Wolverine (I haven’t read them all). Huffpost, The Nerds of Color (1), The Nerds of Color (2), The Nerds of Color (3), The Toast, Shadowlocked.

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Thanksgiving 2013 Sketch copy

Then they showed them how to bury lutfisk when you plant your crops, and this is why we give thanks even today to Odin and Thor that we finally have a practical use for cod soaked in lye.

OK, so Vinland is probably not in Massachusetts, and no, the Vikings did not stay long-term in North America. Sure, they were in Greenland for half a millennium, but that was about the limit of a sustainable, fully-Norse-culture settlement, even if it looks like they did travel regularly to N America from Greenland (long after the trips in the Vinland sagas) to get lumber (but no, they did not travel to MN and set up runestones, sorry). Anyway, sorry the native american and the pilgrim in this picture are not in especially well researched authentic clothing–only time for a quick sketch right now, and I just wanted to hit on the funny point, meaning, the exaggeration of the typical Scandinavian-American tendency to celebrate the fact that the Vikings were in North America 500 years before anyone else… um, wait, before any other European (although I am told that Basque fishermen had been fishing of the coast of North America long before). And of course, we have our representative of the first nations (sorry again for the caricature…) looking on wondering what the fuss is all about…

Pic is also up on tumblr and on my deviantart account.

And of course, don’t forget my previous Vikings-In-America cartoon, available in a few formats from DeviantArt, and also as a postcard from Redbubble. [Edit–sorry, doesn’t seem to be a big enough file to sell on Redbubble–that’s what I get for drawing it on my iPad I guess. You can view it there anyway.]

Vikings Bring Milk to America

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CopenhagenArni_Magnusson_portraitHappy 350th Árni Magnússon! (You can supplement the wikipedia link w/ this more official bio). Thanks to Árni, I have a profession. We owe a lot to this guy who gathered the bulk of the Old Norse-Icelandic manuscripts that we have today. The institute where I did my dissertation research, and where I took a seminar in Old Norse paleography, is named after him: Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum (The Arnamagnaean Institute for the Study of Icelandic Studies). Árni’s collection was severely damaged in the Copenhagen fire of 1728. He died a bit over a year later. 😦  File:University of Iceland-Arnagardur.jpgThe collection was divided in the 20th century between Árna Stofnun in Reykjavík (Iceland) and Árna Stofnun in Copenhagen (Denmark–in fact, the Queen of Denmark is visiting Iceland right now to commemorate Árni’s b-day).

File:Snæfellsjökull-kfk-1.jpg

Snæfell

Árni has inspired a few fictional variants (which you can find listed on the wikipedia page)–my favorite is Arne Saknussem in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, with his ridiculous and clearly non-Scandinavian name (in his attempt [or in spite of it] to mimic the sound of an Icelandic name, Verne ended up completely losing the patronymic -son). I read Journey right as I was leaving for my own studies in Iceland (and I enjoyed checking out Snaefell, the mountain through which the adventurers supposedly clamber down into the earth. Fun book, and a neat example of how “exotic” Iceland was to the rest of Europe at the time.

In honor of his birthday, I did a quick sketch of Árni as a Viking, posted below for your enjoyment (as well as on my tumblr and on deviantart). If folks like it, I will put together a cleaned-up version of the picture to sell as a tshirt or print on my new Redbubble store. And as always, check out my post on the term “Viking” in Medieval Iceland if you want more info about just what the word means. Sorry for such a quick post today, but things are finally getting rolling on this translation job (a book on the theology of the body), plus my cousin and his family are in town, so no time for anything thorough…

Árni as a Viking.

Árni as a Viking.

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