Guest Blog: Laura VanArendonk Baugh on Monsters, Misfits, and Mushy Stuff

(Time for another Monsters, Misfits, and Mushy Stuff book feature! I’m delighted to hand the blog over to author Laura VanArendonk Baugh and her newest release, The Songweaver’s Vow)

Janeen has been kind enough to ask me to talk about my novel The Songweaver’s Vow, about an abducted girl who tells Greek legends to Norse gods—until one of her stories leads to murder.

I love writing in and about folklore, but this was the first time I’d addressed Greek and Norse mythology. The Greek stories appear as the tales Euthalia tells to Asgard, stories which may be familiar to us but which we hear anew, completely foreign to Norse ears. We see the Norse stories as Euthalia winds her way through the events of Norse myth. And the overarching story is a retelling of Eros and Psyche but with far more action, because while a little mushy stuff is okay, we don’t want to lose the monsters.

(What’s that? How did I feel about retelling Eros and Psyche in the tracks of C.S. Lewis’s brilliant Till We Have Faces? No, that wasn’t intimidating, not at all. *sobs quietly*)

Monsters

There are a lot of monsters. Norse mythology is good at over-the-top horror. (I actually kept the book toned down somewhat, and it’s still probably PG-13.) Some of the more notable monsters of Nordic lore include Jörmungandr (a serpent large enough to encompass the world and bite his own tail), wolves which devour the sun and set the world afire, and women who weave the future out of human entrails.

But the real monsters may be the gods themselves, trading away their honor and stature.

No one today knows exactly how Norse mythology fit together. The people we now call the Vikings had only runes, used primarily for ceremony and magic, and didn’t bother writing down their own practices, which varied considerably across geography and time. No one got around to recording this stuff until it had fallen out of fashion, and then it was documented mostly by people who weren’t adherents.

To put this into perspective, think of the Christian New Testament, original letters which were recopied and passed around and of which hundreds of copies survive for study. Imagine instead that some Buddhists only heard about those first letters a couple hundred years later and wrote down what they thought they probably said, or what they thought they should have said, based on what they remembered Grandma telling for old-timey entertainment. It would be pretty different from the original. And that’s how we’ve come by much of our understanding of old Norse religion.

There are a few things we do know, however, and one is that Loki is not an anti-hero.

Misfits

In modern interpretations Loki is often something of an anti-hero, but that’s not consistent with the source material. In the beginning, Loki is an erratic trickster, utterly untrustworthy even when he’s on your side.

A playwright friend commented to me on how difficult it was to adapt Treasure Island for today’s stage because the original work and original audience viewed the pirates as villains, while today’s audience (influenced by Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.) views the pirates as the heroes. That’s much the same here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Tom Hiddleston and Agent of Asgard and all that, too! but this is not that Loki.

Loki is a definite misfit among the gods. He’s not a god himself, he’s a jötuun (not a giant, that’s an early translation issue) and somehow blood-brother to Odin (not Thor, sorry Marvel fans). He does a lot that’s wrong, and what he does right is accomplished by violating social taboo and inverting social structure—not in a progressive or meaningful way, but simply as a chaotic force. One of the more famous tales of Loki, how he shapeshifted into a mare to distract a powerful stallion and later bore an eight-legged foal, making him both mother and father to his monstrous brood, carries far more weight in the original context than a humorous gender-bend. By contemporary cultural and sexual mores, it is a complete surrender of honor; the gods win their bet only through utter loss of face and becoming an object of disgust.

Loki is a misfit, a chaotic loose cannon, a victim of his own inconsistency and nature. He’s not a hero, a romantic figure, or a dark horse.

Mushy Stuff

But there’s another dark figure in our story, and that is Euthalia’s inhuman husband, to whom she is literally sacrificed at the start. He is unexpectedly kind to her, but he comes only by night and forbids her ever to look upon him. She must obey: she is human in an inhuman world, and displeasing him would leave her dangerously unprotected.

This was a challenge to write! Modern feminist attitudes would (rightly) balk at traditional myth in which the abducted woman falls in love with her rapist. I needed to build their relationship in a more sensitive and believable way. This meant I had to address their physical relationship as well, as a lack of narrative would imply rape—and rape is never romantic. Thus I joke that the love scene actually makes the book “cleaner”!

In the end, however, they build a powerful love, and we can root for Euthalia as she struggles to save both her husband and the entire world. Because yeah, it’s the literal end of the world. Oops.

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Laura VanArendonk Baugh overcame the dubious challenge of having been born without teeth or developed motor skills to become an award-winning writer of speculative fiction, mystery, and non-fiction. Her works have earned numerous accolades, including 3-star ratings (the highest possible) on Tangent’s “Recommended Reading” list. Laura speaks professionally on a variety of topics throughout the year, including writing, fan costuming, and her day job as a professional animal trainer and behavior consultant.

Find her at www.LauraVanArendonkBaugh.com.

 

The Songweaver's Vow - Ebook Small.jpg

Synopsis:

When Euthalia’s father trades her to Viking raiders, her best hope is to be made a wife instead of a slave. She gets her wish – sort of – when she is sacrificed as a bride to a god.

Her inhuman husband seems kind, but he visits only in the dark of night and will not allow her to look upon him. By day Euthalia becomes known as a storyteller, spinning ancient Greek tales to entertain Asgard’s gods and monsters.

When one of her stories precipitates a god’s murder and horrific retribution, Euthalia discovers there is a monster in her bed as well. Alone in a hostile Asgard, Euthalia must ally with a spiteful goddess to sway Odin himself before bloody tragedy opens Ragnarok, the prophesied end of the world.

Download a free preview: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/MiSLE

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