If I were in charge of casting a movie based on Children, Odin would be played by Sir Ian McKellen just because Sir McKellen did an incredible job playing Gandalf and Tolkien barely bothered to change anything when he decided to simply rename Odin to something else for his little Lord of the Rings books.
Who is Odin?
Odin is the most complex of all the Gods and Goddesses in the Norse pantheon. Not for nothing does he have more than a hundred kennings (by-names), among which you will find ‘The Mad One’, ‘The Furious One’, ‘The Inspired One’, ‘The Desired One’, ‘The Terrible One’, and ‘The Old Bastard’. He is a poet, a healer, a magician, a warrior. When calling upon Odin it is advised to use the name referring to the Odin you would prefer to experience. Prefer, because if he feels otherwise you might be in for a surprise of your life. Possibly your last.
The Marvel movies put the All-Father in the position of the “chief God” to make it easier for people without experience in polytheistic religions – the Father, the Son, and the holy… uh, Loki. The truth is more complicated. In the Norse times, the God considered to be the “leader” differed depending on the region. In Iceland, for example, the favoured Gods were Thor and Freyr, with Odin rarely present in the Sagas (although by no means unknown). Since each of the Gods was associated with certain personality traits, Iceland focussed on the Gods unrelated to wars. In other parts of the world Odin or Týr were the “chieftains”.
In the last days of December I sent the current revision of Children, my upcoming second book, to beta readers and my editor. I’ve spent nine months doing little else but working on the book, got myself on the verge of burnout, and I’m honestly grateful for the break. Still, I think it’s time to start talking about it a bit more.
When I was trying to figure out what genre I was writing – I went from “literary Nordic mythic fantasy” through “this is really quite grim and dark” to “oh… there is a genre called ‘grimdark’, I wonder what that is?” – it occurred to me that there was something unusual about Children. There are many books that, on the surface, seem not quite unlike this one, there are the Marvel comics and movies, but I don’t know how many actual religious people would purposefully alter their God(s) to write more compelling fiction. All I could think of was Good Omens, which would be a good fit if Sir Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman actually were/are Christians. From what 0.854 minutes of Googling told me, Gaiman is a lapsed Scientologist and Sir Terry was a devout atheist.
I didn’t need a search engine to realise I was writing fanfic about my own Gods. I believe that in most religions this would be seen as…awkward.
Until the early 2000s, we celebrated Christmas as one big squabbling family. I personally made sure that the TV would stay off. Smartphones weren’t a thing yet. There were always fifteen or more of us, kids and adults from various parts of the country. My uncle would tell fascinating stories about his ulcers – I didn’t mind, it was just good to see him that one time in the year. Some got married, some were heading for a divorce that was not discussed at the table. At the centre of everything was my Grandma. I’d sit on the ground with my chin on her knee and just feel that… that thing that I thought of as Christmas. I did that when I was six and I still did it when I was twenty-something. We were not like a TV family – too much drinking, too much politics, too many ulcers – but even before I turned 20 I wasn’t stupid enough to believe that adverts and movies presented the real world.
Fifteen or sixteen years ago I came out as gay. I was assured that nothing would change, that I was loved as I was, and since I had a boyfriend I thought that meant he’d be treated the same way my cousins’ girlfriends were. My aunt, whose house was the only big enough to accommodate the whole shebang, told me that we were not welcome – it was fine for me to be gay, but only as long as I wasn’t being gay in her presence. That was it. I never even found out whether the rest of the family asked and/or were told why I suddenly stopped appearing.
Our family, with one or two exceptions, considered themselves atheists, but very few people in Poland didn’t celebrate the holiday. For us, Christmas had nothing to do with the church or Jesus. It was about being together, consuming a lot of calories, laughing at the kids that were nearly unconscious with excitement because there were presents. It took one short phone call – I was only going to ask whether three p.m. was good, or should we arrive earlier or later – to lose all that. I have never seen some of the family members again, those who lived so far away we only ever met on that one occasion. The end of December, however, didn’t get cancelled worldwide to make things easier for me.