Exploring Another Culture with Norse Mythology

Vikings are very popular right now with a number of exhibits, fiction books, and TV shows out about this popular but not well known culture. The people seemed to have simple lives and yet are larger-than life. Plus, most folks love powerful warriors… as long as they aren’t facing them in battle.

For instance, I enjoy Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, which includes at least one book of his character’s antics in the Viking mythos world, and the History Channel show, Vikings. I love cultures with strong female characters like Lagratha from this show. Their use of shield maidens provides more proof that a woman can be a valuable ally in battle, or a vicious enemy.

So when I saw Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, I snapped it up, wanting to know more about this distant and unusual culture. In the introduction, Gaiman explains that he wants the text to read like a person storytelling across the fire during long winter nights. In that regard, he succeeds admirably in that the work has a clear narrator feeling.

The book reads like the Bible, starting with a type of Genesis and proceeding through time to the end of days. This is not bad though. The book is a history of the gods’ creation and lives. One can find some lessons in these tales but mostly they are just grand stories. Unlike the Bible, the book lacks a lot of boring “begats” passages or high-handed morality tales. In short, many of the tales seem more like frat boys playing pranks or having masculinity measuring contests.

From these stories, the reader gets the feeling that the Norse gods generally like common folks. They like getting gifts, gathering crops, feasting, fornicating, fighting and making general mischief. The tone of the book is simple and direct, without a lot of descriptive scenes or glorifying of characters, instead staying focused in the storyteller style.

In reading it, I understand the events in the Vikings show a bit better. The stories seem to glorify craftiness and guile. Loki, who I’ve always heard was a trickster, is less mischievous and much more of a selfish, rude, self-centered ass, increasingly so towards the end. Anyone who is a fan of the History Channel show will see similarities between the character Floki, and Ragnar’s punishment on him, and Loki’s actions and final punishment. As bad as it is, the reader is left with the feeling in part that Loki brought it upon himself.

Odin seems single minded in searching for wisdom but few of the stories go into him actually using it. Gaiman mentions that many of the stories were lost, which may be why Odin is not as well represented. Many of the stories don’t include Odin at all. Thor is featured often but come comes across as a rather dumb blowhard rather than any great warrior. The tales also doesn’t really show the gods interacting with or even caring much about human affairs, unlike Greek and Roman stories. Humans are simply occupiers of the Earth and little more. The gods were much more concerned with each other and the various giants, dwarves, and elves.

For the most part, it was a fun and easy read, that left me desiring more stories. Unfortunately, Neil Gaiman won’t be writing any sequels. So much information on this proud race is now lost. However, I feel like I now have a deeper respect for the richness of the Norse culture and can understand some of the references more clearly. That alone made the book well worth its purchase price.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Keeps It All in the Family

(Spoilers!)

Checked out Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 on opening night and discovered the rare treat of a sequel being just as good as the original. Although it featured dumb points, that is pretty common in comic book movies. However, I enjoyed it so much that I almost didn’t mind the loud chatty brat behind me.

Like the original, Guardians starts off with a past Earth scene of Peter Quill’s mother and father enjoying a good song and a sunny day. Then the movie switches to the group killing a giant space squid while Baby Groot dances in and around the battlefield. The sight gags were hilarious as the battle goes on. I’m not giving anything away since the producers use an abbreviated version as the movie’s trailer.Gof G vol2

The film stays funny for a while and then moves into more serious trouble as the Ravagers catch up with Yondo and some of Quill’s crew. Feeling that Yondo is always soft on the boy, mutineers execute his faithful followers and torment Rocket and Groot. Rocket, unsurprisingly, faces torture and death with sarcasm and insults, which helps lighten the mood. The Ravager crew act drunk and out of control like a typical overdone scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, and probably about the same amount of intelligence in the bit characters. Although funny at first, it quickly gets old.

Later under lockup, Yondo and Rocket have a moment of understanding, which also offers information about their backgrounds. They realize they act like constant jerks to others to help fill the empty holes in their hearts where family love should be. All of this, along with mass murder, stays on the lighthearted side with antics of a wide-eyed Baby Groot and the knowledge that the soon-to-be-dead Ravager crewmembers are all a-holes. The fact that they bully Baby Groot makes you not care when they die.

In the meantime, Gamora and Nebula beat the crap out of each other while exchanging “you don’t love me enough” comments and Quill meets his father, played with great panache by Kurt Russell. His character, Ego, has a plan to spread his godhood all over the galaxy but needs help from his prodigy to do so. In his backstory, the audience finds out that he’s fathered children with all kinds of aliens. So at least Quill and Dad have one thing in common: they’ve both slept with A’skvarians (but apparently only one of them enjoyed it!).

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the movie is all about families. The theme comes across with sledgehammer accuracy with the fact that the defining factor in a family is not genes but relationships. Like Archie Bunker’s family, these characters’ yell and fight, use sarcasm and guilt as finely honed weapons in verbal sparring, and generally barely stick together. The bonds are loving but dysfunctional. The film is full of backstories and connections but still moves along at a strong pace while not getting bogged down in overly sentimental emotionalism.

While all these different stories are going on, Quill’s group is running from a race of supposedly perfect golden beings because the guardians stole valuable property from them. The comic factor is that, for such perfect beings, they are easily defeated at every attack. The golden group is simply another layer of not-so-subtle comedy and the continuation plotline into the next movie. Otherwise, their occasional presence in the show becomes annoying after a while.

Like the original Guardians of the Galaxy, this version has great music, fast action, unbelievable space scenes (hey, it’s not Star Trek), and a beauty to the background and set designs. This is particularly true on Ego’s world where the viewer gets captivated by all the flowing artistry in the plants and the castle.

As with all Marvel movies, you should stay in the theater through the credits for side gags and sneak peaks at Vol. 3. The best one is a future vision of Groot as the sulking, snotty teenager after a movie full of wide-eyed cuteness. Overall, the film is like a dark chocolate candy bar, a decadent, meaningless treat that does not offer a lot of intellectual nourishment but still makes you crave every bite.