Posts Tagged ‘Norse myth’

This will be the last of my Favorites Flashbacks, and the only legend of European origin to make the top five. It concerns a very famous dragon of Norse and Germanic tradition.

Fafnir is a dragon who comes to us from Icelandic and Germanic folk tales, a character who really defines what dragons are in European lore: greedy, murdering, poisonous.

The older tale is Iceland’s Volsunga Saga, from the 13th Century. In this tale, Fafnir was a dwarf . His father was Hreidmar, and he had two brothers, Otr and Regin. Odin and Loki killed an otter, not knowing it was Otr in disguise. Hreidmar then held Odin hostage until Loki brought the otter’s skin filled with gold, as a fine for the killing. To get his revenge, Loki made sure to include several pieces that had been cursed to ensure the death of the owner.

Sure enough, Fafnir killed Hreidmar to get the gold for himself. He took it into the wilderness and assumed the form of a dragon to guard it better. He also breathed poison into the surrounding countryside, to keep outsiders away.

Regin, who apparently was just as greedy but not as brave, bided his time. He had a foster-son named Sigurd who he tempted with tales of the dragon’s gold. Regin showed Sigurd how to hide in a pit or trench under a trail where Fafnir would pass, and stab him from below. Regin said he only wanted Fafnir’s heart, cooked, and Sigurd could have the gold. But as Fafnir lay dying, he told Sigurd that Regin would betray him.

Sigurd didn’t believe it, but as he cooked Fafnir’s heart, he ate a few bites. This allowed him to understand the language of birds, and can you guess what the birds were gossiping about? Right! Sigurd and Regin fought, and Sigurd killed Regin with the same sword that had ended Fafnir’s life. Thus Fafnir was avenged on his brother.

Cooking and eating a dragon heart? And people say soap operas are over-the-top!

Incidentally, another version of this story is in Rickard Wagner’s opera, The Ring of the Nibelungen. Some names have changed there (Fafnir is spelled Fafner) and he was a giant rather than a dwarf. As part of the ransom, Loki brought a magic helmet called Tarnhelm, and this is what Fafner used to transform himself into a dragon.

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Full disclosure: I know this author personally, and I like him. But I won’t go soft on him in my review because of it! Also, the main relationship in this book is between two lesbians. Even though there’s no graphic sex, if you aren’t comfortable with such content, this book probably isn’t for you.

This is the start of a series, and a breath of fresh air in Urban Fantasy. The fantasy element is grounded in Norse mythology. It’s nice to see someone venture beyond the ordinary werewolves and vampires! This isn’t, however, the slick and packaged Marvel-Norse mythology from that certain movie series. Nor are these dwarves the same as the short, surly ones from that other big Hollywood fantasy series. Pitts returned to the source material for a darker, gritty take on things. He’s brought up elements of Norse myth that I haven’t seen before, and I really enjoyed that.

The main character is Sarah Beauhall, a blacksmith and lesbian who belongs to the SCA, goes to Renaissance Fairs, and moonlights as prop person for an independent studio. Anyone who’s been in the SCA or worked in movies will enjoy the inside jokes and jabs at actors, re-enactors, and metal workers. Sarah acquired a really cool sword at an estate sale. Her mistake? Using it in a movie, where it gets broken by a careless idiot actor. After repairing the blade, she discovers it’s not just any old weapon. It’s Gram, the sword that slew the dragon Fafnir.

Once this is known, life gets more than a little crazy for Sarah. Dwarves, giants, gods, witches, dragons — everybody wants Gram. Sarah, who’s bonded with her re-forged blade, has no intention of turning it over. To make things even worse, she’s a semi-closeted lesbian trying to keep her relationship under wraps. Not easy to manage with dragons in the sky.

Oh, did I mention the dragons? Pitts does a fine job bringing us dragons with their own society, mores and goals. Dragons are a sort of Illuminati, disguised as humans and controlling the destiny of millions. Now, I’m not sure their shape-changing is exactly according to Norse legend. That seems like more of a Chinese thing. However, it works for the purpose of the story in that human and dragon characters can be in the same spaces without one side being too large or too small. Whether disguised as investment bankers or revealed in their monumental savagery, these dragons are frightening antagonists. One of them might possibly by an ally, but how many dragons there really are remains an open question, and some of them seem to have future plans for Sarah.

There are drawbacks to the telling. I felt that Sarah see-saws between being confident and insecure, skillful and inept. And in many cases I felt the characters were being “appropriately stupid.” That is, not asking obvious questions or not telling people important things, because the author feared this would end the plot to soon. Some major questions that could have been answered, weren’t. Possibly this is a tactic to bring readers back for future books. As Pitts writes more novels and gains confidence, I hope he won’t need such devices.

Despite these flaws, I do recommend “Black Blade Blues” for ages 16 and over.

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