Writing a Saga for the 21st Century: The All Father Paradox
What is the All Father Paradox novel about?
You might have heard of the Grandfather Paradox? It’s a serious hazard for any would-be time travellers. Imagine you invented a time machine. It is possible for you to travel back in time, meet your grandfather and kill him, all before he sired his own children (your mother or father). This prevents your own conception, and since you don’t exist, you can’t invent the time machine, which means you can’t kill your grandfather, which ensures you are born, and so on.
The paradox applies to any action that alters the past, since there is a contradiction whenever the past becomes different from the way it was. The fact is though, what seems like a constantly looping series of events can be quite easily explained. What is really happening is that two entangled histories are occurring simultaneously: namely, you are born and able to go back in time to kill your grandfather AND you’re not born and your grandfather is alive. Picture two coils of DNA, twisting and turning but never touching.
Of course, you have heard of Odin, the wind god, the war god, the god of death and of poets, worshipped by rulers across the Viking Age, yet cursed for being a sorcerer and a shapeshifter. He’s mentioned by the Roman historian Tacitus, cited as a founder of Old English and Scandinavian royalty and is the likely point of origin for Santa Claus. And he’s not done yet: there is a resurgence in adherents to Odin’s ancient teachings, Iceland’s first pagan temple in 1000 years ready in late 2018.
Among the 170 plus names he is given in the Old Norse record, the most famous is that of Alföðr, the All Father. Odin is the Granddaddy of them all, and since he was ousted from his throne by upstart Christians and comic book writers, you might imagine he has an axe to grind. Well, spear to throw – a common way for warriors to secure his favour was to throw a spear over one’s foes, sacrificing them to the god with the cry, Óðinn á yðr alla or “Odin owns ye all!”
Imagine Odin, the fickle sorcerer god of old, had a time machine of his own. Then, think of the consequences if he decided to reinstate the Old Ways, not just now with his new temple, but before Christianity knocked Huginn and Muninn off their perch. He could really throw history to the wolves.
That’s the All Father Paradox, an upgraded god-like version of the original conundrum. In the new Vikingverse that results, Odin owns us all.
So, it is fair to say that Norse literature has inspired your work?
The Norse thought Loki to be the causer of knots/tangles/loops, or himself a knot/tangle/loop. Hence, it is natural that Loki is the inventor of the fishnet, which consists of loops and knots, and that the word loki (lokke, lokki, loke, luki) is a term for makers of cobwebs: spiders and the like. Though not prominent in the oldest sources, this identity as a “tangler” may be the etymological meaning of Loki’s name. And considering the conflict at the heart of the novel, it’s been a fun concept to plan with.
When I set out to write The All Father Paradox, I knew I wanted to explore the medieval struggle between Christian and Norse and how it might have played out. It quickly became apparent that I couldn’t just write an alternate history by throwing a few new dates on the calendar or making sure map boundaries were redrawn. A credible, authentic world needed more than that – it needed a new language.
Or rather, a very old one…
One of the novel’s underlying premises is that Christianity is put to the Viking sword. It follows then, that if the ubiquity of the medieval Roman Catholic Church receded, then so would the influence of Latin. When taken to its logical conclusion, this reduction of Latin as a building block would radically affect the way the English language developed. The Germanic components, specifically the Dǫnsk tunga (“Danish tongue”) or the Norrœnt mál (“Norse speech”) would come to the fore. And so — as the book jacket says — the storied heroes of mankind emerge in new and brutal guises drawn from the sagas. Old Norse becomes the new norm.
And so, as we fight through the pages of my altered Vikingverse timeline, many of the characters might seem strangely familiar. Reflected in the cracked mirror of a parallel universe, names have subtly changed. For example, Karl Dýrrvin is an eminent scientist known to us as Charles Darwin. Aðalbriktr Einnsteinen is none other than Albert Einstein.
Do you consider old literature still important?
Given the subject matter for my series, they are essential!
As I was writing The All Father Paradox, I avoided the sagas, especially modern renditions like Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology (if memory serves, that came out when I was doing revisions, and I didn’t want to corrupt my own work). The only exception was the Völuspá, which I used as something of a framing device and referred to often, and the Heimskringla which helped set the tone for its Vikingverse counterpart.
That’s not to say the sagas aren’t infused throughout the story – in fact, they are very much part of the DNA. Later in the novel, what we know as Norse mythology becomes much more than a set of stories: it becomes a creed, a way of life, a means of control. And when social revolution comes to the thralls of the Empire, what better way to demonize your opponents than to tap into the racial memory. All that ancient, long suppressed fear. Take those “outside looking in” and turn them stuff of Norse nightmares: the Jötnar.
Do you have a favorite Norse tale?
Now that I am turning my attention to a sequel, I’ve become a big fan of The Lay of Hárbarðr which I am using in a similar way, to inform and drive the story. It’s a poem about Thor, who is returning to Asgard after a journey in Jötunheimr, the land of the giants. Hárbarðr obstructs his way and refuses him passage across a swollen river and then the two trade insults.
Over the course of the poem, Harbard boasts of his sexual prowess, his magical skill and tactical abilities, asking Thor about his. Thor argues back, unaware that the ferrymen is his father, Odin, in disguise. After mocking him at length, Harbard curses Thor and tells him to take the long way around. It acts like a précis of many other stories, offering snippets and hints, but is ultimately most revealing about the personalities of the gods – all bravado and boisterousness.
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This section was written by Fjörn (ᚠᛁᚬᚱᚾ):
- In Tacitus‘ Germania, Odin is referred to as Mercury, who, according to Tacitus, was “the deity whom they chiefly [worshipped].” It is important, however, to mention that Tacitus was writing this at the end of the 1st century CE with the intention of commenting on Roman society. As such, this source should be used with care. In regards to Odin’s importance to royal dynasties, H.R. Ellis Davidson writes “Just as Odin was looked on as the divine ancestor of the Swedes, so Woden was believed to be the founder of many royal dynasties. Most of the Anglo-Saxon kings looked back to him as their divine ancestor.” (H.R. Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe (London: Penguin Books, 1964), 56.) And finally, in regards to Odin’s potential relevance to Santa Claus, the evidence is shaky, to say the least. As is often the case with cultural traditions, it is difficult to pinpoint (with complete confidence) Odin as the origin for Santa Claus—although it may certainly be possible, especially in certain regions. ^
- For an example of Odin’s many names, consult The Sayings of Grimnir in the Poetic Edda, or watch this video by Dr. Jackson Crawford. ^
- This part was quoted from Daniel McCoy‘s website Norse Mythology for Smart People. According to McCoy’s footnote regarding this information, the source was E.O.G. Turville-Petre‘s Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia, pages 42-50. ^
- Eldar Heide, “Loki, the Vätte, and the Ash Lad: A Study Combining Old Scandinavian and Late Material,” Viking and Medieval Scandinavia 7 (2011): 91. ^
- Both of these terms refer to the Old Norse language, but Dǫnsk tunga is the earlier of the two (Richard Cleasby and Guðbrandur Vigfússon, An Icelandic-English Dictionary (1874), 96). As for the later, it was more common to see it written as norræn tunga, ‘the Norse tongue’ (Ibid., 457); but writing/speaking in Old Norse could also be rendered as í norrænu máli, or ‘in the Norse speech’ (Ibid.). ^