Valhalla, they are coming: On Thor Ragnarok and Norse mythology

Ragnarok is nowhere in sight as far as the fascination for all things Norse goes

November 03, 2017 11:58 am | Updated November 11, 2017 03:26 pm IST

13YT_Movie_How to Train Your Dragon
 
    Still from How to Train Your Dragon

13YT_Movie_How to Train Your Dragon
 
 Still from How to Train Your Dragon

What strikes one about Thor: Ragnarok, coming to a theatre near you on tomorrow, apart from Cate Blanchett’s extraordinary turn as Hela, is Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song.’ Robert Plant’s shriek, Jimmy Page’s thrumming guitar work and John Bonham’s blistering drums segue seamlessly as Thor is thrown into the arena against the Hulk.

While Zeppelin songs have been inspired by J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings , ‘Immigrant Song’, from their 1970 studio album, Led ZeppelinIII , with its mention of the land of ice and snow, long shore boats and Valhalla, is inspired by Norse myth. Tolkien, incidentally, has apparently used Nordic mythology to shape Middle Earth (Earth is called Midgard in Norse mythology).

Development hell

The movie adaptation of Thor, the fourth in Marvel’s cinematic universe, was in development hell for the longest time before getting a Shakespearean treatment by veteran Kenneth Branagh in 2011. The film starring Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and Anthony Hopkins as Odin, speaks of tension between brothers, a disobedient prince, an ailing father, and being a superhero film, wall-to-wall special effects.

 

Thor was followed by Thor: The Dark World in 2013, which featured some extraordinary special effects as the worlds collide. Thor: Ragnarok , directed by Taika Waititi, explores Hemsworth’s comedic talents, and there is geek god Jeff Goldblum, who describes his character, Grandmaster, as “a hedonist, a pleasure-seeker, an enjoyer of life and tastes and smells”.

On the fringes

Norse myth, with nine worlds branching from the cosmic tree Yggdrasil, the all father Odin, trickster Loki, the hammer-wielding Thor, have been on the fringes of pop culture for quite some time. Marvel’s Thor first appeared in August 1962. There was also Thor hanging around the airport, trying to get to Norway in the opening of Douglas Adams’ The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul .

The chubby, scruffy Viking, Hagar the Horrible, has been amusing us daily since his first appearance in February 1973. Apart from his wife Helga and children Hamlet and Honi and his dog Snert (complete with little Viking helmet), Hagar’s dealings with first mate Lucky Eddie, Dr Zook, the Tax Collector, the Executioner and Brother Olaf have brought countless smiles.

More than a hiccup

Cressida Cowell’s How to Train your Dragon series of 12 children’s books detail the experiences of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, a very different kind of Viking in that he is skinny, left-handed and can speak dragonese. The delightful books, published from 2003 to 2015, feature Hiccup’s adventures with his smart aleck dragon Toothless, his big burly father Stoick the Vast, his friends Fishlegs and Camicazi.

Two animation movies based on the books have come out in 2010 and 2014. In the movies, Toothless, unlike his disobedient and common garden variety print avatar, is a rare Night Fury. Astrid, based on Camicazi, is introduced in the movies as Hiccup’s love interest.

While Greek myth and Arthurian legends have constantly provided fodder for sci-fi and fantasy, Norse myth has been slowly permeating into public consciousness, with 2017 offering a bumper harvest.

Neil Gaiman, English Author
ஆங்கில எழுத்தாளர் - நீல் கெய்மன்

Neil Gaiman, English Author ஆங்கில எழுத்தாளர் - நீல் கெய்மன்

 

To start with, in February there was Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, which tells the story of the gods, demons and others from creation to ragnarok (apocalypse) in the form of an extremely gripping novel, replete with violence, tragedy, fantasy and humour. The character who stays with you is Loki and his cruel-beyond-belief punishment. Vikings on telly, based on the life of Ragnar Lothbrok, debuted in 2013, and has completed four seasons.

Dead and loving it

Earlier this month, Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Ship of the Dead was published. The third book in a trilogy after The Sword of Summer (2015) and The Hammer of Thor (2016), the books tell the story of Magnus Chase, an orphan living in Boston, who discovers he is the son of Frey, the Norse god of fertility, before he is killed by a giant. He is taken by a Valkyrie Samirah al-Abbas (Sam) to Hotel Valhalla, where he waits and trains with other Einherjar (Odin’s chosen warriors) for ragnarok. By making Magnus and Annabeth cousins, Riordan places the books in the same universe as Percy Jackson.

This image released by Marvel Studios shows Cate Blanchett in a scene from, 'Thor: Ragnarok.' (Marvel Studios via AP)

This image released by Marvel Studios shows Cate Blanchett in a scene from, "Thor: Ragnarok." (Marvel Studios via AP)

 

The characters, from Sam’s devout Muslim Valkyrie to the fashion-forward dwarf Blitz, the deaf mute elf Hearth with a heart rending backstory and the gender-fluid Alex Fierro are well imagined. Of the gods, Odin is a successful CEO with many bestselling self-help books, while Thor is rather thick, and Loki, the charming trickster with his ambiguous morality, is compelling. The books, with their short chapters and long titles, move at a brisk pace.

David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo featured a scorching rendition of ‘Immigrant Song’ by Trent Reznor. The film was based on Stieg Larsson’s book of the same name, which kicked off a burgeoning interest in Scandinavian crime fiction. The rousing number appears in Ragnarok (the director apparently used the song while pitching for the movie) but doesn’t sound like a swansong for anything Norse — not by a long shot.

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