I’ve always wanted to enjoy the Arabian Nights and Norse Mythology. I’ve given up on the Arabian Nights after several attempts at different stages of my life. I find the stories unenjoyable and the characters needlessly cruel. Norse Mythology is a little better, but is still hit or miss for me. I have always resonated with C.S. Lewis admiration for “Northern-ness” as a genre of aesthetic pleasure. Also, my grandfather is of Swedish descent so I have a soft spot for the Vikings. I remember thumbing through a Time Life Book about Vikings many times as a boy. One illustration of a Beserker charging into a wall of spears was solely responsible for searing into my brain the glory of lost causes. Despite my appreciation of the Norse, their myths feel like they have too much architecture and too little heart. The mechanics of the mythological world seem most front and center, while the emotional interest in the characters dwells backstage (Perhaps this is a problem with the adaptations I encounter and not with the tales themselves).
I did however read a story that effected me emotionally and the more I think about it, the more profound it seems.
Here’s a synopsis of the story:
The gods enjoy a state of innocence until three Giant women come to Asgard (the dwelling place of the gods) and throw a bit of a tupperware party for gold. After this visit from the Giant women, the gods all begin to covet gold. Odur is an exception. He prefers the innocence of simplicity but his wife Freya wants to place an order for some gold. She knows her husband disapproves so she sneaks away without his knowledge. On the way, she trades her virtue for directions to the Giantesses and after a long and terrible journey she finds the Giantesses and receives a beautiful necklace. She returns to her home in Asgard and finds her husband is missing.
He left her because she preferred the quest of a shining thing to her life with him. She seeks him out without success.
Heimdall, the watcher of the gods tells Freya that Odur will never be found by the one who searches for him. Freya ceases her searching and returns to Asgard with her necklace (Brisingamen), which is now a sign of sorrow. The poets call her the “Lady of Tears.”
What makes the story stand out isn’t the anti-gold message. Materialism is a danger and Freya’s pursuit for a gold necklace appeals to her vanity but costs her far more than she predicts. That’s a good point, sure. But the more profound point is that Freya desired something that was wrong. Her strong desire didn’t sanctify the quest. It’s not an Oprah, “what-does-your-heart-tell-you” story. Her heart tells her to get gold and she ends up sleeping with dwarves, losing her husband, and crying all the time. The story is profound because it suggests that what she wanted isn’t really what she wanted. This story moved me because it displays a conflict in the human will that causes us to want what we don’t really want. Furthermore, it puts the lie to that popular notion that innocence is to be discarded as quickly as possible. Rather, it states that innocence lost is really something to cry about.