I get the question 2-3 times a month on average. A friend will say, “Bill, I am confused about your e-mail address, ‘Asgard41.’ What does that mean?” I’m usually surprised by it, even after all these years. The number ‘41’ is my tribute to my favorite film, Ben-Hur. Charlton Heston’s Academy Award winning role lands him as a galley slave under the cruel Roman Empire. His slave number was 41. Simple stuff.
“Okay,” my friends answer, but what about ‘Asgard?’” “Easy,” I say.”I am a huge fan of Norse mythology. Asgard was the ‘Home of the Gods,’ the realm ruled by Odin where only the greatest warriors could long endure.” That’s when they usually look at me as though I suddenly began speaking Pig Latin. “Huh?”
Yep, I am a lifelong fan of ALL things Viking-related. There was ALWAYS something about those fierce warriors that appealed to me, even as a child. I just never accepted the notion that they were the bad guys.
Today, it seems more and more historians agree with me. While there were certainly bands of Vikings who terrorized the innocents in Europe’s Dark Ages, the written accounts of Viking raids were written by the people they conquered (the Vikings had no written language).
I felt vindicated upon reading Michael Crichton’s book, Eaters of the Dead, in 1993. Based on the writings of Arab diplomat Ibn Fahadlan in the 13th century, Crichton’s book details Viking life as never before, exposing men and women of honor, character, and limitless courage. The book formed the basis for the 1997 film, The 13th Warrior. Czech actor Vladimir Kulich’s portrayal of Viking Chieftain Buliwyf was first rate! As his character lay dying, he implores Fahadlan (played by Antonio Banderas) that a “man may be considered wealthy if another were to draw the story of his deeds, so that they may be remembered!” Remember, the Vikings had no written language. As a writer, that line … and the image it invokes … draw the story of his deeds … WOW! It just does not get any better than that!
As a kid, I soon became a fan of Bud Grant and the Minnesota Vikings. I thrilled to Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis in The Vikings (1958). And one of my monthly ABSOLUTES was reading The Mighty Thor, published by Marvel Comics. (More on that in a moment).
Regular readers of this blog know that I have an overactive imagination. That’s a given. But try to picture the excitement that coursed through my veins when, in elementary school, I learned that it was the Vikings, NOT Christopher Columbus, who were the first settlers to cross the Atlantic and set foot upon North America! Could it be that Viking blood was part of my heritage?
The Viking explorations of the 9th to 11th centuries were recorded in long tales called sagas in which the Norse, or Northmen, are either pictured as pagans and plunderers or settlers and traders. Around 950, Norwegian chieftain Thorvald settled in Iceland. In 982, his son (Erik the Red, named for his red hair and beard) discovered Greenland. He recruited 500 people to help him start a colony in the new land he had found.
Around the year 1000, Erik the Red’s oldest son left Greenland and sailed southwest. Nicknamed “Leif the Lucky,” Leif Eriksson was the first European explorer to reach North America. He landed almost 500 years before Columbus sailed the Ocean blue! The Vikings are known to have landed on Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. By age 12, I was convinced that somewhere in my heritage was a Viking warrior named Erik or Einaer! I still do … even if it’s certainly not likely.
As I grew and continued to follow the history and tales/myths of the Vikings, I never lost my love for Marvel’s Thor. Vastly different from the Thor of Viking legend, this version spoke like a Shakespearian actor versed in the King James speech and fought for the glory and honor of Asgard. Dedicated to protecting Earth and the planet he’d come to love, he used his mighty hammer, Mjolnir, against the attacks of his evil half-brother, Loki, God of Evil, and the various trolls and storm giants who plagued the Asgardian landscape.
I loved that hammer as much as I loved Captain America’s shield. It was invulnerable … the ultimate weapon … and it was magically enchanted by Odin to always return to Thor’s hand when thrown. But what made it really cool was that “only one who was worthy” could wield it. Thus, it became the equivalent of King Arthur’s Excalibur … the “sword in the stone.” Only a warrior worthy and filled with honor could use it as a weapon.
And so, next week (May 6) is the opening weekend for Thor, Marvel’s newest big-budget extravaganza starring Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster (Thor’s human love), Ray Stevenson as Volstagg and Chris Hemsworth as the Prince of Asgard, the mighty Thor. I must say that my first impression based upon the trailers is not good. Like Ang Lee’s version of The Hulk (2002), this Thor looks too much like a soap opera rather than a Viking god of thunder unleashing his fury upon the dark denizens of the enchanted land of mists! So I have my doubts. I just hope it will be better than Thor’s appearance in 1989 on the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno Hulk TV show.
Oldest son William, now almost 22, tells me that I have too much of an emotional attachment to the character based on my lifetime love of Viking warriors, enchanted realms, and the glory of Asgard. Perhaps he is correct. I’ll let you know next week.
The Viking legends taught that the sound of thunder was caused by Thor’s mighty hammer striking the storm giants in combat amid the mountains of Jotunheim. As I prepared to depart Germany after returning from DESERT STORM in late 1991, I took a side trip to Scandinavia to explore the land that spawned the myths I’d grown up admiring. I’ll dedicate more blog space to that in the future. But I must share with you my visit to Denmark’s Kronborg Castle, the location that inspired William Shakespeare to write Hamlet.
In the catacombs beneath Kronborg Castle in Helsingør resides the massive, larger than life statue of Holger Danske, aka Ogier the Dane. I was the lone visitor to the dungeon that day, and I stood in awe looking at this enormous statue of a sleeping Viking warrior, the symbol of my boyhood dreams and fantasies. According to folklore, the statue will come to life should Denmark ever be threatened by outside invaders. Standing before Ogier in that moment, I could feel Viking blood burning as it streamed from my brain to my heart. I may have little confidence in the Thor movie next week, but I’ve already had my life’s ultimate Viking moment. Looking to my left and right and insuring that I was alone with Ogier, I raised my fist in triumph.
“FOR ASGARD,” I shouted! “AND HONOR ETERNAL!” Somewhere in the distance, the thunder rolled. Thor acknowledged my pledge. In the halls of Valhalla, the brave shall live forever!
Check out the trailer for THOR coming next week in theaters across the country. And may Odin guide you on your quest!