It is with pleasure I introduce my interview with Scott Oden, author of the Norse inspired fantasy books A Gathering of Ravens and it’s sequel, Twilight of the Gods.
Hi Scott, great to have you on the blog and with us for Norsevember!
Thanks for having me!
You’ve recently released Twilight of the Gods, the follow-up to A Gathering of Ravens. First off, congratulations! What is it about Norse mythology and the Vikings that inspired you to write this series?
The original inspiration was a dare from a friend of mine. I’d been working on what I called my “Orc book” — which was a bog-standard secondary world fantasy featuring Orcs as Mameluke-like slave-soldiers in service to a brutal monotheistic empire. The protagonist was set to lead a slave revolt, a’la Spartacus. But, really, there was nothing at all to set it apart from the dozens of other books with Orc protagonists, so I was in a bit of a funk. Then, my friend Josh hit me with a dare: insert Orcs into our world and make it believable. Their nature reminded me of Vikings, to a degree, so I started looking, comparing the lore given in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion to Norse myth . . . and they fit like the good Professor had intended it all along. Thus, Grimnir was born . . .
Let’s talk about Grimnir. He has been described as a grimdark anti-hero. Do you have to be mindful when writing an anti-hero about how far you push them towards ‘the dark side’ or do you think other factors determine whether or not the reader will want to stick with a character?
See, I personally don’t think Grimnir — or the series as a whole — is grimdark. His world is our world, and while it is a world in flux, where the Old Ways are giving way to the new religion of Christianity, it lacks the requisite dystopian, “crap-sack” outlook. As for Grimnir, himself, he is almost entirely dark side.
He is murderous, cunning, profane, a liar, a cheat, and pretty much lacks any trait that might make him sympathetic to readers, save for one: if he gives his word, he will move heaven and earth to make sure his word is good. I think readers responded to him mainly because I’m showing an Orc being an Orc, rather than a Human cosplaying an Orc.
You bring together medieval Europe with the addition of mythology – Grimnir himself being a mythological monster. Was it a challenge weighing up how much real history to acknowledge in addition to the mythology elements and your own creative licence?
I got my start writing straight historical fiction, so I could talk at length about what to put in, what to leave out, and how to evoke any given age without infodumping. But, I’ll try to rein myself in 🙂 My rule of thumb is this: whether the history is real or fictional, a writer should only acknowledge enough of that history to set the stage. Indeed, imagine a physical stage. A good director doesn’t toss all her set-pieces out there, at once. They use just enough to evoke the setting. Historical detail in writing is the same thing. I built the basic frame — in this case, two characters traveling overland to Roskilde, Denmark in the year 999 AD, on what they think is the eve of Christ’s return. The king of Denmark is mentioned, along with some details about conversions and raiding the British Isles. And that was pretty much it. That sets the stage nicely and gives readers a basic view of the world. Later, we can add more bits of history, myth, and pure fiction.
What type of reader do you think will enjoy your Grimnir series?
Hopefully, ALL readers, but realistically I think if you enjoy good sword-and-sorcery, grimdark, or any sort of gritty, dirt-in-your-eye fantasy, you’d enjoy Grimnir.
The time period you set A Gathering of Ravens in is very much a Europe in transition – tribal chieftains beginning to give way to Kings, Polytheism in the British Isles and Scandinavia slowly giving way to Monotheism. Indeed, as is one of the themes in your book; old meets the new. Was this the time period you always wanted to have as the backdrop to your fantasy story or were there other contenders before you began writing?
As I mentioned above, it was originally a secondary world, kind of like the Mediterranean, where a monothesitic empire was consuming all the polythesistic kingdoms in its path. Orcs were slave-soldiers, forced to fight, until one rebelled. But, once I switched to historical fantasy rather than pure fantasy, that transitional stage between the old religion and the new was the only time period that made sense. I wanted ruins alongside new churches, sacred groves being chopped down a foot at a time, ancient beings slipping into the shadows . . . the whole “our world is ending as a new world rises” vibe.
Grimnir is also one of Odin’s many names. Is the name of your main character a coincidence or is there some subtle metaphor in the name?
It’s a bit of a subtle middle-finger given by Bálegyr, Grimnir’s father, to Odin. In the lore of their people, he’s boasting that his son is the equal to the lord of Ásgarðr. Now, Bálegyr had a bit of a temper and was prone to killing those of his children who displeased him . . . which was most of Grimnir’s brothers. Luckily (for Grimnir, at least), Bálegyr died in battle before he came of age.
Have you read any other Norse inspired books you can recommend to readers?
My favorites include Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton. Crichton utilized as his starting point the actual 10th-century manuscript of Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, who was an emissary from the Caliph of Baghdad to the king of the Volga Bulgars. The tale veers from the historical when Ibn Fadlan is taken North against his will by a band of Vikings, led by the mighty Buliwyf, to combat a creeping terror that slaughters their people in the night. Along the way, the reluctant hero bears witness to the curious customs of the Northlands, from ship burials and human sacrifice to single combat and the fatalistic philosophy of the Viking. The movie version, The 13th Warrior, is equally good.
Also, Grendel by John Gardner. Now, this is precisely as it sounds: Beowulf as told from the monster’s point of view. While not as blood-and-thunder as some, Gardner’s Grendel is surprisingly human — a deep thinker and something of a backwoods philosopher. His views on “human nonsense” are brilliant.
Lastly, if you’ve not read it yet, seek out Robert E. Howard’s short story, “The Grey God Passes”. It’s about the clash of the Irish and the Norse at Clontarf in 1014 AD, and it’s got all the drama, action, and eerie sorcery you’d expect from the creator of Conan of Cimmeria.
For readers who want to know a little more about your works, can you tell us a little about what else you’ve written?
I’ve written five novels, thus far, ranging from straight-up historical fiction to historical fantasy. In order, they are: Men of Bronze, set in Egypt in 525 BC, about a legendary mercenary captain’s efforts to defend the borders of Egypt from the invading armies of Persia; Memnon, set in Asia Minor and Ionia during the 4th century BC, which is the tale of Memnon of Rhodes — the only Greek Alexander the Great was said to have feared facing in battle; The Lion of Cairo, where I return to a fantastical Arabian Nights version of Egypt and chronicle the efforts of an Assassin called the Emir of the Knife, who was sent to re-establish ties between the Old Man of the Mountain in Alamut with the Fatimid Caliph of Cairo — at a time when enemies abound, from Crusaders to a rival clan of Assassins to a necromancer called Ibn Sharr; finally, the two books (thus far) of the Grimnir series: A Gathering of Ravens and Twilight of the Gods. A third is underway, called The Doom of Odin. Look for it next year, hopefully.
I’m also one of the writers given permission to write new pastiche material in Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age setting, the world of Conan of Cimmeria. I’ve written two, so far: “The Shadow of Vengeance” which was serialized in issues #1-#12 of the new The Savage Sword of Conan from Marvel Comics, and “Conan Unconquered”, which was bundled with the video game of the same name. 2021 should see these tales released in print and digital formats under their own covers.
As always, look for me on social media (Facebook or Twitter) and check out my website and blog at https://scottoden.wordpress.com!
Thanks for taking the time to support Norsevember with this interview, Scott. Skål!
Thanks, again, for having me, and for helming this awesome project! Fara vel!
About the Author
Scott Oden was born in Indiana, but has spent most of his life shuffling between his home in rural North Alabama, a Hobbit hole in Middle-earth, and some sketchy tavern in the Hyborian Age. He is an avid reader of fantasy and ancient history, a collector of swords, and a player of tabletop role-playing games. When not writing, he can be found walking his two dogs or doting over his lovely wife, Shannon.
Oden’s previous works include the historical fantasy, The Lion of Cairo, and two historical novels, Men of Bronze and Memnon. He is currently working on his next novel.