A videogame deep soak.
[Note: Last month, I wrote about the vikings. TL;DR: I like them but there’s a lot not to admire. They had, by today’s standards, pretty shitty values. We shouldn’t worship them. We shouldn’t try to be them.
The following takes a shot at bearing my argument out. It’s an adaptation of parts of Þórsdrápa and Skáldskaparmál, two sources that record the same story about the viking god Thor and are attributed to the Icelanders Eilífr Goðrúnarson (c. 975-995) and Snorri Sturluson (c. 1220-1241) respectively. They were great works in their day. I hope you hate this.
CW: Images of sexual violence against women, reflecting those of the original sources, as well as representations of enslavement.]
“Thor?” said Thjalfi, Thor’s slave, to his master, while struggling up the river of piss.
“What is it, you little wretch? I’ve had enough of you complaining you’re cold, if that’s it. This piddle should be warm enough for anyone, especially a slave.” Thor shook his head in exasperation. “I knew I should have taken your sister with me. At least she could have darned these half-eaten socks for me this evening. I should just have killed you both to begin with. I still might.”
“Oh. Nothing, then,” said Thjalfi.
The two travelers passed their journey without speaking for a few moments, the ravine silent except for the roaring of the yellow water around them and the grunting of the god and his slave as they pushed on through it.
Thjalfi was the first one to break the dead air between them. “It’s just, I don’t know, shouldn’t we be doing something more glorious than this?”
“More glorious than this?” Thor paused to laugh expansively, spitting when some of the liquid around them splashed into his mouth. “What could possibly be more glorious than this?”
“I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.”
Thor slapped Thjalfi across the face, sending the boy skipping across the surface of the river like a flat stone and into the steep cliff at its side. The boy hit the rock like a wet slice of bread. “You don’t tell me how it feels, wretch. You feel how I tell you to feel.”
TL;DR: I like them but there’s a lot not to admire. They had, by today’s standards, pretty shitty values. We shouldn’t worship them. We shouldn’t try to be them.
Thjalfi coughed and spluttered his way back over the river to Thor. “Yes, my lord,” he said when he reached his master.
“We’re going to hike the whole way up this river. We’re going to dam up the giantess that’s producing it with the biggest rock we can find. And then we’re going to go inside the cave beside it and kill her father. What could feel better than that?”
“I’m not saying that this isn’t important work.” Thjalfi ducked his face into the urine to wash away the tears on his cheeks before Thor could see them.
“Damn right. Can’t have women widdling and menstruating wherever they want. And as I’ve told you before, a river has to be stopped up at its source.”
“Of course, my lord,” said Thjalfi. Thor had told him that before. He tried to move on and ignore some familiar old doubts about the god’s theories of civil engineering. He slowed his pace, allowing Thor to get a few paces ahead of him. “I just really think you can do more. That’s all.”
Thjalfi cringed in case Thor flung out a hand at him, but no hand came.
“More?” Thor stopped and considered the idea. “Go on.”
“Why aren’t we fighting Greek gods and heroes? Teaming up with talking animals? Finally putting an end to the antics of Radioactive Man? There might be a bigger market for that is all I’m saying. More worship in it.”
“Bah.” Thor swung a fist behind him at Thjalfi. He didn’t seem to mind or maybe even notice that he’d missed the boy. “What kind of world would it be that enjoyed that kind of trash? Where’s the manly soul? No. We hike up this river. We bung up Gjalp. We kill her dad. And then we get back home in time for your sister to make me a tasty dinner of turnips and cabbage. What could be more glorious than that?”
“That’s it. That’s the way.” Thor held out his hand, cupping it around the landscape in front of him. “Carve this into your deficient mind for later, wretch. I want every detail in the poem Bragi’s going to make about my victory later.” Thjalfi slipped and disappeared under the water. Thor didn’t notice. “I want that cliff described exactly as it is. Last poem, I might as well have been in Denmark for all the description we got of the landscape. And I want the water right as well. Remember the scum on the surface. Brilliant detail.” Bubbles formed on the surface, breaking through the scum and growing more and more frantic. Thor stopped and flared out his nostrils, breathing in the hot, acrid mist over the water. “My sweet mother of god. You can almost smell the glory of its retelling right now.” He laughed to himself exultantly.
Thjalfi erupted out of the water and clung onto Thor’s back, spluttering and coughing out Gjalp’s excreta.
“What’s that, wretch?” asked Thor.
“Nothing sir. Very good sir,” replied Thjalfi.
Thor patted his slave on the hand that had reached around his shoulder and was clinging to the front of the god’s travel cloak. “That’s a good lad. Nearly at those labia now, I’m sure. Don’t you worry. We’ll get there yet.”
For a while, the clamor of the river again dominated the soundscape of the gorge, though it was shortly broken by the sound of the god humming to himself as he daydreamed about the trespassing, violence and turnips that lay ahead.
Thjalfi coughed and decided to leave it there. Thor was going to pointlessly die at some point anyway, and if he shut up now, he might be allowed to scrape some of the leftover vegetables off the floor.
They trudged on.
Declan Taggart is a doctor of Viking gods. He lives in a faraway land, but you can probably find him on Twitter @DCTaggart.