[This year I have been even more out of kilter with keeping the blog up to date than usual. I completely lost this article and had to retrieve it from the sent folder of Mail. It was written in July for August’s Morchard messenger]
I’m doing a bunch of Viking tales for an online gig in three day’s time. I know a lot of the mythological material really well, the stories of Odin, Thor, Freya, Loki and the other gods of Asgard as they struggle with the giants. I have been telling them on and off since I started nearly 30 years ago. It’s nice to keep things fresh though and I’ve been meaning to work up a version of the story of Halfdan, a young Viking warrior who has to fight assorted foes, traitors, brigands and wizards to eventually retain his father’s kingdom and win the hand of the fair Ingigerd. It’s a great tale! It’s got star crossed lovers, treachery, cross dressing, blood feuds, sea battles and magic dogs. What more could you want?
Well, I want it to be easier to learn. Being part of the saga material, huge amounts of the action are dependent on the relationships between the characters, often with respect to generations of animosity sparked by an ill-considered, fatal dust up between their grand uncles, or some other unburied hatchet, or unburied Dane axe, as it might be. On having a read through before starting work on memorising it I realised that every character comes with an entire genealogy, each ancestor emphasising their status in the hierarchy of the North, in one case traced back to Odin himself.
Now, you might think that one could simply ditch all this back-story and get on with the action, who cares about lineage? However, if you don’t know that Griff The Bald’s great grandad was stabbed in the back by Frank The Flashy’s grandmother in law in the wake of a bit of pillaging, that would strip the emotional power from their chance meeting on the deck of a longship in the middle of a battle. All that tedious “Bjarki The Bashful was the son of Bronji Boring Bonce from Birken” matters.
It’s not just the drivers of the drama that matter. Despite the more fantastic elements of the story, this is not a folk tale. Also, despite the occasional deity in the family tree it is not mythology because in mythology the gods are the main protagonists, or at least are responsible for a significant part of the plot. Halfdan appears in actual historic documents. Oh yes, he was a real person. Who was related to whom matters because some of it may be true. Now, if Halfdan was a historical person, if some of the things that we are told happened actually happened, and it then accrued a number of less believable elements, that makes his story technically (pauses dramatically)… a legend! Yep, because there truly was once someone called Halfdan Eysteinsson, king of Romerike and Vestfold, also known as Halfdan “The Mild”, the exploits in his saga are officially legendary.
Unfortunately that also means that editing it to make it easier to learn needs to be done with immense care, and getting down to the level of “There was a prince who went out to seek his fortune” is not going to happen. So Halfdan is going to have to wait to get his legend told and I am going to have to find some other tale to tell. One I can have ready to go in 3 days…
…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.