Editorial | Norse Mythology in Popular Culture

Chances are, any purveyor of contemporary pop culture is steeped in Norse mythology—perhaps without even realizing it.  Of course, there are some media that directly reference Norse mythology, such as Marvel’s Avenger, Thor, his brother Loki, and their father Odin.  In some parts of geek culture, however, the references are far more subtle.avengers,eidolon,fanart,loki,thor-fbc4072ef25557e562027b6efca5cb0c_h

Take for instance Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, as well as his other works set in Middle Earth, The Hobbit, The Silmarilion, The Children of Huron, and others.  Tolkien loved getting lost in Viking tales (his translation of Beowulf, the oldest surviving piece of English literature, is an English story about Viking descendants in northern Britain).  Their influence on his work is especially evident in the histories of Germanic fantastical creatures such as elves, dwarves, and trolls.  Tolkien also found inspiration in the works of Richard Wagner, who was in turn influenced by the same myths in a convoluted diagram of causality.  Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) is a series of four operas that are obviously loosely based on Norse characters (their names are Das Rheingold, Die Walküre (the Valkyrie), Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung.  Wagner dedicated twenty six years to these pieces, which is today considered one of the greatest achievements in opera.

The popular sci-fi show Stargate Atlantis and SG-1 included a gentle race of aliens known as Asgard (which is the home of Odin and his wife Frigga in mythology).  Their spaceships are shaped like Thor’s famous hammer MjolnirSupernatural borrows the character Loki, the trickster, for several episodes to keep Sam and Dean Winchester on their toes. Even the new Witches of East End’s main characters purport to be reincarnated Norse goddesses.

Video games also borrow liberally from Nordic myths.  One RPG is actually called Ragnarok Online.  Other games are less blatant, such as Laura Croft: Tomb Raider, or Final Fantasy, both of which borrowed themes and objects from the myths without being based on them directly.

Norse mythology is not just an old story on which to base the plot of a video game or a comic book, however.  These stories are alive and their characters suffer emotions that are far more human than they are divine.  In fact, newer literature has been stealing themes and characters from these myths since as early as AD 1200, when various poets and bards fused together the pagan mythology of the Vikings with Christian ideals to create the Nibelungenlied.

The characters of the original texts are far richer than their borrowed counterparts, and a thorough understanding of these first gods and the world in which they lived lends a new depth to all sorts of modern entertainment.

Further reading:

A scholar of Norse mythology comments on its impact on pop culture

The Wikipedia entry of references in pop culture (very thorough!)

The Poetic Edda index and full English translation — one of the oldest versions of Norse myths that exists



Filed under Editorial, Tracy Gronewold

3 responses to “Editorial | Norse Mythology in Popular Culture

  1. I’ve always loved the mythological references in Final Fantasy games; they really get a broad spectrum of cultures, too.

    • Yu-Gi-Oh and other Japanese card games and video games also draw quite a bit from Norse lore. I really love the original poems and have since I was young. They are well worth revisiting, even in abridged, standardized English!

  2. Pingback: Editorial | Greek Mythology in Popular Culture | Therefore I Geek

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