The World of Black Wolf: Characters and Special Items

My first novel, Black Wolf: The Binding of Loki, is based directly on the Norse myths and Viking culture, albeit with some creative twists. Developing a story for Loki requires introducing a great many characters from the myths as well as creating a few new characters to help fill out the narrative. I’ve done my best to clearly show who all of the characters are and how they are related, but I realize that readers may still have difficulty keeping track of all the names.

Below, I have listed the significant characters and important items that appear in Black Wolf and related writings. Mythological characters are described according to their roles in the Old Norse stories, and spellings largely adhere to those found in John Lindow’s Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs.  I have also included brief descriptions of significant invented characters for easy reference.

And don’t worry about spoilers. Everyone knows the story ends with a bang—Black Wolf is about watching the fuse burn.

Last updated November 4, 2018.

Mythological Races

Aesir (masc.(?) pl.), Áss (masc. s.) Ásyna (fem. s), Ásynur (fem. pl): Gods most closely associated with war and victory, namely Odin and his kin.

Dvergr (s.(?)): Dwarves or “black elves.” They are exceptionally clever craftsmen and are typically associated with wisdom.

Jötnar (pl.), Jötun (s.): Although they are typically considered the enemies of the Aesir, the two races have shared origins and sometimes intermarry. “Jötun” is often translated as “giant,” but with a few exceptions (i.e., Skrýmir and  Útgarda-Loki), nothing in the myths indicates there is any significant size difference between the Jötnar and the Aesir.

Vanir (pl.): Gods associated with fertility and prosperity, particularly Njörd and his twin children, Freyja and Freyr.

Mythological Characters and Special Items

Angrboda (“Bringer of Sorrow”): Jötun mistress of Loki, and the mother of Loki’s children Fenrir, Jörmungandr, and Hel.

Baldr: Son of Odin and Frigg; his death signals the onset of Ragnarök. Baldr is said to be so fair and beautiful that he shines, and he is beloved by all. His nightmares inspire Odin to ride to Niflheim, where a powerful seeress tells him that Baldr will be killed by his brother Hödr. In an attempt to prevent her son’s death, Frigg asks all things (living and inanimate) to spare her son, but she neglects to ask mistletoe, either because she viewed it as harmless or because she thought it “too young” to take an oath. After Baldr’s death, Hermód rides to Helheim, and Hel says she will let Baldr go if all things weep for him. An ogress name Thokk refuses to weep for Baldr, so he remains in the realm of the dead.

Byleist: Brother of Loki.

Eir (“Peace and Clemency”): Identified as the best female doctor in The Prose Edda, but listed as a Valkyrie in Thulur.

Fárbauti (“Anger Striker”): Father of Loki. Believed to be a Jötun based on his name.

Fenrir: Wolf son of Angrboda and Loki. He is responsible for Odin’s death at Ragnarök.

Forseti: Son of Baldr and Nanna.

Freyja: Daughter of Njörd and twin sister of Freyr. She is a Vanir goddess often associated with love, sex, and fertility, but she is also a powerful seeress who practices the feminine magic of seidr. It is said that she and Odin divide fallen warriors between themselves and that she has the first choice in the matter. Some have suggested that she is the leader of the Valkyries, but there is little evidence to support this position. In The Prose Edda, it is said that her chariot is pulled by two cats.

Freyr: Son of Njörd and twin brother of Freyja; Vanir god associated with fertility and fairness. In “Lokasenna” (“Loki’s Quarrel”), Týr says “[Freyr] makes no girl weep, nor any man’s wife, and looses every man from captivity.” Freyr possesses the golden boar Gullinborsti and the ship Skídbladnir, both of which were made by the dwarves and gifted to him by Loki.

Frigg: Wife of Odin and mother of Baldr. When Frigg learns that Baldr will die by his brother’s hand, she asks all things (living and inanimate) to spare her son, but she neglects to ask mistletoe, either because she viewed it as harmless or because she thought it “too young” to take an oath. According to a story in Ynglinga Saga, when Odin was away for too long, his brothers divided up his inheritance and took Frigg as well. When Odin returned, he took her back. Frigg is said to be a seeress. In “Lokasenna” (“Loki’s Quarrel”), it is said that she knows the fates of all but will not speak them. This seems to support the theory that Frigg and Freyja were once the same goddess, as they have similar powers and wandering husbands (Odin and Od).

Gríd: Odin’s consort, mother of Vidar. After Loki tricks Thor into travelling to Jötunheim without his hammer, Gríd gives Thor her belt of strength, iron gloves, and staff to use when he confronts Geirröd.

Gullinborsti (“Golden Bristle”): Freyr’s dwarf-made boar; believed to be a symbol of fertility.

Gungnir: Odin’s dwarf-made spear.

Heimdall: Said to be the son of nine mothers, although his exact lineage is difficult to discern. Heimdall is a guardian of the Aesir, and various sources indicate that he watches and listens for threats. The “Voluspá” (“Seeress’ Prophesy”) indirectly suggests that his extraordinary hearing (or perhaps his ear) is buried beneath the world tree, Yggdrasil. As Ragnarök approaches, Heimdall blows the Gjallarhorn to alert the Aesir; in battle, he and Loki kill each other. Additionally, the enmity between Heimdall and Loki is indicated in a rather fragmented story about the two battling in the form of seals for the Brisingamen, which, according to some myths, Loki had stolen from Freyja at Odin’s command.

Hel: Daughter of Loki and Angrboda; keeper of those who die of old age, illness, and accidents. Hel is sometimes described as being half black (or blue) and half white, which may be interpreted as meaning that she is half alive and half dead. She and her brothers Fenrir and Jörmungandr were captured by Odin and dispersed throughout the worlds when Odin realized they posed a threat to him. Hel was sent down to Niflheim and given rule over the dead.

Helblindi: Brother of Loki

Hermód: May be Odin’s son or servant. After Baldr’s death, he rode to Hel to bargain for Baldr’s return.

Hödr: Son of Odin. According to The Prose Edda, Hödr is blind. Loki tricks him into shooting the mistletoe arrow that kills Baldr and helps him aim the bow. Hödr is sometimes associated with darkness and winter.

Jörmungandr: Son of Loki and Angrboda; known as the Midgard Serpent. He and his siblings Hel and Fenrir were captured by Odin and dispersed throughout the worlds after Odin realized they posed a threat to him. Jörmungandr and Thor are mortal enemies. In “Hymiskvida” (“Hymir’s Poem”), Thor fishes the serpent from the bottom of the sea by using an ox head as bait and then attempts to kill him; at Ragnarök, the two kill each other.

Laufey (“Leaf Island”): Mother of Loki. There is some confusion as to her origins, as she is not listed among the Ásynur, but her name does not appear to be a typical Jötun name. However, in the myths, goods and women are often taken by the Aesir from the Jötnar, not the other way around. Since her husband/consort is believed to be a Jötun, it seems likely that Laufey is one also.

Loki: Son of Laufey and Fárbauti; considered to be Jötun rather than Aesir. While Loki is sometimes described as evil or otherwise malevolent, the majority of the Norse Myths strongly suggest that he is mostly just troublesome, as he typically causes problems by being foolish or losing his temper. It is not clear why Loki spends so much time with the Aesir, but various lines in “Lokasenna” (“Loki’s Quarrel) suggest that he is Odin’s blood brother. There is some speculation that he was adopted into Aesir society in the hope that this would prevent Ragnarök, as it was known through prophesy that he would lead the Jötnar to their final battle with the Aesir. After he insults the Aesir at Aegir’s feast and reveals his role in Baldr’s death, he is captured and bound to a rock with the guts of his son Nari (or Narfi) while a snake drips burning poison on him. For more details on Loki’s role in the mythology, please see my Master of Mischief series, especially Part IV: Loki’s Charms and Part VI: Trickster, Blood Brother, and Nemesis.

Magni: Son of Thor and Járnsaxa. He and his brother Módi survive Ragnarök and inherit Thor’s hammer.

Megingjord: Thor’s belt/girdle of strength.

Mímir: Friend of Odin. Mímir was sent with Hoenir as a “hostage” to live with the Vanir to end the Aesir-Vanir war. When the Vanir became displeased with their end of the deal, they killed Mímir and sent his reanimated head back to Odin.

Mjöllnir: Thor’s hammer, created when Loki wagered that the dwarves Brokk and Eitri (or Sindri) couldn’t make finer items than the ones the dwarves known simply as the sons of Ivaldi had made for him. Loki changed into a fly and bit Brokk and Eitri to distract them, and as a result, Mjöllnir’s handle was shorter than intended. To wield Mjöllnir, Thor uses his iron gloves and Megingjord, his belt (or girdle) of strength. The hammer is not only a deadly weapon, but a powerful symbol of life and an object used to sanctify. When Thor slaughtered his goats to eat them, he would bring them back to life by laying their bones on their skins and waving the hammer over them. In “Thrymskvida” (“Thrym’s Poem”) the hammer is laid on the “bride’s” lap to consecrate the marriage.

Módgud (“Battle Weary” or “Furious Battle”): The warden of the Gjallar Bridge, which leads to Helheim. She intercepts Hermód as he rides to ask for Baldr’s return.

Módi: Son of Thor and Járnsaxa. He and his brother Magni survive Ragnarök and inherit Thor’s hammer.

Muspell: Ruler of a fiery land outside of Asgard. There are no extant myths directly involving a being named Muspell, but his existence is largely inferred from the name of the land Muspellheim (“home of Muspell”) and from references to “sons of Muspell,” whom Loki leads to battle at Ragnarök.

Naglfar (“Ship of the Dead” or “Ship of Nails”): Said to be the biggest of all ships, it is the vessel that Loki sails with Muspell’s people to Ragnarök. The ship is sometimes said to be made of the toenails of the dead, but some etymologies suggest the name simply means “ship of the dead” or “corpse ship.”

Nanna: Wife of Baldr and mother of Forseti. When Baldr is killed, she dies of grief and is cremated on the same pyre as her husband. When Hermód rides to Hel to bargain for Baldr’s return, Nanna gives him a robe for Frigg and a ring for Frigg’s servant Fulla.

Nari/Narfi: Son of Loki and Sigyn. When Loki is captured after Aegir’s feast, Nari is killed by his brother Vali, whom Odin transformed into a wolf. Nari’s guts are used to bind Loki to a rock beneath a poisonous snake.

Njörd: The father of Freyja and Freyr, husband of Skadi; Vanir god associated with the sea.

Odin: Chieftain of the Aesir; god of war, victory, poetry, and wisdom. Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve killed the giant Ymir to create the heavens and the Nine Worlds from his body. When Odin returns from an unusually long absence, he finds that his brothers have taken all his possessions as well as his wife, Frigg, but Odin takes back control from them. Odin often travels in disguise to seek information about the worlds and the future, and he is known by dozens of different names, particularly All-Father. Although he knows how the Nine Worlds will end, he attempts to forestall Ragnarök and maintain his power and position. For more details on Odin’s role in the mythology, please see my Master of Mischief series, especially Part III: The Many Faces of Odin and Part VI: Trickster, Blood Brother, and Nemesis.

Rind: Mistress of Odin and mother of Vali. Rind only appears in reference to Odin begetting his son Vali for the purposes of avenging Baldr’s death. The myth seems to suggest that Rind’s part in Vali’s conception was not consensual.

Röskva: Human servant/slave to Thor and sister of Thjálfi. When Thor travels to Midgard (Earth), he stays with a human family and slaughters his goats to feed them, cautioning them not to break the bones but to lay them on the goat’s skins. However, Thjálfi breaks or cuts one of the leg bones to get at the marrow, and when Thor brings the goats back to life, one is lame. The father gives his children to Thor as compensation. Röskva appears to play no further part in the mythology.

Sif: Wife of Thor, mother of Thrúd and Ullr. When Loki cuts off Sif’s hair, Thor threatens to kill him if he doesn’t make things right. Loki goes to Svartalfheim to find the dwarves known as the sons of Ivaldi, who make golden hair that will grow like natural hair as well as the spear Gungnir and the ship Skídbladnir. Some experts believe that Sif’s golden hair represents wheat crops, an interpretation that is somewhat bolstered by her marriage to the “sky god.” For more details and an excerpt from Black Wolf, see Character Sketch: Sif.

Sigyn: The wife of Loki and the mother of Nari (or Narfi). Relatively little is known about Sigyn, but after Nari is killed and Loki is bound with their son’s guts, she sits next to her husband and holds a bowl over his head to catch the serpent’s poison that drips onto him. When she leaves to empty the bowl, the pain from the poison makes him shudder so hard that he causes earthquakes. Owing to her role in the myth, Sigyn is sometimes considered a symbol of fidelity. For more on Sigyn and the role of women in the Viking Age, please see “Sigyn’s Choice” in The Writing of Black Wolf: How I came to Understand the Norse Myths and the Woman Behind the Destroyer of Worlds.

Skadi: Daughter of the Jötun Thjazi and wife of Njörd. After her father was killed by the Aesir, Skadi comes to Asgard seeking compensation. As part of the settlement, she wants to find a husband and wishes to marry Baldr. However, the Aesir tell her she must choose her husband by his feet alone and she is not allowed to see any other part of the man. She chooses the man with perfect feet but is surprised to find that she has chosen Njörd. The two honour the agreement that was made, but eventually separate as Skadi cannot bear living by the sea and Njörd cannot bear living in the mountains. When Loki is captured by the Aesir and bound by the guts of his son Nari, Skadi places a snake above his head so that it drips poison on him. In The Prose Edda, she is referred to as the “goddess of skis” or “goddess of snowshoes,” even though she is of Jötun descent.

Skídbladnir: Freyr’s dwarf-made ship; considered the best of all ships. According to The Prose Edda, “a good wind blows whenever the sail is raised,” and the vessel can be folded up small enough to fit into a pouch.

Skrýmir (“Big looking”): While travelling through Jötunheim, Thor and Loki, accompanied by Thor’s human servants Thjálfi and Röskva, find a hall to sleep in. In the morning, they discover the hall was actually Skrýmir’s mitt and agree to accompany the giant for a time. That night, Skrýmir ties up his sack with everyone’s provisions in it. While the giant is asleep, Thor attempts to open the sack but is unable to untie the rope. Furious, Thor strikes Skrýmir on the head with his hammer three times over the course of the night; with each blow, Skrýmir wonders if he’s been struck by a leaf, an acorn, or bird droppings. In the morning, Skrýmir gives Thor’s company their provisions and warns them about Útgarda-Loki before heading into the mountains.

Sleipnir: Son of Loki and Svadilfari; considered the best of all horses. When a master builder offers to erect a wall around Asgard in exchange for the sun, the moon, and the hand of Freyja in marriage, the Aesir reluctantly agree as long as he completes the wall in one winter (six months) without the help of any other man. If any part of the wall remains unfinished on the first day of summer, the builder forfeits his payment. As part of the deal, Loki says the builder should be allowed to use his horse, Svadilfari. When the builder comes dangerously close to earning his payment, the Aesir threaten Loki and demand he ensure that the builder fails. Loki transforms himself into a mare and lures Svadilfari away. When the builder becomes enraged, the Aesir realize he is a Jötun, and Thor kills him. Loki becomes pregnant and gives birth to the eight-legged steed, Sleipnir, whom he gave to Odin.

Surtr:  Jötun who sets fire to the world at Ragnarök with his flaming sword. He and Freyr battle.

Svadilfari: Father of Sleipnir; magical horse belonging to the builder of the wall around Asgard.

Syn (“Refusal”): The Prose Edda states that she guards the doors to “the hall” and does not admit anyone who should not be there, but the text does not explicitly state which hall is being referred to. Additionally, she is said to defend cases she wishes to see refuted, an interesting role given that Viking women were not allowed to speak for themselves at the Thing (assembly or court).

Tanngrísnir (“Snarl Tooth” or “Teeth Barer”) and Tanngjóstr (“Toothgnasher”): The male goats that pull Thor’s chariot. They may represent Thor’s close ties to the human world, as goats were common livestock in the Viking Age, although they may have been considered a poor man’s animal. In the myths, Thor stays with humans on farms, rather than in lavish halls.

Thor: Son of Odin and Jörd (“Earth”), husband of Sif; father of sons Magni and Módi and daughter Thrúd; guardian of Asgard and Midgard. Thor is the ultimate example of manhood in the hypermasculine societies of the Vikings. He is the strongest of all the Aesir and is sometimes described as being extremely large and capable of eating and drinking tremendous amounts. The theft of Mjöllnir and his dressing up as Freyja to get it back seem to represent his emasculation and his subsequent redemption. Thor is virtually undefeated by any living being in battle, but his wits fail him when more subtle tricks and magic are used against him, as happens when he encounters Útgarda-Loki and when Loki tricks him into travelling to Jötunheim unarmed to meet Geirröd. His role as the protector in his own family is also quite pronounced, as he defends his wife and daughter against violence, dishonour, and unwanted advances. He is the mortal enemy of the Midgard Serpent, Jörmungandr, and the two kill each other at Ragnarök.

Thjálfi: Human servant/slave to Thor and brother of Röskva. When Thor travels to Midgard (Earth), he stays with a human family and slaughters his goats to feed them, cautioning them not to break the bones but to lay them on the goat’s skins. However, Thjálfi breaks or cuts one of the leg bones to get at the marrow, and when Thor brings the goats back to life, one is lame. The father gives his children to Thor as compensation. When Thor and his entourage encounter Útgarda-Loki, Thjálfi claims to be the fastest of all humans but loses his race against Hugi, who turns out to be Útgarda-Loki’s thoughts personified. Thjálfi also battles at Thor’s side against Hrungnir and the clay giant constructed by the Jötnar for the occasion.

Thrúd (“Strength”): Daughter of Thor and Sif. She is relatively unknown except by kennings, some of which suggest that the Jötun Hrungnir attempted to kidnap her. In “Alvissmal” (“The Sayings of All-Wise”), Thor finds the dwarf Alviss (“All-Wise”) claiming to be betrothed to Thrúd. To prevent the marriage, Thor occupies the dwarf with an all-night battle of knowledge. When the sun rises, Alviss turns to stone.

Thrym: Jötun who steals Mjöllnir while Thor is sleeping and demands Freyja’s hand in marriage in exchange for its return.

Týr: A god of war and victory. Týr (or Tiwaz) was an established god of the pre-Viking Age Germanic peoples, and various Indo-European groups have an analogous god of war. However, in the Old Norse myths, Týr plays a secondary role to Odin and Thor. When Odin has Loki’s monstrous children captured, the wolf Fenrir is kept in Asgard for a time, but he is so ferocious only Týr is brave enough to feed him. Fenrir continues to grow large and fearsome until the Aesir realize that he must be bound if they are to have any hope of forestalling the prophesy that he will kill Odin. They try to trick Fenrir into being bound, but Fenrir is so strong that he breaks all the chains. The dwarves then create an unbreakable fetter, but Fenrir is suspicious of it and demands a sign of good faith. Týr promises him all is well and puts his hand in Fenrir’s mouth. When the wolf is unable to free himself, he bites off Týr’s hand at the wrist while the Aesir laugh. Among various cultures of the time, perjury was punishable by the removal of the hand with which one swears oaths. Here, Týr is compelled to lie (and is punished for lying) in order to ensure the safety of the Aesir in general and Odin in particular.

Ullr: Son of Sif, stepson of Thor. Ullr is the god of hunting and skiing.

Útgarda-Loki (“Loki of the Úgards”): A powerful giant who coerces Thor, Loki, and Thjálfi to participate in competitions of skill that result in each of them being defeated and, especially in Thor’s case, humiliated. Útgarda-Loki later reveals that they were all bested by mere illusions. He also reveals that he was the giant Skrýmir in disguise, and that he survived Thor’s blows by deflecting their power into the mountains. Enraged, Thor raises his hammer to strike, but Útgarda-Loki and his fortress disappear. For an excerpt of this encounter, see The Conjurer.

Vafthrúdnir: An ancient and wise Jötun. In “Vafthrúdnismal” (“The Sayings of Vafthrúdnir”), Odin expresses a desire to have a battle of knowledge with Vafthrúdnir, but Frigg is concerned for Odin’s safety, as Vafthrúdnir is very old and powerful. Nonetheless, Odin travels to Vafthrúdnir’s hall in disguise and proceeds to have a verbal duel in which the two ask each other questions to see how much the other knows. Vafthrúdnir is unable to stump Odin, but when Vafthrúdnir confirms that Fenrir will kill Odin at Ragnarök, Odin stumps his opponent by asking what he whispered into Baldr’s ear as he lay on his funeral pyre. As this is a question to which only Odin could know the answer, Odin’s true identity is revealed and Vafthrúdnir concedes defeat.

Vali: Son of Loki. When the Aesir capture Loki, they turn Vali into a wolf, at which point he kills his brother. There is a brutal eye-for-an-eye justice in this act, as it was Loki who tricked Hödr into killing his own brother Baldr.

Vali: Son of Odin and Rind. After Baldr’s death at the hands of his brother Hödr, Odin begets Vali from the Jötun woman Rind. Both “Baldr’s Draumar” (“Baldr’s Dreams”) and “Voluspá” (“Seeress’ Prophesy”) state that Vali will avenge his brother’s death when he is one day old and that he will neither wash his hands nor comb his hair until Baldr’s killer is laid on the funeral pyre. Vali is one of the few Aesir to survive Ragnarök.

Vidar: Son of Odin and Gríd. According to The Prose Edda, he is known as Vidar the Silent, although it is not entirely clear where this name comes from. The Prose Edda goes on to say that he wears a heavy leather shoe and that he will avenge Odin’s death at Ragnarök by stepping on Fenrir’s jaw and ripping his mouth apart; however, “Voluspá” (“Seeress’ Prophesy”), says he drives his sword through Fenrir’s heart. Vidar is one of the few Aesir to survive Ragnarök.

Yggdrasil (the World Tree): According to The Prose Edda, Yggdrasil is an ash tree, and it is both the biggest and the best of trees. In general, the tree connects in some way to all the worlds, although descriptions of this are not entirely consistent. Beneath the tree lie three springs: the Well of Urd, the Well of Mímir, and Hvergelmir. The name “Yggdrasil” is most commonly interpreted as “Ygg’s horse,” where Ygg is another name for Odin. This interpretation seems to relate to the story in “Hávamál” (“Sayings of the High One”) in which Odin spears himself to the tree and hangs there for nine days. Less common interpretations suggest that the name of the tree is derived from “yggr,” which means “terror”, or that it simply translates to “yew-pillar.” Various creatures live in and around the tree, including the squirrel Ratatoskr, who runs up and down the trunk to share hostile words between the eagle that sits at the top of the tree and the dragon Nídhögg, who eats the tree’s roots.

Non-Mythological Characters and Special Items

Alrekr: Boastful archer under Týr’s command. He participates in the capture of Loki’s monstrous children Hel, Jörmungandr, and Fenrir.

Ari: Son of Vidar.

Bára: Daughter of Vidar.

Bitra: Wife of Vidar. A powerful seeress and recluse who shuns both Aesir and Jötnar societies.

Calder: Father of Sigyn; an aging fisherman.

Eyja: Daughter of Trygve and friend of Sigyn. She is the local midwife in the northernmost villages of Asgard.

Fritjof (“One Who Steals Peace”): Sigyn’s first husband. Fritjof is killed by Sigyn’s father, Calder, after Calder learns that he has beaten Sigyn until she miscarried.

Glyrna (“Eye”): Daughter of Muspell and consort of Útgarda-Loki. She is a powerful seeress intent on avenging the wrongs done by the Aesir to the Jötnar.

Gudmund: Horsemaster or stablemaster to the Aesir. He assists with Sleipnir’s birth.

Hafli (“Might” or “Power”): Husband of Thrúd; a captain in Odin’s guard.

Kal: Warrior who takes command of Odin’s guard after Týr loses his hand.

Trygve: Father of Eyja, friend to Sigyn’s family.

Virun: Daughter of Glyrna

Yrsa: Sif’s lady in waiting.


 

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