Four years ago, if you had asked me what I knew about Norse mythology, I would have shrugged and mumbled something about Thor dressing up as a woman to get his hammer back. I couldn’t even remember the name of Odin’s wife, and Loki was little more than a dark figure in my mind. Nonetheless, it was Loki who sparked my imagination.
Útgarda-Loki beamed at Thjálfi, then turned his attention back to Thor and Loki. “I would be honoured to keep the three of you as guests this evening. You are free to wander as you please—you will find nothing that I wish to keep hidden. But I will keep no one who is not the master of some task, so after our meal, I will test you. If you pass, you may stay with me in my house as long as you like and enjoy all the pleasures you find within.” Gracefully sweeping his arm to one side, Útgarda-Loki gestured towards his many guests, all of whom watched the odd trio with intense curiosity.
The thought of her husband made Sigyn’s stomach clench. It was not like Loki to return to the Northlands so late in the year after his annual journey south. That had always been part of their marriage agreement: he would stay with her and the children during the hard, lean northern winters but would be free to travel south during the relative comfort of the summer months. Loki always came home with stories of his adventures with Thor, and his ability to change shape made him a most entertaining storyteller.
That is what I love so much about winter—not the season itself but the dramatic change in the world around me and the shifts they inspire within me. Winter is my annual reset button.
Life in Viking Age Scandinavia was harsh and unforgiving. To survive in a region with a long, cold winter and a relatively short growing season, you have to be savvy and tough, and sometimes you had to make hard decisions. You had to work from morning until night to get all your work done, and when winter came, you hoped you had done enough. As you can imagine, this had significant effects on the lifecycles of the Viking peoples.
Loki and Odin have sometimes been described as mirror images to each other. Odin certainly pulls his share of dirty tricks, although for different reasons. The parallels and contrasts between these two characters will also shed some light on the myths and the people who believed them.
This world and its people are rich in culture and history; you can almost taste the ash that continuously falls from the sky. But the true brilliance of the series lies in Jemison’s layered and nuanced portrayal of power. The politics of the Stillness is a deadly game of rock-paper-scissors: every power can defeat at least one other, and no power is indefeasible.