Tag Archives: norse mythology

Mara und der Feuerbringer

As start into the new year I decided to make another special week of posts. You might remember the Book-Week, now you get the Nerd-Week with seven nerdy posts ahead!

As first part of the Nerd-Week I’d like to introduce you to this gem of a movie: Mara und der Feuerbringer or in English: Mara and the Firebringer. Based on the first part of the book trilogy of the same name by Tommy Krappweis this movie is one of the few German Fantasy movies and I simply want to give it a bit more – much deserved – spotlight.

What is it about?

The official poster

15 year old Mara Lorbeer only wants to be a normal teenager, but with a weird Wiccan mum and the fact that a twig told her that she was a Nordic-Germanic Seer (Spákona), chosen to stop Anorak, uhm, Ragnarök that is not an easy feat.

Burdened with visions of the Norse half-god Loki breaking free from his bonds she soon realises that it’s not just her imagination when she actually stands right in front of him and is tasked with the rescue of his wife Sigyn.

Still, she struggles with her fate and takes up the help of Norse Mythology expert Professor Weisinger, as she doesn’t have a clue about Anoraks, Norse gods or the whole having-to-save-the-world-business.

The watching experience

I told you a bit about this movie already here: What’cha Watching Wednesday, so I’m lazy and just quote it:

At first I thought I wouldn’t manage to see Mara und der Feuerbringer (Mara and the Firebringer), due to some scheduling issues in the marketing, but then I found out that it was screened in Greifswald and I took Schmusi and Anna from the HGWAnime with me to see it and we had a lot of fun. Finally a German Fantasy movie that isn’t as stoic and flat as German movies tend to be, has interesting characters, an interesting plot and funny dialogues. With songs like Echter wahrer Held/True Genuine Hero by Schandmaul it also has a nice soundtrack. Schmusi first thought it was [actor] Jan Josef Liefers doing the singing until I told her it was the singer of one of the bands that first got me hooked on Metal. 😀

That is a pretty good summary of what I like about this movie, but let me expand on that a little.

The marketing for this movie was pretty screwed up as the German cinema wants to put things into a category, but Mara can’t be put into the existing ones, so the one that was chosen turned out to be the wrong one (if your German is good enough, you can check out this comment by Tommy Krappweis for more information). Barely any cinemas even played the movie, others played it once or twice, then dropped it (like the one in Neubrandenburg) and a few ones kept it a bit longer (like Greifswald). So when I first saw the times it would air, I didn’t think I’d be able to see it in the cinema, but then I found the viewing mentioned above and simply wanted to use that chance to see it.

Schmusi, Anna and I had the cinema for ourselves, so I could tell them a bit about the pre-story and the fact that I personally met one of the extras.
Short version: The books were read and even beta-read with a few selected users from The Forum and one of those users (Simon the Sorcerer) managed to participate in the filming. So when his scene was shown I was a bit side tracked from the actual story line, ups… 😀
But as soon as I got the DVD I re-watched it and figured out what a certain Hobbit-extra had to say about wanting to got to the Oktoberfest. 😉

Basically: It’s a lot of fun to watch, even during a re-watch. 🙂
(Unless you’re like my Dad, who has no connection to stuff like this at all…)

The characters

Mara isn’t your typical main character, far from it. She struggles with her destiny and the powers Loki gives her to save Sigyn. At some point she basically gives up, because she’s afraid to become someone like Darth Vader or Voldemort and thinks through this in a very funny way. Still, she overcomes this fear and gets back to saving the world in a witty and clever way.

As the movie is only an adaptation of the books, you only get to see glimpses of the other characters. Professor Weissinger is a man in his mid-forties(?) ready to jump at the chance to experiences all the stuff he’d studied and so far only encountered in books and relics, but he is also a great support for Mara, as it is his knowledge that helps her understand the mess she was dragged into. With his curiosity and awkwardness he creates a few very funny scenes.

Speaking of awkwardness: Mara’s mum, she’s wonderfully awkward and it doesn’t seem overblown, but very natural. She’s one of those Wiccan’s that take themselves far too serious and it’s great.

Loki, Sigyn and the others rarely get any screen time, but they make the few times count. E.g. do I really like the way those two talk – especially Loki’s way of thanking Mara… 😀 Though it is slightly irritating that they use the „Loki is Thor’s brother“-narration for the movie. It’s either because they decided to make it more relateable for the audiences due to the success of the Marvel-approach or they found something that actually makes them brothers in the myths as well, as everything else is in the movie is well researched.

[Edit: Tommy actually answered this question in a Tweet around the time of the TV-premier of the movie. He wrote (translation): According to the Edda one could also proclaim: Odin is the Father of Gods and therefore also Loki’s father.]

Special about all these characters is that they don’t talk the way that is usually used in German movies and television and that is really refreshing and great. 🙂
But not just that is a realistic display:

  • Mara falls asleep at some point from exhaustion
  • You can see wounds, water, dirt, sweat and ashes on the characters clothes and bodies, not everything is magically clean
  • A lot of attention was paid to historical correctness, like the clothes and settings for the Norse characters

General Opinion

I really enjoy the eye for details, the languages used, the way the characters interact so normally. It’s a refreshing way of storytelling.

Or to quote myself again:

If you get the chance: Definitely check this one out!

Stuff I’d like to add

Interesting for English readers: The DVD/Blu-Ray comes with English subtitles, I don’t know if there will be an English version – and I didn’t dare to ask Tommy, even though he seems to be someone who wouldn’t mind answering questions from his viewers…

Why did I chose this movie as opener for my Nerd-Week?

Short answer: Because I can. 😀

Long answer:
Apart from the Fandom-references mentioned above there is a lot that went on behind the scenes, starting from Reeanctors/LARPer participating as extras in both the movie and the music video, over Cosplayers providing costumes and the song being based on a version from an old webseries about dimensional jumps through sneezing, up to the fact that a lot of fans from all kinds of Fandoms promoted the movie.
As I said did a lot go wrong with the marketing, but fans wouldn’t back down and organized additional screenings in cinemas or at conventions and attended them in full periodic outfits.
Then there is the fact that it was planned to be played only a couple of times at the RPC (Roleplay Convention), but ended up being played in a loop (and also received an award as Best German Fantasy Movie in the last 30 Years).
As soon as someone got wind of the project and its failing success due to the horrible screening times, those who liked it passed it on in their respective Fandoms and I believe that’s what being a Nerd is about: Enjoying something and sharing it with your friends and in this case even helping out a great project that would otherwise go completely unnoticed [Edit: (a German documentary about all this and more can be found at Rocket Beans TV) [/Edit].

So here I am continuing that and sharing it with you. 🙂

PoiSonPaiNter

© For the poster belongs to its rightful owner.

Thor: Movie vs. Myth

The topic of this post is an assignment I got from The Extremis Reviews to see if my work is good enough for me to become a guest author for their page. I’m curious how that will work out, but as usual I do not put too much hope into it.
Regardless of me getting „the job“ or not, I already had thought about writing about Norse Mythology a bit more than the few mentions I had so far. Therefore I also see this as possibility for me to start my work on it properly.
As I mentioned in my review for Thor: The Dark World was I sceptical about the Thor-film in regards to its adaptations of the myths. I already knew a few things about the myths when I first heard about the film/the characters and the more I learned about both the myths and the Marvel-version, the more I was reluctant to actually try it. The way they portray characters and their relationships with each other seemed so wrong to me that I had a hard time grasping my head around it.
So with this post I want to show you some of the major differences between the adaptations of the myths in Marvels Cinematic Universe’s „Thor“ (and its follow-up films) and Norse Mythology itself. Please do keep in mind that I am not an expert on this matter and most of this is recited by memory, so if you see any mistakes you are more than welcome to inform me about them.
What confused me the most when I started watching the first Thor film were the

Family relationships;

especially Loki being Thor’s brother.
Deep down in the back of my mind something practically ranted at me: „He is not the brother. He wasn’t the brother. Was he?“ until I took my Laptop and looked it up.
Needles to say my nagging mind was indeed correct: According to Norse Mythology Loki is NOT the brother of Thor, but instead the blood brother (meaning no blood relationship whatsoever) of Odin, as Loki otherwise would not have been allowed to stay in Asgard due to being a giant. Though he does share some rather funny adventures with the God of Thunder (including for example cross-dressing, but covering that would stray too far away from the topic).
Another strange change are Thor and Sif, which in the original are married, while in the Marvel universe they are but friends. They fight alongside each other with Sif having a crush on him and Thor simply ignoring it and swooning over the „mortal“ Jane Foster. In the comics I believe Sif even becomes a Valkyrie, which would make any proper relationship quite impossible (in the myths they are the ones picking up the fallen warriors that are granted access to Valhalla, their „heaven“).
Not mentioned at all in the films, so far, are other family members of Thor and Loki.
As far as I know Thor has at least two brother’s (Baldr and Hodur) that play a major role on the way to Ragnarök (the Twilight of the Gods, the end of everything that is known). From a bit of research I know that Baldr has an appearance in the comics, but I believe the films will shelve Ragnarök for quite some time to cover other stories before that.
On Loki’s side there are the other pieces missing that are to bring about the end: The monster babies. 🙂
Jörmungandr (a gigantic serpent, large enough to circle the world entirely – and Thor’s arch enemy), Fenrir (an enormous wolf and the one said to kill Odin) and Hel(a – half young and beautiful woman, half rotten corpse and mistress of Helheim/Niflheim, the realm of the deceased that were not allowed to enter Valhalla, whose inhabitants she will lead into the fight against the Aesir at her fathers‘ side) the children of Loki and the giantess Angrboda that are very badly treated in the myths and do not appear in the films or stories of Marvel. Though Hel(a) is mentioned and shown in some of the cartoon versions and even called Loki’s daughter, though no mentioning of her mother or her brothers at all (there also are a wolf called Fenrir and a serpent, but it is not clear if they are in any way related to Loki and/or Marvels versions of them).
And let’s not forget his other two children with his Aesir-wife Sigyn (who is actually depicted in some of the comics and cartoons) that are used for his punishment shortly before Ragnarök (and I better not get into details about this right now, as it is quite nasty).

Origins:

As we already are talking about Loki’s children: Did you know that the eight-legged horse Odin is riding into battle (you can see it when he arrives in Jotunheim to rescue Thor and the others in the first film) is supposed to be Loki’s offspring? And did you also know that he is the mother?
Regardless if you answered these questions with yes or no, it is indeed the case that there is a story in the Norse Mythology about how the wall of Asgard was build and how Loki was forced to trick the horse of the builder into running off so that the builder (who was a giant in disguise) could not finish his work in time. As he had disguised himself as a white mare the God of Mischief returned several months after the ordeal with a foal, Sleipnir, that he then gave to Odin. Speaking of disguises: You think Loki’s illusions are fun? In the real stories he occasionally turns himself into all kind of things including a fish and several different women. 😉
If you think Sleipnir’s heritage is strange then let me tell you what is „wrong“ about Loki’s: In the myths Loki is not just depicted as the God of Mischief, but also as the God of Fire, due to him being a Fire Giant (Loki or Locke even means something like flame if I’m not mistaken) and yes, Marvel turned this around and made him a Frost Giant. Though they turned around something way more hilarious as well.
You remember the king of the Frost Giants, Laufey, who is said to be Loki’s father? Well, in the myths „Laufey“ is the name of Loki’s mother…
Though not a person the origin of Thor’s hammer Mjolnir differs in the stories as well. In Marvel it is said that the hammer was forged in a dying dwarf star from one of the strongest metals in the universe – incidentally the same as Captain America‘s shield, explaining the blast they emit when they collide in The Avengers. The only thing that coincides with the myths, however, is the word „dwarf“.
Mjolnir was forged by a dwarf – or dwarve, as the fantasy version is referred to – that got himself into a bet with Loki when the god had badmouthed the dwarves abilities to forge proper weaponry. While the dwarve worked on the hammer another one was trying to keep the flames steady. As he, however, was distracted by a fly (*cough*Loki*cough*) he failed at his task and the handle of the hammer ended up being rather short. Due to this Loki saw himself the victor, but the Aesir still preferred the dwarves work over the work Loki had presented them.  As the dwarve could not get Loki’s head as he had demanded (cutting off the head without doing the same with the neck proofed difficulty) he instead stitched up the lips of the lying god. Though none of this is portrayed in the Marvel universe, which is rather unfortunate.
What is however portrayed in Marvel and not in the myths are the Warriors Three. I don’t remember something like them existing in the stories as the most frequent companion Thor had on his adventures was Loki.

Appearance

It is normal to change the appearance of characters to fit a different audience, but some decision might be true to the Marvel version, but are still quite different from the Norse one.
So even though Jamie Alexander is a beautiful woman it is indeed unfortunate that she is not depicted with Norse-Sif’s golden hair that resulted from one of Loki’s many mischiefs (and is made of real gold). Other changed hair colours include Thor (red) and Loki (occasionally blond) themselves.
The strangest change however is Heimdal and a former fellow student of mine even declared that she stopped watching the first film as soon as she saw him. It is highly unlikely that someone of Idris Elbas skin-colour would have found his way into Norse Mythology; as Loki’s arch enemy nonetheless. (This is in no way meant offensive and I think Elba does a pretty good job as Asgards gate keeper. It just doesn’t really fit with what the myths tell us.)
But as she so nicely put it: At least Odin has only one eye.

The Nine realms

As I wrote in the review: I do like how they described Yggdrasil, the World Tree, and its connection to the other realms. A nice scientific explanation.
In the myths it is an actual tree that connects the different realms with his roots, trunk and branches. Deep down underneath the World Tree lie the dark realms, like Helheim. Where the trunk stands Midgard stretches on and high above the branches lies Asgard, home of the Aesir. The other realms lie somewhere as well, but I can’t really remember where exactly, sorry.
The difference in this is simply put: No science, actual tree and rainbow.
As you might have noticed I referred to the (main, as there are others too) inhabitants of Asgard as Aesir instead of Asgardians as Marvel calls them. The latter sounds more like simply referring to the alien-species that lives in Asgard than for what it is used to describe in the myths (alien super-human vs. actual god) and it just feels better to use it when talking about them.

Characters Reasoning

In the myths it is quite understandable why Loki turns against the Aesir (you only have to look at how they treat him and his children). In Marvel he is depicted more as a jealous, greedy prat than actually having reason to  behave the way he does.
This however is not really a difference like the others, but I felt like it was worth mentioning.
The few things above are probably only barely scratching the surface of all the differences between Marvel’s version and the original, but I hope I could give you at least a small overview of them. I am also sorry that I didn’t get into too much detail with some of them, as that would have been too Off Topic.
Anyway, I am off to Berlin again for a long weekend and a Van Canto concert and am already curious what kind of replies will await me on my return.
PoiSonPaiNter

Mephisto

One of the most fascinating characters that ever originated in German literature.
Johann Wolgang von Goethe used him as the antagonist for his tragic novel: Faust.

Faust is the story of Doctor Heinrich Faust, who strives for wisdom and uses any means necessary to satisfy his thirst for it. Even making a compact with the Devil –  in this case the devilish character that is Mephistopheles (or short: Mephisto).
An ambiguous man that even describes himself as such:

Part of that Power, not understood,
Which always wills the Bad, and always works the Good.[…]
I am the Spirit that Denies!
And justly so: for all things, from the Void
Called forth, deserve to be destroyed:
‚Twere better, then, were naught created.
Thus, all which you as Sin have rated,—
Destruction,—aught with Evil blent,—
That is my proper element.
(See [PGE])

Or in the old English version:

Part of that power which still
Produceth good, whilst ever scheming ill.[…]
The spirit I, which evermore denies!
And justly; for whate’er to light is brought
Deserves again to be reduced to naught;
Then better ’twere that naught should be.
Thus all the elements which ye
Destruction, Sin, or briefly, Evil, name,
As my peculiar element I claim.
(See [HCE])

Or the ever so great original version:

Ein Teil von jener Kraft,
Die stets das Böse will und stets das Gute schafft.[…]
Ich bin der Geist, der stets verneint!
Und das mit Recht; denn alles, was entsteht,
Ist wert, daß es zugrunde geht;
Drum besser wär’s, daß nichts entstünde.
So ist denn alles, was ihr Sünde,
Zerstörung, kurz, das Böse nennt,
Mein eigentliches Element.
(See [PGG])

Sorry, I simply had to show these different versions.
I personally prefer the last one. Not just because I am German, but simply because I adore the German language so much. If I find the time for it I might record those three quotes to show you verbally the difference in the sound of them, which in my opinion makes the German the outstanding winner – if it would be a competition.

Anyway, by now I am not so sure if the idea for the Mephisto-character really was created by Goethe or even the old stories about the Faust content (the lore about Johann Georg Faust, Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus).
Simply by reading quite some bit of Norse mythology made me realize that one „character“ does have quite similar traits…

Mephisto is the master of lies, Lord of the Flies, Rats and what not. Someone who wants the human existence to end. Permanently. By all means he tries to win his bet with god. To win Fausts soul. The ambiguity I mentioned earlier is kind of his trade mark. He tries to win by causing evil deeds, but the result is not always evil. For example does he cause – through Faust’s wish – Gretchen’s tragedy, but instead of wanting his live to end (by saying his catch-phrase: „Verweile doch du bist so schön.“/“Ah, still delay—thou art so fair!“/“Linger awhile! so fair thou art!”) because of the bliss he had with the girl, Faust simply wants more. Knowing more. Experiencing more. Living more. He is not satisfied. Yet he learns what the girl had to suffer through because of him and it makes him realize his mistakes and trying to save her. And even though Mephisto claims the girl to be lost, god claims her soul to be saved.  Faust kind of grows character-wise from this and strives for a different woman – Helena.
The point is: Mephisto tries to get to his goal without a care of what happens to the ones around him: The deaths of Gretchen’s matron and brother, the pregnancy and the punishment of the girl for killing her own child is the content of the tragedy. Yet the devoted girl is still able to ascent to heaven.

A similar ambiguity can be seen in the myths concerning the Norse god of mischief: Loki.
If you look at the story about Balder’s death for example you can see a similar tragedy.
When everything except the mistletoe had vowed to not harm Balder and everyone was throwing things at him, Loki simply did what he considered fun: He disguised himself and talked Balder’s blind brother Hodur into throwing a sharpened mistletoe at his brother, while guiding his hand. Never intending to kill the beloved god he caused his death by this, as the twig went right into Balder’s heart. As everyone mourned for him they hoped to fulfill Hel’s (Loki’s daughter’s) condition for Balder to return to the realm of the living. Only one person – a giantess who is said to be Loki in disguise again – did not care whether he returned or not, thus Balder would have to stay in the realm of Hel (Helheim) till Ragnorök, where he would be one of the sole „survivors“ and creators of the new world, after the end of everything.
In short: Loki tries to mock the Aesir’s behavior regarding Balder’s invulnerability and causing the biggest tragedy in the Edda, still his „victim“ later has a new role in the recreation of the world, which wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the trickster.
On a German (unofficial) page [LGM] about the Norse mythology it is even concluded, that his doings, despite their evil intent, caused more good things then bad. And that sounds fairly familiar. 😉
Even though I only display shortened versions of both „stories“ and there would probably be a more fitting one for Loki (e.g. the tale of Mjölnir), you might be able to see my point nevertheless: Two characters – one from German lore, one from Norse mythology, who display the same mind set. Doing how they please to accomplish what they want. Making intentionally evil deeds that cause more good than ill. Characters that play with the people around them, to trick them into doing what they see profit in.
Neither of them is (completely) evil (hence the ambiguity). They both just follow someone else’s plan. Bound to act according to it, regardless of all their effort to act on their own „free“ will.
(And seemingly I was not the only one who came to this conclusion, though I did not find an official source [UPG] either…)

I find this characterization quite fascinating and not just for me it is the source for inspiration for characters with similar traits. It is hard for me to grasp – let alone explain – why I like it, but I am mostly compelled to favourite them over the simple minded or less complex characters. Therefore one of my favourite characters in the book I’m co-writing is not even based on/inspired by Mephisto, but will also get a scene that is inspired by the myths concerning Loki – looking forward to officially writing that one.

Reading Faust and being taught of it by a teacher with so much passion for this piece, simply made me inherit this passion. Therefore I think I can claim it one of my favourite books.

Still other authors used Mephisto in their work as well. Not just in Marvel Comics did he became „real“ again (which is pretty funny, as they also have a Loki…), no also a quite new Manga series has a character named „Mephisto Pheles“ (honestly: Took me a while to get that one, as I’m too used to the short version …). I am talking about Kazue Katou’s „Ao No Exorcist“ (Blue Exorcist).
A story about two brother’s whom discover their heritage as sons of Satan. One of them (Rin) who has inherited their father’s (blue) flames and the other (Yukio) already being an Exorcist, who is now guiding his brother to become one as well.
Mephisto is the (demonic) headmaster of the Exorcist school and seems to have his own plan(s) concerning the brother’s. He puts them into several trial fights to see how they are able to cope, even using his own (demonic) brother as bait.
He is capable of using magic. Even going as far as to turn himself into a small terrier like dog. (Another trait all three characters share: Shape shifting 😉 )
In the Anime-version there even is an episode where it is said, that he is the Mephisto Faust made the compact with, though I still prefer the Manga-version…
My fascination for this series – and the kind of character – caused me to write this: Not His Day
A little parody about Mephisto. (Some more information on the creation process can be found, if you follow the above link to the story on Fanfiction.net.)

One thing is clear to me: If I ever would get to own a poodle, I’d call it Mephisto – just for the heck of it. 😀

PoiSonPaiNter

Sources: