There are few phrases in the English language as motivating as “I bet you…” It’s why we have millions of videos on YouTube of people trying to jump things and failing miserably, it’s how Lloyd got one over on Harry in Dumb & Dumber, and it’s how writer Scott Oden wound up writing a trilogy of historical fantasy novels about Orcs and Vikings. In the following email interview, Oden discusses Twilight Of The Gods (hardcover, Kindle), the second book of the threesome after 2017’s A Gathering Of Ravens.
Photo Credit: John Bishop
Let’s start with a quick overview. What was A Gathering Of Ravens about, and what kind of world was it set in?
The last part is easiest to answer: it’s set in our own world, at the tail-end of the Viking Age, between 999 and 1014 AD. Geographically, it stretches from the island of Sjælland in Denmark, to the west of England near Bath, and thence across the sea to Ireland, to the Viking-controlled city of Dubhlinn (modern Dublin). But, it’s a version of our world where the ancient ways, the shadow-world of magic and folklore, are dying. The new religion from the east is winning, and the followers of the White Christ are systematically converting or destroying the old pagan shrines. Thus, as this new age dawns, the Elder Days fade away — and the creatures of myth and fable are vanishing, or else becoming small, mean, and brimming with insanity.
Grimnir is one of those creatures. His people were driven from Jötunheimr and into the dark places of our own world, this Miðgarðr, where they became the kernel of truth at the heart of monster legends — from Grendel to the Irish Fomorians to Tolkien’s Orcs. A Gathering Of Ravens is the story of Grimnir’s wrath, his quest for vengeance against the man who killed his brother. It takes him through the twilight world of myth and into the hard light of history…just in time to partake in the climactic spear-shattering that was the Battle Of Clontarf.
And then what is Twilight Of The Gods about and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to A Gathering Of Ravens?
Twilight Of The Gods continues Grimnir’s saga — and since he and his people are functionally immortal, it’s set some 200 years after A Gathering Of Ravens. He’s carved out a fine, quiet existence for himself in the hinterlands of Sweden, on the northern shore of Lake Vänern. He protects a tribe of Geats who worship him as the avatar of the Norse giant / god Loki. But, all this comes crashing down around him when a famed crusader launches a last effort to root out heresy in the north…and he chooses Grimnir’s little corner of the world as his target. Of course, there’s more to the story: it’s also a coming-of-age tale for a young woman who wants more than anything to be a shield-maiden, and how she navigates her new life as the priestess who serves Grimnir; there’s vengeance reaching back to the Elder Days, sorcery, subterfuge, a desperate siege, and a final battle that heralds the breaking of the world. Ragnarök and the twilight of the gods…
When in relation to writing A Gathering Of Ravens did you come up with the idea for Twilight Of The Gods and how did that idea change as you wrote this second novel?
When I first sketched out the story for A Gathering Of Ravens — which originated as a bet between friends that I couldn’t insert Tolkien’s Orcs into real-world history without it being an exercise in silliness — Grimnir’s immortality and the nature of Norse sagas suggested a broad series of tales. At first, I called it The Kaunumál, The Death Song Of Grimnir Son Of Bálegyr; that’s how it’s mentioned in the epilogue of A Gathering Of Ravens.
Originally, Twilight Of The Gods was more of a hunter-prey story, with the crusader heading north to kill the last monster. It didn’t work, and I dithered for about a year until I was able to tease the truth from my tangle of notes and drafts. Once I had the first three chapters down, the rest fell into place pretty much as is.
And how long did you call it Hammer Of The Gods before someone pointed out that that’s the name of a crappy book about Led Zeppelin?
Here’s where I wish I had some deep reservoir of lore about heavy metal bands and such. But, truth be told, I dislike the genre and do not at all equate hair-dudes screaming their lyrics to the crash and screech of modern instruments with Vikings or barbarians of any stripe. Danheim, Wardruna, Heilung…THAT is Viking music. So, my answer would be “Led who?” I am prepared for the hate mail….
I’ll send it as soon as I stop staring at the In Through The Out Door promotional poster on my office wall. Anyway, A Gathering Of Ravens and Twilight Of The Gods both sound like they’re historical fantasy stories. Is that how you see them or are there other genres at work in these stories as well?
They are pure, unadulterated historical fantasy. There’s a deep strain of Robert E. Howard to them, but that’s more the fact that he’s my primary influence as a writer rather than anything particularly thematic. I love what W.H. Auden called “The Northern Thing” — the grim determination of the Dane or the Norseman to fight on despite the futility of it all.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that were a big influence on Twilight Of The Gods but not on A Gathering Of Ravens or any of your other novels?
Not really. All the Grimnir stories share a common heritage: Tolkien mixed with Robert E. Howard and filtered through the lens of Norse myth. Everything I write has its roots in my love for Robert E. Howard’s fiction. He and Tolkien were my earliest literary loves, and I learned to write by emulating Howard’s stories.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, and video games? Did any of them have a big impact on Twilight Of The Gods?
I tried to mimic the gritty look and feel of The 13th Warrior and Vikings. One source of visual inspiration was the art of Rasmus Berggreen. His Fall Of Gods paintings were like the backgrounds of the movie in my head.
Now, as we’ve been discussing A Gathering Of Ravens and Twilight Of The Gods are part of a series. But is this a trilogy, or an ongoing series…what?
As currently planned, it’s a trilogy of connected stand-alone novels, much like Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series. And while I’ve only planned for three books, there’s nothing keeping me from exploring the past or carrying Grimnir into the future. A couple of friends have requested “Orcs in Space,” but I’m not sure how keen I am on that idea.
It’s also been done; they have Orcs in Warhammer 40K, though they call them Orks.
Oh my god, those Orks are my nemesis! I catch a lot of flak from my Greenskin-loving friends for my stance that those slabs of green, tusked fungi aren’t Orcs! The only Orc is what’s found in Tolkien; the rest are poseurs who’ve stolen the name! (More hate mail!) But, I like the symmetry of a trilogy, and having my books work as stand-alone novels plays into a very real spectre of the midlist author: the reality that you can’t continue the series if your sales aren’t there. I’ve been there, and have no desire to go back. So, they all work as their own thing, independent of the others.
Also, does this series have a name?
When I was writing A Gathering Of Ravens, I called it The Kaunumál, The Death Song Of Grimnir Son Of Bálegyr. But, that really just didn’t stick. So, it’s just The Grimnir Series, right now.
So, do you know when the third book might be out?
I’m finishing up my initial research and world / character building for The Doom Of Odin, and putting the final touches on my detailed synopsis. My plan is to start drafting the manuscript in January and attempt to have it to my editor by the Spring, for a possible 2021 launch.
Cool. As you probably know, some people are waiting until that book comes out before reading any of them, and some will then read all of three in rapid succession. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait?
Always buy the books as they come out. I don’t care how the reader decides to read them, binge or one at a time with each release, and there’s no story reason not to read them as they’re released. It’s three stand-alone novels linked by the main character. But, if they wait to buy them all at once, after the third one is released, there’s a really good chance the series will never be finished. Sales are the key. Sales decide if you have a series that reaches a conclusion or one that stops at book 2. Buy the books as they come out, people! I beg of you!
Earlier I asked if Twilight Of The Gods had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. Has there been any interest in adapting it or A Gathering Of Ravens into a movie, show, or game?
It’s not received any attention yet, but I’m always hopeful. I think it would make either a great movie or an animated series along the lines of Genndy Tartakovsky’s PRIMAL. I’d also love to see it as an expansion to an indie tabletop RPG called Ironsworn, or as a video game in the Skyrim genre.
And do you have any thoughts on who they should cast if they make this into a series of movies?
I’d love either prosthetic SFX or motion capture of the Gollum variety for Grimnir. And I think Stephen Ure would be awesome in the role. He’s the actor who played Grishnakh and Gorbag in The Lord Of The Rings movies. I’d like Laura Rees [Love, Actually] as Étain, Stellan Skarsgaard [Avengers: Age Of Ultron] as Bjarki Half-Dane, and Vladimir Kulich [The 13th Warrior] as Njáll Draugen. Twilight Of The Gods would add Lena Headley [Game Of Thrones] as Úlfrún, someone like Jennie Jacques from Vikings as Disa, and James Purefoy [The Following] as the crusader, Konráðr the White, who was actually written with Purefoy in mind. I’d want the whole thing directed by Ridley Scott [Gladiator].
Finally, if someone enjoys A Gathering Of Ravens and Twilight Of The Gods, which of your other novels would you suggest they check out while waiting for The Doom Of Odin?
I’d encourage them to try my second novel, Memnon. Mainly because it’s quite different from my other work. It’s pure historical fiction, in the vein of Mary Renault and Steven Pressfield, and concerns itself with the life story of the only man Alexander The Great was said to have feared, Memnon Of Rhodes. History dismissed him as a mere mercenary in Persian service, but he was far more than that. By marriage, he was a kinsman of the royal Achaemenids, his wife being the great-granddaughter of King Artaxerxes II of Persia. It’s got all the things that make a story great, I think: drama, pathos, white-knuckled battles, double-crosses, and the looming spectre of the greatest conqueror the ancient world had known, Alexander Of Macedon. Best of all, but for a bit of creative license at the beginning, it’s all true.