Dark faerie and the influence of the Volsung

My dark faerie story ‘The Last Citadel of the Innocent’ is published today in the second Endless Worlds compilation. I wrote it as a quite deliberate riff on the Volsung sagas and Nordic mythology.

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Well, given that it’s a novella, it’s not so much a riff as one of those 10-minute Yngwie Malmsteen guitar solos with more hemidemisemiquavers than you can shake a stick at. The plot and characters are original to me – and the back-story is that of the ‘alternative universe’ I’ve been developing for the past decade or so. But the tale carries a LOT of passing references to Nordic mythology and Wagnerian opera, along with the French Revolution (‘month of Germinal’).

Just like European operatic metal, really. And Tolkien. And Wagner. Indeed, the Volsung saga and the tales of the Nibelung are an amazing source for passing references. Here are just a few (among others) that I slid into my story:

– The story is set in a city called Longforin. The behaviour of everybody here – ratting on each other, guilt on accusation, public hangings in huge number, etc, is what happened in Paris 1793-94 during Robespierre’s ‘Terror’. It was pure madness. I’ve written a precise description of the real thing, placed it in a fantasy city, and set my story against that background.

– Stilicho, the name of the main character, is the name of a fourth century barbarian who became a Roman general. The character in my story, of course, is a figment of my imagination and bears no resemblance other than name to the Roman. He’s a young soldier, and he has to learn about grey-scale morality and… well, you’ll see.

– One of the characters is Falkengräm. I crafted the word to sound like the sort of name a European operatic metal band might adopt, but it also references Gräm, Sigurd’s sword in the Volsung saga. It’s pronounced ‘graym’ and means ‘wrath’. In the Volsung myths, sword was broken by Odin. In my story, Falkengräm has command of the birds of prey – which is what his name means in English: Falcon Wrath.

– One of the magical weapons in the story is the ‘Sword of Wrath’, which is straight out of the Volsung sagas, but I rendered it in English and gave the sword powers that suited the mythos I’ve built. Richard Wagner referenced the same weapon, but renamed it the ‘Sword of Need’.

Arthur Rackham’s 1911 picture of a Valkyrie welcoming the sun.

– The scene where there’s an apparent valkyrie standing welcoming the sun is a reference to Arthur Rackham’s 1911 painting of the Valkyrie Sigrifa, after being woken by Sigurd.

– Much of the action revolves around ‘The Helm’ – reference to Wagner’s ‘Tarnhelm’, which in my story is a symbol of evil over which everybody fights. I left it undefined as to what it did. The only certainty is that it doesn’t have horns (ask me why not in the comments).

– The scene where a ‘valkyrie’ steals someone’s clothes is a reference to the scene in Nibelung mythology where Siegfried steals a Valkyrie’s clothes, except I reversed the roles. My scene bears no resemblance apart from the clothes-stealing.

– The ‘river maidens’, who are mentioned in passing, are a reference to Wagner’s Rhine Maidens.

– Rune magic – I left it undefined, but magic-by-written-symbol is a common faerie motif, featured in Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter and generically deployed in C S Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Because I’m a geek, my version manifests with Cherenkov  radiation (heh heh heh…).

– Hand waving to make magic is a reference to ‘hand waving’ to describe unscientific outcomes in hard sci-fi. Yes, OK, it’s lame.

There is, of course, a lot more. Can you find them all? Buy the story and find out!

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017

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