106: “The Battlefield Called Vigrid” (Neil Gaiman)

                “On the battlefield called Vigrid,the gods will fall in battle with the frost giants, and the frost giants will fall in battle with the gods.” -Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology

                Norse mythology makes me laugh, and frightens me, and confuses me, and pulls me into worlds of wind and fire. (And Gaiman’s telling is beautiful: full of mead and smoke, friendship and fear, coarse humor and the coursing currents of story). Ragnarok, the final fate of the gods, is a catalogue of old enemies ending each other: Thor kills the giant serpent Iormungand, and dies to Iormungand’’s poison breath. Loki kills Heimdall, and Heimdall kills Loki. We have these legendary pairs swinging for each other, as they always seemed “fated” to do, but there’s another story from long before Ragnarok that sticks in my mind and changes the entire world of Norse myths.
                In the first part of the story, a storm giant named Thiazi kidnaps the goddess Idunne and steals the golden apples she guards. The apples give the gods eternal youth; without them, the gods will grow old and die. Loki steals the apples back. Thiazi dies beneath Thor’s hammer. Thiazi’s daughter, Skadi, comes to avenge him. So far there’s trickery and treachery and fire, but it’s the next part that makes this myth stick out to me.
                Everything’s set up for another fight: instead, for a moment, there’s wisdom, compassion–and peace. Odin makes Thiazi’s eyes into stars, a monument to shine for as long as the world lives. Skadi marries Niord, the gentle god of the shallow seas. For a moment the two sides, the giants and the gods, come together, and then something happens that catches me so much that I’ve been trying for years to write my own version of this long myth.
                Skadi grew up in Thrymheim, her father’s mountain fortress, where the wolves howl and the winds sing sharp across the stone. Niord lives at Noatun, a coastal palace as beautiful and gentle as he is. The sea breeze lounges through long curtains, and the ocean laughs along the sand dunes. Married, Skadi and Niord try to split their time between these two worlds. Niord goes up to Thrymheim–but in his eyes the open cliffs look like fear, not passion. Skadi goes to Noatun–but in her hands the soft, malleable sand doesn’t feel real. So they let each other go. Niord stays by the sea, Skadi stays in the mountains. They stay in love, and see each other between their two worlds when they can.
                And if they were in love, if they shared their days and nights, there might have been a child. A child born of the breaking, rising, reaching mountains and the resting, swaying, breathing seas. I think there was. I wonder what she, or he, was like.
                Ragnarok isn’t the end of the world–it’s the end of these worlds. There will be something, again, afterward. I wonder what this child will do in Ragnarok. Her mother came from one side, her father from the other; both probably die in the battle. But I don’t think the child does. I don’t think she goes to the battlefield. Niord and Skadi recognized each other’s pride. They made space for it. They tended to their love. Each saw the other’s world and shared it as much as they could, and respected it when they couldn’t. They held each other, loved each other, let each other go. They came back together in the space between their homes.
                What is their child like? Having grown up in both their worlds, what world will she help make?

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