THC’s Vikings is a Religion…

Vikings_S02P12,_cast

If you haven’t had the chance to watch this show, you’re missing out. Sure, critics will say that it isn’t entirely historically accurate, but this is mostly because it borrows from several conflicting Viking sagas as well as pagan mythology. Weaving Scandinavian legend and lore into events detailed in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, all while maintaining a tenuous balance between Christianity and Paganism, is no small feat. Ragnar’s conflicts with the Anglo-Saxons (and often with his own people) allow for a compelling juxtaposition of two worlds, one grasping for the future and the other for the past, each as beautiful and barbaric as the other. Historical Easter eggs are scattered throughout for the discerning scholar, but the show is entirely accessible to those for whom figures like Odin and Sigurd are not the topics of casual conversation. This is in part because strategic re-tellings of Nordic lore bring everyone up to speed.

So far, the only annoying thing about the inclusion of the lore has been my reaction to it: “Oh! I know this one! And then Loki makes an arrow out of mistletoe and…!”

…And then I realize I’m acting like my youngest daughter and spoiling things. So I figure if I’m going to do that, a blog review might be a better platform than my living room.

That was your one chance to run before the SPOILERS. Continuing on will also make you subject to my opinion, which can be a forceful thing. You’ve been warned.

Vikings has plenty of action with all its flying axes and forbidden romances, but I find that when a television show manages to hook me, it’s because of the characters. With that in mind, let’s take a look at each of my favorites.

Ragnar Lothbrok/Lodbrok

First off, Travis Fimmel demonstrates how a beard and some chainmail can transform someone who looks like this:

Wimpy Ragnar

“Excuse me, guys? This is Asgard, right? Where is the hall for eunuchs?”

Into Ragnar Frickin’ Lothbrok:

Ragnar Meme

If you’re into this show, you both love and hate this guy. He has an infinite capacity for forgiveness, as displayed when he accepts Rollo back after his betrayal, but he is arguably also the most ruthless character as well, demonstrated by his blood eagling of that creepy necrophiliac and wannabe Hamlet, Jarl Borg. He loves his family to distraction, except for when he cheats on his first wife, Lagertha, with this thing:

Aslaug Alice

“It is I, Aslaug! Daughter of Brunhilde and Fafnir… I mean Sigurd!”

Aslaug. From what I’ve gathered from those who are watching the show with me, nobody likes Aslaug. Ragnar doesn’t even like Aslaug. Why, then, does he ruin his seemingly healthy marriage with Lagertha (when she isn’t beating the crap out of him) to mess around with something that reminds me of the swamp witch from Legend:

Swamp Witch

“Me so sexy bathe in river!”

And bears Ragnar mutant children like Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye:

Sigurd_c1

“Did you catch my name? They only said it like 100 times!”

And Ivar the Boneless:

Ivar the Boneless

“Here to conquer the Yellow Brick Road I am!”

The answer comes from the Viking sagas. Ragnar and Lagertha appear in the sagas independently of Ragnar and Aslaug, and their relationship ultimately ends because Ragnar doubts Lagertha’s feelings for him–due to her attempt to KILL him with a hound and a bear when he sought her hand in marriage. (Remember Ragnar telling Bjorn that story in season one?) Lagertha, despite their divorce, does indeed come to Ragnar’s aid in the sagas and provide military support. Her continued presence in Vikings is not just based on viewer feedback but also on source material.

In Ragnar’s sagas with Aslaug, however, she is the mother of all his notable children, including Bjorn Ironside (Lagertha’s son in the show), and Ivar the Boneless is actually their oldest child. Most of these children were iconic figures in their own right, and their “great heathen army”, led by Ivar the Boneless, nearly conquered England after their father’s death. Alfred the Great, King of Wessex and later all of England (who just showed up as a baby in season three), finally put a stop to their raids by granting them land in the Danelaw.

The difficulty here is that Bjorn, Ivar, Sigurd Snake-In-The-Eye, and some of Ragnar’s other sons are historically documented figures (Ivar actually ruled Ireland and Bjorn terrorized the Mediterranean), whereas Ragnar and Aslaug, like her parents Sigurd Fafnir’s-Bane and Brunhilde, are legendary figures comparable to the British King Arthur and Morgan Le Fay. Whether Ragnar Lothbrok really existed or if these Viking warriors simply wanted to claim distinction through an unusual birth, as is common in most hero stories, is a matter for debate. In either case, however, the daughter of a great hero and Valkyrie bearing monstrous children to a rags-to-riches king made for a compelling story 1,200 years ago, and it continues to do so now.

In a nutshell, the gross seer with the face like the inside of a hot dog wasn’t lying.

seer gross

“Don’t recognize me from Braveheart? Well, this is what a morning star does to your face!”

Ragnar’s children DO become more famous than him, so unless the History Channel REALLY wanted to revise history and mythology into commercially driven drivel, it was necessary for Ragnar to enter into this second marriage in order to establish the children who would later cause so much documented trouble for Western Europe.

Still, this betrayal made me hate Ragnar for awhile. Now, I see him as a character who feels trapped by prophecy, much like Shakespeare’s Macbeth. As Ragnar explains in season three, he was fated to become a king and have many sons, but what he wanted–farming and family–was never part of his destiny.

Lagertha

Lagertha starts out Vikings as the epitome of feminism in the dark ages, inspiring women to become shield maidens and knavish men to keep it in their pants. This meme encapsulates our feelings about her in seasons one and two:

always-be-yourself-lagertha

After Ragnar’s indiscretions with Aslaug, Lagertha divorces her unfaithful husband and leaves the fiefdom with her son in the a scene that would have impressed even the God-fearing wives of the British Isles–wait, besides being warriors, Viking women had rights? They could divorce, own property, and even become a Jarl/Earl? Lagertha does all of these things, and it isn’t just the History Channel trying to pull in female viewers. Lagertha’s accomplishments here essentially mirror those told in the sagas, with the difference being that she is more politically powerful in the lore. Unlike in Vikings, when she comes to Ragnar’s aid in the sagas, she does so with 120 ships. Or, as this meme so eloquently puts it:

Shield Maiden Sandwich

Unfortunately, the tail end of season two and season three seem to be going the same way as Game of Thrones, with Lagertha screwing everything in sight to please fans of sexual gratuity–despite obviously still loving Ragnar, who obviously does not love Aslaug the serpentine mutant baby factory any more than the fans do. I understood her jumping in bed with the King of Wessex, who doesn’t seem to care about crossing any kind of boundary, least of all the borders of his kingdom. He is, after all, a king with his own Roman bathhouse (how do they keep that thing so clean?), a transgressive Christian at best, and kind of a smooth talker. But then she starts messing around with the douche bag that stole her land and title while she was away in England, and while her son lies gravely injured? Seriously? I’d rather see her hook up with Rollo, who has sacrificed plenty for her in the series and has a good relationship with her son.

Now that I’ve brought up Rollo, I should probably explain why that relationship can’t happen.

Rollo

Berserker Rollo

“Lagertha! My love for you is like a truck!”

Rollo is Vikings’ token berserker. Berserkers were known to cut themselves before battle, wield giant weapons, and not bother with shields or armor. The most famous berserker, of course, is this guy:

1236259-wolverine_variant

“Guns, bub? Who needs ’em?”

Rollo seems to share some other properties with the ol’ canucklehead: he’s ostracized from society, he’s an alcoholic, he’s quick to anger, he never gets the girl…and of course there’s the whole mutant healing factor thing. Remember when Rollo got his face slashed to ribbons by Gabriel Byrne? It looked pretty permanent…

Rollo scars

“Great. Now no one but that skank Siggy will ever love me…”

But by season three, they’re totally healed, Wolverine style:

rollo horse

“BERSERKER!”

It’s too bad for Bjorn that his whiny, Avril Lavigne lookalike wife doesn’t have the same mutant power…

porunn-how-can-you-help-me-no-one-can-help-me

“These scars are just a physical representation of my undiagnosed psychological issues! If only Freud had been born 1,000 years sooner!”

Man, she’s a mess.

Anyway, Rollo’s berserker status in the show is really just a means to an end. He needed to be single when he got to Paris. He has a princess to marry and a dukedom to establish–namely Normandy, which was given to the historical Rollo by King Charles the Simple (what a name!) in 911 AD to prevent future attacks on the French capital.

This Rollo, whose origin is contested, probably wasn’t the brother of the legendary Ragnar Lothbrok, nor was Ragnar the chieftain under which Rollo fought when their forces first laid siege to Paris. After a few buy-offs, which only led to raids in Burgundy, Rollo returned to Paris as the then leader of the Viking army and was reportedly given Princess Gisela’s hand in marriage as well as the Dukedom of Normandy, which he had conquered, in exchange for allegiance to the king. When King Charles was deposed, Rollo went a-raiding again, and Normandy grew even larger. Its greatest expansion, of course, was in 1066, when Rollo’s descendant, William the Conqueror, defeated the Anglo-Saxon forces at the Battle of Hastings and the Normans took over England.

The historical Rollo is arguably the ancestor of the British monarchy from 1066 onward, including the current royal family. His line, through William the Conqueror, was also responsible for introducing knights to England, the major advantage that made the battle of Hastings such a massacre for the Anglo-Saxons under King Harold II.

In Vikings, Rollo is constantly passed over for leadership despite his obvious prowess in battle. His dejected ambitions cause him to making emotional decisions (like betraying his brother) that lead to him being shunned by all of Scandinavia. But patience, ye mountain of hairy muscle. Like the triple-ugly seer told him, “Oh Rollo, if you truly knew what the gods have in store for you, you would go down now and dance naked on the beach.”

Those Nordic gods do seem to work in mysterious ways, like randomly showing up and having an affair with Aslaug and then screwing over the most devout follower on the show, the ever-mischievous Floki.

Floki

Floki Dies Riot

Floki might be on the chopping block because there’s no historical evidence for his existence, unless, as some believe, he is Loki in human form. Some evidence points to this conclusion, such as his miraculous knowledge of how to build ships and siege towers, his demand that Helga name their daughter after Loki’s first wife (Angrboda), and his apparent shapeshifting/magical control of animals that allowed him to sneak past Rollo–by way of doggy distraction–to murder Aethelstan as a sacrifice to the gods.

Rather garnering the favor of the gods, this move so far seems to have brought about disaster for Floki, who is played by Gustaf Skarsgard, one of the few actors on the show of actual Scandinavian origin. His father is the legendary Stellan Skarsgard, so between his origins and acting, it’s no wonder Floki appears to be the most authentically Viking character in the series. And he’s everywhere.

When monasteries are pillaged…

Floki Irreverent

When people need a little alone time…

Perve Floki

When pastoral, pagan weddings of simple elegance make the Christian ceremony look like a funeral…

Floki Helga Wedding

(The most beautiful scene in the show, hands down.)

When battlefield “surgeries” become necessary…

Keep Calm Floki

…Floki is there.

Whether he is the god Loki or not, whether he is favored or shunned for his human sacrifice, one thing about Floki is certain. He’s there for product placement.

Floki Eyeliner

“Helga! See how beautiful my eyeliner is! How bountiful is the generosity of the gods!”

He’s also, you know, totally insane, but that’s one of the things that makes him so endearing. As one Tumblr user put it:

Floki Helga Love

Here’s hoping the raids in Paris don’t ruin these two. Helga has been very patient with a husband who brings more joy to the viewers than his wife.

Vikings airs on Thursday nights on The History Channel. Seasons one and two are currently available on Hulu, and season three is available on the History Channel’s website.

No, THC isn’t paying me for this plug. I just really enjoy the show, and I think that most people who are interested in history and good writing will as well.

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Godzilla, King of Monsters

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Godzilla went through some growing pains… especially when he became an asexual velociraptor for the Matthew Broderick version of Jurassic Park 4.

Kids have some far-fetched dreams. Long before I wanted to be a writer, an astronaut, a medieval knight, or even a paleontologist, my original ambition was to actually be a dinosaur. A Tyrannosaurus Rex, to be specific. I remember running around the playground at recess pantomiming what I thought must be appropriate T-Rex behavior, my little arms clutched close to my body, two fingers on either hand grasping at nothing, while I chased and tried to bite the other kids.

Yeah, in retrospect, I probably looked like a special needs student.

My mother enabled me by sewing a T-Rex costume for me when I was in the first grade. I pretty much lived in that thing. I still have it, in fact. I’d probably be wearing it right now if I could still fit it.

Around that time, I had to do my first research project on something for school. The assignment required us to use a book from the library (this was the prehistoric age back when libraries still had books), and it was then, digging through the Dewey Decimal System, that I discovered something even better than my current T-Rex hero, Grimlock.

 

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“Me Grimlock kick butt!” –Grimlock

Grimlock, if you’re not familiar, was a Transformer T-Rex that both had a sword (in robot form) AND breathed fire. These things are important when you’re eight (or thirty-two). It always bothered me that he could only express himself monosyllabically and in the third person with the exception of his own name, but he was just too damn cool to care that much.

On a side note, here’s Grimlock in Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Transformers_4_Age_of_Extinction

This is totally what goes on in my head most of the time…

‘Bout time, Michael Bay. Try not to crap on my childhood anymore, please?

Well, they didn’t have a book on Transformers in the school library, but strangely enough, they had one on Godzilla.

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Okay, so this isn’t the actual book, but it was similar to this one. It was the 80’s. The original is hard to find now. Gimme a break.

I had discovered the King of Monsters, who was essentially a 100 meter tall, nuclear fire breathing, T-Rex-Stegosaurus hybrid that could stomp the s— out of anything on this planet, and others. I learned a lot of interesting facts about the films as well, like the original Godzilla being named Gojira (and female) and the Japanese version of King Kong Vs. Godzilla ending differently from the piece of crap we got where the chest thumping monkey wins.

After giving my report, I smoozed my parents into renting every Godzilla movie they carried at the local Blockbuster, another relic of a prehistoric age. I watched my favorite monster transition from a metaphor for nuclear war to a savior figure that then beat the tar out of other monsters–most ridiculously, his own robotic double constructed by alien apes.

Yup. Mechagodzilla...

Yup. Mechagodzilla… Even King Kong’s ET cousins gotta hate.

Being the guy in the Godzilla suit pre-CGI had to be a blast. “Okay, Hideki. We need you to put on this rubber monster costume and trash this cardboard model of Tokyo. When you’re done with that, you get to smack around and bite people in other suits while you pretend you can breathe fire.”

Where the heck was that job on the interest inventory exam we all had to take?

Around high school (1995), the good movies stopped. My building stomping was relegated to replaying Rampage: World Tour.

We all know Lizzie was really Godzilla...

C’mon. We all know Lizzie was really Godzilla…

So I was initially excited when Sony got their hands on the rights to my favorite monster until I heard they had to “change him by 80%”. I figured there was no way that could be true–he still had to be Godzilla, or there was no way they could call the movie Godzilla, right?

Looks like my pet iguana ate some Ninja Turtle ooze...

Heh. Looks like my pet iguana ate some Ninja Turtle ooze…

Quite unfortunately, I took a date to this movie. It was our first date. It was our last date. This was probably because I stood up in the movie theater at the end and raged, “You can’t kill Godzilla with missiles, you stupid bastards! Godzilla eats missiles! That’s like lobbing a bunch of cheeseburgers at me and saying, ‘Die, fat boy, die!'”

I mean, every part of the movie was offensive–especially the part where the Americans get saved by the French. I also rather enjoyed the random Godzilla babies running around Madison Square Garden like it was Jurassic Park. What were they thinking?

Apparently, they were thinking they needed to change it by 80%. Mission accomplished.

The new Godzilla is more of a throwback to the older flicks. We don’t see the monster until about an hour in. There are monsters (MUTOs) that are metaphors for the destructive power of nuclear energy. At the same time, Godzilla is the hero of the movie and is able to battle the MUTOs to protect mankind. It’s a blend of everything that was good about the Toho films with the addition of performances by The Last Samurai (Ken Watanabe) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston). Without spoiling anything more, I dug it and was able to leave the theater without embarrassing myself–this time.

The one thing I will say is that the new Godzilla looks like he’s put on a little weight. In this way only, he remains Americanized.

Looks like he ate a few of those radioactive cheeseburgers after all...

Looks like he ate a few of those radioactive cheeseburgers after all… 

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What’s Next for The Dream Box Series?

I’m excited that The Wolf of Descarta, the first novel in my new series, has earned some accolades from reviewers:

“A remarkably descriptive dystopian sci-fi adventure.”

“A backdrop of psychic/machine-world-melded/phantasmagoria impels the coolest of stories with ease.”

“Pike shows an ability to blend good solid science fiction with today’s RPG craze.”

“A rollercoaster ride, filled with hard turns and twists, unpredictable and thrilling.”

“Wonderful and terrifying.”

“It wasn’t what I expected and I found it uniquely interesting.”

“The pace is moderate with good grounding and the world building is amazing.”

“Each chapter, like a game level, reveals surprising new information about the world and character abilities, creating greater engagement for the reader.”

“So if you are a sci-fi aficionado, and love original concepts mixed with ax-wielding badassery and sexy vixens, this book is for you!”

I’ve also learned some things about my readers’ expectations that I’m incorporating into the sequel to TWoD, which is scheduled for release during the fourth quarter of 2014.

Take, for instance, which characters are currently considered popular and which ones readers are curious to learn more about. My universe is much larger than I could hope to introduce in a single book, and receiving feedback about which aspects of it should be brought into the foreground is helping to guide my hand as well.

So, what can readers expect from a sequel to TWoD?

Jaren Reese (and Balmus) will obviously return, as will the love triangle between Kara Faldern (Petra) and Brea Morgen. Readers can expect to see a lot more of Renton Hayes and Isaac Zephyr, as both of these characters have their own arcs in the expanding universe that will become just as important as Reese’s story. Victoria will struggle with becoming “human” in a universe where biological beings are breaking down yet machines have no personal rights. Miyoko Hirigashi will struggle with a decision she and her comrades could regret for the foreseeable future. Janus Almani’s backstory and the Asenti Convention will be further explained through neurological meddling (that I don’t intend to spoil at this juncture). How the Ravers, as an organization, fit into the Shadow Government’s post-postmodern model of society will become clearer, and, of course, a new enemy will emerge that will make the showdown at the end of TWoD look like the video game equivalent of a turn-based battle with a mid-boss.

As for fully explaining what the aliens are up to and why the Dream Box exists? Leave me something for the third installment. I can promise to tease you a little, at least.

Betrayal at Phobos will probably fit more easily into the genre of Science Fiction than the first book, which has caused some reviewers to refer to me as a “Fantasy author”. Because much of the action of the book takes place in our solar system, I’ve had to do some research into things like the moons of Mars and speculate quite a bit about how the human race would logically expand throughout space. (As a small spoiler, the blue collars and red collars that signify castes within The Dream Box series originally designated residents of Earth and Mars respectfully.) There will be space combat this time around, more political intrigue, more plot twists, more mind hacking, more simulation, more wild Fantasy battles in Cyberspace, and, as the title implies, no small amount of betrayal.

Yes, chivalry will still be a theme despite the futuristic setting. Balmus’s characterization demands it, and I wouldn’t dream of writing a story without some representation of knighthood. I’m pretty sure it would unmake me to do so.

If you haven’t gotten your hands on The Wolf of Descarta and are interested, click on “Order My Books” for more information. Please feel free to leave me a review on Amazon. I believe that storytelling should be a dialogue between the writer and his or her readers, not a lecture.

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