As Robin Williams once said about Jim Henson, “you can’t come up with this stuff on just plain air.” He meant something else in particular. My point is that no writer ever creates their work in a complete vacuum. When we set out to create Jarnsaxa Rising, not only did I do a lot of research, but a lot of inspirations appeared that fueled this story. Some of these, such as witch bottles, Viking party beverages, language and dialect, and aural inspirations, I’ll go into greater detail about later. For now, here are the story’s major sources.
When Carin gave me the first prompt that would become Jarnsaxa Rising, and I started writing notes, an outline and the first draft, the influence of Doctor Who hung over me. Both Carin and I are fans of Doctor Who, and this story’s blending of ancient wisdom with contemporary and future sensibilities inspired me. Unfortunately, it made me lazy as a writer. Audiences have decades of assumptions about The Doctor, so when he comes into a conflict, the writers have less work to do. As a nearly-thousand-year-old Time Lord who can regenerate, his stakes weren’t appropriate to our story. It did, however, provide the sense that the team must save each other, (as the Doctor tries to do for his companions) and unearth the deeper conflict which threatens a whole world.
Reading The Poetic Edda and The Prose Edda helped me with the stakes and conflicts of Old Norse mythology. Jarnsaxa isn’t mentioned much. I suppose that the Christianization of Europe made Sif a more popular female character. She’s mentioned in Godchecker, The Mythology Wiki, and captured imagination on Deviant Art and in An Archive Of Our Own.
On Coursera, a course about Old Norse culture, Sagas and Space, proved to be the most helpful. This University of Zurich course teaches how the Vikings thought about their land, their spiritual and social space, and how these elements tie together to create a cultural mind set. The course includes lectures by various experts from Europe and North America, and each gave me another point of entry to find new information.
In particular. Dr. Terry Gunnell’s work was the most inspiring. His area of expertise includes Old Norse folk beliefs, ritual, legends, and Scandinavian theatre, both medieval and modern. Toward the end of his video lecture in the Sagas and Space course, he describes the experience of being in a Viking hall, surrounded by smoke, rich odors, and masked revellers, hearing a story told in a heightened way, and how the listener is elevated to transcend reality. His articles helped me find the notion of the draugr, and the power of disguise traditions. Gunnell’s work is intoxicating and exciting.
Moving in a different direction, The Pickens Plan provided a lot of fodder for this story. Oil baron T. Boone Pickens planned to invest approximately $1 trillion in wind farming in the Great Plains. In 2008. he claimed that this plan would reduce American oil spending by 43%, create 138,000 jobs in the first year, and 3.4 billion jobs over the next ten. Despite the benefits of wind power, natural gas is financially cheaper in the short term than wind farming (though infinitely more devastating). In 2012, Pickens sold off his last stake in wind farming, abandoning a wind company called New Era LLC. This company tried to move forward with building a farm in Goodhue County, Minnesota. However, the project ceased development in 2012, after citizen opposition claimed the farm posed a threat to eagles and bats. So much for 138,000 jobs and sustainability.
Jarnsaxa Rising’s revenge tragedy structure came from my Dramatic Lit seminar class at Temple, and reading and re-reading The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet. A really enjoyable part of immersing myself in revenge tragedy was the movie Revengers Tragedy, directed by Alex Cox, and starring Christopher Eccleston, Derek Jacobi, and Eddie Izzard. It’s a classic revenge tragedy, set in a sexy contemporary world, and I highly recommend it.
And so we come full circle; I started with Doctor Who on my mind, and ended with Christopher Eccleston in a Thomas Middleton drama.
But, of course, I had to push all these sources to the background, and just tell a good story. Hopefully, what you’ll get out of this is an exciting, deep, relevant tale. Which you should get to start listening to, in eight days.