Nowadays, personal storytelling is all the rage. The Moth, NPR’s show where people have a few minutes to recount real events in their lives is one of the healthiest species I’ve seen evolve in the media jungle in a long time. It’s almost always moving and refreshing, like a bird of paradise. It’s totally genuine.
I’m not. At least not in that way. The ancient tales I tell are genuine, of course. And the music’s performed live, on whatever instruments, so it’s genuine, too, I like to think. The character voices are created live and I’m never sure what they’re going to say, so they’re muse-genuine, even if they are dramatic illusions and nothing more. Happy to admit that. Am I genuine? Sure. It’s just that these stories aren’t about me.
Take, for instance, Loki, who I’ll be enacting along with a befuddled Thor, a wicked-crafty Odin and various giants and dwarves in Cambridge, MA next Sunday (details below). Loki is snide and wicked, too, but in Thor’s Journey to Utgard, the first half-hour Viking myth of the show, he comes off just as confused as Thor is by the Jotun magic that suddenly surrounds them, outdone in the capital city of their worst enemies. Thor is good-hearted but slow-witted, and Loki enjoys running endless verbal circles around him on their journey with a peasant boy and girl they’ve picked up, at least until Loki himself becomes somewhat frightened by events. Loki’s voice is nasal and cutting. You’ll hate him, but you’ll have to love him, too, because he is funny, at least in this story. Thor’s voice is a deep vocal production, but fun to do.
Lore-wise, for instance, the name “Thor” derives from “duir”, an old Indo-European word for oak. So does our word “door.” In the ancient world, doors were typically made of oak. Since lightning struck oaks most often, being the tallest trees in those long lost places and times, or “courted the lightning flash” as Robert Graves put it, somewhere in all this preliterate business Thor the “thunder oak” ended up getting his name. As a god, he was beloved by the humans of Midgard. Although a bit dim, he was always kind to them. Maybe that’s why he felt that way.
Odin, on the other hand, had little regard for humans. His voice is chilling as he kills off nine of them just to get their job reaping wheat in the second long tale, The Mead of Poetry. He’s trying to recover the blood of his only real friend, murdered for it by two dwarves who are covetous of the wisdom it contains. It takes Odin a year, disguised as a man who lies through his teeth, to finagle his way into its hiding place inside a mountain. He’s not past seducing Gunlod, the deadly giantess who guards it, either. Or shape-changing at will. I don’t know if Odin’s voice is genuine, but he scares me. The Mead of Poetry is bloody, sexy, murderous and betrayal-laden fun, typical of religious stories the Vikings dreamt up. This one’s particularly cynical. The 12-string guitar score is nice, though. Hopefully it all balances out in the end.
I’ll have my Celtic harp with me to use while relating curious pieces of lore, as well. Along with the two 12-strings.
ODIN AND THOR BATTLE THE FROST GIANTS commences at 5:30 p.m., with seating at 5:00 at Grendel’s Den in Cambridge. Hope you can make it. Tickets are $15 and $10. Let your friends know, too, if this sort of storytelling interests you. It attempts to be imaginative-cinematic.