Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Of Gods and Beasts #1 – The Gods

The old gods of Northern Europe walk tall in the Annals of Old Moon.
Let's meet a few of them.

Odin, the All-Father, is the ferocious, one-eyed king of the gods, and is a major figure both in Norse mythology, and in the Annals. He is god of war, death, magick, poetry, prophecy and much else besides. His mighty eight-legged steed Sleipnir bears him on dark winter nights when he leads the Wild Hunt.
He dwells in Asgard, and is the head of the family of gods known as the Aesir. His home is the great hall of Valhalla, which lies at the heart of Asgard in the golden-leaved Grove of Glasir. Valhalla is also the home of the Einherjar, warriors who have died in battle and been brought to the hall by the Valkyries, Odin's immortal winged women. There, these heroes spend their days feasting, fighting and carousing, awaiting Ragnarok.
Odin wields the Gungnir, in the Annals often referred to the Gravespear, a cruelly-barbed weapon which always flies true to its mark. The Gungnir, like many other treasures of the gods, was crafted by those mysterious dwarves known as the Sons of Ivaldi.
Odin is a grim and troubling figure whose dark designs are a recurring pattern in the Word-Hoard of Old Moon.

Thor, the Red-Bearded Rager, is the thunder god, and the mightiest of Odin's many sons. 
He wears an iron belt called Megingiord that doubles his already immense strength, and a pair of magical iron gloves named Iarn-Greiper. These allow him to wield the white heat of Mjolnir, his lightning bolt hammer. Much of his time is spent in Jotunheim, making war upon the frost giants. Fearsome and unmatched in battle is Thor, and many a hapless jotun has fallen to his rage. Due to his giant-slaying duties, Thor's strayings into the Annals are few. However, on those occasions when he does come roaring from the Word-Hoard, all remember it, and nothing remains unchanged.

Freyja. In the Annals of Old Moon, this goddess is markedly different from how she is portrayed in Norse mythology. In traditional myth, along with her brother/lover Freyr, she is ruler of the Vanir, the old gods of nature. In the Word-Hoard she is Fireya, the Royal White Dragon; Queen of the Earth, of the beasts, and of all the myriad beings of land, sea and sky. She rules her court, the Aristocracy of Beasts, from the White Dragon Isle (called by some the Isle of Wights). It is the holiest ground in all the Nine Worlds. She is the soul and centre of the Annals, and we're sure to meet her again in future posts.

Freyr. Of this god, the Annals tell little, as yet. Some say he is an immense golden boar, or the god of the Sun, or both. Or neither. When asked about this being, Old Moon merely smiles, and taps his nose.

The Trickster. In Norse mythology, this is Loki. A strange and often malign creature, he is a mischief-making shape-shifter, and a constant thorn in the sides of both Aesir and Vanir. Not quite a god, not quite a giant, yet something more than both. In the Annals, he is the sly Jack-of-Foxes. Stories of the Jack and his antics abound in the Word-Hoard, and you shall meet him in next week's post...

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Russell's Curio Corner #2

For this Curio I thought I'd show some of the work that came about during the process of illustrating the Word Hoard vault.

After reading Phil's Galdr Song, I began researching Viking burial vaults.  For the first couple of sketches I adhered to a literal representation, maintaining a distance from the more fantastic representations (D&D, Elder Scrolls, LOTR) of vaults and caves.

But this ultimately failed to do justice to the scale of the poetry.  I suppose historically, the gravity of emotion mythicisized  human experience.  The empiricist of the Enlightenment would shine a light into a dark recess and measure the dimensions whereas the primitive man (oxymoron?) would cast his gods and devils and keep a safe distance.  When our ancestors walked into a forest in the blackest night, the darkness concealed dragons and beasties that only the quickening pulse and peripheral vision could sense.  And since the concrete is deprived of the abstract it can be studied and rendered.  Therefore, everything that can't be seen must be grander than that which can.  Our Viking man builds a tomb out of stone and earth but the spirit of the interred turns it into the gate to Valhalla.  So, with this idea planted in my head came the acceptance of a larger scale.

The throne caught my imagination.  In particular, the word "knotted."  While doodling ideas I proposed an idea to myself, "What if the throne is actually a tree."  So, I wondered, "What kind of tree?"  So, while searching historic trees I found the Pulpit Yew :

...and so I had a precedent.  Then, I decided to use the layering beech as the actual tree because...they're pretty cool looking.  The particular tree, if you're interested in that kind of thing is the beech at Kilravock Castle.

From there it was a matter of sketching and painting and thinking and talking with Phil and re-sketching and re-thinking...

...until voilĂ !  We found something we liked.

Oddly enough, this little sketch came about from a bit of paper taped to my drawing board and desk (my desk doesn't really have a Photoshop-ped cavern in it):

And from this humble little model came the layout for what wound up being the layout for the final painting.

What I like best about working with Phil is the completeness of the world described in the Annals.  It makes setting a scene that much easier because there are so many references that can be drawn from.  All of the statues and carvings in the Galdr Song painting are based on just a handful of characters from the poems.  The same goes for the hoard in the initial sketches: all of the items are to be found in the Annals.  So with that said, as more poems are posted and more of the world is revealed, you should be able to look back and spot a thing here or a person there either somewhere in the background, or in a border, or in the shadows with the dragons and the beasties...

All images copyright their respective owners.