To anyone schooled in Norse mythology, the Odin of the movie is almost unrecognizable, except for his long beard, lack of one eye, and possession of Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse (which provides an extremely cool special effects moment). Anthony Hopkins’ Odin is wise and good, full of benevolence and cherishing a horror of war. He’s kind of like a professor of English or some social science at an Ivy League university—wooly-headed enough to throw away the gods’ greatest weapon at a moment of dire military threat.
The Odin of the Vikings was most of all an extremely powerful magician, a wizard—not the nice kind of wizard like Gandalf, though he was one of Tolkien’s inspirations for the character, but the old kind of wizard—treacherous and murderous, with lies on his lips and blood under his fingernails. He delighted in war for two reasons—one in order to feed the wolves and ravens that were his familiars, secondly in order to fill his hall, Valhalla, with heroes who would stand with him at Ragnarok, the last great battle. To this end he raised heroes up and then brutally betrayed them. He was also, according to the eddas, a sexual predator and a known deviate.
The difference between these two Odins, I think, is suggestive of important—and generally unrecognized—elements in western culture. The script writers have confused Odin with the Yahweh of the Jews and Christians. It doesn’t even occur to them that a high god could be anything but kind and peace-loving, since we all have so thoroughly internalized Christian suppositions that even people who reject the Christian religion—and I assume that a large proportion of the people who made this movie do—can’t conceive of a religion founded on darkness, brute force, and the domination of the weak by the strong.
In an odd plot element (I’ll try not to spoil it) Thor submits to a Christ-like humiliation for the sake of others. This is something that would have never been said of him in the old religion, except as a joke. Even Thor has grown richer through acquaintance with Jesus.
In distinction to their own Red Thor, the Vikings referred to the Christian god as the White Christ. To this warrior society white evoked cowardice, an unwillingness to fight and effeminacy. Such a person was ‘white livered’ or ‘lily livered.’
The gospel has truly changed the imaginations of those people whose cultural inheritance is Western. A self donating Christlike Thor is a marvel, indeed.
A number of years ago, one of my daughters befriended a young lady who claimed to be Wiccan. In hopes of understanding her, I ordered a couple of Wiccan recommended/reviewed books from Amazon. I was looking forward to the read because I’d often said that if I weren’t a Christian, I’d be a pagan of some sort. They arrived, and I settled down- ale in hand- to get in touch with my inner Berserker…
…let’s just say that the books had nothing of the gravitas of the old stories I loved. Nothing. It seemed to me that a bunch of well meaning hippies had gotten together and simply made this stuff up from scratch. Though replete with pagan language, there was none of the enchanting icy hard ‘old religion.’ The authors explained that the highest ethical principle in paganism was summarized in the sacred Wiccan Rede: Do what you will, so long as it harms none.
I chuckled at the assertion.
The gospel has mercifully captured our hearts. This is the source of a Christlike Odin and Thor (and what is Alfred the Great or General Lee if not a Christlike Odin?). May their number increase! This mythical conquest is the reason modern pagans believe they should be primarily concerned for the weak, disadvantaged, oppressed and excluded. I am thankful for both…
…on the other hand the abominable lack of Classical studies probably explains why such a conflation can be made without explanation and all with a straight face. I can imagine the son of Achilles, Odysseus or Balder (or King David for that matter) leaving home, his father calling after him ‘Be safe son, and remember above all: do no one any harm!’
I just made myself chuckle.