Questions on West Oversea

For those of you who waste your time on the Interweb playing on Facebook or doing who knows what, Lars had a great book published recently called West Oversea. I asked the author, Lars, who blogs right here if you haven’t noticed, a few questions about the book, which is also called “Westward Ho.” These questions may be more interesting to those who have read the book, “Go West, Young Viking,” but even if you haven’t, I hope the following will pique your interest a little more, assuming the strong reviews have not piqued it enough already. And if this introduction has just confused you . . . so let’s get to the questions.

  1. One of the major tensions in West Oversea comes from a magical object called The Eye of Odin. Is that object entirely your creation or did you pull it from one of the old myths? If it was from a myth, did the story you give in the novel about it’s origin come from the same myth?

    A: The myth says that Odin plucked out his own eye in return for a drink from Mimir’s well of foreknowledge. He dropped the eye into the well, and we know nothing more of its history. I suspect I may be the first person to wonder about it.

  2. In both this novel and The Year of the Warrior, Odin or the power of Odin is a major villain or evil force. Is that just the way it worked out? Did you weigh Odin against other Norse gods when planning stories?

    A: I find it impossible to think of heathen gods as having any real existence other than as evil spirits. C. S. Lewis hinted at some order of good daemons, at least in the past, but that’s kind of rarified for my ideas of the spiritual world. In any case, Odin has always been a sinister figure. He can look kind of noble and ethereal in a kid’s book, but in the poetry of the period he’s associated with corpses and hanged men and carrion-eating ravens. He routinely betrays those who put their trust in him.

    Thor’s a little more sympathetic, and I treated him more kindly in THE YEAR OF THE WARRIOR. So I guess I’m doing the good daemon thing anyway. I imagine I’ll be sorry someday.

  3. At one point in West Oversea, Father Aillil has a vision of the future with several distinct figures speaking from their viewpoints. Did you have specific people in mind for those figures? I tried to peg one of them as Sigmund Freud, but I’d have to study them a bit before making my final guess.

    A: Some of them are meant to be well-known people, some are just representatives. But I’m not going to spell it out. That would spoil the fun. Or the irritation, as the case may be.

  4. I could ask the same question of the American natives you describe later in the novel. Did you have specific tribes or people groups in mind there?

    A: I did some research on pre-Columbian Eastern Woodlands tribes. But our information on their cultures that far back is limited, and I made a lot of guesses. I think I vaguely meant the “nice” Native Americans to be Algonckians, or their ancestors.

  5. At one point, Erling, the hero of many and admired figure for many in that time, explains one of the things it takes to be a good leader. As a novelist, do you think you understand different types of people, at least academically if not more so, even if you couldn’t emulate them yourself?

    A. I observe leaders and brave men with considerable interest. The novelist’s working question is always, “What would I be like if I were like this person?” We’re very different from one another, we humans, but we’re not so different as to be mutually incomprehensible–in most cases, at least.

  6. Have you thought about writing a novel in the same time period with a different focal character, say Olaf Tryggvason or someone in his court or maybe St. Olaf after him?

    A: I hope to extend the Erling series into the reign of St. Olaf, and to do a St. Olaf-only book to cap the series. And I hope to write a non-Erling Viking book sooner or later. Maybe several.

16 thoughts on “Questions on West Oversea”

  1. Neat! Thank you for the interview.

    About the good daemon thing, may I suggest a possible answer? God did not reveal himself to people before a certain point in history, and did have the revelation reach some people until long after that time. It was probably over two thousand years between Mt. Sinai and the first time any Norse heard about Monotheism.

    We don’t know why that happened, but we do know that those people were made by God and there is no reason to assume He loves them less than He loves us. The only possibility that makes sense, IMHO, is that they were not ready, in some way, to hear about Him.

    But God still loves them. So it makes sense that He would send them whatever help they are able to receive, such as good angels who’ll pretend to be good daemons.

  2. Actually, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien said something similar–they called the best myths “good dreams,” sent by God as a sort of pre-evangel. Lewis pointed, in particular, to the Baldur myth.

    However, I incline to the view that the Baldur myth as we have it has been heavily revised by Christian writers (since the story as reported by Saxo Grammaticus makes Baldur a bully and a rapist).

    And even if it’s true, it doesn’t explain who the old gods would have been in themselves. Considering Odin’s personality and habits, and the fact that he and other gods accepted human sacrifice, I find it hard to think of them as angels. I suppose something could be worked out if I wanted to systematize it, but I’m not sure the conclusion could be orthodox.

  3. Some of the old gods were either nightmares or demons. But some of them may have been good. Did Thor, for example, require or accept human sacrifice?

    Of course, we know modern people are at great risk of getting their theology wrong. It is logically impossible for more than one member of the group {Lutheran, Catholic, Jew, Muslim} to be right, for example.

    Ancient people may have made similar mistakes. For all we know, it’s possible that Judeans sacrificing their kids to the Moloch thought they were sacrificing to the one true God.

  4. Ori: I find it hard to imagine a spiritual being who knows and worships the True God, who then allows himself to accept any kind of worship at all. If he really exists, shouldn’t he try to correct his worshipers and direct the adoration to its proper Object? I find it easier to imagine a being that acts that way as being a) imaginary, or b) demonic (the sort of thing the New Testament describes as Satan masquerading as an angel of light).

    I’m sure the worshipers of Moloch thought they were sacrificing to *a* true god (I doubt they thought God was One). They may have comforted themselves with promises that their children were going to some kind of Paradise (with 72 virgins or something).

    I believe this is the importance of the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. The thing that strikes me is that Abraham had no reason (until God told him otherwise) to think that this Nameless One *didn’t* want human sacrifice. He was following a Voice, but the Voice hadn’t yet given him a lot of moral instruction. A God who didn’t want human sacrifice was a brand new thing in the world.

  5. Being worshiped as an angel is probably similar to having your child believe you are immortal. It’s a lie, and a bad one – but it might be what the child needs to believe at that stage of immaturity. If God has not seen fit to reveal Himself to some people, it is probably because such revelation would have been counter-productive. An angel might prefer to be worshiped than countermand God himself.

    BTW, I think there’s another facet to the Abraham and Isaac story. The story prior to that is God’s destruction of Sodom. But before Sodom gets destroyed Abraham haggles with God, telling him it would be unjust to destroy it if there are fifty righteous men there – and talking him down to ten.

    If Abraham knows that God is just, does he really believe God wants him to sacrifice Isaac – or does he play along, knowing that such a sacrifice would be a travesty and expecting God to reveal himself as the truly just God He is?

  6. The following quote is entirely irrelevant to the discussion of pagan gods:

    “It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is. Up to a certain specific instant you are feeling ordinary and sad; for it is only Wednesday. At the next moment your heart leaps up and your soul and body dance together like lovers; for in one burst and blaze it has become Thursday. I am assuming (of course) that you are a worshiper of Thor, and that you celebrate his day once a week, possibly with human sacrifice.”

  7. I asked for West Oversea at the Grand Forks Christian Bookstore today. They didn’t have it in stock, but as I walked away the clerk was writing the info onto their order list. Hope you give me nice commission. 🙂

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