“In the beginning there was confusion.
Then Gods created people.
Confusion was better.”
Then Gods created people.
Confusion was better.”
“This isn’t funny.”
“Was it ever meant to be?”
That is the question the reader might find themselves asking when they read the astounding author Bjørn Larssen’s latest dark fantasy satire, Why Odin Drinks.
Make no mistake, this book, a collection of four novellas, including the previously published Creation, is incredibly humorous. But it is also very haunting, and startlingly, disturbingly prescient.
The book picks up where Creation left off, but includes the entirety of that novella at the beginning of the book. Loki Runes Everything, Fashionteller, The Well of Wise Dom are the stories added.
Odin’s viewpoint, and his personal story, evolving from fumbling god, to something very different, is still focus of the narrative. Nonetheless, Frigg, Loki, and Freya all figure prominently, along with Heimdall, Ask, Embla, Mímir, and the spectre of poor Audhumla. Larssen treats us to at least partial views or inferences to all of The Ten Worlds of Asgardian cosmology. Yggrasill, the World Tree, which supports the Ten Worlds, plays an important part in the book, as do the Norns.
Larssen’s prose has always been great, but he steps it up a notch with Why Odin Drinks. Many of the lines in the book will grip the reader, and refuse to let go.
“…Such was the power of italics, when they arose from the dead, they were noticeably quiet.”
It’s easy to get overawed at Larssen’s prose, and his more than impressive grasp of Norse Mythology, for he is an expert. It’s easy to simply admire how authentic Larssen’s writing is, and how close he cleaves to the legendarium, with everything as close to canon (if that truly exists) as can be, when it comes to Norse tales. And, it’s even easier to laugh out loud, throughout the book, at Larssen’s humour. He’s damn funny. Funny “ha ha” and funny clever.
“The list kept expanding anyway, in a slightly deluded way, not unlike what would be called TBR piles in the future.”
The reader will be howling at Odin’s sexual escapades, as he “lets it slip that he is the All-Father” in order to impress and to bed as many “investigable specimens” as possible.
Even some of the most dire (and ironic) moments, like when the creator Odin sacrifices himself to…himself, feature some belly-holding laughs.
But with all the belly-laughs to be gotten, readers are discerning, and amidst the snickers, one will pick up on that feeling of an increasingly sinister vibe in All-Father Odin, that began mid Creation, and only escalates as the other novellas progress. Lest we forget, many interpretations of Odin describe him as very selfish, utterly callous, and a being with no real respect for human values like fairness or justice.
“Those were just failed sketches, an early phase in his artistic career. Very early. Very failed. Sketches that criticized the artist.”
Yet for me, perhaps the most startling thing about this book is an aspect that creeps me out. Larssen wrote his book prior to the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. But the hair will literally stand up on the back of your neck when you read the last part of the book, and ponder how what Odin says relates to that horrible crisis.
Is Larssen a prophet? One might wonder. Odin’s words make us quake with dread, and it could have come from the mouth of many a despot, including ones that live and breathe today.
“You need to start wars to end them.”
Mímir is supposed to be a god renowned for his knowledge and wisdom, and initially thinks he has the advantage over Odin and proceeds to school him, but he falls into Odin’s trap. Odin’s foresight as the creator can’t be challenged, and when Odin gets the upper hand it’s some of the most disquieting (and accurate) dialogue I have read in a long time.
Larssen is never preachy to the reader; and he never insults the reader’s intelligence. But underneath his jibes is a seriousness and veracity that slaps us cold in the face when we least expect it, and we wonder if we really understood what he was REALLY saying all along. Were we too busy laughing?
That moment when you are chuckling with your friend about a joke they made and then you suddenly stop in your tracks and ask yourself: “Wait a minute! Were you just making fun of me? Or were you making fun of yourself?”
“Perhaps creation and destruction weren’t mutually exclusive; perhaps they needed each other; perhaps they were one in the same.”
Now in my 50s, I have read lots of fantasy in my lifetime and a fair bit of satire. But until I read Why Odin Drinks I have never read a more gratifying yet droll book that so successfully made me laugh while so unerringly commenting on the fallibility of human society, and thus making me pause at the same time. Larseen is mocking himself, mocking all of us, because, I think, he wants us to listen, before it’s too late.
Not all Larssen’s humour will appeal to everyone, and that’s understandable. But when one ponders just how incredible, fantastic, yet juvenile and absurd our very existence is sometimes, I’m not certain that anything or any way Larseen pokes fun is any worse.
When I think of Why Odin Drinks, I can only think of the words “hilarious” and brilliant”. When I think of Bjørn Larssen, I can only think of the word “genius”.
Somewhere, I believe, the esteemed Terry Pratchett, is smiling and nodding with approval at Larssen, who appears to be on a path to inheriting Pratchett’s throne as the best fantasy satirist to-date.