Monday, August 11, 2008

Fixation on the Thunderer

Our family has recently developed an interest in Thor, the Norse god of thunder. Like most interests, it developed in an innocent-enough way, but now it has certain members of the family in its thrall ... obviously, this is all my fault. (TM)

You see, earlier this summer, little EM and I were walking back to the van from a Cubs-Nationals (baseball) game (Baseball: America's past-time), and, this being (the heart) of Washington D.C., the weather turned from slightly too-warm-pleasant, to cool winds, to a raging thunderstorm in a matter of minutes. When I say raging thunderstorm, I mean rain coming down in buckets (as Beki once wished for my birthday: "I want to shower ewe with hogs and quiches" with an accompanying Boynton illustration), with drops the size of golf balls.
We interrupt this blog-post for one of Doug's usually regular `pataphors:
Hey, Wow! There's a Maori-English dictionary!

It's amazing what Google turns up for "I want to shower ewe with hogs and quiches"!
Well, you may not know this, but EM and li'l Iz sometimes react strongly to thunder and lightning. One year, we had a particularly violent storm that destroyed cars, power lines and housed (no joke, the wind and the lightning ripped two-foot thick branches from trees, crashing them into roofs, cars and into the roads). I was in Philly, and my cara spoza was oblivious, staying upstairs, and only slightly annoyed that her wireless internet connection would flicker out.
cara spoza: La, la, la; I wonder when I'll get my googling back?
Thunderstorm, responding by destroying the roof of a house across the street and a car down the block.
cara spoza: La, la, la.
The kids, however, were not so easily distracted. Whenever the lightning would flicker or when the thunder would explode in response, the would scream and hug tightly. After the crisis, the would break free and would create a tintinnabulation of laughter at their own surprise.
By the way: please listen to Miserere by Arvo Pärt, it is hard for me to compare it to any other music in the world, which easily puts it on my Top-10 music list.
So, given that histoire (that is French), you can imagine how little EM was reacting to the mighty power surrounding us. She grabbed my leg tightly slowing progress to a crawl, and this despite my reassurance that the car was a mere two blocks away. So, to comfort her, I turned to narration, and told her how the ancients, when faced with such majesty tried to comprehend it as best they could. How they invented Thor, the god of Thunder, and his hammer, Mjollnir, and imagined that as he swung his hammer the sparks from it striking rocks or giants were the lightning and the sound of the blows were thunder.

My story worked like a charm: she forgot her fear and immersed herself in this new and undiscovered world, pestering me with questions flowing out of her at the frequency of the rain pelted on my head. We drove home, in rain so thick that it cut visibility to a few car-lengths, the whole while her universe expanded to include Heimdall, Loki, Wednesday/Wotan/Odin, and the exploits and interactions of the gods and men in Norse mythology.

Of course, you know what happened:
EM: Papa, tell me a story about ... Thor?
That has been the refrain in our restful moments around the dinner table or during long drives (of more than two minutes) in the van.

I willingly complied. I don't know who of the two, myself or EM, can become more absorbed into a world of our own construction, so I would spin out fables of what I remembered of my reading. Of course, my memories, and then my creativity, is a drop in the pond of her appetite. So, I pulled out my Incompleat Enchanter by L. Sprague de Camp, and then read the family the story of Harald's finding of Mjollnir in Jotunheim (remembering, with pleasure, the misadventures along the way, such as Thor attempting to lift the giant's house cat, which was actually the serpent of midgard, Jörmungandr, which, by the way, the battle between Thor and Jörmungandr at the end of the worlds was best captured in comic book form (Thor, ep 380, to be precise). The memory is fresh today of when I bought that comic book and read its one-panel-per-page epic and when it came out in 1987), and then Harald's escape with Heimdall with hilariously rapid and unstable magicked brooms.

Was that enough for my vociferous ones? Of course not!

So, now we are reading Thor's Wedding Day one chapter at a time at the dinner table. The invariant play unfolds as follows — I pick up the book, and EM begins vibrating with excitement in her chair. I begin reading, and then li'l Iz thinks of something tangentally relevant which she relates to her mother. At the interruption, I put down the book.
Me: ah, well, since nobody's interested, I'll stop reading here.
EM, spasming in pain: Nonono! Pleeeease keep on with the story!
Me, sighing, and picking up the book: Well, okay, then...
I then finish the chapter (each of which are about 6 pages), and set the book down.
Me: Well, that's it for today; I wonder what happens tomorrow?
EM, writhing in pain: Nooooooo! Please read the next chapter!
I'm only a quarter of the way through the book, but I'm experience a hint of trepidation. Where do I go next? Neil Gaiman has never softened the dread and consequences of fairy-tales, as most modern reinterpretations have done (which actually, for me as pater familias, turns a fairy-tale into something much scarier: a consequence-free romp. "Oh, don't worry! Wrong choices always lead to right resolutions, just look at Ariel, Belle and Jasmin and their brainless Prince Charmings"), and American Gods (which actually stars Odin as "Mr. Wednesday") continues in the vein — I think that level of reading has a little too much danger for my little girls right now. I guess, like Helen DeWitt, I could learn Icelandic and recite Þrymskviða in its original cadences?

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