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Archetypes and common conventions in Norse sagas

Discussion in 'Research' started by Yora, Dec 21, 2019.

  1. Yora

    Yora Maester

    Many of my favorite stories with compelling settings can be regarded as being stories that take the typical structures and elements of one genre and having them play out in a new environment. Samurai movies in the Wild West, Noir in space, and things like that. I feel that the setting I've prepared so far provides a pretty cool environment with plenty of great "visuals" so to speak, I still feel like it lacks a strong and distinguishing cultural logic. I really like it when there's a certain predictability to where events are going and how characters might act to increase the overall tension and anticipation. It's great when you can see doom coming in advance, and predict what choices the characters they will have to make, anticipating that they will make the wrong choices because that's the kind of story this is.

    After some thinking, I feel like the best genre that reflects the kinds of conflicts and challenges that interests me are the Germanic Sagas. I was considering Greek myths for a while, and there's actually various concepts that overlap between them, but the various players in the stories feel more human and their bad decisions more based in psychology in the sagas. (Being Northern European myself, it might just resonate better with me personally.)

    What I am looking for now is typical story elements in Northern European tales from the early and middle Middle Ages. They are not always immediately obvious when you read the stories, so I am hoping you might be able to point some out to me.

    - One thing that I really like is the blending of law and honor. There isn't really a distinction between the two in many cases. Arguing your case legally isn't acting cowardly and having the authority of the state come to your rescue, but is exposing in public that your enemy dishonored himself, so he doesn't have any claim to keeping what he took.

    - Revenants and draugr are cooler than ghosts. Instead of a spectral shade appearing to accuse a murderer of his crimes, you have the dead man actually knocking at his door to get his revenge. Often still dripping water or having a sword sticking in him.

    - Something that needs to be handled carefully but I still really like when done well is women using the men of their family as their weapons to fight their enemies. Women being warriors themselves is nice, but that's the exception and not an option for most women. And there's a big difference between having men save you and solve your problems, and ordering men to execute your commands. The men might not always want it and might think its a mistake, but honor and law demands it.

    - Family and clan politics. Not just between ruling dynasties, but all the way down to simple farms. People don't interact with society as individuals, but as groups. The deeds of any individual reflect on the entire group, and all wrongs against that individual are attacks against the entire group. You can still think your brother made a horrible mistake and is a terrible person because of it, but you still got to fight for him. Telling him this mess is his own problem and to leave the rest of you out of it just isn't an option.

    - Related to that are oaths. When you go back on your word, you not only dishhonor yourself, you're also upsetting the natural order, bringing doom to everyone.

    - Cool names. As long as not everyone is called Giant-Slayer, I think you can do really fun stuff with this.

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