“And now, Beowulf, best of men, I wish to love you in my heart as my son. From this time forth, keep well this new kinship.”
(Beowulf, lines 946b-949a)
It’s all fun and games until someone’s hair catches fire.
My grandmother is a full-blooded Swede and an avid genealogist. The daughter of immigrants, she honored her heritage throughout her life and distilled drops of it upon her children and grandchildren. Her garden had tomten instead of elves. Her house had orange dala horses and blue-and-yellow motifs. Christmas Eve with its smorgasbord was the focal holiday instead of Christmas Day. And Denmark was inherently inferior. (I’m sorry, Denmark. I’m sure you and Sweden are on much better terms now than you were a hundred years ago.)
We ate Swedish pancakes, and pepparkakor, and meatballs. A badge of honor went to anyone brave enough to try the pickled herring. We celebrated St. Lucia’s day with saffron buns and candle wax in our hair. Sweden, or an echo of it, was in our blood.
When I was in my early teens, Mormor took a handful of us cousins with her to the family history library, there to search out a collection of missing great-something half-uncles. Their father’s surname had been Kjallstrom, but the army changed it to Valler or Waller. One of the sons, as Valler/Waller, enlisted as well, only to be given the surname of Holst. The three brothers had immigrated to the Midwest, where their trail went dry.
Mormor didn’t know whether to look under Valler, Waller, or Holst, or even Magnusson (the patronymic of their father’s given name). We found them under Holst (all three of them, despite only one of them having received that surname from the army), in Iowa.
What, you might ask, does any of this have to do with Beowulf? All through my formative years, I was taught to value anything even remotely Scandinavian. The Old English epic takes place in Denmark and Sweden (or Geatland, as it’s called in the poem, and Götland, according to modern maps). In my years as a Beowulf skeptic (described in this post), its connection to Sweden was probably the only thing I thought worthwhile about it.
Except that it mostly took place in Denmark. See the above note. (I’m sorry, Denmark! I really am! You are wonderful in your own right!)
So, growing up, I was programmed with elements of Swedish culture and tradition—elements a hundred or more years removed. Thus, when a handful of lines from Beowulf spawned a story idea, and then that idea jostled around in the mental cocktail of my brain, what emerged—almost immediately—was heavily influenced by that Scandinavian heritage. It was as though all those childhood ghosts rose up as one and said, “This story is ours. We claim it.”
And, ultimately, I wrote it to entertain my grandmother.
She turned 90 on March 26. Happy Belated Birthday, Mormor! This one’s for you!
Plagued by misfortune, Ingrid Norling treks into the woods to clear her head. She emerges a monster-slayer, the shaken executioner of a creature so ferocious that even the king’s strongest warriors could not destroy it. In a land that reveres swords and worships strength, this accidental heroism earns Inge an audience at court and a most ill-fated prize: King Halvard impulsively adopts her and names her as his heir.
Under constant guard to prevent her escape, Inge confronts the ignoble underbelly of the royal court: a despotic king, a clueless princess, a proud warrior, and a dangerous intrigue. As secrets unravel around her, the castle threatens to become an elaborate deathtrap. Inge must keep her wits close and her weapons closer. The monster in the woods was only the beginning.
Despite the Scandinavian and classical literary influences, this book is firmly planted in the fantasy genre. Look for it in June. Probably.
Happy April Fools’ Day!