The Dragonseeker Saga
Reviewed by Jodie Forrest
[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 48:12 (#353) in December 2011.]
Douglas “Dag” Rossman’s previous work (The Nine Worlds: A Dictionary of Norse Mythology; The Northern Path: Norse Myths and Legends Retold … and What They Reveal; and Theft of the Sun and Other New Norse Myths) should be familiar to readers intrigued by Norse lore. It should also be familiar to and appreciated by anyone interested in the light that mythology sheds on depth psychology in the vein of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, particularly the mythology of one’s own ethnic background. Speaking of his early experiences as a Norse storyteller, in the book’s “Afterword”, Rossman says: “Perhaps because the stories grew out of, and spoke to, my family’s heritage … the Norse myths resonated with me in a way no others have before or since. They seemed to belong to me personally, and I to them. It was as if the voices of my ancestors were speaking to—and through—me, sharing their wisdom and world view.”
Rossman’s Scandinavian ancestors would approve of The Dragonseeker Saga, a new collection of original short stories set in the nine Norse worlds. They would also find that those familiar tales had both changed and deepened. In Rossman’s hands, myth is a living entity in which the past interacts with and informs the pre-sent, not a package of calcified tropes. The author seeks to fill in some of the gaps in the earliest writ-ten versions of the stories that have come down to us.
Not unlike a picaresque hero, the main character, Dag Ormseeker (Dragonseeker), sets off on a journey throughout the Nine Worlds, and sweeps the reader along with him. Like a fairy tale protagonist or a Campbellian hero, Dag has a quest, assigned by Odin: to tell tales of the gods and their foes, because the loss of those stories would mean that “the gods could no longer reach humankind with their lore to help and heal them.” Entwined with his profound knowledge of Norse myth and Jungian seriousness of intent is Rossman’s sheer ability as a storyteller. The book is a rich handful of crackling good stories. Like any fine genre writer, Rossman fulfills some of his or her readers’ expectations of a tale set in the Norse mythic worlds (Odin has one eye, ravens and wolves), plays with other expectations (what if Odin were involved with a third raven?), and adds some twists of his own.
In “Dragonseeker,” we meet the title character and learn something of his mysterious parentage—a common theme in fairy tales and in “hero’s journey” myths. From Nidhögg, the dragon who patrols Niflheim, Dag receives a shamanistic initiatory wound, the loss of one arm. His mentor and uncle dies, and he’s trapped in ice—a symbol of frozen feelings. In “Brekka,” the cow Audumla, who freed Odin’s grand-father from a block of ice, frees Dag. At the behest of the god Heimdall the Watcher, come from Asgard where Dag’s newly-arrived uncle has explained his plight and excited the sympathy of a master smith, Dag tricks the troll-woman Angrboda and procures living ironwood to make a new arm. He also falls in love with the giantess Brekka—the ice has truly melted—only to lose her to the revenge of Angrboda, con-sort of Loki the Trickster.
Each story carries Dag along on his journey until “The Final Lesson” brings him to consult the oracle in the Grotto of Grief. There he decides that there are times when love matters more than duty, and that he’ll abandon his quest to return to Alfheim and his new love, Aelas. Far from striking Dag down—here we see a major evolution of myth—Odin says that blind obedience to any authority, even that of a god, is no path for a man.
The Norse world-view is deeply embedded in these tales. Dag struggles against the forces of chaos, destruction, entropy and random ill-will: Niddhogg the dragon; Angrboda the troll-woman, a kind of anima-figure for Loki; the fight to resist despair or anger in the face of life’s inevitable physical and emotional wounds. The universal truths and virtues illustrated here occur in the Havamal: courage; loyalty; friendship; self-respect; generosity; insight; strength of character. A more modern wisdom appears as well: the importance of dreams; the need to still the restless mind; the role of free will. Legend, a psychologically sophisticated humanist’s perspective, and the storyteller’s art all blend to produce a gift: an augmented and amplified perspective on both the cosmology of the peoples of northern Europe, and its ongoing relevance to our psyches today. Highly recommended!