A few of weeks ago, I saw The Northman. I loved it but understand that it isn’t for everyone. It’s a Norse tale, which means it doesn’t fit the formula for what sells in Peoria.
The cast was great, but this post isn’t a review. The movie, like several others before it, got me thinking.
I didn’t study mythology because of my interest in 1st Edition D&D (“1e”); it was the other way around. Mythology (and dinosaurs) got me into 1e in the 1970s. I thought, “Wow! I can tell my own stories within these settings and characters?!” However, whether it’s D&D, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, or Bulfinch’s Mythology, western literature tends to sanitize the characters and their stories. The “good-aligned” deities are often presented as noble, loving, and helpful. There are certainly some exceptions — Zeus was an asshole — but the sense of right and wrong have been aligned at least to some extent to what the modern audience thinks as “good.” We really do make the gods in our own image. The Northman reminds us that the “good guy” is not someone you’d want to marry your daughter. Life was brutal and uncaring back then, and being that way yourself was an effective survival strategy.
That said, there’s a reasonableness to garnering lessons from these myths. In a very narrow, personal way, I relate rather strongly to the protagonist’s backstory (appropriately discussed today). I would never handle our similar predicament in the same way, but the character’s backstory loosely parallels my own. If you dig through the primitive details of the specific culture at hand, you can find some universal truths, or at least something to which you can relate (no more than vaguely, I hope). After all, people take from stories whatever message they want to hear. We tend to cut out the brutality from these stories, and thus also ignore how those that wrote them applied them to real life.
So no, you wouldn’t want to invite any of these ancient people to dinner.
Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)