Happy Turkey-Day everyone!

Book: To Say Nothing of the Dog: How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last

Author: Connie Willis

This novel is a bit of an oldie (first published in 1997) but a goodie. In fact, it's so good that I'm sitting here wondering why you're not reading it right now. Well? Shoo! Go read it! What? You want to know what it's about? **sigh** Fine.

To Say Nothing of the Dog, is a science fiction novel about time travel(!), Victorians(!), and paradoxes(!). The year is 2057 and time travel has been perfected. Disappointingly, it proves to not be as interesting as the movies would lead us to believe. You see, the time stream seems to be able to protect itself to a certain extent by resisting all attempts to change the past.When the people of the future realize that they're not going to be able to steal the past's treasures or assassinate Hitler, they leave it to the realm of historians who dully go about fleshing out humanity's history.

Then Lady Schrapnell enters the scene. Back in the Victorian era, Lady Schrapnell's ancestor, Tossie Mering, had her life forever changed when she visited Coventry Cathedral and saw the bishop's bird stump there. (A bird stump is a vase shaped like a stump and decorated with birds. They were all the rage back then and just as ugly as the description sounds.) After reading Tossie's diary, her Ladyship feels that her life has been changed as well and becomes obsessed with rebuilding the cathedral to exactly how it was before the original building was destroyed in the Blitz. Promising a small fortune to the historians if they succeed, she begins to nag them mercilessly when they are unable to determine if the bird stump was there at the moment when the bombs began to fall.

The novel's hero, Ned Henry, is the leader of the 1940s expedition to determine if the bird stump was in the cathedral during the Blitz. Yet, he's made so many jumps to the past that he's developed a bad case of time lag (think of it as a terrible case of jet lag) and needs to rest. Knowing that there is no rest for him in the present (her Ladyship would nag him to death) and having an item that needs to be quickly returned to the past before the entire time stream self destructs, Ned's superiors send him to the Victorian era for a nice long rest. Unfortunately for them, Ned is so tired when they give him the mission that he arrives at the correct time not knowing where he is or why he's there.

Meeting up with Terence St. Trewes, a Oxford student in love, he finances the renting of a boat so that Terence can meet up with the love of his life, Tossie Mering. But according to history, Tossie is destined to marry the mysterious Mr. C! If Tossie marries Terence, does that mean that Lady Schrapnell will never be born? Is that necessarily a bad thing? Has Ned accidentally doomed the future by changing the past? Thus begins an adventure full of misunderstandings, time paradoxes, phony spiritualists, romance, kittens, a journey down a river, and a crime committed before it was even against the law. To say nothing of the dog, of course.

((I think you all know that I'm not an expert by now so I'll skip over the disclaimer and just mention that today's image is an illustration of Wagner's opera Das Rheingold by Arthur Rackham))

Who: Thor (Þōrr), Member of the Avengers brought to you by Marvel Comics!

What: Personification of thunder. God of thunder, lighting, rain that brings crops, fair weather, war, and protector of the gods and mortal men.

This article would have actually been posted up last week if I hadn't shown it to the Roommate first. She took one look at it and asked me why I was so angry. Initially, I protested that I couldn't be angry at a person who I think of as fictional, but realized that she was right. No, I wasn't exactly angry at Thor, but I was angry at Nazis. And really, being Nazis, they deserve the rabid dislike I feel for them. Out of all of the Norse gods, Thor has retained the biggest presence in the public eye which has been good and bad for his everlasting rep.

The Good: He has his own comic book series, not to mention an upcoming movie just about him. He'll also be in the Avengers movie if that gets made.

The Bad: Ideal poster boy for the Nazi's 'master race' scheme. The religious symbol of his crossed hammers is now better known as the swastika and, this needs repeating, the Nazis liked him. To quote an LOL cat, the Nazis liking anything is a big DO NOT WANT for whatever that thing is.

However, if you can put aside the corruption of asshats (that's a scientific term) who steal symbols to twist them to evil purposes, then Thor himself was a pretty cool guy. He was, by far, the most popular of the Norse gods partially because, unlike Odin, he didn't require any human sacrifices. As far as the mythology goes, Thor is in more stories then any other god. He was also the god that the people were the most reluctant to give up. His aforementioned religious symbol didn't start out swastika shaped. Originally, the symbol was a regular hammer shape which the wearer wore upside down. (See image) When Christianity came to the area the believers, wanting to cover both of their bases, started making symbols of two hammers, crossed into an X, in a sort of cross and Thor mix. This symbol eventually turned into the infamous swastika. I've been told (but have found no evidence to back it up) that the German Iron Cross was based on the crossed hammers as well, but I don't know how true that is.

Thor was one of Odin's many children who he had with the giantess Jörd. In appearance, Thor was a big burly man with red hair and a bushy beard. Physically, he was the strongest of the gods, but he still had plenty of items to increase his strength. Around his waist he wore the belt Megingjord which increased his strength and he also had the iron gauntlets Járngreipr which enabled him to wield his most famous weapon, the hammer Mjöllnir. He was married to the goddess Sif, who was a golden haired goddess of fertility. With her he had at least one child, his daughter Thrud, and possibly a son. However, like his father, Thor was known to sleep around with giantesses and had his two most famous children, Magni and Modi, with the giantess Járnsaxa. Magni and Modi are really only worth mentioning as they will be one of the very few persons to survive Ragnarok and will come to rule the world in the mythic future.

One of my favorite things about Thor is that his worshipers felt comfortable enough to be able to have a bit of fun at his expense. Such was the case when Thor, in a hissy fit, lost his hammer.

How Thor Got His Hammer Back

Now I say 'lost his hammer,' but the mythology is unclear. My favorite retelling of the story has Thor, in a fit of impotent rage, going fishing for Jörmungandr (the Midgard serpent). After fishing the monster up he threw Mjöllnir at it and, to his horror, the serpent swallowed the hammer. Later, the serpent threw the hammer up onto the shores of Jotunheim, the home of the frost giants which starts the story. However, the other version of the tale has Mjöllnir being mysteriously stolen in circumstances that are unclear. Since this story only appears in the Poetic Edda and I only have access to the Prose, I'm going to have to go with what Wikipedia says... Which means that the hammer goes missing for reasons unclear. Blast it. The fishing story is kind of funny.

After realizing that his hammer had gone missing, Thor rushed over to the only person who might have taken it, Loki. "Do I look that stupid to you?" Loki asked, after Thor had asked him if he'd stolen Mjöllnir. Thor decided not to answer and instead asked Loki to go out and find the hammer. Grumbling, Loki went to Freyja and borrowed her feather robe which would allow him to take the form of a hawk for the search. After flying all over Midgard, Loki met the giant Thrymr who admitted that he had hidden Mjöllnir away. Thrymr promised to return the hammer... but only if he could have Freyja for his wife. Loki returned with this information and Thor hurried over to Freyja's home to tell her to get ready to be married. When Freyja heard about her upcoming nuptials, she threw a fit. So angry was she that her beloved necklace Brísingamen burst into bits. Giving Thor a piece of her mind, she flatly refused to marry the giant and stormed off.

Surprised that she had refused, Thor called a council of the gods who, to his greater surprise, sided with the goddess. Yet, they agreed that the idea of Thor without his hammer was a horrifying one and tried to figure out a way to get it back. Heimdall, quick to come up with a plan before anyone could think of a better idea that didn't involve cross-dressing, proposed that they go through with the marriage but send Thor as the bride! Needless to say, Thor was not amused by this idea and protested that it would be unmanly for him to dress in woman's clothing and regain his hammer through deception. Loki, agreeing with Heimdall for the first and last time, pointed out that if Thor didn't do this then the giants would probably invade Asgard. So Thor grudgingly agreed.

They went to Freyja who, happy that she wasn't going to be the bride, lent Thor some of her clothes as well as her suddenly repaired necklace and her chariot pulled by cats. Miserable, Thor got into the chariot and was further annoyed when Loki ran up, also in woman's clothing, and hopped inside. "I wouldn't miss this for the world," he cheerfully told the other god.

Together, they rode north to Jotunheim until they arrived at Thrymr's kingdom. Once there, Loki claimed he was Freyja's handmaiden and presented his 'mistress' to her future husband. Overjoyed, Thrymr ordered the start of the marriage feast at which Thor ate an entire ox, eight salmon, all of the baked goods intended for the women, and washed it down with three measures of mead. Puzzled, Thrymr turned to Loki and asked him if Freyja was always like this. He'd never seen a woman eat or drink so much before! Not to mention that when he had briefly pulled aside her heavy veil to steal a kiss he'd seen her eyes to be rimmed with red. Loki, thinking quickly, replied that 'Freyja' had been so excited about the upcoming marriage that she hadn't slept or eaten for the eight days. "Be a man," Loki secretly told the other god. "If I can go through childbirth, you can pretend to be a woman for a couple more hours." Thor did not think that this was a fair comparison since Loki didn't seem to entirely mind doing unmanly things, but managed to make it through the rest of the feast without breaking his cover.

After the feast was over, Thrymr ordered the start of the marriage ceremony. As with mortal marriages of the time, the key component was when a hammer was laid on the bride's lap. In mortal ceremonies, this ritual was supposed to be a fertility blessing for the bride. In this ceremony, it was the moment Thor had been waiting for. As soon as the giants had laid Mjöllnir on his lap, he seized it and slayed everyone in the room except for Loki who I like to think was busy giggling hysterically in the corner. Once Thor was done killing everyone, Loki approached the other god. "Feel better?" he asked.

"This never happened," Thor grumbled, pulling uncomfortably at his blood drenched clothes. "Got that? This. Never. Happened."

"Of course not," Loki said. And then promptly went and told everyone who would listen about the time that he and Thor had to cross dress and Thor got married to a giant. Surprisingly, he left off the bit where Freyja gave Thor a tongue lashing Part II when she saw that Thor had ruined her favorite dress, but maybe that last bit is only in my mind.