Historical Note: The Loki Sword

My third Fire Born novel has been out for a couple of weeks now, so it’s probably safe – spoiler-wise – to post the historical note published at the end of it. I do this for every novel I write (17, so far). If you haven’t read The Loki Sword yet, and are worried about spoilers, read no further. If you’re interested in how I come up with ideas for my historical novels, but have no intention of ever reading them, this is for you . . .

The idea for Valtyr’s rousing campfire tale of the battle between the Goths and the Huns – as well as large chunks of the plot of The Loki Sword – came from reading an essay by Christopher Tolkien (son of J.R.R. and a Norse scholar in his own right) in the University College London Saga-Book of the Viking Society (Vol. XIV, 1953-57). 

This legendary battle is recounted in the Hervarar Saga, one of the oldest pieces of heroic poetry in the Norse language, according to Tolkien, which tells of how Hlodr (Hlod in my novel), the bastard son of King Heidrekr by his Hunnish mistress, started a war to recover his Gothic inheritance from his half-brother Angantyr. At a great battle, probably somewhere on the Hungarian plain, there was colossal carnage so that “the rivers were choked and rose from their beds and the valleys were filled with dead men and horses” and Angantyr slew Hlodr with his father’s sword Tyrfingr.

Holy grave of an ancient Goth King

No one is sure when this battle took place – sometime between the 4th and 5th centuries AD, and most likely after the death of Attila in 453, since the great Hun warlord is not mentioned in the poem – nor where exactly it happened. Scholars have suggested a bewildering variety of sites stretching from Orleans to Kiev but the poem says it took place in the shadow of the Harvath Mountains – which Tolkien says are the Carpathian range that curls around the north and east of the Hungarian plain. The poem also references a “holy grave” of an ancient Goth king, which I appropriated as the tomb of Angantyr. The troll circle on a hill is purely a figment of my imagination.

Because historians are unsure about any facts surrounding this famous battle, it exists like so many other Dark Age heroes and conflicts in the vague, fuzzy gap between myth and history. And thus gave me the freedom to invent my own version of the legend, tailored to the needs of my novel. Likewise, the tale of the god Loki and the Dwarf-Master and the giant bird Vithnofnir is my own, although Vithnofnir, a cockerel that sits atop the World Tree, is a recognised character in Norse mythology.

Taking a leaf out of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books

It would be quite absurd to compare myself to the immortal J.R.R. Tolkien, yet it would be equally silly to pretend that I have not been massively influenced by his superb works. I loved reading Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit when I was younger, and more recently I have watched and rewatched the six epic Hollywood movies. The storytelling, the sweep of the action, the stalwart heroes and despicable villains, have all coloured my novels in one form or another for many years. But this time I took a leaf straight from J.R.R. Tolkien’s tomes and pilfered the old Norse legends directly, mixed them up, added my two heroes and turned them into my own quest adventure. 

I also combined these mythic elements with fragments of real history, since this novel is designed to sit in the historical fiction shelves of any bookshop, for example, including the Amber Road, a millennia old trade route for fossilised pine resin, which runs from the coast of the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean, and the genuine friction between the Charlemagne’s Franks and the Avar Khaganate beyond the Danube. 

The Wave Serpent is modelled on several Norse vessels preserved in modern facilities, including the incredible Gokstad ship in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.

The rebellion by Hrodgaud, Duke of Friuli, in the spring of 776, was a disaster. Charlemagne (Karolus in my novels) was forewarned of the rising, crossed the Alps and swiftly crushed the Lombard forces. By Easter, Charlemagne had installed a new Frankish duke to rule the region. There is no evidence that the Amber Road was used to bring funds down to the rebels from the North, although it seemed plausible to me. 

This cocktail of “real” Norse mythology, genuine history and imagination led to the birth of The Loki Sword. And, to be honest, I’m rather proud of my confection. And can only hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed researching it.

The Loki Sword (Fire Born 3) is now available as a paperback or eBook from Amazon

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