Guest Post: Alis Franklin, author of Liesmith on Odin and urban fantasy

Alis Franklin’s brand new book, LIESMITH, just came out this week and I’ve got a great guest post by Alis, so enjoy, and be sure to check out the new book!

liesmithI grew up in a place called the Woden Valley.

People don’t believe me when I tell them this, but I swear it’s a real place. You can look it up on Wikipedia. One of the satellite town centers of Canberra, Australia’s capital city. It’s lower-middle to upper working class, whitebread-if-not-always-white. Filled with lots of quickly constructed, nearly identical 1970s homes of the type my mother calls Standard Canberra Plan: driveway descending into a double garage, living room and kitchen above, bathroom and laundry in the middle, four bedrooms off to the side.

The Woden Valley is all broad, quiet streets and big, towering gum trees because, back in the days when it was built, the local government gave each home an allotment of greenery to plant on the sprawling, generous blocks. Every suburb has a little semi-circle of local shops, and most are within walking distance to a greenbelt or reserve, like Mt. Taylor or Red Hill, or Isaacs Ridge if you live in one of the newer suburbs (“newer” being relative, say the 1990s or so).

The local mall is, in the bland way of suburban naming conventions, called Woden Plaza. It has a branch of one of Australia’s major department store chains, two of the major supermarkets, a cinema, some cafes, a library, a handful of government offices, a non-zero amount of ugly public art.

Also a bus interchange, which is why I spent a great deal of time there as a teenager, in transit between my high school and home.

At the time, my parents had an enormous old red dictionary, because that was A Thing people owned prior to the Internet. Said dictionary contained not just definitions of words, but basic etymologies as well, and I used to spend hours pouring over these, writing down lists and making up characters and stories and gods to go behind the fragmented italics and strangely-accented characters.

For some reason, I looked up the days of the week. One in particularly stood out: Wōdnesdæg, the past life of what we now call Wednesday.

Huh, thought tweenage me. That’s funny.

odinWōđanaz is, of course, a variant on the name Woden. Which in turn is a variant on Óðinn, a.k.a. Odin, the one-eyed god of Norse mythology. Different spellings, same guy. And this is what I learnt, growing up in the Woden Valley, lying on the floor in the living room, paging through the Big Red Dictionary on a Wednesday: the Norse gods, the æsir, never really went anyway. They never died. If nothing else, six out of our seven days of the week still honor their names. (The only one that doesn’t, Saturday, replaced the Viking day of washing, laugardagr, which we still remember today in the word “laundry.” There’s an old joke here about differing Anglo-Saxon and Viking attitudes towards cleanliness, which I’ll let you imagine for yourselves.)

With the Revelation of Wednesday, I started to read the sagas, nagging my parents into buying me books on Norse mythology as I did (they were very obliging). And it’s one of those things; once you know where to look, you see the old gods everywhere. Thanks largely to the influence of Tolkien, they are the genericised backdrop to Western fantasy canon. Our modern elves and dwarves, orcs and ogres, all have their origins in the fireside poetry of long-dead Vikings. So do most of our stock assortment of fantasy character tropes. Who is Gandalf the Grey, after all, if not a lighter and softer version of Odin (with a dash of Baldr thrown in once he returns as Gandalf the White)? Or who is Gollum—the corrupted monster, brought into useful service but never truly converted to goodness—if not an incarnation of Loki himself?

Still. The things I most associated the Norse gods with were leafy suburban streets and the local shopping mall.
This is where Liesmith comes from. The original outlines of its plot and its world fell into place when I was a teenager, sitting on the cold concrete of the Woden Bus Interchange, imagining Heimdallr watching me on CCTV. Later, I’d learn other authors got to this idea of old-gods-in-new-lives before me—Diana Wynne Jones, Robin Jarvis, Neil Gaiman—and other influences would get thrown into the pot, mainly the cults of consumer technology and tropes of video games (a lot of video games, I admit).

But, mostly, it was about the shopping mall. And the place I grew up.

For me, Norse myth has always been an urban fantasy. Once I learnt the trick to find it.

alis-franklin-1About Alis Franklin:
A product of the early 80s, Alis grew up in Canberra, Australia, in a place called the Woden Valley. The mythology theme would prove prophetic, with Alis spending most of her awkward teenage years buried inside a copy of Cassell’s Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend, inflicting various Norse-themed plots onto her incredibly tolerant Werewolf: the Apocalypse group.

Despite spending a childhood insisting she was going to grow up to be an “author and illustrator”, at college Alis accidentally a whole interest in computer programming instead. This resulted in an ill-conceived attempt to enroll in Computer Science/Law at university.

The Law degree didn’t stick, and Alis replaced it with Political Science in second year, earning herself two “unscience” degrees. She also managed to accrue a husband, and they currently live together in a house far too small for the number of computers it holds.

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