Where have we seen the gods of The Almighty Johnsons before?

The Almighty Johnsons – a New Zealand drama about four brothers who are descended from Norse gods – starts on Syfy this week. When Axl turns 21, it is revealed to him that he and his brothers are the living reincarnations of ancient gods who were expelled from their home in Asgard and settled in New Zealand.

Norse mythology is the name given to the Pagan beliefs in Germany and Scandinavia in the pre-Christian era. These myths are particularly interesting, but there have been precious few adaptations into modern popular culture. Neil Gaiman, J.R.R. Tolkien and Robin Jarvis have all been inspired by, or used characters from Norse mythology in their works, but Greek is still the most well known mythology in the world. Thanks to last year’s movie adaptation of Thor – courtesy of Marvel – there has been an explosion of curiosity in the ancient Scandinavian stories, so for the curious, we have racked our brains and come up with some of the best uses of Norse mythology in popular culture…

The works of Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods was published in 2001. The novel is a blend of American culture, fantasy and gods from ancient lore and the story is based on the idea that many ancient gods are to be found in present day America because people believe in them. When settlers moved to American they brought their gods with them, but the modern worship of technology, media and celebrity means that new gods have arisen. The main god character in the book is Odin, although he hides behind the moniker Mr Wednesday (Wednesday being the day of the week that is named after the Nordic All-Father; Odin or Woden’s Day). Mr Wednesday is leading the war against the new American gods, to ensure that the ancient ones are not destroyed.

It was announced in April 2011 that American Gods was to be made into a TV series by HBO, and that Robert Richardson and Neil Gaiman would be writing the show. Gaiman also used Norse gods in his novel Odd and the Frost Giants, and the Norse god Thor appears in the Sandman graphic novels.

Odin has also been used in Hilda Lewis’s book The Ship That Flew and The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. J.R.R. Tolkien described his famous character Gandalf as an ‘Odinic wanderer’. Gandalf’s appearance has also been compared to that of Odin; an old man with a long white beard, a staff and a wide brimmed hat.

Axl Johnson is the living embodiment of Odin in The Almighty Johnsons. Odin is the ruler of Asgard – the capital country of the Nine Worlds and home of the gods – and is associated with war, battle, victory and death. The day of the week Wednesday is named after Odin, he hat two pet ravens named Thought and Memory and he is married to the goddess Frigg and is father of many gods, the most famous of whom being Thor.

Tales from the Wyrd Museum

 Children’s author Robin Jarvis deals with the notions of ancient magic, evil and gods in his Tales from the Wyrd Museum trilogy. In the books, a young boy named Neil Chapman – the son of the museum’s caretaker – finds himself uncovering dark secrets in the halls of the Wyrd Museum. The museum is where all supernatural trinkets end up, and it is up to the three sisters who own the museum to guard these, as well as the World Tree Yggdrasil and protect the world from evil.

According to Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the tree around which the nine worlds existed. It is also the tree from which Odin hung himself as a sacrifice. Odin hung from Yggdrasil for nine days in order to learn the wisdom that would give him power in each of the worlds.

Thor

 In last year’s Marvel film – based on comic books by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby – Thor’s father, Odin, cast him out of Asgard after he unwittingly ended a truce between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants. Thor is exiled to Earth – and finds an ally in astrophysicist Jane – but must defeat his brother Loki, who is determined to destroy Asgard and let the Frost Giants rule.

Thor and Loki are based on the Norse gods of the same names. Thor is the god of Thunder whose power comes from his hammer. Thursday was named after the god (Thor’s-Day, get it?) and he is perhaps the best known of all the Norse gods. Loki is also known as God of Lies and Mischief, but his penchant for causing trouble is often quite malicious.

In The Almighty Johnsons, Loki is the God of Fire, but has a pronounced penchant for mischief. He causes a lot of trouble for the Johnsons family through his ways of concealing the truth. Derek is a farmer, and the current incarnation of Thor in the show. Although he may be a little bit on the bonkers side, Derek/Thor is also fiercely loyal and worships Odin unquestioningly.

The Mask

 Remember the 1994 film The Mask that starred Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz? Well, the titular mask is actually a depiction of the Norse god Loki, which has an agenda of it’s own. In Norse mythology, Loki was far from the zany, film-quoting character that Jim Carrey is turned in to, but his proclivity for mischief is definitely in keeping with the god’s character.

The Mask was based on a series of comic books of the same name.

Stargate SG-1

 The TV series regularly featured a race of aliens called the Asgard, who are the original source of the Norse mythology, having portrayed gods in order to help the human race. The Asgard become allies of Earth and defend many planets in the galaxy against the Goa’uld.

This may not be the most literal translation of the Norse myths, but there are plenty of references to the original stories including the spaceships of the Asgard which, when viewed from below, are shaped like Mjolnir; the hammer of Thor.

Special mentions to…
Movies: Nicolas Winding Refn’s incredible film Valhalla Rising. Also, The Vikings and Erik the Viking are both based on Nordic myths.
TV: The Doctor Who episode The Curse of Fenric is loosely based on Norse mythology and Odin and the Valkyries appear in Xena: Warrior Princess


Music: Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. And what a song it is…

The Almighty Johnsons premieres on Syfy on February 2nd at 10pm
Read Nuge’s review of episode 1 here

GS Writer: Brogen Hayes

One comment

  1. Kriss /

    Also there is the Percy Jackson book series/Film

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