Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Wanderer

In Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods, Hadding meets a man. The description of the man should tell us who he is: very tall, old, lean, wide-shouldered, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and a long blue cloak that flaps in the wind, carrying a long spear, one-eyed. He has been a ferryman and presents himself as a soothsayer and healer. Two ravens fly past.

He now bears the name Gangleri. In other words, that is not his original name. It meant nothing to me but we are told that it means Wanderer. That means something. In Wagner's Ring, the chief god, answering the same description, is called Wotan in Valhalla and Wanderer when he does in fact wander through Midgard.

The change of name implies a difference in function or maybe the difference between a god (like Vishnu) and one of his avatars or incarnations (like Rama or Krishna). However, Odin does not incarnate. He simply descends bodily from Asgard to Midgard. Religious concepts had not yet become very elaborate.

Gangleri has presented himself as soothsayer and healer to a viking band. Given his appearance and apparent knowledge of the future, why do the vikings not recognise Odin? Can he cloud their minds to prevent recognition? His purpose is to persuade them to accept Hadding, not to draw undue attention to himself. The reader is in the privileged position of recognising the god at work.

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