Well, Winter is here, and though it's been quite mild so far in our neck of the woods, there's a blizzard warning of some sort for the whole Northeast this weekend. Which reminded me. I have long meant to do a blog post about ice grendels. What ARE ice grendels, you ask? Answer: You tell me! *grin* We made them up.
These beasties get only a few, ominous passing mentions in Jake & The Giant, which of course was heavily inspired by Norse mythology. That seems like an appropriate topic, especially at this snowy time of year. From Odin, Thor and Loki to the frost giants and the---oops, I'd better not give away any spoilers, for those who haven't read it yet!
In any case, the research for our novels is one of the most rewarding and fascinating parts of the writing journey, and for my part, I found myself getting totally absorbed in reading translations of the ancient Norse sagas and listening to clips of readings in the original tongue when they are available. They are gripping, with all sorts of story- lines ranging from high adventure to war tales to comedy to horror to paranormal to romance to psychological suspense and family drama. But what strikes me most is the raw power of the language and mesmerizing rhythms of the ancient poetry. You can just imagine yourself among the Vikings sitting around a roaring fire in a frozen landscape, listening on the edge of your seat to the tribe's bard or volva (a seeress) share a poem, song, or tale.
Here's a short reading from the great work of Viking literature, the Poetic Edda, and how it might have sounded being performed in a great hall of a Viking chief. Have a listen...
Along with the Poetic Edda, there is a somewhat less ancient version, the Prose Edda, by the 13th century writer, historian, and politician, Snorri Sturluson of Iceland. Some call that Snorri the Scandinavian Shakespeare (though he was medieval, not Renaissance, and didn't write plays). His massive Prose Edda is another main treasure of Scandinavian culture, and yes, we did name our dull-witted but good-hearted giant Snorri after him, affectionately. Some of the Prose Edda's passages prove the man had a sense of humor and made us feel he wouldn't have minded having a character named after him 800+ years after he lived on earth.
But what does all this have to do with ice grendels? Well, as you probably know, the Vikings had a huge influence on the cultures of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and thus on all the cultures they, in turn, eventually gave birth to, like our own. Norse culture also clearly inspired our oldest surviving long poem in Old English -- and if you said BEOWULF, you get a gold star! Beowulf's story is even set in Scandinavia. Beowulf is a mighty wandering hero who comes to the aid of King Hrothgar of the Danes, who, along with his people, is being stalked and tormented by the monster, Grendel, and his mama.
What drove me nuts the first time I read Beowulf was that you get thru the whole story and the author (who is anonymous, by the way) never tells you WHAT GRENDEL LOOKS LIKE. It's just like a typical monster movie of today where they torment you with brief glimpses of the creature, but you never really get to see it until maybe the end -- if you're lucky! And then it's usually a letdown, lol. Anyway, since the original Grendel was never really described -- dragon? Yeti? Demon? It could be anything! -- I thought it would be kinda funny to let YOU, the reader, decide for yourself what ice grendels lurking in the far north lands might look like. Now that Jake & the Giant has been out for a while, though, here's what I think they might sort of look like. But if you prefer to think of them as a yeti sort of thing, we're good with that, too! :)
Have you ever made up a monster for a project or Halloween costume? Tell us about it below! :)
Careful walking in the forest...
From The Dark Portal, Ch. 16: Pixie Mischief
Suddenly, Jake and Dani were under siege as the pixies rained down acorns on them like cannonballs and started shooting their bows at them with splinter-sized arrows.
"Ow! Ow!" Jake and Dani said.
"Release Whortleberry! Put him down, you oversized oafs!"
More pixies joined the fray. They swung down off the branch above by bits of twine and landed on their heads and shoulders, where they proceeded to beat them and pull their hair...
On the Wee Folk of the Forest
To find out what happens next, read The Dark Portal!
We thought this might be a good time to share some of the neat facts we learned about surviving in arctic conditions while we were researching for JAKE AND THE GINGERBREAD WARS. It was a tricky challenge to make the North Pole landscape believable, but not soooo realistic, like to the extreme of having Jake and the gang quickly freeze to death. A sudden and tragic end to the series!
That would not have been very Christmassy for a Christmas novella, methinks.
So, boys and girls, if you find yourself stuck in a snowy wasteland, first, hope that you don't run into any hungry yetis. Then follow these little tips if you want to survive. Here's a quick recap of Arctic Survival Tips from veteran Expedition Director Pen Hadow, from an article that originally appeared on CNN.com. (Original article here.)
* Wear layers - especially on your hands and feet. Keep your face covered up.
* Bring a dog and flares called "bear bangers" to ward off polar bears. The dog will smell a bear in the area before you will, then you can deploy the bear bangers to scare the bear away before he has you for lunch. (Not something I'd personally like to test!)
* Eat candy and high-calorie yummies like macadamia nuts. Well, ok, if I must. :) In the Arctic, Hadow says an adult needs to consume a recommended 5000-6000 calories a day (compared to the average 2000 calories a day) because the cold makes your body burn so much fuel.
* Don't step on black ice. If it's black that means it's thin, but gray ice is OK to walk on.
* Never travel alone, and bring a GPS.
Still not convinced you're going to make it out alive? Yeah, maybe we still need a little more training... [Video credit to the Survival Information Channel on YouTube.]
Hello Everybody! Well, this week I learned something new, something I'll bet some of you kids out there probably knew already. This was my major newsflash:
THERE ARE NO PENGUINS IN THE ARCTIC!!!
Hold the phone!
No, don't call Al Gore, that's not a global warming thing, that's just normal. Go figure!! Penguins are South Pole creatures only (well, except for zoos). And get this - polar bears are North Pole animals only, so a penguin and a polar bear could never meet in Nature.
Which is definitely good news for the penguin.
Imagine my surprise. Yes, I was researching something about whales, actually, when I just happened to stumble across a side mention of penguins only living in Antarctica.
Well, oh, SNAP, I thought, we just put penguins in the North Pole in JAKE AND THE GINGERBREAD WARS. So, I figured we had better own up to our mistake before we start getting hate mail from offended penguins everywhere.
Of course, most penguins aren't usually trained to serve dinner as waiters or answer doors as little butlers, either, so I think in a fantasy-based story, we can probably get away with it. Just wanted to share. But as it turns out, January is an excellent time to be talking about penguins, because January 20th is....wait for it....PENGUIN AWARENESS DAY.
I kid you not. Yeah, I know. You thought January was all about New Year's resolutions and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Well, think again, coz! We are T minus 10 to Penguin Awareness Day. Better start making your plans...
So, what do people do on Penguin Awareness Day? Well, according to Holiday Insights, (one of my favorite fun websites out there), they dress up in black and white in honor of penguins everywhere. Very snazzy. *g* Actually, this is a rather timely topic, since most of us felt like penguins here in the US with the "Polar Vortex" gusting through. Brrrrr!
On a more serious note, because, yes, I do realize this is a Very Silly Blog Post (it's Friday), here's a link to a very interesting article that ran a couple weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, called SEE GROWNUPS READ, by Alexandra Alter. It's about the kinds of books we love ~ and what we write! ~ novels that are technically classed as "middle grade" but are actually for all ages.
Here's a fascinating quote about how popular these kinds of books are right now with adults as well as kids. Frankly, Eric and I had no idea our genre was this hot. We just write it because we love, love, LOVE everything about it. But apparently it's all the kick, as Jake would say. Check out this quote from Ms. Alter's article:
"Middle-grade books have become a booming publishing category, fueled in part by adult fans who read "Harry Potter" and fell in love with the genre. J.K. Rowling's books, which sold more than 450 million copies, reintroduced millions of adults to the addictive pleasures of children's literature and created a new class of genre-agnostic reader who will pick up anything that's buzzy and compelling, even if it's written for 8 year olds. Far from being an anomaly, "Harry Potter" paved the way for a new crop of blockbuster children's books that are appealing to readers of all ages. Recent hits include Rick Riordan's mythology-tinged fantasy books, which have sold have sold some 35 million copies; Rachel Renee Russell's "Dork Diaries," which has 13 million copies in print; and Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," which has sold more than 115 million copies."
To which I say: Holy Guacamole. Now that's something to dance about.
Great writers of the past like Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Jack London, and Oscar Wilde did not write for one narrow "market segment," but for everybody. Even Jane Austen did not write "romances" for a strictly female audience, but for all ages and both sexes: Witness the dedication to HRH George, the Prince Regent, who was one of her biggest fans. (He kind of insisted on having her book dedicated to him, but that's 19th c. royalty for you. *g*) Anyway, I thought you might enjoy the article.