There’s very little point in challenging reader comments on your novel. It can easily blow up into an argument and lead to not only that reader but other readers getting a bad taste in their mouth whenever they think of you. Even if you win, you lose.
But a reader recently commented that they thought the mythological parts of Seidman were dubious and I feel I should address this, at least here on my blog.
I’ve been researching Norse mythology and Viking Age culture for over twenty-five years. In college, I read books about the myths and began delving into it seriously a few years later. When I ran out of books from resellers in the USA that treated the subject of ancient Norse religion in depth (as opposed to retellings of the myths or New Age books on rune magic), I found myself ordering from academic presses in Scandinavia and Iceland, as well as the UK.
I’m only able to read English fluently, but that still gave me access to books by Neil Price, Jesse Byock, Jón Hnefill Aðalsteinsson, Preben Meulengracht Sørensen, and Jennie Blain. I’m not claiming that reading these authors makes me or anyone else an expert, but their work is exceptional and I highly recommend their books — especially Byock’s books on life in Viking Age Iceland and Price’s hefty tome The Viking Way: Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia.
I have also, of course, read many books that I would not recommend, which would include quite a large body of work from the 1800s, a time period which was notorious for pompous scholars who loved to inject quotes from Latin and French into their work (disdaining to translate them, because all smart people naturally know these languages), while neglecting to back up any of their outlandish claims with citations from reliable sources. Much of the distortions of Norse mythology that have found their way into modern texts, such as the preposterous assertion that Freyja and Gullveig are one and the same goddess, have come from these books.
Throw into this mix the fact that my husband and I did at least put some effort into learning Old Icelandic and translating several chapters from some Icelandic sagas (mostly Hrafnkell’s Saga) into English. I am now in the habit of looking up any passage I don’t fully understand in one of the sagas or Eddas in the original Old Icelandic (well, they’ve usually been normalized for spelling) in order to verify that the English translation I’m reading is truly accurate. (Often, it proves impossible to tell exactly what the original author meant.) The two stanzas from the Voluspa that appear in Seidman during Kol’s initiation were translated by my husband from the Old Icelandic, since I was concerned about copyright violation from any of the translations we had available. (Of course, it comes out nearly the same as the Bellows translation.)
This does not mean I’m any kind of an expert and it doesn’t mean that anybody should take Seidman to be some kind of authoritative document on the practice of Norse religion. However, I spent years piecing together a plausible reconstruction of Norse religious practice. I didn’t just read a couple books and wing it.
One area in which my interpretation of Norse mythology differs from that of many others interested in this study is in the way I view the dísir and the alfar. From everything I’ve read, I’ve come to the conclusion that they are connected to ancestral spirits — the dísir being female spirits and the alfar being male spirits. Many might find this odd, since the idea is rarely presented in books about the Norse gods, but there are many references that support this notion, as these two Wikipedia articles can attest:
If those articles leave you with the impression that it’s all a confused muddle, then you’ve stumbled upon one of the Great Truths of Norse religion. (And no, I don’t get all of my information from Wikipedia, but it often presents us with a good summation of a topic.) The texts are not consistent; they are not universal. The alfar were not viewed the same in Iceland as they were in Norway or Denmark, and those perceptions changed over time.
Since Alfheim was awarded to Freyr when he was a baby, I believe that he ruled over the alfar. Freyja is frequently called Vanadis (“Lady of the Vanir” or “Dís of the Vanir”) and is often associated with the valkyries (valkyrjar), who were in turn associated with the dísir, and she is the goddess who taught Oðinn seiðr, which is associated with the spirits of the dead. For these reasons and others, I believe her to be the ruler of the dísir. The reasoning can be convoluted, but there is reasoning behind it.
So the entire point of this is not to demonstrate that I’m a pompous intellectual, but merely to say: Yes, Seidman was thoroughly researched. It’s not perfect. But I’m quite proud of it, both as a novel and as an exploration of what it might have been like to live in that time and place and to worship as the ancient Icelanders might have done.