NorsePlay Interviews: Vikingverse Author Ian Stuart Sharpe!

NorsePlay recently reviewed the Vikingverse series, and I loved it so much, I've reached out to its author & creator Ian Stuart Sharpe to bring you this Q&A interview filled with all the inquiries his brilliant what-if-the-Vikings-had-conquered-the-world masterwork compelled me to ask. 

For background, Sharpe's career as a published writer started with the first Vikingverse installment, The All Father Paradox (2018 CE), continued with sequel Loki's Wager (2020 CE), gained even more literal public support with his crowdfunded Vikingverse graphic novel, The Jötunn War (2021 CE), and then an equally fan-supported Vikingverse-adjacent phrasebook Old Norse For Modern Times (2021 CE). Sharpe's from London, UK, did some growing up in East Anglia, and now lives in Oak Bay, British Columbia, Canada. His longer tech career includes working for the BBC, IMG, Atari, and Electronic Arts.

[Note that this interview does contain spoilers. Now, onto the meat 'n' tatties:]

NorsePlay: As someone who's read the Norse Lore, NorsePlay joyously noticed the Vikingverse is rife with so many delightfully erudite references. What of the Lore have you read, and how much of that would you expect a prospective Vikingverse reader to come to the table with?

Ian Stewart Sharpe: Yes, the Vikingverse is definitely riddled with references! In a sense, the books are like riddles, and I love weaving in the intricacies and the detail. It works on a variety of levels -- everything from simple cultural references (like an offhand mention of watching a horsefight on TV) through to deeper allegories (the second novel, for instance, is a retelling of a Renaissance poem, Hrafnagaldur Óðins, or Odin’s Raven Song). But it isn’t just Norse Mythology and literature I reference. The whole delight of the Vikingverse is to twist the threads of fate, to see everything through a Norse lens -- so there are references to Simon & Garfunkel, Darwin, Shakespeare, Kierkegaard and countless other real historical figures, but all of them are Norse. 

The question is, does a reader really need to know that -- or does it make the subject unapproachable? In the immortal words of Spinal Tap, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” Have a look at the image below for example, a sneak peek at our upcoming RPG. I find it widely amusing to make E=mc² into runes, but I appreciate I might be part of a small audience. I don’t think you need to know the background for all the references, but the more riddles you uncover, the more immersed you’ll be. I hope.

[Scientist Aðalbriktr Einnsteinen!]

Now, as to what I have read -- the list is legion. Everything from the Saga of Arrow Odd to the History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, from the History of Snorri Sturluson to ruminations on Yggdrasil as "The Cross of the North". I like to track down obscure academic articles and out-of-print translations related to the Sagas, because they are just pure poetry. Sometimes the choice of words is just so haunting, powerful or evocative, it demands to be hauled out of history and be given new context.

NP: Your background at videogame companies, and unique use of war sims as a sort of pre-vis for the history altering books, begs the question: Given the commercial success of the Norse Mythology installments of God Of War and Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, have you considered a Vikingverse videogame? With Trumba using her VR visor to watch Ulfhednar shocktroops storm targets, it seems something of a shoo-in format. 

ISS: Oh, I’ve considered a videogame. Whether anyone else has remains to be seen. I think there are a myriad of ways to bring the Niu Heimar -- or Nine Homeworlds -- to life in a fun and evocative way.

Long after having written the books, I came across Too Human, a game released in 2008. It involves a futuristic retelling of Norse myth that portrays the Aesir as cybernetically enhanced humans, tasked with protecting mankind from the onslaught of Loki’s army of machines. So, it’s not like people aren’t out there experimenting with blends of sci-fi and myth.

NP: When does the movie adaptation and subsequent TV series release? Whom are you casting? And which artists/composers are on the soundtrack & get to score it? NorsePlay is asking these as totally proactive wyrd-manifesting questions.

ISS: I appreciate you putting in a word with the Norns. I was at the library just yesterday with my family. They had grabbed Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary -- like The Martian before it, soon to be made into a film. I harrumphed out of spite and jealousy, and my father-in-law opined that Andy’s books were a little more accessible and mainstream than mine. So perhaps that goes back to your first question.

[Mathew Bayton getting flummoxed by Mr. Chandler!]

Now, the reason that the character Churchwarden Michaels exists in the novels is to provide an on-ramp. A familiar, grounded character in an increasingly unfamiliar world, he keeps the narrative anchored and guides the reader through the differences between our world and the divergent Vikingverse. I like to imagine him portrayed as Martin Freeman of The Office and The Hobbit fame, or Mathew Bayton from Horrible Histories or Ghosts.

[Would you know more, Tom Hardy?]

Thomas Hardy is Odin. He just exudes menace and looks good with scars and tattoos. If you haven’t seen 2017's Taboo, go and watch it right now on Netflix.

As to the score, that’s a tricky one. But have a listen to the song that underpins our recent trailer, because that is how I hear the Vikingverse in my head:

Well, that and the most amazing unearthly psalms of the álfar!

NP: In another online interview, you've mentioned Ian Livingstone's Fighting Fantasy interactive fiction gamebooks. Did you grow up reading alot of interactive fantasy books, like Joe Dever's Lone Wolf, or Steve Jackson's Sorcery? Did you ever read the Norse Mythology-based CYOA's The Trumpet of Terror? And have you possibly considered this fun-fun format for an installment of the Vikingverse? If "Hel Yes!", turn to the next paragraph.

ISS: I certainly had all the Fighting Fantasy Books, and Sorcery, although I drew the line at CYOA: there was only so much pocket money to go round. Ian Livingstone is a Facebook friend, so I see all his updates about the new releases in the series and the 40th anniversary. I don’t know that the format holds up after all these years though -- they served as an Eighties precursor to computer games, no? There are so many other devices to occupy our time and imagination.

NP: We just noticed recent promo postings & an article for the Vikingverse-based When the Wolf Comes RPG! So when set in the shadow of Ragnarök, does any amount of scoring treasure or XP matter? Can one play for the adversaries (boooooo!)? Given the implications of alternate timelines, can the PCs stop Ragnarök? Who's the talent behind the very fitting Kirby/Mignola-esque art in that preview? How was working with Schwalb, did you playtest it with your kids, and what are the advantages to the Shadow of the Demon Lord system over say D&D 5E that specifically work in your setting's favour?

ISS: Now, that’s actually a web of questions worthy of one of the Skuld. Let me dissect them one by one: Your characters in the RPG will be intricately bound to the Norns -- those inscrutable spinners of fate -- but if we have learned anything from the novels, it is that you can cheat your preordained destiny. Perhaps, if you can find the means, you might make your own forays into the past to find the fingerprints of the gods … and yes, certainly you can play as jotnar or orcneas. The Vikingverse is all just shades of gray, with flawed heroes and foolish gods.
Whatever approach the players take, they would do well to remember this: The Norse have learned that to struggle against the Norns is as foolish as sailing into a strong wind. Perhaps the only thing that truly matters is how you stand to meet the end. To that end, there is a whole lineage system in the game -- it really matters who your ancestors were and what they did. Play the son or daughter of your first character and you’ll start to accumulate fame, wealth and the attention of the spirits -- just like any character drawn from the sagas.
The artist is the Argentinian, Ger Curti, who does illustration work for Outland Entertainment and Paizo. He took over The Jötunn War comic for issue four, and we loved his work so much we brought him into the RPG. Rob Schwalb, Darren Pearce, and a bunch of others, all helped steer the game and some previous Kickstarter backers got involved. Everyone involved was a delight to work with -- bend over backwards helpful. As you know, I run D&D campaigns with my kids and their pals, but they are thrill seekers rather than rules lawyers. It’s all I can do to get them to make a packed lunch for school, let alone contribute to a game! So ultimately, you just have to lock the door to the office and get to it yourself.
In terms of Shadow of the Demon Lord, there are many reasons to give it a try but I find this article encapsulates them well.

NP: As a youth, when did you first encounter Norse Lore, and what adaptations did you read growing up? The D'Aulaires? Roger Lancelyn Green? Padraic Colum?

ISS: I came to Norse Myths via the Greek. I distinctly remember a holiday to Knossos and loving the Mycenaean tales, especially the Labyrinth. Later, we studied Beowulf during English Literature classes at school, then moved on chronologically through Chaucer and Monmouth so I had the Arthurian connection to the Saxons and Romans. My main reference at the time, in the days before the internet, was the New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. It’s still on the shelf downstairs, with its impenetrably small type holding all kinds of mysteries.

NP: What's your favourite Viking film? Does that answer vary from what you feel is the best one? And do you think The Northman's Amleth could've pulled a Botulfr, conquered Orkney, and then Jarl-vaded Iceland to kill Fjölnir later instead?

ISS: I’ll confess, I haven’t yet seen The Northman -- partly for reasons of COVID, and it not being a “date movie” -- although the novels do mention Amlóði. I have a deep fondness for Erik the Viking, Jabberwocky and, of course, Time Bandits, and all the films that come out of the Pythons. I re-watched them all recently and it’s clear to me they nested in my cerebellum for many years and helped marinade the Vikingverse.

I think there is no limit to what any Viking warband could have achieved. If you read the accounts of the sieges of Constantinople, of Paris, of London, the Vikings were just a whisper away from changing history. I’ve mentioned elsewhere the work by the great Arnold J. Toynbee, “The Forfeited Birthright of the Abortive Scandinavian Civilization”, published in his A Study of History in 1934. If the Vikings had stopped scrapping with each other for five minutes, or been a little luckier, the Vikingverse might have been a reality.

NP: What are the Norse-related fiction & non-fiction Brísingamens in your personal library hoard? (You can totally pick your own work. I did that for quite a while.)

ISS: I’ve spent a lot of time with Neil Price -- both his The Viking Way and the Children of Ash and Elm. Price doesn’t just deal with the what and when of the Viking phenomenon, he seeks to understand the how and why. The result is a fascinating exploration of the Norse mind, that rivals any journey on a longship.

I also make sure to support other Norse indie authors, like Joshua Gillingham and Eric Schumacher. I’ve found some true friends among other authors, and am proud to be in their shieldwall so to speak.

NP: A quote that sticks with me is Iðunn saying, "Few nations have been so poor as to have but one God." Given the complex variables of the universe, that rings very true in terms of Heathen Worldview and how polytheism addresses that. Are you actually Ásatrú/Heathen/Northern Tradition?

ISS: No. I very much believe another phrase from the book: “Man is god to man. Man is wolf to man.” It’s much more Nietzschean. Is man one of God's blunders, or is God one of man's blunders?

NP: Your work seems to get into the ritual/physics weeds of seiðr in the process of "stumbling" and in describing other völvic powers. I would love a how-to workshop in case you've vardlokkur'd some dimensional shortcuts or otherworldly ingress.

ISS: I think it is important to make sure the science is as well researched and plausible as the alternate history I describe.

In the Vikingverse, you can travel foot, on horseback, or travel in a carriage -- the options available to humanity for overland travel have barely evolved in 4,000 years. There is no railway to transport large quantities of people and goods, just as there is no internal combustion engine to fundamentally transform individual mobility. Most long-distance travel is accomplished by staggering from one Knot (an old growth of ancient trees) to another across the Greenways. So what is the science behind it?

The universe, at its smallest, most basic level, exists in all possible states simultaneously. However, when observed or measured, it exhibits only one state. It is possible for small particles to become entangled so that, after a time of mutual influence, when they separate, they remain intimately connected and actions performed on one affect the other, even when separated by immense distances. Yggdrasil represents that connectivity writ large. Both the spirit and shape are entangled and travel in a kind of superposition of all their possible states. The Worlds Tree instantly communicates across its branches, much faster than the speed of light, to link up those states. When an individual touches Yggdrasil via a Knot, he collapses all possibilities into one actuality. The World Tree makes sure it is the actuality he wants, based on the conscious link created with the codes implicit in the keysongs. Together, the Tree and traveler decide on, and simultaneously come to, a destination. Osmosis is the scientific term for the transition; both water and information are pushed between point A and point B. Most Norse called it the Stakra — staggering — because the journey feels exactly like trying to run when five flagons into a feast. 

There is much more revealed in the RPG, once we get into the rules behind the world building!

NP: Aside from Professor Arngrímur Vídalín on Old Norse for Modern Times, have you consulted other historians/academics/archeologists/experts/autodidacts while writing the Vikingverse? NorsePlay's interactions for its Map Of Midgard Project finds the Norse Studies academic/professional community supercool and mostly willing to answer questions.

ISS: You know, I haven’t much, at least not recently. My initial outreach was met with a cheery good luck, but otherwise polite lack of interest. I can’t blame them. Ultimately, scholars and academics are piecing together reality from fragmentary evidence. They are detectives, sifting through centuries old puzzles, looking for fact. My work is entirely the opposite, so when I ask “What do you think about 'X'?”, the answer is often, “What does it matter? You have plenty of leeway in your world of make-believe.”

Related, I have a good friend who is a boat builder. When discussing an alternate path for naval ship building, he noted that form follows function, and that alternate Vikings would probably just have done the same thing as, say, the British Admiralty. My point is, these professionals think in a very correct, but orthodox way. If you want to change things up, you really have to push the proverbial boat out. Pun intended.

NP: In the informational cybervikingsphere, are there feeds you subscribe & listen to regularly? Eirik Storesund's Brute Norse? Farrand & Nordvig's Nordic Mythology Podcast? Sjerven's The Raven's Call? Old school back episodes of Raven Radio?

ISS: I listen on occasion to Mathias Nordvig. He is a friend of Arngrímur Vídalín, who helped me with Old Norse for Modern Times, and I dip into the Brute Norse webpages. But I am much more likely to be listening to stuff about the crypto-winter, Boris Johnson’s resignation, or the war in the Ukraine, than a Norse podcast. The Vikingverse is as much a parody of the modern as it is a homage to the past.

NP: After reading Old Norse For Modern Times, I've spotted quite a bit of adaptation & workaround to retrofit modern idioms & contemporary quotes into ON, as well as some rather clever cheek that isn't an attempt at translation but more of in-jests for the learned. Was that planned, and were these lingually anachronistic problems of translation anticipated?

ISS: I spend a fair bit of time in sources like Cleasby/Vigfusson and their dictionary of Old Icelandic, but ultimately, never let long dead grammar get in the way of a good gag. Writing is sometimes a little like a game of word association. Something just pops into your head. I think that kind of wordplay and banter is very true to the Norse way of doing things, and I adore finding evolving new kennings.

NP: Given the apologetic post-conversion euhemerism for the Norse Gods cautiously put forth by Snorri & Saxo, is the way in which you sci-fi secularly explain how the Gods & Jötnar come to be partially/directly inspired by that?

ISS: Euhemerism supposes that historical accounts become myths as they are exaggerated in the retelling, accumulating elaborations and alterations over the centuries. The early Christians, hostile to paganism, embraced euhemerism in an attempt to undermine the validity of pagan gods. Cohortatio ad gentes, they would cry — ”Those to whom you bow were once men like yourselves.

In the Vikingverse, I make it a literal truth. The gods were once men. They have either been around an exceedingly long time, wandering through history by dint of temporal paradox, or they have simply grafted godlike abilities onto themselves, tampering with their DNA.

Readers who are time travel aficionados (or temporal anomalies themselves) might have heard of the Grandfather Paradox. It is a logical problem that arises if a person travels to a past time. The name stems from a thought experiment: If a person travels to a time before their grandfather had children and kills him, it prevents the time traveler from ever being born, which means they can’t kill their grandfather after all. This then ensures they are born; the murder goes ahead and so on. One scientific dodge for this paradox is that if you go back in time and kill your grandfather, you help create an alternate universe. This is the so-called “Many Worlds” theory of time travel, with each change in causality creating a new chain of existence. It is the basis of Marvel’s multiverse, for example, and the What If? TV show.

There are, however, other possible explanations that solve the logical conundrum. The one that the Vikingverse adheres to is this: 

When described, the Grandfather Paradox seems like a linear series of events, constantly looping. What is really happening is that two entangled histories are occurring simultaneously. This means you are born and able to go back in time to kill your grandfather AND that you were never born; grandfather is still alive. It sounds bizarre, but physics has demonstrated that subatomic particles behave in the same way. They do multiple different things in parallel –- a phenomenon called quantum superposition. 

This superposition of two histories is called a closed time loop. There are just two timelines, rotating around each other like a DNA Helix. They exist in parallel and, crucially, it is possible to cross between them.

NP: In the histories & sagas there's much newfound place naming that would seem to imbue newly settled Icelandic landscapes and just-conquered UK sites with familiar mythological contexts which thereby sacralizes those lands for themselves. In the future Vikingverse, the discoverers of the Niu Heimar otherworlds go ahead and name them after the Nine Worlds they most resemble, which self-fulfills their cosmological perspective in a chicken-or-the-egg sort of way. I fucking love how meta that is.

ISS: Ha! Great, because that’s the point. Generic fantasy will just have heroes head out and adventure in Jotunheim, a land of literal giants. That bugs me no end, because it’s far too simplistic a picture and one I feel sure the Norse didn’t adhere to. Taken literally, the idea is as absurd as the notion of a Flat Earth, and certainly wouldn’t have stood the test of time and the march of science. The Norse were explorers first and foremost. There is a reason things are so named -- whether it's the United States of America or Garðaríki -- and that is always the starting point for all my settings.

NP: Does the Empire's long war with the Maharajas possibly come to terms under a Dumézilian insight that the Vedic Gods & the Norse Gods and their societal structures have common Proto-Indo-European origins? There seems to be some acceptance in the Viking Empire's Slavic holdings that their deities are avatars of the Norse Gods, so wanted to extrapolate that eastwards, maybe. And India does get some Norse Lore placement in both the Saga of Thorsteinn Vikingsson and The Story of Egil One-Hand & Asmund Berserkers-Slayer, so there is that odd legendary intersection there, too.

ISS: So I touched on this above, and you are quite right.

Organised religion is inherently a fabrication, not to mention a constantly evolving one. As the Vikingverse has evolved, I’ve had fun making up the fictitious organized religion at the heart of it. For example, in the emerging world building, Vanic Hindus comprise the second largest religious group in the Níu Heimar, being particularly well established on Vanaheim. Here is an excerpt from the RPG:

The movement is considered the prime example of Absorption -- the accelerated convergence that followed the discovery of Arboreal Sentience. In the aftermath of the Great Æsir-Vanir Schism, the disciples of Gullveig had already adopted many aspects of Hinduism, such as vegetarianism, a critique of animal sacrifices and a strong tradition of monasticism. Conversely, Yggdrasilian theology propelled Hindus toward their ancient Vedic roots, and soon enough some Brahmin were proclaiming the primeval cow Auðumbla to be an avatar of Aditi, the mother of all gods.

NP: In another interview, you extend some interesting linguistic associations within the Norse Lore, like Loki Laufeyarson (leaf-son) being wombed by a Tree Goddess, Bestla as Bark-Wife, and Yggdrasil (Odin's-Steed) being a universal road able to be ridden to all destinations. Are those vegetative aspects just to line it up with Lund's root-shaking dissertation, or have those dots been connected before this?

ISS: Well, as you know, the prevailing wisdom in the Vikingverse is that Yggdrasil is indeed the canopy of all creation, having seeded life throughout the cosmos. Each step was guided, perhaps even planned, by this supreme arboreal sentience and mankind is little more than a tool, wielded as part of an unfathomable design. I don’t think we’ve quite explored the endgame in the novels, but let's just say the plot is well-seeded for the third book.

[cover re-creation photo credit to Bronwen Sharpe, with Ian as Michaels and the Science Viking as Chandler!]

NP: Trumba has an obvious real world analogue. Given your Gosforth Cross photoshoot, are you Churchwarden Michaels? And who is Iðunn Lind? Is there an Ellisif somewhere out there?

ISS: I certainly feel an affinity to Michaels, although in truth he is more Arthur Dent from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy than I am. He represents a kind of hopeful England of village fêtes, cricket, and warm beer. Something desperately nostalgic, but already irrevocably changed. Each of the characters you mention ultimately have to be their own person to be believable, so they are all constructs. I need to be able to talk in their voice, so to speak.

With one exception: In the second book, Barry is broadly based on Terry the Science Viking. He was so helpful and friendly when we met him for the photo recreation, I decided he deserved a part. Which, given where the story ends up, is quite meta as well. O, what tangled webs we weave when messing around with Norns … .

NP: In terms of practical craft, what form did your writing process for the Vikingverse take? What thing was its first seed of inspiration? And did you then grab our world's history to springboard a broad Viking alt-hist outline onto it, or was it more mostly character driven, say from the narrative arcs of Botulfr or Norna Gest?

ISS: The first seed of inspiration was the last thing in the first book: The end of the world. I had a notion of the last star in the sky, anywhere, blinking out of existence. A kind of galaxy-wide Ragnarök.

Putting it down on a page was a different matter. I decided early on on the Toynbee-inspired approach to my do-over of the modern world. As you know, each of the novels comprises a collection of linked sagas, somewhat inspired by Cloud Atlas. They were all stepping stones to tell the story of the Norse Empire Toynbee envisioned. So, I had all these “What If” vignettes planned but no way to link them. Churchwarden Michaels came in quite late, because without his Exegesis chapters, it was clear the whole thing was a mess. He became the thread.

There were hiccups of course. I also didn’t go to Gosforth until after I had submitted the book, which meant I had to re-evaluate my understanding of the geography of the church and the size of a hogback tomb. So there was a lot of tweaking to do.

It was only with the RPG that I set out a full alternative universe timeline. I had the main beats down, but not everything was covered. The comics touched on a bit more, with Norse “conquistadors” and “redcoats”, but it all needed fleshing out. There is an appendix in the back that is hugely detailed and was really quite fun to create.

NP: Was The All Father Paradox originally intended as a standalone novel? There's a couple portions of Loki's Wager that seem as though they might've been excised from a larger version of the first book and then later used and added to for the sequel. Or was the plan for a series all along? Or was the sequel a partially planned/outlined/drafted possibility contingent on the success of the first?

ISS: Interesting you say that. Obviously, I killed off Trumba in the first book and immediately wished I hadn’t (I also pretty much ended the world …). That was quite a corner to write my way out of but I started on that problem while we were editing the first book. The Mongol story was written early as well, but didn’t seem to fit in AFP, so I put it to one side and gave it new life later on. 

I knew I wanted to write more, allowing for the day job and feeding the children. The joys of messing with temporal mechanics and tinkering with timelines is you do get to reversion your own work!

NP: Is there an aspect or feature of the Vikingverse that you're most proud of? Do you have a favourite Norse Lore reference you've used, and a favourite whole-cloth invention?

ISS:  I love the way Odin is in every chapter, in some shape or form. It makes me chuckle to know he is out there, lurking in the shadows. Every time, true to form, he is in a different guise and 27 steps ahead.

NP: When will we get Skurlok Holmr, or more importantly lareow Moriatyr the Rímcræft-Skuld, installments? And are they still only serial characters from Thē Strǫnd, or do they exist as historical figures within the Vikingverse? If so, are there other choice literary characters who also ably cross the Vikingverse's thought-memory membrane?

ISS: Now, you are cooking on gas! My publisher really wants us to publish an anthology of Vikingverse stories, with contributing authors. Perhaps they will make it into that! But first, I need to release an album by Symeon and Glorfinkel.

The trick with the crossovers is to have an easily recognisable name. If the name doesn’t easily Norsify -- then the joke is diminished or lost entirely. Thankfully, very many European names can be traced back and reconstructed if needed.

NP: In NorsePlay-spotting possible influences/homages, does the shuttlecraft ending of The All Father Paradox owe anything to the remake of Battlestar Galactica's series finale? Do aspects of Gest's character owe anything to Poul Anderson's The Boat of a Million Years or his Time Patrolman's The Sorrow of Odin the Goth? Are the genetic enhancements partly inspired by an episode of Batman Beyond?

ISS: I certainly watched Battlestar Galactica, but no, it’s not a conscious reference. I was actually trying to harness the Hoddmímis holt myth and use the “Lifer”. Same is true with Gest. I only discovered Poul Anderson’s version later -- my take on Nornagests þáttr comes very much from the “What If” Christianity never snuffed out the candle. The ingredients might resemble other tales, but the role of the World Ash in religion was always my driving force. Same with genetics -- it was born of notions of transfiguration and transcendence much more than any TV show. I think influences come from everywhere, but mine are most often in obscure texts.

NP: Which splicing would you personally select and why? You only have gold enough for one, so make it count.

ISS: Well, like Sherlock, I want a Mind Fortress or Hugborg. Discipline always counts, in any walk of life. The books touch on the powers of the Volur, but codifying it into an RPG ruleset has been immense fun. 

NP: In The Jötunn War, while Vinlanders Alviss Presterman & Njall Armrstinnr face things most bravely, in comparison to our mirror world's American icons, they kinda get woven a raw deal. And if Alviss never gets home to star as an ascot-sporting racecar driver for Spinout in 1966 CE, then I feel the devastatingly priceless cultural loss is that there may be nothing that inspires the Speed Racer anime in the Vikingverse's 1967 CE. Say it isn't so, and someone else gets cast? Sveinn Drottningsson? Or is the solution that the programme later gets vik'd from our timeline and enjoyed across the Vikingverse's visorfeeds?

ISS: Never fear. “Priestly music” still lives on post war. Trumba doesn’t care for its synthesized sitars or blue snake shoes and won’t dance to it, but it is there. Alas, riding machines such as Benzine Carriages and Steam Locomotives have failed to attract as much attention or success. This is in large part to the discovery of the Greenways – innovators and inventors had plenty of other problems to incentivize them. The discovery that Yggdrasil was sentient, not to mention the debacle of the dökkálfar, ended any fledgling attempts to build an internal combustion engine. Coal has become a sacred relic rather than a combustible commodity, and for a time even gathering firewood was frowned upon. The nascent petroleum industry was quickly abandoned – for some, the mere mention of black gold is blasphemy!

NP: In Canada's Gimli, Manitoba, there's a significant enclave of descendants from Icelandic emigres who recognize Huldufólk living in the attic of a public school, and in Victoria, a W.B. Valgardson who wrote a book of New Iceland-placed folk-legend & "skald tales" reporting similar creatures. Have you visited/connected with either of those, or others up there who are carrying forward the Norse Lore?

ISS: I haven’t -- you’ll have to connect us. I’m constantly surprised by the prevalence and interest in this stuff.

NP: The Sagas & Þættir don't seem to have or need the post-conversion's hard purpose as moral tales, nor be subject to the modern novel's lit crit deconstructionism, they're just good hall fire worthy narratives with personal motives, factional conflicts, familial obligations, and the awesome legendary elements of the fornaldarsögur, all from at least a mostly/partially surviving Heathen Worldview. The Vikingverse puts sooooo much into the water, and its parallel modern period unpacks the post-medieval dynamics of empire, the ultimately limiting mindset of historical nostalgia, the wonders of technological achievement & perils of reliance, electronic media's ability to influence an undiscerning/non-critical populace into post-truth belief/actions, the apparent convergence of metaphysical ideas with science, and the state's use of religion's zealotry versus its strengths of faith & inspiration. In-story we have characters comment on some of that, but is any of it an out-of-story greater/more-than passive critique for the reader? Is there an intended moral to the Vikingverse, a positive Hávamálic wisdom lesson, or a specific takeaway within the fission of those all-too familiar forces at play? (And look my bróðir, NorsePlay just loves good Norse Lore-inspired stories, and you've truly exceeded in accomplishing that, so if there isn't a sophisticated answer to this big-arse question, I'm totally okay with it. In fact, I rather hope there isn't an applicable or pat answer, and that it really is just something that carries forward the original skaldic tradition of good storytelling.)

ISS: That is a very long question! The work as a whole holds up a dark mirror to the present, but I don’t have a solution to any of it. The RPG notably touches on oligarchs and the excesses of the rich, but I’m not judging just exploring. For instance, the control of Iðunn’s Apples and the longevity they confer inevitably leads to stark economic divides within the Empire. Those with great wealth, or access to the corridors of power, can now touch immortality. Over the past few decades, this elite have evolved into a clearly identifiable genotype – the long-lived jöfurr -- who are a unique playable race.

I don’t think there is a moral to the Vikingverse, beyond “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The end of the world is everywhere. Gird your loins.

NP: What can we look forward to seeing in the short-term & long-term pipeline for the Vikingverse? For instance, will the TTRPG have modules/campaigns/supplements? And will I ever be able to get a Polar Star military decoration or Gest's tri-metal Valknut belt buckle as museum quality merch?

ISS: The RPG actually evolved the world far more than I imagined. Just working out how to include alfar and dvergar means constant evolution. I am brimming with ideas for modules, novels and the like -- and I will make sure you get the first ever minted Polar Star for your services to the Vikingverse!

NP: In more imperial larger picture ambitions & altruistic world-advancing solutions, as a direct descendent of Helgi the Sharp, prince of Ringerike, bannerman to Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye Ragnarsson, are you going to one day press your claim to the English throne, future Einvaldskonungr Ión Stívarður Skarpi? And if so, where can I & other prospective thanes sign up? I've seen Buckingham Palace, it's only ~2,000-feet from the Thames, so I feel pretty confident about your lightning raid/hús-bruni chances. As Fridthjof's sworn-brother Bjorn would say, "Let's do this!" What say you?

ISS: One of the great things about family trees, especially online, is how spurious all the claims are. In actuality, somewhere along the line, an editor excised my disclaimer: “NB most of that sentence [about Helgi] isn’t true. Sharp is a nickname from Middle English, meaning 'Keen-Witted', which is helpful when making up genealogy and writing books about Old Norse. My great-grandfather added the 'e' to distinguish us from the riff-raff on Harthacnut’s side of the family.

So, I am sorry to disappoint you. If it is insurrection you want, Dómhild Trumba is your gal! ;)


We'd like to thank Ian Stuart Sharpe not only for his time, but for all his previous brilliance & promising forthcoming Vikingverse offerings!

And in terms of the latter, NorsePlay must squarely point you toward Sharpe's crowdfunding campaign for the aforementioned Vikingverse-based When The Wolf Comes tabletop role playing game that launches tomorrow on July 12th!

And again: Go read the Vikingverse!

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Guillermo Maytorena IV knew there was something special in the Norse Lore when he picked up a copy of the d'Aulaires' Norse Gods and Giants at age seven. Since then he's been fascinated by the truthful potency of Norse Mythology, passionately read & studied, embraced Ásatrú, launched the Map of Midgard project, and spearheaded the neologism/brand NorsePlay. If you have employment/opportunities in investigative mythology,  field research, or product development to offer, do contact him.


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