It’s all very well to say “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade;” very few of us are Beyonce enough to actually squeeze the juice out of our misfortune.
When misfortune struck Ian Sharpe in his professional life, compounding a feeling of doom wrought by the political climate in the United States and in Great Britain, by plastic in the oceans, and by the vanishing of birds, Sharpe, like Cher, he began to wonder what the world would be like if he could turn back time. And like Beyonce, he made lemonade. Or mead.
Inspired by Aldous Huxley, who described art as “a protest against the horrible inclemency of life,” Sharpe decided to write a book to explore the possibilities of messing with history (for more on Viking history try these podcasts) and dealing with the consequences. Or switching into the Viking mindset in which we’re all destined for Götterdämmerung or Ragnarok, so literally, to hell with the consequences.
The resulting book is called ‘The All Father Paradox,’ and Sharpe has plans for building it into a whole multiverse of story, across genres like comics, boardgames, and maybe one day television and film.
And if all this sounds a bit out there, well, it is, but you’re more familiar with other-world stories and alternate histories than you think. These TV Shows prove it.
Here are the lessons of the Vikingverse, according to its creator.
- Don’t Merely Pillage
Most Viking-related books dwell on the past, but ‘The All Father Paradox’ conjures a Norse present. The Norse civilization offers so much more than the usual tropes of barbarians, raping and pillaging. Here was a rich society, with a wealth of culture – from the King’s sagas and codes of law through ornate jewelry to exquisitely built long ships. The real essence of the novel became the exploration of a world where the Norse were never Christianized, and what we now call paganism was allowed to develop and steer the destiny of mankind.
The Vikingverse is the alternate universe that results, a world stripped of its Latin language, notions of divine right and Mother Church. A world where we have replaced the underlying mythology of Christianity with the Old Ways, where angels fear to tread lest they get impaled by a Valkyrie. As we note on the book jacket, in this new Vikingverse, “the storied heroes of mankind emerge in new and brutal guises drawn from the sagas.” There are so many stories to tell, so many reflections to be seen in this cracked mirror.
Some of those stories will be novels, but we’ll also explore the Vikingverse with comics, boardgames and maybe one day, television and film.
- Reject Shame
There is a great line in the 2007 movie version of Beowulf: “The time of heroes is dead: the Christ god has killed it, leaving nothing but weeping martyrs and fear and shame.”
This line speaks of loss and longing. The time of heroes has passed, and we will never see their like again; by comparison, our lives are filled with fear and shame.
- No Fear
Imagine for a moment that you are Beowulf. You live in a world that you believe is coming to a fiery end: Ragnarok. Ragnarok is the end of everything: the very gods themselves will perish. Nothing will be spared – not hope, not dreams, not your culture, nor your children. Would you be paralyzed into indecision and fear?
Yet for the Vikings, the idea of Ragnarok wasn’t suffocating. It was a call to action. Just as the gods will one day die, so too will each of us. The skalds told us that the gods will ride out and face their doom with courage and bravery, and so should mortal man. The inevitability of our demise was our spur to great and noble deeds. The time of heroes. Who wouldn’t want to live is such an age?!
It was only when Christian influences invaded this age-old worldview, in the 10th and 11th centuries, that rebirth and renewal became part of the equation. Ragnarok ceased to be anything more than a changing of the guard, a symbolic switch to a more palatable and rewarding theology. “You will get your reward in heaven” was the original Project Fear.
The All Father Paradox explores the fascinating dichotomy between these outlooks, and the fact they co-existed for a time. With rising sea-levels, climate change, and catastrophic events occurring, pointing, it seems, toward Ragnarok, the only sensible outlook is to act like a Norseman. Face the inevitable with courage and bravery and make a difference – that’s what a good day would have looked like in the 7th century, and that is why the Norse are worth writing (and reading) about.
- Play Dice
‘The All Father Paradox’ is a work of speculative fiction, or more specifically, an alternate history. ‘The Years of Rice and Salt’ is a compelling example of the alternate history genre, based on a world where the Black Death killed 99% of Europe’s population instead of a third. The author K.S. Robinson’s take on alternate history is that because it “is set in the same lawful universe as ours, its science must be the same [and] because its people have the same basic human needs, their societies resemble ours.” The Vikingverse comes from a different mindset. It shows off the alternate nature of the history by featuring real-world counterparts – icons of the ages – beyond the point of divergence. For instance, Albert Einstein puts in a few appearances as Aðalbriktr Einnsteinen, which is the Old Norse version of his name. But his science is different, his world view is different, the driving mythology is different. After all, this is not a universe of fear and shame; this is the time of heroes renewed.
And one where the Gods really do play dice.
(For more on the books that inspired The All Father Paradox, check out this list on Likewise).
- Vikings Are Known by the Company They Keep
At the north side of Gosforth village on Wasdale Road, Cumbria, stands the ancient parish church of St. Mary and in the churchyard, the equally ancient and famous Gosforth Cross. This magnificent cross has stood on the same spot for over a thousand years. The monument is a very tall, slender cross made from red sandstone, richly decorated with exquisite carvings of Norse gods, Christian symbols and mythical beasts. This cross is at the heart of the All Father Paradox and takes pride of place on the cover, because it was the physical manifestation of Ragnarok, a marker for the end of the Norse ways.
The cover artist for ‘The All Father Paradox,’ centered his design on the cross and the conflict between the two protagonists as the best way to grab people’s attention. The cover brilliantly depicts coastal gusts of wind, otherworldly hues, and the sense of an oncoming storm.
The cover inspired a re-enactment of the scene, featuring a local Viking re-enactor, the splendidly-named Science Viking, posing with the Gosforth Cross. The re-enactors couldn’t conjure Yggdrasil or call forth Huginn and Munin, but it was a fun photoshoot all the same!
For more Norse reads, check out Ian’s recommendations.
Or go a-viking yourself to these Viking destinations. But go in peace.
The simplest quest might be to follow Ian Sharpe on Likewise. See you on the app!