The Almighty Johnsons

So a friend of mine on Twitter recommended to me a series from New Zealand called The Almighty Johnsons. Now this friend of mine knows very well my issues with Marvel-Thor, so I guess he wanted me to see a different version of Norse mythology in popular culture. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind that Marvel has created a character called Thor. Well, that is not true. I do mind and it is well documented, but that is up to them to create Hercules with a hammer and call him Thor. Okay, back to The Almighty Johnsons. Now this summary might contain some spoilers for the first episode.

I started watching it today and I must honestly say I liked it. It seemed like an honest attempt to see the Norse myths in a new light. I do have my issues with it and I thought I would give a well-balanced opinion about the two first episodes.

First I’m going to take a look at the premise. The Norse gods are inhabiting mortals bodies when the mortal turns 21 years old. During the late 1800s the Norse gods escaped from Norway to New Zealand and they settled there. The gods cannot return to Asgard until the mortal incarnation of Odin is reunited with his love, Frigg. The mortal incarnations of the gods have the powers of the specific god, so Ullr can track and he never misses his prey. He also never loses a game. Now I actually really liked the premise, even though they seem to inhabit some traditions from Hinduism and the Judeo-Christian tradition. It has never before been written down in Norse sources about gods inhabiting their worshippers, mostly just about the tradition of “Seid”, where knowledge from the gods were given to their followers. That most likely involved hallucinogens of some sort or shamanistic trance states brought on through meditation. However I do not mind the premise so much as it is a bit artistic license. They have at least captured the essence of the Norse tradition of parties and whoring. Not that everybody did this, but let’s face it, the ancients probably were a little more promiscuous than us.

The main characters of the show are all gods from Norse mythology. Ullr is the god of the hunt and games, which is close to the Norse god Ullr, the son of Siv and Aurvandill, a great hunter. Ullr, or Ull in modern Norwegian, was a great hunter and was born before Thor married Siv. He was taken in by the Æsir and Thor took him as his foster son. In the show he has the powers of expert marksmanship, tracking and he never loses a game. The part of him never losing a game is something I believe to be added by the writers, but I do not really mind it as it gives him a bigger role to play. His mortal shell is called Mike.

Hodr, or Hod in modern Norwegian, is the blind god. Not much is known about his part in the Norse pantheon, apart from his involvement in the death of Balder. He was born blind and is the son Odin and Frigg and he seemed to have inherited the wisdom of both his parents. He is however in the show a lonely god and he has the power of freezing things around him. He might be the god that has taken the furthest leap away from the original purpose of the god. His powers might make sense further down the line of the show. The mortal shell is called Ty, which is kind of funny since that is the name of Odin’s general and the god of War.

Bragi, or Brage, is the god of poets and the kitchenmaster of Valhalla. He had the ability to craft any poem, which is a gift he shared with his father, Odin. Not much is known about his mother. He was also married to the fair Idunn, who was responsible for the gods’ immortality in form of the apples of Valhalla. In the show he has the powers of persuasion, something that the shows creators seem to have taken from Loki, or Loke, and given to him. I do not really mind this as it gives him a more profound aspect and a bigger role. It also gives him some moral ambivalence as he uses those powers to get his way with women. His mortal shell is called Anders.

Baldr, or Balder, was the god of beauty and wisdom. He was the fairest of all the gods and the most loved. This caused a lot of jealousy from the god of mischief, Loki, who crafted an arrow from mistletoe and convinced Hodr to shot it at Balder. He is believed to return to Asgard when Ragnarok and the last battle is over. Then he and Hod will rule over mankind and peace will reign. In the show he is the grandfather of them all and has the power of divination, something that is Frøya’s, Frigg’s and Hod’s domain in the Norse mythology. His mortal shell is called Olaf and is probably the closest you can come to a modern Norseman. He likes to use psychedelics to enhance his state of mind.

Last, but absolutely not least, is Odin, the chief of all the gods, the god of death, wisdom, poetry, runes and war, the big kahuna. It was he who created mankind out of clay with his brothers, Vilje and Ve. He sits at his throne in Valhalla, waiting for his army to grow to a size where he can fight the last battle against the Ettins and the deadites of Hel, the goddess of death. In the show he has no powers and he must find his love for him to be able to regain his power over men. His mortal shell is called Axl.

As for the writing in the show, it could be a little bit better, but I love the fact that they use actual Norse and not Norwegian, Swedish or any other Scandinavian languages. It shows some depth of research. I can recommend the show because it takes a different turn in a sometime highly repetitive cultural phenomenon, the badly research of Marvel comes to mind, but it might not suit everybody. If you like different takes on Norse mythology I highly recommend it and I will continue to watch it.

JH

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