For Magnus Chase: Hotel Valhalla Guide to the Norse Worlds: Your Introduction to Deities, Mythical Beings, & Fantastic CreaturesRick Riordan
A special thank you to Stephanie True Peters for her help with this book
Text copyright © 2016 by Rick Riordan
Illustrations copyright © 2016 by Yori Elita Narpati
Cover design by Rachna Chari
Cover photographs © Ryszard Filipowicz and K. Narich-Liberra/Shutterstock
All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.
A Word from the Manager
What in the Worlds?
The Gods and Goddesses
Frigg plus Balder, Hod, Idun, and Honir
Nidhogg, Eagle, and Ratatosk
Heidrun, Eikthrymir, and Saehrimnir
Otis and Marvin
A Final Word from the Manager
Also by Rick Riordan
Preview of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor
About the Author
For all einherjar
May you prove worthy of Valhalla
Dear Valued Guest,
On behalf of the staff, welcome to Hotel Valhalla. We recognize that there were other options for your afterlife. We thank you for the selfless sacrifice that landed you here among Odin’s chosen warriors instead of elsewhere.
You will encounter many powerful deities, magical beings, and fantastic creatures as an einherji. You may have questions about them. You may decide to ask me those questions. In fact, if more than a millennium of experience is any indication, you will ask me. Of course, as manager of this fine establishment, I’ll be happy to answer them. But I’ll be even happier if you consult this guide before you ring the front desk. I do have a hotel to run, after all.
With insightful interviews and scintillating stories, insider information and random remarks, this book allows you to explore the lives of our worlds’ inhabitants from the comfort of your room. As you read, you may wish to ponder the possibility of your own heroic tale finding a page in future editions of this book.* Will your deeds earn you a coveted seat at the thanes’ table, or will they be less than satisfactory, securing your role as servant to those who answer Odin’s call? If the former, I will be the first to welcome you, for I myself am a thane. If the latter, please confer with Hunding the bellhop about your duties.
For now, though, sit back, relax, and enjoy your ongoing death, your daily resurrection, and your everlasting stay here.
MANAGER OF HOTEL VALHALLA SINCE 749 C.E.
To be honest, I’m not great with words, so I wasn’t keen on writing anything for this book. But Helgi told me to, and I have to do what Helgi tells me, because—well, that’s a story for another time. Maybe someday I’ll write it down. But probably not.
I’m supposed to tell you where we live. We live in a tree. It’s a really, really big tree called Yggdrasil. It has a name because it’s important, and all important things have names. I don’t know who named it. Come to think of it, I don’t know who named anything. Is there a god for that?
Yggdrasil is also known as the World Tree. Not only is that easier to pronounce, it’s a spot-on description, because the branches hold nine—count ’em, nine—worlds: Asgard, Vanaheim, Midgard, Alfheim, Jotunheim, Nidavellir, Muspellheim, Niflheim, and Helheim. When I first joined the hotel staff, I had trouble remembering their names. So I came up with this handy mnemonic device: A Very Mean Ant Just Nibbled My Nose Hair. A stands for Asgard, V for Vanaheim, and so on. Get it? You can use my special sentence if you want. Just leave me chocolate in return.
Now, a little bit about each world:
ASGARD: This is the realm of the Aesir, warrior gods and goddesses. These deities—Odin, Thor, and Frigg, among others—reside in palaces made of silver, gold, and other precious materials. Hotel Valhalla, the beloved afterlife residence of the einherjar, the soldiers in Odin’s eternal army, is within this world.
VANAHEIM: Home of the Vanir, the nature gods and goddesses, this world is warm and sunny, filled with lush green meadowland. Folkvanger, the flower-child afterlife equivalent of Valhalla, is within this realm. The Vanir goddess Freya rules over Folkvanger from her palace Sessrumnir, or Hall of Many Seats, which is an upside-down ship crafted of gold and silver.
MIDGARD: If you are human, this is where you once lived. Midgard rests in Yggdrasil’s branches and is connected to Asgard via the Bifrost, a massive bridge constructed from a single rainbow. The city of Boston, Massachusetts, is very close to Yggdrasil’s trunk, making it a useful point of entry to and exit from the other worlds.
ALFHEIM: The home of the light elves, Alfheim resembles Midgard in many ways except that elves, not humans, live here, and there is no night. The Vanir god Frey rules over it. Alfheim is kind of an upscale neighborhood, so be on your best behavior if you visit. Otherwise you might get arrested for loitering, or trespassing, or just…you know, not being an elf.
JOTUNHEIM: The world of the giants, or jotun, is primarily mountainous, with great drifts of snow, half-frozen rivers and lakes, and, well, giants. Giants are large and not particularly careful about where they step. Be cautious traveling in Jotunheim. I’ve had more than one friend flattened under a giant’s boot.
NIDAVELLIR: The underground realm of the dwarves, this world is chilly and dark because the only natural light comes from a special glowing moss. The buildings are equally gloomy, though the furnishings within are one-of-a-kind creations, for dwarves are master craftsmen. If you want to pick up a souvenir, like a magic hammer or a foldable boat, be prepared to pay handsomely. Dwarves take gold, all major credit cards, and your head (if you lose a wager with them). One section of Nidavellir is called Svartalfheim, the land of the “dark elves,” but this isn’t really a separate world, and the svartalfs aren’t actually elves. They are dwarves who have some Vanir blood since they descended from Freya. (Long story. Freya doesn’t like to talk about it.)
MUSPELLHEIM: This is the land where fire giants and demons dwell. Imagine the surface of the sun, populated with angry, heavily armed burning people. Surt, the lord of the fire giants, rules this world and doesn’t appreciate visitors. Best to steer clear.
NIFLHEIM: An inhospitable, frigid region of mist, ice, and fog, it is where the frost giants often reside. Grea
t place to make an ice sculpture or store meat if you run out of room in your freezer. However, since high summer temperatures hover at around –30 degrees Fahrenheit, I’d wear your warmies.
HELHEIM: The dead who don’t go to Valhalla or Folkvanger end up here. It’s a cold, dark, lifeless place, full of miserable souls who died of old age or sickness. To get there, you have to ride down an icy road into the pitch-black Valley of Death, cross the River Gjoll on an iron bridge guarded by a giantess, somehow get across the Wall of Corpses, and finally arrive at the Hall of Hel, the goddess of the dishonorable dead, where you’ll be served famine, hunger, and misery for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Suffice to say, Helheim rarely makes it on the list of top vacation spots for the Nine Worlds.
A few other points of interest: At the roots of Yggdrasil is a magical well of knowledge, overseen by the ancient god Mimir (or at least Mimir’s head, because that’s all that’s left of him). Drink from the well, and you can learn important stuff. You have to pay Mimir for the drink, though, and the price isn’t cheap. Just ask Odin. (But I’d wait until he’s in a good mood before asking.)
Travel among the worlds is allowed, though some restrictions may apply. There’s one place you shouldn’t visit, however, and that’s the massive abyss of nothingness called Ginnungagap. True story: Long ago, before anything was anything, frost from Niflheim spread into Ginnungagap and met with fire coming from Muspellheim. No big surprise, the frost melted. Some drops turned into a humungous giant named Ymir. A few generations later, Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve killed Ymir and turned his body parts into Midgard’s oceans, sky, earth, and plants. Ever since then, the giants have hated the gods. Moral of the story: Avoid Ginnungagap. You just never know what might happen there.
Me again. Did you think my contribution began and ended with the explanation of the Nine Worlds? Apparently, we were both wrong.
So, the gods and goddesses. These divine beings permeate all aspects of our cosmos. They belong to one of two tribes, the Aesir or the Vanir. The Aesir are warriors. They dwell in Asgard and handle most aspects of law and order—defending it in battle, maintaining it through their swift and often deadly system of justice, and, on occasion, disrupting it by means of pranks, tricks, and crimes. They cherish loyalty, honor, and a “fight for what’s right” sensibility above all else. (Except when they are engaged in pranks, tricks, and crimes.) A good time to be around the Aesir is on the battlefield. They will always have your back. A bad time to be around the Aesir is when they’re drinking mead together. Then the insults start flying, and wow—some of those Aesir insults can make your ears bleed.
The more peaceful Vanir oversee the nature side of things, such as fertility, the seasons, crop growth, and the like, from their home world of Vanaheim. They appreciate groovy, laid-back calm and finely crafted macramé handbags.
The Vanir are not complete pacifists, however. Take the Aesir-Vanir war. According to historic accounts, it was triggered by a sorceress from Vanaheim, who some say was Freya herself. The witch traveled the worlds performing elf magic, or alf seidr. She put on a show in Asgard for Odin and the other gods. The Aesir were impressed with her powers until they realized she was using them for one purpose: to obtain their gold. (No offense, Freya, but your lust for gold is probably how the rumors about you being the sorceress got started.)
Her greed offended the Aesir. So they did the only logical thing: they burned her. Three times, actually. Each time, she popped out of the flames uncharred. Finally, though, she’d had enough. She returned to Vanaheim, posted a one-star rating for her stay in Asgard, and boom—war erupted.
No one knows how long the two tribes fought. But eventually both sides got sick and tired of it. They called a truce. To seal the deal, they did a deity hostage exchange—Freya, Frey, and their dad, Njord of Vanaheim, for Asgard’s Mimir and Honir. I’d like to say that it all worked out fine, but I suspect Mimir would disagree since he got his head cut off for being sassy with the Vanir. And how Freya wound up back in Vanaheim in charge of Folkvanger is anyone’s guess.
But that’s the divine for you; they operate by their own set of rules. Speaking of which, read on to learn more about the Norse deities.
HOME WORLD: Asgard
APPEARANCE: A weathered warrior. Muscular and barrel-chested. Close-cropped gray hair and tidy, square-cut beard. Eye patch over left eye; right eye is deep blue. Exudes power and wisdom.
FAMILY: Married to the goddess Frigg and father of many sons, including the god Balder
BEST KNOWN FOR: Being the All-Father, king of the gods, the god of war and death, and of poetry and wisdom. Oversees Valhalla, where he receives half of those who die bravely in battle, the einherjar. Can shape-shift. Continually seeking new knowledge, and often consults the disembodied head of the wise being Mimir for advice. Author of many books, including his latest, Seven Heroic Qualities.
FAVORITE WEAPON: Odin is frequently seen with his spear, Gungnir. (Told you everything important here has a name.)
ANIMAL COMPANIONS: Odin is often accompanied by the wolves Geri and Freki and the ravens Huginn and Muninn, who bring him information from all over Midgard. He rides the flying eight-legged steed Sleipnir across the sky and into the underworld.
As an author, historian, and sometime poet in life, and a thane in good standing in death, I’ve had the privilege of conversing with our deities many times over the last centuries. These chats became the basis of my book, The Prose Edda (available for purchase online and in better bookstores), which contains highly readable explanations of our most famous “myths” and insights about our celebrated heroes. When Helgi told me he was putting a guide to our worlds in every room of the hotel, I assumed he meant my Edda. But apparently he was looking for something with a more modern flair. He asked if I could recommend someone to interview our top-level gods and goddesses. No doubt he thought the task was beneath me, but I welcomed the opportunity for some one-on-one time with the deities. Naturally, my first conversation was with Odin, the All-Father himself. We met not at the High Seat Hlidskjalf as I’d suggested, but in an out-of-the-way, unassuming Midgard café.
[Editor’s Note: Snorri Sturluson has had issues with accuracy in the past. To ensure this is not an issue with this and other interviews recorded in this book, a raven scribe accompanied him to his meetings. The transcripts therefore include impartial observations as well as the conversations themselves.]
SNORRI STURLUSON: Thank you, my lord, for agreeing to talk with me. I’m certain readers will be extremely interested in whatever you say.
SS: May I ask my first question?
O: You just did.
SS [laughing delightedly]: Oh, you got me that time! Wise and witty, all in one package! But now to the question. Odin, tell us, in your own words…what was it like when you lost your eye?
O [cheerfully]: I didn’t lose it, Snorri. I gouged it out with my own fingers.
SS [looking green]: In…deed. And, erm, what was that like?
O: Not fun. But I got something worthwhile in exchange for it.
SS: And that was?
O: This cool eye patch.
SS: Ah. Nothing else?
O: Oh, I got a sip of water from the well of knowledge at Yggdrasil’s roots, too. Mimir, the severed head, gave it to me himself.
SS [grandly]: And that was the first heroic step on your everlasting quest for wisdom!
O: Sure. [Scratches his beard thoughtfully.] Makes you wonder, though, doesn’t it?
SS [leaning forward]: Wonder what, Lord Odin?
O: What Mimir did with my eye. [Shrugs.]
SS: A mystery that may never be solved. Speaking of mysteries, you once hanged yourself to gain wisdom. We’re all dying to know—
O: “Dying to know”! Good one, Snorri!
SS: What? Oh. Yes, I see. So, can you tell us the story behind your hanging yourself for nine days to unlock the secret of runes?
O: Of course.
[Pause.] I hanged myself for nine days to unlock the secret of runes.
SS: Yes, but why did you hang yourself?
O: To unlock the secret of runes.
SS: Er, yes. Fascinating.
O: But all that is ancient history, Snorri, as is the tale about how I stole and drank a vat of mead made from god spittle to become a poet.
SS [looking green]: God spittle.
O: Well, technically, the mead was made with honey and…well, let’s call it a secret ingredient.* [Winks.]
SS: Sounds delicious.
O: It was nauseating. I spat some out while soaring above Midgard. Drops of it are still down there. A few humans accidentally swallow it now and again. Those who do become world-renowned poets and scholars. [Cups hands and shouts toward Midgard.] Shakespeare, Longfellow, Silverstein—you’re welcome!
SS: World-renowned poets and scholars, eh? [Chuckles in a self-deprecating manner.] You must think I had a taste of it myself!
O: That possibility has never once crossed my mind.
SS: Ah. Well. Ancient history, as you say. Perhaps you’d like to tell us about your latest quests for wisdom and knowledge instead?
O: I’d like to tell you many things, Snorri. But to answer your question: I’ve started a spoken-word poetry group with some of my einherjar. Performances every Thor’s Day night in the Feast Hall of the Slain, with light Saehrimnir refreshments to follow. The Norns are scheduled to make a guest appearance soon, which should prove interesting. Also, I’m taking Zumba classes to understand why in My Name they’re so popular. Finally, I’m researching the magical symbol known in Midgard as [taps first two fingers of right hand against the first two fingers of left hand] hashtag. From what I’ve gleaned, when combined with other words, hashtag has the power to distract the mind from more important matters. If I’m right, I’ll make hashtag the subject of my next book. The working title is…wait for it…Hashtag.
SS: An inspired choice, Lord Odin.
O: Yes, I know.