The Poem of Völundur
In this series, I illuminate the individual poems of the Edda—that most famous, epic masterpiece of Icelandic literary tradition—with humour, vulgarity, and modern realness. If you reading this and thinking, “What the fuck is the Edda?” you should start by reading my first recap of the Edda, chock-full of helpful context and shameless attitude. Or you can just shut up and read on.
This poem is a prime example of a massive problem that still plagues society today: men. If there is anything we’ve learned from the Me Too movement, it’s that we (men) may be doing a much better job of talking the woke talk but most of us are not really walking the woke walk. Völundur was basically the ancient Scandinavian version of that guy you know who retweets celebrity women’s clever clapbacks but then sues a woman when she goes public with the fact that he date-raped her. Yeah, it goes there, so consider yourself warned.
My, what big teeth you have
So there are these three brothers who live way up in a Finnish valley, the name of which translates as “Wolfdale.” One morning they go out to their lake to find three babes in swan-dresses. Unlike Björks iconic 2001 look, these actually allow them to transform into swans. Or, knowing Björk, maybe just like hers.
In any case, this means they are valkyries, the kind of magical women from Old Norse mythology who choose which warriors get into Valhalla. So naturally, the wolves in gentlemen’s clothing marry these very fashion-forward swans. Seven winters pass and suddenly the valkyries are like, “Listen up, losers. It’s been real but we’ve got important supernatural shit to do. Byeeeee!” And off they fly.
The two older brothers go off to look for their birdly baes, but the youngest, Völundur, keeps his cool. Since he’s a blacksmith, he decides to sit and make some dope-ass jewellery for his wife, Hervör, while he awaits her return. Sounds like a good dude, right? Like super understanding of women’s autonomy? Thank again.
All the better to eat you with
Some random king hears that Völundur is alone in his castle, so he sends some dudes to kidnap him. They slash his hamstrings so he cannot walk and trap him on an island where he becomes a blacksmith slave to the king. But Völundur is ready for revenge.
He lures the king’s sons to him with the promise of gold and decapitates them. He then covers their skulls in silver and makes earrings from their eyeballs, which he sends to the king’s wife. He makes brooches from their teeth and sends them to the king’s daughter, Böðvildur. Then he lures her to the island, gets her drunk, and rapes her. Then he randomly turns himself into a swan and flies off to tell the king what he has done.
The poem ends with Böðvildur lamenting to her father, “I didn’t know how to struggle against him. I couldn’t struggle at all.” There is no joke here, just the sad reality that things haven’t changed for women since the literal fucking middle ages.
Morals of the story:
1. Rape jokes aren’t funny. 2. Let’s get our shit together, dudes. Seriously.
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