A Few Favorite Examples of Norse Mythology and Culture in Media

The Almighty Johnsons

This is a show that takes place in modern-day New Zealand. The main premise is that there are families descended from Scandinavian immigrants, who carry on a tradition of serving as vessels for Norse gods.

The focus is on the Johnson family and their Norse god hijinks, but there are also major Māori characters whose portrayals are about on par with the Johnsons and other “Norse” characters. Every major character is well-developed and charming, even if most of them are jerks. (Except the guy who carries Loki. He’s pretty much just a jerk.) Even minor characters get to experience significant development as the series goes on.

And without giving too much away, there’s an important plot involving the gods-as-humans dynamic with Māori deities, and a main character’s mixed (and hidden) family origins.

There are moments where this show can be insensitive at best. More eye-rolling casual misogyny than I’m usually comfortable with, for one. And there are instances of casual racism in the show coming from the Scandinavian-New Zealander characters regarding Māori characters. But that plot is an important exploration in who has the right to approach–or be, in this case–a Norse god. As it turns out, “purity” isn’t an issue and the gods pick the person after all. It’s a show that will ultimately piss folkists off, and there’s a lot to love about that.

I’m not sure where else to get it outside of New Zealand, but it’s available on Netflix here in the US.

Norsemen (Vikingane)

This one is probably best suited for people who like Vikings, but prefer slightly more historical accuracy, and humor over drama. This is a Norwegian show which takes place in the Viking age, and was simultaneously recorded in spoken Norwegian, and English. The first season of the English-language version is available on Netflix.

A lot of the humor in this show is graphic and rather edgy, with jokes that rely on death, injury or casual treatment of rape. (Which, luckily for this show, fit the setting well enough to fly–the 790s were rough.) But there are also moments with extended jokes that obviously required research, like an almost-lawyerly insistence from a character that he was totally the active partner, and therefore bottoming wasn’t ergi.

I don’t normally go for edgy humor unless it’s equal-opportunity, self-directed or expertly done in the correct context. Norsemen has managed to meet those standards, though I do still have some issues with language that uses disability as insults. No media is perfect.

Peter Madsen’s Valhalla

Given some news articles from the past few months, I feel the need to specify that this is not the Peter Madsen who did that horrible thing involving a submarine.

Valhalla is a 1986 animated film based on Peter Madsen’s comic series of the same name. The movie focuses on the Gylfaginning, specifically the passage which describes Thor gaining Thjalfi and Röskva as servants, and their contests with Útgarða-Loki.

With the exception of Quark–an original character from the series–this is one of my favorite animated movies, and especially one of my favorite movies that involves Norse mythology. It’s definitely geared towards children, but cuteness and humor don’t actually have an age limit. And while it takes a few liberties regarding characterization and plot, it does a really great job of being loyal to the source material.

Also, the soundtrack is great.

It’s hard to get hold of a copy of this film. I have yet to find a DVD available, though you can still buy Madsen’s comics. Your best bet is probably finding a stream online. Not ideal, but short of petitioning for DVDs in multiple region formats, there’s not a whole lot else to be done.

“A Kick in the Asgard,” from The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy

Once upon a time, this show was a double-feature called Grim & Evil. I actually liked the Evil con Carne half better, but I was clearly in the minority seeing as they dropped it.

In this episode, Billy is swapped with a very high-strung Einherji who decapitates topiary, and angrily mumbles in what I can only describe as the “Sesame Street” dialect of Old Norse.

Having taken his place in Asgard, Billy gets a quick tour of Valhalla. Odin introduces him to Thor (who is, I think unfortunately, really obviously based off of Marvel), and Loki, who has bright red hair and shoots rubber bands at people.

Everyone is wildly out of character, except maybe Loki, but the entire thing is absurdist anyway. Asgard doesn’t have a rootbeer fountain.

Would be cool if they did, though.

On DVD, you’d be able to get this episode with anything that has season 3 on it. But the whole thing is on YouTube, too.

Not Quite There, but an Honorable Mention: Overwatch

So…there are no actual figures from Norse mythology, or portrayals of Old Norse culture in Overwatch. But the game has a few references to Norse mythology!

For example, Torbjörn is a person of very short stature with a knack for tinkering, in an obvious reference to the duergar of Norse mythology. And his name even means “Thor-bear!”

I strongly suspect Junkrat is also inspired by Norse mythology–or at least, later interpretations of it. His character design is very similar to the way Arthur Rackham drew Loki in his illustrations for “The Ring of the Nibelung.” These images came after the misconception of Loki being a fire deity took hold and spread, so a character designer looking at fire-related imagery for a pyrotechnic (and pyromaniacal) character would be forgiven for picking up that influence.

And I’m willing to tolerate it, because it’s a pretty niche artistic shout-out, and Junkrat has some very endearing trickster traits.