Not long ago, I decided – as one sometimes does – to take a look at myself on the internet. That’s when I found it – “The Volsung Story: Sygny, Brynhildr and Guðrún speak to the modern audience” -- my own Master’s Thesis for sale on e-bay at the cost of 183.25 (Australian). Amazon has it priced at about $60 but lists it as “not available.” My first response to this discovery was simple and inelegant: “W! T! F!”
How could this be? I dug out my old Prescott College paperwork and found that Pro-Quest, the company that published my thesis had the right to sell my work. It seemed I would receive a small amount of royalty once the sales reached a certain level. This, it was pretty clear, had not happened. I’ve not seen a single check from Pro-Quest. I can only assume neither the Australian nor the American reading public has discovered “The Volsung Story: Sygny, Brynhildr and Guðrún speak to the modern audience.”
In spite of the disinterest in my thesis, the original material in the The Völsunga Saga, an epic found in several fourteenth century Icelandic manuscripts, casts a long and mythic shadow across general western culture. There is treasure in the saga, a cursed ring, and a dragon. Women are married against their wills, there is greed and betrayal and vengeance, hidden heirs and an iconic sword. Plus, mothers who kill their children.
I addressed the questions of how and why to tell stories like this in my thesis. Now I plan to revisit the question in a way that is more accessible to other storytellers. As I work, I will periodically use this blog as a report on the more interesting nooks and crannies of my exploration.
I’ll begin with the picture that hangs in a South Mountain Community College classroom where storytelling is often taught. Created by artist Joe Ray and some of his associates during the La Lloronathon at the college four years ago, it depicts La Llorona, the wailing woman through different sets of eyes. At least here in the Southwest, La Llorona is one of the better known of the “murdering mothers” stories. In this story Maria, betrayed by the father of her children, drowns her little ones in a river and becomes the ghost who wails along rivers and ditches, searching for her lost little ones. Maria’s story is not alone. The Greek Medea kills not only her children but the princess for whom her husband has left her. And the Volsung Guðrún, seeking vengeance for the deaths of her brothers, kills her sons and feeds them to their father.
How do we tell these stories? And why? That is the question I will try to answer.