McMillan’s Codex #7 By C.T. McMillan
Norse mythology is the basis for our modern understanding of fantasy. J.R.R. Tolkien might have written the book on fantasy, but it was the Poetic and Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson where he took inspiration. Few know elves, orks, and dwarves come from the Vikings, a culture vilified for their attacks on Christianity and unknown for their contributions to exploration and seafaring technology. Their legends are the most enduring and best represented in Bethesda Softworks’ Skyrim.
As the fifth installment in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim takes after traditional fantasy and in-series continuity, but barrows more from Norse mythology. From religion to minute details included for reference, everything can be traced back to the centuries old stories that inspired Tolkien. The name Skyrim is derived from Skrymir, the king of the Frost Giants. One of the enemies called Draugr are undead warriors that lived in their graves and guarded treasure. The game even adopts elements from Viking history for some of its story.
Players have a choice of whom they want be by tailoring their character in the traditional roleplaying sense. Skills level up according to how players fight and interact with the world. Using a great sword tempers their ability to perform decapitations, archery allows better shots, and casting spells opens up a chance to use more powerful magic. The open world of Skyrim and the ability to complete quests in a variety of ways allows players to adapt their skills to play how they want.
Though the Elder Scrolls games have an aesthetic of fantasy mixed with Medieval Europe, Skyrim took inspiration from farther north. The most obvious proof is in the region of the same name. Skyrim is mountainous and untamed with rolling plains and snow-covered tundra. The coast is sheeted in layers of ice incasing long forgotten dungeons while southward exists in perpetual autumn. The architecture is derived from traditional Norse structures with an artistic flair. In towns and cities stand long houses and stave churches with intricate designs and effigies carved into wood and stone. The many weapons and armor bear the Norse touch with great axes, swords with small hilts, and rounded shields adorned in complex knots and symbols. The accents of the characters and names are also Scandinavian in origin.
The religion of the Elder Scrolls is a polytheistic faith of the Nine Divines, but Skyrim has its own belief system. Its pantheon is similar to the Divines in the same way as Greek and Roman mythology. Its concept of the afterlife, however, is a Valhalla equivalent called Sovngarde, a great hall where dead champions eat, drink, and fight for eternity. To earn a seat, men and women must not only be good and honorable in life, but a warrior with many battles to their name. This deification of violence and soldiers is consistent with the Viking way of thinking when it came to war. It is true they were marauders who killed children for fun, but when faced in an actual battle, the Norse people were as honorable as samurai.
The story of Skyrim is centered on dragons, a common motif in Norse mythology. The antagonist is a dragon called Alduin, the World Eater, who has returned after a 1000-year banishment to reassert control over the world. In Norse mythology, there are two prominent dragons: Nidhogg, the Corpse Eater, and Jormungandr, the Midgard Serpent. Both are servants of Loki, the catalyst of Ragnarok, an apocalypse scenario where Jormungandr destroys the world and dies at the hands of Thor. The story of Skyrim is very similar as Alduin gathers an army of dragons that the protagonist must defeat.
The political system and history of Skyrim are reflective of the Vikings. Across the game world are a number of cities overseen by a jarl. Under the jarl are thanes, nobles of lower worth. Above the jarls is a king elected at a meeting of the jarls called a moot. One subplot involves a civil war between the High Elf ruled Imperials and the opposing Nords called Stormcloaks. The political schism has caused the jarls to take sides as the factions vie for control. Viking history features many instances of conflict as clans fought one another to supplant control over the whole. The dynamic between the Imperials and Stormcloaks is similar to the Christian encroachment on Scandinavia that brought the Viking Age to the end.
True Norse mythology and the Vikings were under represented in videogames before Skyrim. From the war-worship to the aesthetic, the game pays respect to the long misunderstood peoples that once struck fear into the hearts of the innocent throughout Medieval Europe. Skyrim broke fantasy convention and portrayed its elements in an unfiltered light that speaks true to the source material. It is as much a good game as a celebration of Norse mythology and culture.