When one tries to imagine what kind of problems a dragon might have, the mind goes to a distinctly medieval place—perhaps the inability to get one’s hoard of jewels shiny enough, knights trying to slay you, or princesses resisting being eaten. But gnawing on your tail until the world ends? Having to occupy your time by passing messages with a snarky eagle through a troublemaking squirrel? Your brother trying to talk a hero into having a stab at your underbelly? These are not your typical dragon problems.
That is because Norse dragons are not your typical dragons. In this blog series, I’ll discuss three particularly prominent Norse dragons—Nidhogg, Fafnir, and Jörmungand—one of which inspired a beastie in my short story, “Jenny Redcape.” We’ll start at the bottom with Nidhogg.
Now, when I say the bottom, I don’t mean that in a hierarchical sense. Rather, I’m referring to the literal bottom of everything. In Norse mythology, there are nine worlds that are connected by the great ash tree, Yggdrasil. That includes our own, which is called Midgard; the realm of the light elves, Alfheim; and the land of the frost giants, Jotunheim, just to name a few. Beneath the world tree lies Niflheim, or “World of Fog,” a cold underworld which is home to the dead. In the dark mists of Niflheim, one finds Hvergelmir, a well from which all the rivers in the world flow. And in the waters of that well lurks the dragon, Nidhogg.
Not unexpectedly for a dragon living in a well in a dark underworld beneath a magical tree, Nidhogg passes the time in unusual ways. His primary hobbies include biting at the world tree’s roots, which is not particularly good for the tree, and sending messages to the eagle who lives at the top of Yggdrasil through a squirrel. To no one’s particular surprise, the squirrel, Ratatosk, is an unreliable messenger, and enjoys mangling the messages and ticking off both parties. What Nidhogg probably wouldn’t give to have unlimited text messages, instead…
In at least one poem, Nidhogg is said to spend time on Náströnd, the Shore of Corpses, sucking the blood from the bodies of sinners. He’s also known as a corpse eater, although whether this refers to his activities on the Shore of Corpses or he has a separate corpse buffet elsewhere, I could not quite pinpoint. Gross as his eating habits sound, given that his name means “Curse-striker” or “He Who Strikes with Malice,” one would hardly expect this dragon to be pleasant. Indeed, when the end of the world comes and monsters and giants do battle against the gods and the brave dead, it is said that Nidhogg will fly up out of the underworld with corpses in his claws, looking to join the fray. And he won’t be fighting on the side of the gods.
That’s it for Nidhogg. Tune in next week to learn about the dwarf-turned-dragon, Fafnir. And in the meantime, if you’re curious to see how Norse mythology figured into “Jenny Redcape,” my short story about an immortal huntress seeking vengeance for the slain, click the link to pick up your copy from Amazon today!
Gaiman, Neil. Norse Mythology. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2017. Print.
“Hel.” Encyclopedia Britannica. N.p., 2017. Web. 27 July 2017.
McCoy, Daniel. “Nidhogg.” Norse Mythology for Smart People. N.p. 2012. Web. 27 July 2017.
McCoy, Daniel. “Nilfheim.” Norse Mythology for Smart People. N.p. 2012. Web. 27 July 2017.
“Niflheim.” Encyclopedia Britannica. N.p., 2017. Web. 27 July 2017.
“The Role Of Serpents And Dragons In Norse Mythology.” The Atlantic Religion. N.p., 2014. Web. 27 July 2017.