Many Christian fantasy worlds have, as their right religion, a simple monotheism. Characters will speak of, and pray to, the One God – the Maker, He is sometimes called, or the Creator. But holy books are elusive, the places and practices of worship are vague, and redemption is a belief rather than the finished work of God. Theologians would subsist on thin gruel in these worlds.
So I was struck, reading the Legends of Karac Tor, by the complexity of its religion. D. Barkley Briggs wrote in monks, abbeys, and bishops, written revelation and sacred stories; he created a Jesus-figure, a Satan-figure, and another Adam. (Adam ate forbidden fruit; Yhu, the First Man of Karac Tor, drank forbidden water.)
The mythology of Karac Tor is shaped foremost by Christianity. After that, there are three influences. The first is the Catholic Church. Somehow more telling than the bishops and monks are the little things Briggs borrowed – blessed water, and the sign of the circle, an alteration of the sign of the Cross for a world without the Cross.
Another, more vital influence is C. S. Lewis. Aion, son of Olfadr the Everking, closely follows the pattern of Aslan, son of the Emperor-over-the-Sea. Though no more divine than Olfadr, Aion is much more the focus of both the books and the characters. They surely believe in the mercy and way of Olfadr, but they generally talk of the mercy and way of Aion. Aion even dies and comes to life again. And I think I hear an echo of “Lion’s Mane!” in Sorge’s exclamation, “Beard of Aion!”
The third, most surprising influence is that of Norse mythology. In The Book of Names, readers encounter Kr’Nunos, “the deceiver of old. He was there at the Pillar of Reckoning; there, convincing Yhu Hoder, full of bitterness and shame, to pull the string and release the arrow. He watched as Hoder’s poisoned dart struck true, killing the great Aion.”
For many centuries the Scandinavians told a similar story, the story of Balder the beautiful. Balder, the son of Odin the All-Father, was the fairest of the gods and the most worthy of praise. When ominous dreams made the gods fear that some danger threatened Balder, Frigg extracted a vow from all things on earth that they would not hurt him.
All things except the mistletoe.
One day Loki – the mischief-maker, bent toward evil – disguised himself in the form of a woman and went to talk with Frigg. So he learned that the mistletoe, alone of all things, could harm Balder. He pulled up the mistletoe and persuaded the blind god Hoder to throw it at Balder. The dart pierced and killed Balder the beautiful.
It’s easy to conclude that Briggs based the story of Aion’s death off the story of Balder, particularly after he named Aion’s killer Hoder.
There are other parallels to the Norse gods. Odin had two ravens who were his special servants; so did Olfadr. Loki and Kr’Nunos share one significant trait, aside from their roles in divine murders and general evilness: Both are shape-shifters, taking the form of other creatures (including animals) in order to work their malice.
The Nine Worlds is another idea taken from Norse cosmology. Hel – the domain of Kr’Nunos in the Legends of Karac Tor – is the realm of the dead in the legends of the Norse. Isgurd, where Aion dwells and his followers go after death, may be an alteration of Asgard, the fabled home of the gods and of righteous men after they die.
If other Christian authors have a simple monotheism that is strictly orthodox as far as it goes, Briggs writes a complex monotheism made of Christianity, pagan myths, and one of C. S. Lewis’ best ideas. It’s interesting to read, and fun to untangle. But I haven’t given up on the simple, orthodox way.