Medieval literature crops up in the oddest places, sometimes blended strangely with newer fictions. The 2007 movie Pathfinder, by way of example, combines elements of Grœnlendinga saga and Eiríks saga rauða with the traditional Hollywood trope of a white hero leading the natives oppressed by his own people to victory. The combination of these fictions resulted -in that case- a terrible movie made palatable only by the sheer ridiculosity of the viking helmets the antagonists wear into battle.1
The illustrated prose novel Cðulhuviða (Larry Holderfield, 2007) is also a genre-blending work, with the difference that it is quite good. Originally released in weekly episodes as the only linoblock webcomic on the ‘net, Cðulhuviða combines Norse and Lovecraftian myth in a retelling of Thor’s battle against the Serpent encircling the world: now revealed as Cthulhu.
Cðulhuviða purports to be a translation of an account ‘mouldering in the archives’ at St John’s University in Newfoundland- a translation compiled, of course, by a graduate of Miskatonic University. Holderfield does a good job of mimicking the style of nineteenth century scholars, whose translations had a lamentable tendency to veer slightly from the main text. There is a wonderful nod to this in the penultimate chapter, where our author wanders completely from his text upon a scholarly digression of his own.
Occasionally Cðulhuviða does feel slightly off; at times the the text does not feel very ‘Norse’. In the main, this can be put down to an error in ‘translation’. For example, the opening paragraph reads:
In the year 1000, as the Christians measure time, the old ways were being forgotten. Norway and Iceland had converted to Christianity and only the western lands of Greenland, Markland and Vinland remained true to Asgard.
All the Norse sagas we have are thoroughly Christianised; it damages suspension of disbelief to accept that this one manuscript is somehow from the perspective of nostalgic Norse pagans. On the other hand, this is a Lovecraftian work as well as a Norse, and this is a regular theme in the Cthulhu mythos. Furthermore, the ‘translator’ of the text is at least sympathetic with pagan mythology, and it would not surprise me if he had adjusted his translation accordingly.
The beautiful artwork makes up for any such nitpicking, and Cðulhuviða is worth looking at for these alone. The linocuts range from landscapes to bulls bellowing at the heavens, to great tentacled maws rising from the depths. Holderfield has managed to convey the ice-coated north and the bleak horror that awaits all mankind within a few slices of a knife and some ink. The imperfections that necessarily come with such serve only to improve the experience.
Cðulhuviða is certainly worth your time. It does not do anything particularly exciting or new with the Norse half of its fusion, but we are talking about an illustrated prose work that involves Cthulhu wrestling Thor. The fact that the linocuts are beautiful or that Holderfield has mimicked nineteenth century scholarship wonderfully are immaterial. Here we have a work that presents Thor wrestling Cthulhu.
You can read Cðulhuviða as it was originally released at UpDown Studio.
It is available for purchase in both hard and electronic copy from Lulu.
Full disclosure: Larry Holderfield provided me with a free .pdf copy of Cðulhuviða about a million years ago in order to review it. It took me long enough, but here we go. I also have a short story in his soon-to-be-published anthology A Child’s Guide to Teasing Bees.
1. Also, Karl Urban takes his clothes off.