I originally wrote Tomb Brides for a mythology-themed call for submissions. Built around Norse themes, the story involves various beings, including an aptrgangr or draugr, an undead creature. Depending on the lore source, an aptrgangr may be described as something of a cross between a zombie, vampire, and ghost.
Many different creatures inhabit the world described by ancient stories. I find it interesting which ones people remember, which ones continue to exist in new stories, which ones are forgotten, and which ones change. In writing Tomb Brides, I wanted to bring out some of the shadow side of Norse lore. We don’t see the aprtgangr much in modern stories, and I wanted to portray some of the weirdness of this being. The lore ascribes many different traits and abilities to the aptrgangr, but one I find especially interesting is the ability to increase its size and to grow heavier. At the risk of citing Pink Floyd, I remember childhood fevers, and the illness distorted my perceptions of size, distance, mass, and proportions. I think of this when I read of the aptrgangr, and there seems to be a suggestion of—what should we call it—dimensional manipulation? It’s as though since the state of death may not be a barrier for such a being; neither are such things as size and mass.
The role of giants, and particularly giantesses, remains ambiguous in Norse lore as well. The story involves Angrboða, who, in the Eddas, owns sinister attributions. References to giantesses like her sometimes call them troll-women, troll-wives, and/or witches. I wonder if, at an earlier date, stories would have differentiated between these categories of beings. As folklore ages and stretches at its cultural roots, there may be a tendency for details to become lumped together.
Whatever the case may be, the term giant or giantess does not necessarily describe the size of a being in the lore. Nor does it suffice to call them monsters or demons, as some of them maintain benevolent relationships with deities and humans. Rather, they seem to represent a separate type of being, with whom gods and humans may even interbreed.
Wolves also play a significant part in the folklore and mythology, from Geri and Freki, Odin’s wolves, to Fenrir. Sons of giantesses may have the shape of wolves. A giantess or troll-woman may use a wolf as a steed. The Volsunga Saga contains references to human/giant interbreeding, as well as men intentionally turning into wolves.
In writing this story, I thought of the many portals provided by folklore, the many openings into deeper mysteries offered by seemingly simple tales. So many things seem to have both a surface meaning and a hidden meaning. On the surface, one may perceive simple heroic tales of gods and heroes battling monsters and giants. But as we go deeper, we may find that the lines blur, and it may not be clear who is human and who is monster, or what it even means to be one or the other.