The North is not just a compass point but a state of mind. It has a geographical location and at the same time it exists wherever its call is felt. Certain words and names evoke it: Hyperborea, “the land beyond the north wind,” as the ancient Greeks called it; Thule, the northern promised land; Asgard, home of the Nordic gods. The writer C. S. Lewis was one of those who felt the call. In his autobiography, he describes how, as a boy, he was reading a translation of a Swedish elegiac poem called Tegner's Drapa and came across the lines: I heard a voice that cried Balder the beautiful Is dead, is dead— “I knew nothing about Balder,” he writes, “but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote) and then . . . found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.” Lewis's fascination with the North was shared by his friend J. R. R. Tolkien, a fellow member of the Inklings circle in Oxford in the 1930s and '40s—the name is partly a play on the title of the Old Norse Ynglinga Saga. Tolkien brilliantly created his own version of the Nordic epic in his trilogy The Lord of the Rings, with its numerous borrowings from Old Norse literature and mythology.

 

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