What would you do if Odin decided to haunt you because he was angry you’d left him for Jesus?
When a pagan society is Christianized, it must determine how to either leave behind or incorporate its old talismans and traditions into its new Christian faith. This is seldom an easy task, as any missionary who has dealt with the dangers of syncretism can attest. Old habits die hard. A worldview cannot be wiped out in a day simply because those who hold to it no longer want to believe in it; some ideas are so deeply ingrained that it may take several generations to be rid of them.
But what if a society had trouble leaving behind their old gods because they were real? What if Christianity wasn’t the only true myth?
Lars Walker explores these and other questions in his newest novel, West Oversea. In this historically-based fantasy tale, a priest named Father Aillil struggles with how to live out and share his Christian faith in a place and time when the pagans and their gods were still overwhelmingly influential. The year is 1001, and Father Aillil, an Irishman living in Norway, struggles to reconcile his beliefs with the paganism he’s trying to leave behind. Though he is a devout Christian, he is reluctant to part with the mythic eye of Odin, which was passed on to him by a man who wished to have him destroy it. The eye gives Father Aillil the ability to see into the spiritual realm, where his interactions with both the dead and the living have a profound effect on him, much as he tries to deny this.
Father Aillil’s struggle mirrors that of the people who live in the lands he travels through. His quest to find and rescue his long-lost sister takes the Irishman from Norway, into Iceland and Greenland, with a brief stop at a mysterious and dangerous land you may recognize; Columbus was, after all, not the first to discover the “new world”. The people Father Aillil meets struggle just as he does to obey Christ while discerning how this new religion will revamp old social structures. It’s not easy to know which societal foundations will survive and which won’t, and Father Aillil’s ability to see through Odin’s eye doesn’t simplify matters for anyone.
Because Father Aillil is known to be a priest, characters reveal things about their spiritual lives to him – and to the reader – that are not normally discussed in most fantasy novels. There is some danger here of the book becoming too “preachy”, but this is largely avoided thanks to Father Aillil’s unfailingly sardonic sense of humor; West Oversea is a fun book that says serious things without taking itself too seriously. Humorous stories and comments are interspersed with thoughtful character-driven commentary on power, authority, duty, and freedom that provides food for thought as well as fun.
The historical and geographical bases for Father Aillil’s story make this a useful book for those who want a very basic introduction to the world of Vikings, Norsemen, and Leif Eriksson. History at its best is, after all, a story, and this story includes a number of notable names and places that will help students identify the narrative threads that weave together what we know about 11th Century Norway, it’s people, customs, and surroundings. ‘