Q&A: A conversation with Nancy Farmer, Author of The
Sea Of Trolls
How did you decide on the topic for The Sea of Trolls?
The idea for the book actually came from the nursery rhyme
"Jack and Jill". I wrote part of the novel fifteen years ago, when I
still lived in Africa. It was never finished. The original had a bad-tempered
cat called Grendelyn who fell into Mimir's Well while trying to catch fish.
Both you and J. R. R. Tolkien have drawn inspiration from Norse
mythology. What about Norse folklore makes it such a rich source text?
I didn't realize, until I started studying it, how important it was
to American culture. Think of movies like Sergeant York or High
Noon. Think of To Kill a Mockingbird or One Flew Over the
Cuckoo's Nest. These are all stories about solitary heroes who would
rather die than give up their ideals or individualism. The heroes come
straight out of Beowulf.
Have you always been interested in Norse mythology?
No. As a child I was immersed in Greek mythology so deeply I would
dream about the Greek gods. In comparison, the Norse religion seemed crude. It
wasn't until I was an adult that I discovered what a rich, complicated culture
the Norsemen had.
Schools today focus on ancient Greek mythology as an introduction
to Western civilization. What do you think we can learn from ancient Norse
I have nothing against studying the Greeks. They created logical
reasoning. But some of our most important ideas come from elsewhere. The Celts
gave us a love of nature and a feeling that we are part of it. The Norsemen
gave us a sense of individuality, a love of freedom, and a respect for courage
What classic texts can you recommend to learn more about Norse
Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire's Norse Gods and Giants is a good
place to start. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H. R. Ellis
Davidson is more difficult, but worth it. Look up The Prose Edda or The
Elder Edda in the library. Edda is Icelandic for "epic
How long did you research the historical aspects of The Sea of
For the entire year and a half it took me to write it.
What made you decide to have the Bard take the form of a crow?
I originally wanted to use a raven because it was the sacred bird of
Odin, but a raven was much too heavy for a twelve-year-old to carry on his
Jack comes from a Christian family, and throughout the book as he
is becoming a bard, he seems to maintain a belief in the Christian god and the
Isle of the Blessed. How does Jack reconcile his Christian upbringing with the
fantastic things he's seen and done on his adventure?
Jack lived at a time when the Celtic and Norse religions were giving
way to Christianity. Christianity absorbed these other cultures and kept many
of their ideas. Early saints talked to animals, fought dragons, and called up
fog. Saint Patrick shape-shifted himself and his friends into a herd of deer,
to escape danger. Christians renamed pagan holidays and still celebrate them.
The fertility festival of the goddess Oestra was changed into Easter. Yule was
changed into Christmas and so forth.
What similarities, if any, might you draw between The House of
Scorpions and The Sea of Trolls?
Offhand, I can't think of any similarities.
Is the diagram of High Heaven that's illustrated at the front of
the book based on folklore, or is it completely original?
The tree Yggdrassil, with its branches reaching to the nine worlds,
is from Norse mythology, and the drawing is derived from the D'Aulaires' book.
Some parts of the Norse religion seem to echo Christianity, and it's difficult
to tell whether they're a more recent addition.
What would you like young readers to learn from Jack?
I'd rather they made up their own minds about Jack.
How did you discover the recipe for graffisk?
Ah, graffisk! It's based on gravlax, a good old
Swedish dish that means, literally, "grave salmon." The Icelanders
used to pig out on hákarl, or rotten Greenland shark. My favorite in
this category is oogruk (seal) flippers from my Eskimo cookbook. Wrap
the oogruk flippers in blubber for two weeks until the fur falls off. Then cut
into small pieces and eat.