One of my favorite stories in mythology is that of Njord and Skadi, the Norse newlyweds whose meeting and marriage could rival the best of today’s dating and romance reality shows. I first took notice of their story when I was in the process of divorce in 2021, and the strange circumstances of their ill-fated relationship intrigued me: From the beginning, Njord and Skadi were doomed to fail. After all, Skadi had wanted to marry one of the other gods instead of Njord, plus they could not agree on perhaps the most important decision of their marriage, where they would live. Readers and scholars today differ on whether the couple simply stayed married and lived apart or if theirs became a story of divine divorce. But ultimately, the two parted ways. And that’s where my imagination took effect as a writer, founded on a question: What if Skadi had stayed?
Off on the wrong foot
Before we go any further, it’s worth understanding the backdrop of the marriage. Skadi was a jötunn, or giantess, whose father was killed by the gods. Entering the land of the gods to seek vengeance, she received several consolations, including a husband from among the gods. They gave her the ability to choose from among them—with a catch. She’d have to make her pick by seeing only their feet. Now, Skadi had had her eyes on Balder, the most handsome of the gods. It’d be easy to recognize him by his feet, Skadi thought. But she was mistaken, and found herself the bride of Njord.
The newlyweds didn’t get off on the best start, and to make matters worse, they couldn’t agree where to live. But in a sort of trial or truce, the two agreed to spend nine nights in Njord’s seaside home and nine nights in Skadi’s mountain hall. After all, Njord was the god of wind and waters and “patron saint” of sailors and fishermen. And Skadi, now assuming an identity as a goddess by marriage, was considered “goddess” of winter and skiing. But by the time the 18 days were up, the two were convinced that they simply could not abide the other’s abode.
When I read Skadi’s story, I find myself asking many questions and wondering about context that doesn’t exist. Much was likely lost when the myths were written down around the arrival of Christianity to the region. However, I pulled the following from my reading:
- Skadi appears to have a good relationship with her father, Thiazzi. Her mother isn’t present, and likely hasn’t ever been, given the lack of her mention.
- When Thiazzi is killed by the Aesir, Skadi rages. She puts on her armor and seeks out the gods to start a war. So, we know she’s fiery and strong (and probably tends to act impulsively).
- Despite her anger and grief, she agrees to a truce with the gods. Her moods may be a powerful force, but she can also be reasoned with.
- One consolation: The gods send Thiazzi’s eyes into the sky to become part of the Gemini constellation. Skadi has something to remember her father by.Another: She is so sad and lonesome that she believes she will never laugh again. But the gods must make her! The trickster Loki manages to make her laugh (in one very strange scene).
- Finally: The gods will grant Skadi one of their own as a husband. She has her eyes on the dreamy Balder, the most handsome of the single gods. But in an arrangement that sounds like a Viking predecessor to today’s dating and marriage reality TV shows, she chooses the wrong feet and weds Njord instead.
- Skadi gets the title “pure bride of the gods” and a rank as a goddess, despite being a jötunn. She allows herself to marry Njord and to become part of his community among the gods.
- After the failed marriage, Skadi returns to the mountains where we can assume she has inherited her father’s great hall.
There are some disagreements about the mother of Njord’s children, Freyr and Freya. Some say that they were born of Njord’s sister, and that Skadi is the stepmother. But what if they were actually Skadi’s children? Here we’re getting into conjecture and hypothesis, as some believe Skadi went on to bear children for Odin. (Of note: Odin is the father of Balder, the handsome god she wanted to marry. Talk about family drama!) Still, what if Njord’s children were actually Skadi’s? That would certainly complicate things in their relationship!
Back to the question, what if Skadi stayed?
As I developed the concept for my novel and collection of short stories this past year, I kept coming back to the character of Skadi and the choices she made. While I’m not writing a retelling of Skadi’s story, the question did spark a lot of ideas and inspiration for the stories I am writing.
What if a character such as Skadi were to give in and choose to live in her new husband’s domain, leaving her world behind? That itself doesn’t make for much of a story. But considering Skadi’s fiery and stubborn characteristics, what would it take for her to make this decision to give in? It’s out of character, so what might have happened for her to get to that point? And how would that continue to play out in the relationship, potentially leading to dysfunction and collapse?
I’ll leave these as questions for now. Answers could certainly go in many directions! But this is one of the fun things about writing–inspiration can come from countless places, and in fiction, the possibilities are endless.
If you’re a writer, where do you turn for ideas and inspiration?
Images: Skadi: Wikimedia Commons; Njord and Skadi: Wikimedia Commons
6 thoughts on “What if Skadi Stayed?”
We used to have a book with Nordic fairytales and myths at home when I grew up. Somehow it got lost when we moved. My sister is an ethnologist and I will ask her if she knows any good books (translated) about Scandinavian and Nordic folktales.
Thank you, Annica! I’d love to hear her recommendations.
Having been a sailor and having lost a relationship because of being a sailor I have felt a kinship to this tale. I am a third generation sailor and I have always had a great fascination, respect and love for the sea. In 1970 I was engaged to a woman who was fearful of the sea. Just before my last deployment she gave me back the ring and told me that she couldn’t marry me because she was afraid each time my ship left it would end in my death and she couldn’t live that way.
So perhaps the fear of separation and loss was too great for Skadi to live with. Maybe she loved Njord so much to lose him would have been her death as well.
P.S. I have a tattoo of an image of Njord on the inside of my arm that reminds me of the one that got away.
I am from Stavanger Norway and love your stories. Not much of a writer myself. Love your resipies and your letters. My kids love lefse and krumkaker, and all the family love kjotkaker even the once that is not Norwegian.Gretha
I am so excited to hear this story! My family took a long (4 days of driving) road trip and listened to an audiobook of Norse mythology. We all loved it! This was several years ago so I’ll do some digging and forward the name of the book. The audiobook included stories that I had never heard.
Usually a grain of sand will come to me. It could be a visual of something that tweaks the imaginations, a scent, a feeling or even place. Then, the rest is up to me. Expand upon it, turn that wee grain into a sizeable pearl.
On another topic, the world stepping methods are basic: a dream, an illness, a household object, a piece of jewelry or weapon. Sadly, it’s difficult to find an original. That was in an article I read about 25 years ago – unfortunately I cannot remember where, or whom. (Blame memory issues from epilepsy) It definitely hit home though!
I look forward to your finished project…