Today I am obsessed with a squirrel named Ratatoskr. I identify with him. In a way, I think we all are a squirrel named Ratatoskr.
Northern Germanic, Icelandic, and Swedish cultures had their own collections of gods and myths, quite separate from the more well-known Greek mythology. Collectively known as “Norse” mythology, these stories consist of the usual mythological stories of jealousy and intrigue between gods, fantastic events involving magic and fanciful animals, explanations of the beginning and end of the world, and so on and so forth.
In Norse mythology, there are a number of major gods that most people have heard of, even if they have never heard of “Norse Mythology” per se. Þórr (Thor) is the god of lightening, and the god that Thursday is named after. He has a large hammer and bushy red hair. Óðinn (Odin or Woton) is the head god, the god that Wednesday is named after. He has just one eye and a long white beard, and is more-or-less the equivalent of Zeus in Greek mythology: the head honcho. There are other very well-known gods and godesses in Norse mythology: Loki, the god of mischief; Freyja, the goddess of beauty; Baldr, the god of light; and so on. Even if you don’t know anything about Norse mythology, some of these names may sound familiar. They are well-known enough that they have seeped into our collective cultural subconscious.
And then there’s Lóðurr. Lóðurr is Óðinn’s brother. Nobody has ever heard of Lóðurr. Lóðurr is mentioned exactly one time: he helped Óðinn create the world and give human beings life. Basically, I have just described for you everything there is to knowabout Lóðurr.
Which kind of sucks for him, in my opinion. There is no story about what he does after creating the world with Óðinn. Does he die? How does he die? What is he doing while Óðinn is off making blood-pacts with Loki and fathering the other Æsir gods and basically being the Big Man on Campus in every single story of Norse mythology? Is Lóðurr just sitting at home, thinking, “Man, this blows. My brother always gets all the attention…” Is he avoiding the paparazzi and living contentedly in the hills with a wife and kids? What’s his deal? Does he feel left out, or happy to be away from the mayhem? The stories don’t tell.
There are other characters like this. You may have heard of the “World Tree”: Yggdrasill. It is at the center of the world, and it is so large that its roots go to the deepest depths and the branches hold up the sky. When it collapses, it will mean the end of the world. On its highest branches is an eagle whose wings cause the winds, and deep underground a dragon gnaws on its roots, trying to bring about the destruction of the world. And so on and so forth: pretty standard mythological stuff.
And then there’s Ratatoskr. Mentioned exactly twice(based on any sources, written or verbal, that are still around today), Ratatoskr is a squirrel that runs up and down the tree, passing gossip between the Eagle and the Dragon.
WTF??? Who thought up this squirrel character? Unlike the dragon and the eagle, each of whom play roles in multiple myths and stories, the squirrel is a complete throw-away character. He’s mentioned off-hand in a couple of places, and never brought up again.
So I start to think: what’s the squirrel’s story? Is he trying to get the Eagle and the Dragon to like eachother? Does he have some deeper, more personal agenda? Who are his friends? Does he ever lie to the Eagle, or to the Dragon? Does he see his role of passing gossip as exciting? Salacious? Or maybe… noble?
You see, this is where I think you can really exercise your imagination. Surely, the squirrel has a story. Probably many stories. Probably adventures, even. Maybe he’s hanging out with Lóðurr.
But nobody knows Ratatoskr’s story, because he’s seen as a a minor character. He makes an appearance and then exits off of the stage of Norse Mythology. But as Tom Stoppard observed: “Every exit is an entrance somewhere else.”
Little children read these myths and hear these stories and might think to themselves, “Wow! I wonder what it would be like to be the god of thunder!”
But I can’t help but wonder: what’s it like to be that squirrel?