JANNE TELLER'S NOVEL Odins o (Odin's Island) is an intriguing, often amusing blend of Nordic mythology and poetry, modern love story, biting social satire, political and religious intrigue, and pure fantasy, all woven into an irresistible narrative that makes no claim on reality or social realism but shares a world of mystery and imaginary adventure with the reader. The story concerns the adventures and misadventures of one ancient, diminutive, one-eyed man, Odin, who happens onto a mystery island -- a kind of world out of real place and real time -- as a result of a meteor storm which has caused one of his horses, Rigmarole, to break her leg. Odin discovers genuine hospitality in one of the island's two small villages, Smedieby, but he must move on to find a veterinarian for Rigmarole. After a severe winter snowstorm, Odin wanders on over the solidly frozen strait to The Continent, to Southern Northland. A young woman, Sigbrit Holland, and a fisherman, Ambrosius Fiskeren, collaborate in trying to help Odin find medical assistance for his horse and return to the mystery island, whose location and access to outsiders are matters of mystery, forgotten royal decree, and modern-day intrigue.
With the arrival of Odin in Southern Northland (clearly Denmark), all hell literally breaks loose, as rival religious fanatics and factions claim him as their own special prophet, seer, leader, even as Jesus Christ, and disputes over possession of both Odin and the island -- fairly well hidden behind sheer rock cliffs and precipices in the strait and in forgotten obscure historical records -- lead Southern Northland and its neighbor to the north and east, Northern Northland (Sweden), to the brink of war. Tensions build and multiply until Ambrosius and Sigbrit Holland, accompanied by ghostly shadow figures such as the transparent woman, Brynhild Sigurdskaer, the silent omnipresent stranger Der Fremdling, a hermit from Old Northland (Norway), Harald Adelstensfostre, and a former inmate of an insane asylum, Gunnar med Hovedet, manage to turn the tide and return Odin safely to the unnamed island beyond time and place. The island is a kind of locked secret respite from the world, at a time-warp remove from the modern era, a harmonious pastoral enclave far from the quarrels and disputes racking the entire Northland.
Within the frame story concerning Odin and his return to the island, Teller weaves tale after tale. Some of her stories approach the probable or at least the plausible; the majority are sheer flights of fantasy, attempts to win a place for mystery and magic in a rather diminished but also more turbulent world aptly described by the ever more ethereal spirit-woman Brynhild Sigurdskaer: "Modern civilization only accepts what it can measure, weigh, and enclose with words. How easy, isn't it, to ignore everything, all the powers, senses and events that our thoughts are too small to encompass?"
In Odins o Janne Teller proves herself a master of fantasy, adventure, satire, and magic, of the description and peopling of an imaginary world beyond the quotidian. Her novel manages to poke a great deal of fun at the foibles, religious tiffs, and petty fits of political and social pique in modern-day Scandinavia. She also uses repetition and rhythm to great effect in both dialogue and description to create her own unique context. Odins o deserves a second, even a third reading for all those who delight in witty, magical, fantastic tales, tender allusions to love, and satiric accounts very well told.
Lanae Hjortsvang Isaacson San Jose, California