“The Wyrd Voyage” (2020) by Kari Leigh Sanders

I know that this tale seems unbelievable, and had I not come across a different one before it, I would have thought it a jest or a lie. However, a few years ago, before I was presented with this collection, I was given a transcript of Karl Heinreich, Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein, Lieutenant-Commander in the Imperial German Navy*, dated in 1917 wherein he encounters a very similar place—at the bottom of the sea. I leave it to you to decide.
* This is a reference to H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Temple”
—Kari Leigh Sanders, “The Wyrd Voyage” in More Lore from the Mythos 171

The English word weird is derived from the Old English wyrd. The older word represents a concept of personal fate or destiny, being cognate with the Old Norse urðr, which was also a name for one of the Norns. When Shakespeare wrote of the “Weird Sisters” in Macbeth, he meant that the witches were those who could see—or declare—the personal destinies of others, to which they were bound. They were supernatural entities, and in modern English this was the sense that came into common usage: weird as supernatural, uncanny, odd.

“The Wyrd Voyage” is then a deliberate pun: because while it is weird fiction in the contemporary sense, it is also very explicitly wyrd fiction in that much older sense: a story about fate. This is particularly fitting as it is woven as a near-Mythic prequel to H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Temple.” This isn’t so much a story about what has happened or what might happen, but what is bound to happen. “The Temple” was written long ago; we know where the story is going. The question is how it got there.

H. P. Lovecraft didn’t write much about the ancient Norse peoples or going viking. His friend Robert E. Howard did, and some readers might like to try and draw a connection between the Mythos and stories like “The Cairn on the Headland” or “Marchers of Valhalla,” but for the most part, ancient Scandinavia is a blank slate as far as the Lovecraft Mythos stories go. Anyone that wants to write Mythos fiction set during the period of the Viking Age has more literary freedom in their depiction of the Mythos because it is terra incognita.

In the case of Kari Leigh Sanders and “The Wyrd Voyage,” she keeps it fairly self-contained: no effort to draw in Cthulhu or the Deep Ones or any other familiar names, beyond the Norse Mythos itself. It isn’t quite sword & sorcery (although is it very much Vikings & Völva), and it is a bit more Mythic than Mythos, in the sense that recognizable Norse deities like Loki and Hel make their personal appearances. If readers are used to more recognizable human pantheons being absent or effectively non-existent compared to the physical reality of Mythos entities like Cthulhu, that might be a little jarring. Yet it also presents certain interesting possibilities.

By itself, “The Wyrd Voyage” is basically a standalone story. It is a precursor to “The Temple,” but the events of that story happen centuries later, so they are chronologically isolated. Now imagine that this story is not considered in isolation. Imagine after you read “The Wyrd Voyage” you read “The Viking in Yellow” (2014) by Christine Morgan—and now you have two data points, two stories which share a Viking Age setting and as well a supernatural element…and if you’re a reader of a certain inclination, maybe you’ll look for more. Maybe you’ll find them. Take notes, see how those stories might work as, not two separate stories, but part of a larger setting…and like that, you’ve got the basis of a new corner of the Mythos. Or at least, one that hasn’t been quite as thoroughly explored as a few others.

When looking at settings in the past like there, there is a certain foreordained quality. You the reader know the world will not end in the Viking Age, because you live after that period and the world, at least for you, has not ended. So you as a reader know something of the wyrd of those characters and stories: while they may live or die, the world itself shall continue. Which tends to lend a tragic cast to these characters: no matter how hard they fight, no matter if they succeed, one day the stars will be right…

There’s more than a hint of wyrd fiction to the Mythos over all. Stories like “The Call of Cthulhu” and The Shadow Out of Time emphasize a certain inevitability. It is one of the more profound, if often misunderstood and mischaracterized themes in Mythos fiction: the idea that, over a long enough span of time, human effort becomes negligible. The Dunwich Horror may be banished, but that is at best only a slight reprieve: the Old Ones will break through again—if not today, then tomorrow, or in a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand years. How characters respond to that realization that realization of the cosmic scale of what they face—that “victory” in any sense must be temporary, a stopgap, a momentary breathing space—is critical.

You might wonder what the silent, sometimes unseeing dead could teach me, they taught me silence and acceptance. It might not be as exciting as the stories and secrets of the gods, or as useful as capturing the winds and weaving, but it is still a good lesson. Particularly for someone with my wyrd.
—Kari Leigh Sanders, “The Wyrd Voyage” in More Lore from the Mythos 152

“The Wyrd Voyage” in More Lore from the Mythos (2020). Kari Leigh Sanders also wrote “A Governess in Innsmouth” in More Lore from the Mythos Vol. 2 (2020).

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

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