Kenneth Branagh/Marvel Thor film on the 27 April approaches, the publicity campaign is winding up. Today's Observer Magazine has an interview with Idris Elba, the actor who plays Heimdallr in the film. Once again, his blackness is brought up, though the interviewer has a nice line on this. 'As a black person who was born in Norway, I tell Elba I personally don't see what all the fuss is about', says Afua Hirsch, and quite right too. I merely repeat what I have observed before, that Heimdallr is described as 'the whitest of gods', and that the Vikings would absolutely have understood the casting of a black actor as just the sort of joke they practised in their own nicknames. (By the way, for any budding students out there, Norse and Viking nicknames are very much an underresearched topic...).
Heimdallr is obscure and fascinating. According to Snorri, in his Edda, Heimdallr was 'great and holy', not least because he seems to have had nine mothers (all at once!), who were also sisters (his father was Odin, of course). He has gold teeth (and hence the alias Gullintanni) and a horse called Gulltopp ('Gold-mane'). As appropriate to a watchman, he has excellent sight and hearing, and of course the trumpet called Giallarhorn which will warn of the coming of Ragnarök (see the picture above, from the Gosforth cross). His house is called Himinbjörg (hard to translate but either 'Heaven Rescue' or 'Heaven Sustenance'), and sounds an altogether wonderful place, pleasant, merry and serving good mead. No wonder Heimdallr is such a cheerful chappie. There's even a (mostly) lost poem about him, Heimdalargaldr, about which we had an interesting talk at the Viking Society the other day. About time this interesting god got some wider exposure - I wonder how much will actually get into the film?