4 AM. For the second night in a row Thor wakes me up. The night before it was thunder. This time I just can’t sleep. I keep thinking about the Thor film of all things. I toss. I turn. I get up, shower, dress and go to Wal*Mart. In the rain. Because this film disturbs me.
You see, I never got into the Thor comics or The Avengers. My Marvel heroes were the X-Men. So when I look at the official website and trailers I don’t see cheesy aliens from outer space, I see the Gods. When they say Asgard is a cosmic realm, I don’t think “distant planet.” When I see Rene Russo in costume she evokes the dignity and strength of Frigga. When Odin casts Thor to Earth as a punishment, I don’t think they are abadoning myth as much as borrowing from Greek myth. Asgard is inspiring, Odin is commanding and Heimdallr looks formidable. Despite all the plastic sci-fi armor, this is impressive.
That’s what disturbs me. My limited knowledge of the Marvel Thor is slightly better than the knowledge of the average person who will buy a ticket to see this film. It looks like a fun, action-packed comic film, like Iron Man and they will walk in expecting that sort of experience only to find the Gods. Desiderus Eramus wrote of an old Spartan proverb that has always stuck with me: Invoked or not invoked, the God is there. Whether Kenneth Branagh intended it or not, he has drawn on the images, names and stories of the Gods. He invited them into this film, just as unbidden they were surely invited into the comic books.
Though we are savvy enough to understand the difference between the comics and the myths, will a 13 year old boy searching for a spiritual guide understand it? Will he do like I did early this morning and, like Eric Scott did before me, stand in the aisle at Wal*Mart and wonder at this foam Mjolnir? Will he find as much inspiration and strength from this cheap toy as some find in Virgin Mary car air fresheners?
I knew a woman who came to Paganism thanks to Zelda. Looking for help with a quest she was surprised to find Epona was more than just the name of a video game character. So many people came to Wicca through the film The Craft and I doubt anyone would say that’s a good representation of that faith. There people who will watch Thor and seek out Asatru. Those foam hammers will be used by closeted Heathen children to hallow. It will happen. Much as it makes us shudder.
Rather than concern ourselves with whether or not the film is disrespectful, whether it’s appropriate for Heimdallr to be played by a black actor or wonder why on earth they made Sif a brunette, we should focus on the practical fallout from this film. We know what happened with The Craft, we know Heathenry is growing leaps and bounds and we need to expect this film to be significant.
In an ideal world each Heathen organization would make sure they were sitting in a theater the day the movie opens, then sitting down and writing a response to the film. Brief notes on how the film deviates from the lore, and what it really means to serve the Aesir. Heathens would expect to be asked about the film and have a positive response (Cool special effects but here’s what the lore says and what I believe) rather than a negative (What a piece of crap! As an Asatruar I’m totally offended). Being prepared for questions is not proselytizing.
I think we should look at this film as if we are a spiritually and culturally hungry person. As if we are a 16 year old young woman considering a military career and in need of a warrior ethic. As if we are a homemaker taking her kids to an action-flick who is suddenly overwhelmed by Frigga. As if we are a man with a newborn who stumbled across Asatru looking up info on the film and is looking for a spiritual tradition for his family. Because those are the people who will be coming to us with questions. We shouldn’t dismiss them for referencing Thor like so many seekers were dismissed for coming to Wicca by way of The Craft. Maybe Thor will lead folks to their path, and maybe there will be folks who need to be gently dissuaded, but they all deserve positive, straightforward and enlightening answers.
Thor is an opportunity. People will seek out Pagans due to this film, silly as that may sound. When they come we should greet them with answers and hospitality, especially if we weren’t received that way. Thor can mark a change not only for seekers, but for how our communities interact with them.