Hermann, Pernille, Stephen A. Mitchell, and Jens Peter Schjødt, eds., with Amber J. Rose. 2017. Old Norse Mythology—Comparative Perspectives. Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature 3. Cambridge, MA: Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_HermannP_etal_eds.Old_Norse_Mythology.2017.
Vermin Gone Bad in Medieval Scandinavian, Persian, and Irish Traditions
- The woman who protects the worm and indulges its increasingly noisome habits is a powerful figure with control over more than just the destiny of the worm. In fact, she is the controlling force of the story itself. Scholars of medieval Scandinavian literature have detected this motif and followed its ramifications in the Ragnarr material,  particularly in regard to the character of Kráka/Áslaug/Randalín, but we shall see that this story-device is equally noticeable in our comparanda from beyond Scandinavia.
- The magnification of the worm’s impact, helpful or harmful, is inextricably bound up with the relationship between a parent and a child. Moreover, the consequences of what the worm does, or what is done to it, redound throughout the life of the main human figure in the story (whether “hero” or “villain”) and even extend into the next generation. Here again, there has been scholarly appreciation of the importance of intergenerational (dis)continuity in the Ragnarr cycle, especially in light of the dynastic and genealogical origin legends it accommodates, but the motif is to be found in the Irish and Persian narrative material as well.
- The worm and sometimes the characters who become involved with it play “hide and seek” in the course of the story, concealing and yet also revealing themselves in pivotal situations. The intentional or unintentional act of perceiving what or who is hidden can upset the distribution of power between the seer and the seen.
- The character who benefits from the results of the worm’s “going bad”, sometimes the hero who has to slay the monster-worm in order to achieve his goal, exhibits an entrepreneurial, mercantile, or even devious side to his narrative persona, which runs counter to a martial-heroic ethos.
The Irish tradition
The Persian tradition
The Old Norse tradition
A comparison of “Worms”
|Controlling Female||Generational (Dis)continuity||Serpentine Hide-and-Seek||Entrepreneurial/Devious Protagonist|
|TDG: Sadhbh (Cian’s mother) protects the newly emerged worm||Cian’s relationship with his protective mother, and his parents’ ambivalence about the worm “sibling”||Cian hides his bump; The monster-worm hides in a cave||Conán strikes a shady deal with Fionn, and with Diarmaid for the spear|
|Shahnameh: Haftvād’s daughter nurtures the worm||Haftvād is named after his sons; his daughter loyally creates wealth for her father||The worm is hidden in an apple, in a spindle-case, and finally in an inaccessible fortress||Ardeshir gains access to the monster-worm by disguising himself as a merchant|
|Ragnars saga: Þóra nurtures the snake; Randalín nurtures snake-like sons||Ragnarr competes with his overachieving sons; Randalín helps to avenge the deaths of Ragnarr’s sons||At first the snake lives in a box; as a child, Randalín, the mother-to-be of snakelike heroes, is hidden in a harp and later is forced to disguise herself||Ragnarr launches a secret attack (unsuccessfully) against the English in his snakelike ships; in revenge, his son Ívarr tricks and outmaneuvers the English king|