‘There’s no going back’
The Dark Knight and Balder’s descent to Hel
in From Iceland to the Americas
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While the nineteenth century saw many ‘national epics’ which retold (and combined) major Norse myths, the twentieth century saw mythological figures refracted into culture in more complex ways; indeed, sceptical trends in scholarship often corresponded with greater creative leeway in new narrative responses to mythological stories. Many scholars and writers have suggested that American superhero comics are, as one book has it, A Modern Mythology. Such a comparison would require a similar process to those which produced the Norse myths, with an ongoing tradition being sculpted by audience reception, ultimately capturing archetypes of deities. Evaluating the quintessential Batman film The Dark Knight (2008) in these terms shows that its unusual plot likewise owes much to narrative traditions shaped by reception, driving its apocalyptic themes of dynastic failure. As with Balder’s death and capture by Hel in Norse mythology, when a myth occupies a turning point in a set of interwoven stories, it gains ‘the weight of folklore’. In a post 9/11 context, the film depicts the powers of world order corrupt and in decline, as the rule of law collapses. In a time of chaos and conspiracy, the Joker’s mutilation of shining district attorney Harvey Dent takes on hellish symbolism.

From Iceland to the Americas

Vinland and historical imagination

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