‘The Witch’s Heart’ Shows How Heartbreak Guides Us To Recovery

In Genevieve Gornichec’s charming debut, the story of a witch’s life reveals the lead-up to Ragnarok

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Yggdrasill: The Mundane Tree. Finnur Magnússon, 1859. Courtesy of Public Domain Review

What inspired you to write a novel based on Norse mythology, in particular about Angrboda?

I got really obsessed with Norse mythology in college ten years ago; it started with a class on the Old Norse language where we translated a couple of the myths, and just got worse from there. The same professor taught courses on Norse mythology and the Icelandic sagas, and her lectures were so much fun that I took them all.

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Odin in the Underworld, Henry Fuseli, 1770–1772. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The novel begins after Angrboda has been burned and cast out of Asgard. Why did you decide to start Angrboda’s story after these cataclysmic events?

That’s such a great question! So, The Witch’s Heart, like the Norse creation myth, begins with an act of violence by the Aesir against a giant. But I guess I wanted Odin’s first appearance later on in the story to pack a punch, too. Angrboda is so worried about him finding her that you kind of start to wonder what makes him so scary, and when he finally shows up, you see why.

Much of the novel deals with our, and others’, relationships with our bodies. From the moment Angrboda leaves her smoldering heart on the pyre when she flees to Ironwood, characters confront how the fact of their bodies, its utility and its limitations, impact how they move through the world, and how the world sees them. Could you talk about how you approached this topic? What inspired you to focus much of the novel around themes of the body?

Honestly, it was less a conscious decision on my part and more a result of how the Norse myths themselves talk about bodies and the self. Several gods in the Norse pantheon have physical differences: Odin has one eye; Tyr has one hand; one source may even suggest that Heimdall the watchman is deaf. But these differences don’t affect what the gods are able to achieve, and it certainly didn’t make them less worthy of respect.

Do you intend to write further stories based on myths, folklore, or legends? If so, what are some myths or tales that you find particularly inspiring as future novel fodder?

Absolutely! I feel like I’m too committed at this point to write about anything else. My current historical/legendary obsession is Gunnhild, Mother of Kings. She was a queen of Norway during the Viking Age and got up to some wild stuff, including casting some very creative curses and generally antagonizing people (according to the Icelandic sagas). She’s really interesting, but her origins are a bit hazy, so I really think I could have some fun there.

What would the gods in Asgard have eaten for breakfast? What’s your personal opinion of these breakfast items?

Hmm…their golden apples of immortality, for one. In terms of a traditional Viking Age breakfast, I’d say oats, honey, and maybe boiled eggs? I’ve eaten enough of these types of foods doing Viking reenactment weekends, and I’m a big fan.

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.

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