I’m sure you all know I’m a fan of both Oz and mythology, and I’ve noticed that some writers of apocryphal Oz stories like to combine the two. There’s a fair amount of objection whenever this sort of thing comes up, but I’m usually all right with it, as long as it’s done in a fashion that isn’t too obtrusive. I mention this because I recently read Jeff Rester‘s story in the 2011 Oziana, in which Odin‘s ravens Hugin and Munin visit the newly formed Scarecrow.
I find the two messenger ravens to be an interesting part of Odin’s mythology, but there really isn’t that much information available on them, at least as far as I can find through Google. Most of the results seem to pertain to companies and heavy metal bands named after the birds. What I do know is that the names Hugin and Munin mean “thought” and “memory” respectively, and that the two of them gather information for the All-Father. Odin sends them out every morning, they fly around the world, and at dinnertime they return and tell him what they’ve seen and heard. The god gave them the power to talk, although I guess ravens can already sort of talk. Well, mimic, anyway. There was apparently a popular myth at one point that ravens and crows could imitate human speech more accurately if you cut their tongues, but this is obviously nonsense, and quite cruel to the birds as well. Anyway, Hugin and Munin appear in many depictions of Odin. He’s also often accompanied by the wolves Geri and Freki, as well as the horse Sleipnir.
This eight-legged horse has a quite interesting story of his own, as he’s actually the offspring of Loki. The trickster god turned into a mare and seduced the stallion Svadilfari in order to stop the builder of the walls of Asgard from claiming Freyja as payment. The result of their union was Sleipnir, whom Loki presented as a gift to Odin.
Getting back to Hugin and Munin, there’s a joke related to them in Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather. The raven companion to the Death of Rats, named Quoth by some magician who thought he was being funny, informs Susan that Blind Io used to have raven messengers. Since the chief of the Discworld gods has orbiting eyeballs, however, he soon learned that this wasn’t such a great idea. And as far as Oz goes, I have to say that the flying ears Pastoria has while in his enchanted form in Ruth Plumly Thompson’s The Lost King of Oz remind me of the messenger ravens.