At first glance, understanding the speech of birds may seem like a phenomenal magic gift. On second or possibly third glance, maybe not so much. Sure, the starlings, the thrushes, and their ilk might make pleasant conversation but there are bound to be some species that are, well, more than a little bit creepy. I’m looking at you vultures! You guys are gross!
Sigurd, mighty hero, dragon slayer, and all around stand-up dude, is the central figure of the norse epic the Volsungasaga or The Saga of the Volsungs as it is commonly referred to in English. This sweeping tale is primarily concerned with the origins, rise, and eventual decline of the Volsung family. It was written down in the 13th century in Iceland (wonderful place, responsible for most of what we know about Norse culture today) but its origins probably lie much further back in history, though how far back we can’t be entirely sure. Though the story is said to largely concern the hero Sigurd, it doesn’t really concern itself with him personally for about half the tale, though it is still about his family.
The particular bit in today’s comic is from one of the most exciting parts, wherein Sigurd slays the mighty dragon, Fafnir, with a little help from a disguised Odin of course. After killing the wurm, Sigurd and his companion Regin roast the heart of the beast to eat but before consuming it, the young warrior gets a bit of the dragon’s blood in his mouth when he tests to see if it has been cooked properly. As the blood reaches his lips, Sigurd finds that he can suddenly understand the speech of birds which, in this case anyway, is invaluable. The birds talk amongst themselves about the treachery that Regin plans against Sigurd and about how wise it would be for Sigurd to slay the deceitful wretch before he loses his own head.
Sigurd acts first, slays Regin, and secures the heart and the dragon’s hoard of treasure for himself.
Now, why someone would immediately trust a bunch of critters with brains the size of a small nut is beyond me. How these damned birds knew what was going on is a mystery in itself. How they knew it and Sigurd didn’t is even more mysterious. I guess Sigurd was somehow less clever than animals that largely concern themselves with defecating on public spaces and eating grubs, which, it seems to me, would be topics more suitable to the creatures in the story than homicide amongst upright ape creatures.
I guess birds are just a hell of a lot more concerned with human lives than I realized. Perhaps birds are doing what millions of people around the world do when they sit down to watch their favorite reality tv shows. I mean, what else are they going to do? Take wing and move about on air currents, unfettered by the restraints of gravity? That just sounds so dull.
Luckily for Sigurd, the birds in the story weren’t like the ones I would have imagined or he’d have been lying dead in a ditch thanks to ol’ Regin. And did he even thank the birds? No. Not a single gold piece to brighten up their nests!
Sigurd, you are a jerk.
If you haven’t read the Saga of the Volsungs I highly recommend giving it a read! It has inspired tons of modern fantasy writers in one way or another. Tolkien is probably the most prominent of these and he inspired millions of others. It’s a great read, and absolutely worth your attention!