Study Guide

Gunnar in Midwinterblood

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You may remember this dude from the execution of King Eirikr. Things don't start out to well for him, and at least through Eirikr's eyes, Gunnar seems pretty darn arrogant. He even spends the days before the king's death gloating about how he's going to take over:

He had never made any pretense that he wanted anything other than to lead the people, when Eirikr's time was over.

And now that time had come, a little sooner than planned, and Gunnar could not hide his delight. He, despite the suffering that filled them all, every day, strode through the village as though he was already their lord, his black beard jutting in front of him, his hand on his sword as if he was always going into war. (7.2.28-29)

Bad form, Gunnar. Bad form.

He has such bad judgment, in fact, that he even removes the executioner's hood during the ceremony and shows everyone in the scene exactly who he is. This is totally not allowed, but Gunnar just doesn't care:

Now, he steps forward, and in two paces he's above Eirikr on the stone table, and though he should not, the executioner pulls the red hood from his head, showing himself to the world.

It is Gunnar.

The dog, thinks Eirikr, with sudden fury, he made some trick with the pebbles, with the black pebble, so he could be the one to do it. The dog.

"Well," Eirikr murmurs, "his horns appear." (7.3.35-38)

Yeah, Eirikr compares Gunnar to the devil here—that's what the horns reference is. And you know who else gets compared to the devil? Tor. So be sure to read up on him elsewhere in this section.

Despite his arrogance, though, Gunnar's no fool. So once Gunnar takes control of Blessed Island, he changes the religion, bringing in a new god— "a god who did not hold with sacrifice, or magic" (7.4.22). Clever, Gunnar. The old king died to appease the gods, but the new king isn't taking any chances when it comes to his own neck. Tricky and well played.

Interesting, though, after the slightly botched sacrifice of King Eirikr, once Gunnar takes control he actually turns out to be a fairly decent king. Check it:

Though he had been troublesome as a warrior before he became king, he had proved himself a fair ruler.

Something had changed for him, that night, as Eirikr's hot blood washed his face. (7.4.21-22)

Who'd have guessed, right? Maybe Gunnar realizes that being king is a tough job, maybe he admires the lengths Eirikr was willing to go to for his people—or maybe, just maybe, Gunnar realizes what a jerk he's been and took some time to grow the heck up. Whatever it is, the guy manages to turn things around and not destroy all hope on Blessed Island. Not too shabby.

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