‘Twas Night Before Christmas

A parody of the poem attributed to Clement Clarke Moore.

Probably not Yngvi…

It was in the May 1940 issue of Unknown that a novelette written by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt was first published. The novelette was called The Roaring Trumpet, and marked the first appearance of their hero, Harold Shea, who went on to feature in a series of other stories by de Camp and Pratt It also marked the non-appearance of an equally famous character. At one point Harold Shea and the Norse god Heimdall are imprisoned by Frost Giants after losing a fight with them. While there they encountered a fellow prisoner who comes to the front of his cell every hour on the hour to yell, “Yngvi is a LOUSE!”

Thus began a debate which fascinated science fiction fandom for decades. Was this Yngvi indeed a louse or had his good name been falsely besmirched? At the Denvention, the 1941 worldcon, Milton Rothman (who went on to become a nuclear physicist and science fiction author) put forward a motion at the business meeting to the effect that Yngvi was not a louse only for it to be defeated. A subsequent motion was then passed stating that Rothman himself was a louse.

What the truth of this matter is I suppose we’ll never know for certain. Certainly, at least to the best of my knowledge, neither L. Sprague de Camp or Fletcher Pratt ever broke down and revealed the truth about their throw-away non-appearing character.

If Yngvi was indeed a louse then I like to think that he was probably a trickster figure, a junior Loki if you will. Yes, just let that idea sink in before you read any further. It’s to that proposition that the following poem is dedicated…

‘Twas Night Before Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, the end of year slump
And nobody’s posting, not even to grump

That they’re sitting at home, so bored with their day
That to pixel-stained technopeasants they’re liable to stray

My monitor bathed me in a soft festive glow
As I sprawled in my chair, too lazy to go

And tuck myself snug into bed for the night
To dream of the past and putting it right

When from out from the chimney arose a loud clatter
Of scratching and curses and similar matter

I was up in a flash and gasped in surprise
As a chimney indeed met my wondering eyes

What madness was this I thought to myself
Seconds before there was not even a shelf

The wall had been blank, nothing but bricks
To add such a feature was the wildest of tricks

So when his black boots first slid into view
I took it most calmly because that I knew

That whoever made chimneys down them to drop
Would not in my power be easy to stop

So I sat back in my chair to wait for my guest
To reveal himself fully and the why of his quest

It took a few moments of squirming and kicking
Before he appeared rather than sticking

It was Yngvi of course, I could tell by his dress
An amazingly scrofulous, glorious mess

He spoke a few words with a wink and a leer
Making it plain why he’d travelled to here

According to Yngvi come each Solstice Eve
It was his regular duty, a gift he must leave

To one random member of the science fiction crew
A wish they could have, for the new year come true

I raised up my eyebrows and exclaimed in surprise
To trust someone like me was a mad enterprise

Yngvi laughed at my claim and explained in a trice
This was never a contest between naughty and nice

The decision was random and made to bring life
For Yngvi’s a louse and quite fond of such strife

Having decided the why I then started to think
About what sort of change might tickle me pink

I shuffled my thoughts, from noble to lowly
Before announcing success by nodding most slowly

To Yngvi I smiled and announced my grand plan
Most outrageous it was, a perverse little scam

He nodded quite gravely but picked not a bone
Yes, he accepted my choice, it was written in stone

The change that I’d ask for soon would become clear
With the arrival too soon of another New Year

Then with a bow of farewell and a tap of his nose
He departed at once, up the chimney he rose

My wall reappeared right after his leap
So then I did wonder if I’d just been asleep

But I thought my dear reader as I blundered to bed
That I’d be able to tell if you soon asked for my head

So to one and to all my good wishes I send
And the hope my choice doesn’t mean chaos my friends

2 thoughts on “‘Twas Night Before Christmas”

  1. One thing that I stumbled across in Snorri’s “Poetic Edda” is that Yngvi is actually one of Frey’s alternate names (All of the Norse deities seem to have 20 or 30 as I recall. How much of this is syncretism at work and how much of this was just a matter of Norse poets making life easy for themselves by having more then one way to end a rhyme or be able to scan(Snorri’s book was meant as a “How to” on writing poetry) is anyone’s guess. I have no doubt that de Camp and Pratt both knew this so I guess this represents their opinion of male fertility deities. ^_^


    1. Well now, how fascinating. Thank you for letting me know about this. L. Sprague de Camp would probably and Fletcher Pratt would certainly be aware of where the name Yngvi originated. As I’ve always suspected, this was a joke they slipped in for their own amusement, not expecting anybody who read the story to know enough about Norse mythology to pick up on it.


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