However, what Ratatoskr may lack in size, it makes up for in mischievousness, highlighting a playful side of the Norse character.

A different kind of messenger

Scan and search any Norse saga or story, and there is a literal menagerie of mythical creatures and animals. One of the most playful, however, is a loveable rascal of a squirrel named Ratatoskr. 

His name, though modern linguists and historians are uncertain, is believed to be Old Norse for "drill tooth." Despite having a nickname that would send a shudder down the spine of any modern dentist, this squirrel was more than a mere ravenous rodent. 

Ratatoskr, according to the Norse sagas and mythological stories, was an important messenger. It was said to reside in Yggdrasil, the eternal tree that was the literal and metaphorical center of all 9 (yes, 9!) Norse universes.

Yet Ratatoskr was not the only creature residing in this great oak. Its job was to deliver messages between an unnamed eagle who lived perched on high and a malevolent serpent-like dragon, Nidhogg, who was constantly chewing on the sprawling roots of Yggdrasil. 

Now, these two creatures on high and low were in a state of perpetual war with each other, and Ratatoskr, for better or worse, was given the important job of being the messenger. 

However, despite the somewhat serious nature of this peacemaking task, Ratatoskr had a mischievous side where it would often add insults or exaggerations to the message that he was said to relay, thus further frosting relations between the eagle and dragon.

The chaotic and jestful nature of Norse mythology

Despite its mischievous and playful nature, Ratatoskr appears to fulfill an important symbolic function in Norse mythology. Its role as a messenger, full of chaotic and playful discord, underlies the very chaotic nature present throughout all Norse myths and legends. 

Furthermore, its messages underscored the conflict and tension that was rife through all 9 of the mythical universes of Norse mythology. Reveling in the chaos that it had helped perpetuate, Ratatoskr also helped to create a lighter side to the often-deadly conflict that was ever present in Norse culture and society.

Ratatoskr was said to reside in the Norse sacred tree, Yggdrasil. Illustration: The Viking Herald

Like Nidhoogg, Ratatoskr is said to also gnaw and grind at Yggdrasil. Though both creatures are helping to destroy the very thing giving them shelter, this is said to represent the cycle of death, destruction, and renewal so evident in Norse mythology. 

As a creature that straddles the great eternal tree, Ratasok is said to be representative of the flow of communication and words, either good or bad, between different creatures, entities, universes, and realms of Norse mythology.

Its cheeky role as a communicative jester, one that keeps arguments and tensions alive and even helps cheekily expands them, reflects the high regard that similar people had in broader Viking society and communities.

Big afterlife for a small character

What is very interesting is how this rather small and obscure creature has been the inspiration for many contemporary works of art and entertainment. 

Whilst other characters in Norse mythology may be better known – including Loki, Odin, and Thor – none have quite the ability to mix cunning charm with whimsical gossipmongering quite like Ratatoskr.

There are more than half a dozen video games – including in latest editions of the Assassin's Creed and God of War series – in which Ratatoskr is a main character. 

It also appears in a series of fictional novels, the most notable being Neil Gaiman's American Gods, released in 2010, as well as the inspiration for a card in the Kaldheim card set in the Magic The Gathering trading card game. 

It appears that centuries after it first appeared in the Norse sagas, modern generations seemed to revel in one of Norse mythology's lighter and funnier creatures.

For more on some of the best parts of Norse mythology, visit the BBC History Extra website here

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