Monday, June 13, 2016

The Song of the Vikings


I just finished reading Song of the Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown.  What a terrific book! For all my obsession with mythology, I had never looked into the author of the Edda, of Heimskringla, and of so much more. So I was astonished to discover how much is known about the life of Snorri Sturluson, the man who wrote down most of what we know about the Norse gods.

Snorri, it turns out, was both the richest and the most powerful man in Iceland. He was a wily merchant and an ambitious politician in an age when it was pretty much a given that such a man would die by violence. It seems almost unfair that he should also be the greatest poet of his time and place, but there it is. To our lasting benefit, he wrote down (and in some cases may have invented) the stories of the Norse gods at the last possible moment when it could be done. A generation after his death, the poetic tradition he worked in was dead, and the stories on their way to oblivion.

Nancy Marie Brown is the ideal guide to the life and works of Snorri. She knows the material up one side and down the other. Occasional asides provide glimpses into the enormous body of scholarship that has accrued around Icelandic literature. She has a good sense of what the casual reader will find of interest and leaves out a great deal that the specialist must surely find fascinating.

Most importantly, this woman can write. The prose is fluid, the sentences and paragraphs pleasurable, and she sails the reader through a great deal of complicated material with grace and clarity. I loved the material, but I also found a great deal of joy in the telling.

If this is your sort of thing, check it out. I'm sure you can find it on ABE but if not, then Interlibrary Loan is your friend.



Chris Heinz said...

Yes, my brother turned me on to this several years ago. I have always loved Norse mythology, and I was amazed to find out that some of my favorite tales, like Thor & Loki sleeping in the giant's glove, were not transcriptions of older oral myths, but were just created from scratch by Snorri. Also, the creation myths, and the total fire and ice motif, are so totally Iceland! This book is a real eye-opener.

DAK said...

(I've grabbed it for my Kindle just now. I'm quite curious about Snorri).