Sunday, March 3, 2013

Song of the Vikings - Reviewed

Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse MythsSong of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths by Nancy Marie Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wrote this review for the Historical Novel Review, where it was first published.

Norse mythology has long held the fascination of historians, writers, and artists. We know of Odin, Loki, and Thor. We know of Ragnarok and Valhalla and Fenrir. We know of Valkyries and Vikings. The literary, musical, and cinematic worlds have all benefited from delving these depths. And Snorri Sturluson stands at the heart of it all.

His name is known almost exclusively to scholars of Scandinavian history and culture. Indeed, one might expect a book about him and his writings to be at best esoteric knowledge of little value to anyone outside of academia, or at worst to be terribly boring. Not so, not with Brown’s treatment of this fascinating character.

Had Snorri been nothing more than a successful (if over-reaching) 13th-century Icelandic chieftain, his name would be relegated to the dustiest of bookshelves. But he was also a skald and a writer of genius proportions. And it is in this capacity that we owe him a tremendous debt. He is our main—and often only— source for all the stories we know of the Viking’s pagan religion. His sagas and poems give us the tales of Thor and his hammer, two-faced Loki, the Midgard Serpent, the rainbow bridge, Ragnarok, Yggrdrasil the ash tree, and so many more.

Brown weaves the biography of Snorri with the worlds of Iceland and Norway, saga-writing, and skaldic-poetry composition. She builds a rich world for the reader to explore. I was particularly fascinated by her closing chapters in which she outlines the influence Snorri’s work has had on such disparate developments as German nationalism, J.R.R. Tolkien and his literary cabal (Gandalf is patterned after Odin, and each dwarf’s name is pulled from Snorri’s work), and the birth of the fantasy genre, with its werewolves, undead, elves, and dwarves. Recommended.

View all my reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment