Song of the Vikings | Nancy Marie Brown

Have you ever wondered where Tolkien came up with the name Gandalf—or, for that matter, Bifur, Bafur, Bombor, Nori, Ori, and Oin? These all come from Norse mythology, the folktales of Iceland. If you want to learn anything about Norse mythology, you’ll end up studying Snorri Sturluson, the definitive scribe of these tales.

Despite the reputation of Islanders, Snorri was no archetypal Viking. He was a rather portly ruler who used political power to make a fine life for himself. Brown’s book is chiefly a biography of Snorri, with Norse myths sprinkled throughout to shed light on his character.

One of the most interesting (and tragic) elements of Islandic history in the 1200s was the heavy-handed influence of Christianity. Bishops from the mainland tried to rein in the excess of the island’s residents with little success. As a Christian, it’s difficult to read how closely Christianity was tied to the politics of the day. (A cynic may offer the same criticism today!)

Norse poetry is another curious topic that Brown covers in some detail. Rather than an aesthetic exercise, Snorri’s poetry was essentially a word-game where the reader was expected to mull over the phrases to ken what the poet was actually talking about.

This book is dense. At times it is difficult to follow the various unfamiliar names and places. Still, a close reading is rewarded with a solid understanding of the foundations of Norse mythology.

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided at no cost through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer’s program.

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