Thursday, 26 April 2018

Review: The Norse Myths, by Carolyne Larrington

Being into history and fantasy, the Norse myths seemed a nice blending of the two, so I bought this book.

The author adopts more traditional spellings for Viking gods (Loki is identical, but Thor’s name is spelt with the rune ‘thorn’ and two Rs). It’s more in keeping with the history, but like Greek names spelt with Ks (Hektor, Akhilleus etc) it can look a bit odd.

Like most people, I have only a passing familiarity with Norse myths (I could name maybe four gods before reading this book), and was interested to learn more. The book begins and finishes with the start and end of the world, with the intervening chapters covering the gods, their opponents, and human heroes.

Loki is the most intriguing fellow, because gods are usually good or evil with small nuance, but he’s genuinely tricky to pin down (amongst his odder feats was becoming impregnated by a giant’s horse and giving birth to Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged horse).

An interesting perspective was offered on Thor’s giant-killing antics, which is generally shown as being a good thing, but when he and Loki encounter a sleeping giant, he decides it’s hammer time and tries to smash the giant’s skull in, which looks murderous (and impolite) rather than heroic.

In addition to the myths themselves, there’s also quite a lot of artwork (both from the time and more recent versions in paintings etc) and some mentions of recent literary works (most famously, Tolkien’s stuff) that were influenced by Norse myths.

I especially enjoyed the author’s inclusion of commentary on the impact of Christianity and the dating of certain myths (which affects both Christian influence in storytelling and in the way the gods might be painted as inferior to Jesus). The suggestion put by several ancient writers that the gods were in fact excellent real people, whose deeds led to exaggerations and mythologising, is a neat way of wrapping together ancient Norse myths and (then) contemporary Christian thinking, without discarding wholesale the value or interest in said myths.

Downsides are minor, but irksome. For a start, CE. Common Era is a daft revisionist nonsense applied by some to the Christian calendar (BC/AD becomes BCE/CE) for reasons that are beyond me. There’s also a reference to a certain story reflecting, in the author’s view, ‘the patriarchy’. I’m not fond of imposing modern political perspectives on interpretations of ancient stories.

The book was enjoyable, and a good introduction (from my limited knowledge of the area) to Norse myths. I’d give it four out of five.


No comments:

Post a Comment