Tuesday, May 6, 2014

song of the vikings

I'm guessing that Nancy Marie Brown, author of Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths is an academic. I may be saying that because its mentioned somewhere in the front matter, or because the book is so well researched, including pages of end notes. But part of the reason I'm saying that is because this book reads like it was written by an academic. That's not a bad thing, and I certainly wouldn't expect a book like this to be written like a racy, historical fiction, it was just a little methodical, and occasionally repetitive. For example, I'm not surprised that I guy living 600 years ago died at the end of this book, and I didn't mind that it was foreshadowed in the text, but it may have been mentioned 2 or 3 times. I get it

Brown explains how she came to the story of Snorri through her love of Tolkien; the same connection is why I picked this book up after hearing about it on the radio. After reading Beowulf a little while ago, it became pretty clear that not only did Tolkien enjoy reading, studying and translating these old works, he borrowed from them too in his efforts to weave together a mythology for Britain. It was when I read Tolkien's translation of The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún though, that I really understood his connection with Snorri Sturluson's work, and so when I heard about this book by Brown, I figured I had to give it a read.

This is Brown's biography of Snorri, and of Iceland. Its clear from the beginning that Brown is in love with Iceland, and that theme of exploring Iceland through Snorri, and Snorri through his life in Iceland is what carries the book. Snorri Sturluson may have singlehandedly saved the oral tradition of Norse myth for future generations, by writing down, and sometimes embellishing stories that had been told for hundreds of year, and maybe longer. He also inspired others in his own generation and in the generations that followed to continue the tradition.

This book was a lot of fun, and interesting to the Tolkien fan, but there weren't too many surprising moments, and only a few solid Tolkien tie-ins. What this isn't, is a translation of the Prose Edda, but what it is, is a great companion to go along with that, and a ringing tribute to the man that gave northern Europeans a mythology to rival the Romans and the Greeks.

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