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How did you learn about Norse mythology? For me, it was from books. My house is full of books that talk about different types of mythology. I even went to college to learn more about the best mythology books. There's nothing I love more than digging into a fresh mythology book to learn about a new pantheon or find out a new scholarly take on a subject.
If this sounds like you, or if you've always wanted to read about Norse mythology but never knew where to start, I've compiled my favorites as a mere suggestion. Take it as you will-- there are thousands of books out there. Don't see your favorite? Let me know in the comments.
In no specific order, there are the best of the best for those looking to learn more about Norse mythology.
I've already written a pretty lengthy review about Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology, which you can read here, so I'll keep it short.
Gaiman LOVES Norse mythology, and he really liked telling the stories aloud to his kids when they were younger. Somewhere along the line, he realized that he should write down how he tells them and spread that love around.
While reading this, you'll feel like you're sitting around the fire, listening to him tell the tale. They're written like they're meant to be told-- exciting, but without all the footnotes other mythology books like to add. They're told like stories-- because that's what they are.
Keep reading to see which other book from Gaiman made the list!
The Sagas of the Icelanders by Jane Smiley
The Saga of the Icelanders takes inspiration from a series of Icelandic prose narratives called the family sagas. They're called this because they focus on the families who first settled Iceland, then Greenland, and finally, made their way to North America before turning back.
A Goodreads user called this book, "a huge undertaking," and it is. There are a ton of names that look very similar to one another and a lot of tangents that might be hard to follow. If you've read the Game of Thrones books and are ready for a real-world comparison, this is your next step.
Want to know about the man who compiled everything? Nancy Marie Brown has Snorri Snurlson's number. He wasn't just a skald traveling from longhouse to longhouse, or some kind of a Norse Homer. He was incredibly smart, politically powerful, and one of the richest men in Iceland at the time. He was also incredibly worldly for a man of that time, and that no doubt helped him compile the stories we know and love.
Brown has been known to write for Tor.com, so if you want to get an impression of her writing style to find out if this style is for you. A lot of it is speculation on the man's life, but it's well-reasoned and researched.
Of course, it will help you a lot to have a good understanding of Snurlson's works. So, naturally, we have to recommend...
There are quite a few translations of The Poetic Edda out there, but I personally prefer the one by Jackson Crawford. This version covers everything in Codex Regius of the Poetic Edda, but not Atlamál. It also includes Baldrs draumar, Rígsãula, Võluspá in skamma, and Grottasõngr. If you're not sure what that means, read it anyway.
The reason I personally like it is because a lot of the time, you see translations that try to copy the meter (or rhyming scheme and syllabic pattern) of the original at a great loss to the original meaning of the poem. Crawford doesn't bother with that, but instead focuses on telling the story as they were meant to be understood. I wouldn't recommend this for an academic study. If you're a newcomer who is looking to understand The Poetic Edda, this is the place to start.
And going along with that, you should also check out...
The Prose Edda by Snorri Snurlson
To go against the grain, I actually really like the Project Gutenburg translation of the Prose Edda. Project Gutenburg compiles books that are beyond copyright for free on the Internet and is an extremely valuable tool for those of us who write about mythology.
The Prose Edda talks a lot about the beginnings of Norse mythology, including who the world came to be, who the gods are, and how the world is laid out. If you're looking for the book that will tell you all about the gods, this is your book.
Fun fact: supposedly the word 'edda' comes from the word, 'great-grandparent.' This book is the great-grandparent of not just Norse mythology, but also modern fantasy books, since so much of our conception of fantasy comes from Tolkien, who got his inspiration from Norse mythology.
Daniel McCoy's blog, Norse Mythology for Smart People, is, without a doubt, my favorite resource on the Internet. Dan has a very intelligent and deep voice that takes you through each myth carefully, then breaks them down into a scholarly assessment.
If you're not just interested in the myths but also want to know what they tell us about the human condition and how they relate to other stories and myths through time and around the world, this is the book for you.
The D'Aulaires were very famous writers and illustrators of mythology books for children. In fact, you were probably introduced to their Greek mythology book back in elementary school. Their Norse Myths was my personal first introduction to the world of Odin and the other gods, way back in the first grade.
While these books are written for children, they belong in the collection of anyone who loves Norse myths-- if not for their text, then for their images. Their style is wholly unique, using bright colors and very intricate drawings to bring these tales out of the imagination and on to the page. They have a follow-up book called Norse Gods and Giants that is well-worth being in your collection as well.
This is the only fiction book to make the list, although there are TONS of really amazing fictional novels out there that use Norse mythology as inspiration (probably enough that I could write another whole list!). I decided to list it on here because it doesn't just involve Norse mythos-- it tells them.
I like to call American Gods the real All-American novel. Although it was written by a British man, no other book so captures the American spirit, and what it feels like to travel across the United States.
As Shadow and Mr. Wednesday travel, Shadow and we the readers learn so much about Norse mythology. We learn the relationship between Norse gods, we learn the history of how the Norse first came to America, and we learn in some very intimate ways how these two cultures wound up melding together.
In case you're completely out of the loop, JRR Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, was the biggest Norse mythology stan. In fact, his passion wasn't really fiction writing. It was translating Norse and Anglo-Saxon stories into English. You might just say that Tolkien was a very cunning linguist.
Sigurd and Gudrun consist of two epic, narrative poems, as well as a handful of related texts. These poems come from the Poetic Edda by Snorri Snurlson. They detail the story of the great hero, Sigurd, who fought the dragon Fafnir, and the princess Gudrun, who he was tricked into marrying.
Which book got YOU into Norse mythology? What would you suggest adding to our list? Comment below and let us know!
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