Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Norse Myths (Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library) by Kevin Crossley-Holland

This is quite the scholarly feat. Kevin Crossley-Holland takes different sources with conflicting versions of Norse myths and creates a medley of 32 stories that are interesting and confusing. His copious notes at the end clarify the contradictory elements and he captures the flavor of the unique poems from that period of time. Kennings are a form of Anglo-Saxon poetry that are very difficult to decipher and understand. The author presents scaldic poetry in a rich manner that's oral background becomes clear. I personally found some of the short tales a bit boring (especially the long lineage stanzas the author kindly pared down but were still long), but understand why people needed to hear it as this was the passing of history from one generation to the next. I abandoned a few of those poems. I did make it through the flyting that Loki gives but that was emotionally charged as he levels all the gods by airing their flaws. He rants and insults everyone to the point that they kill his son and use his son's guts to tie him to a rock before stringing up a venomous snake that drips poison on Loki's face. I was more engrossed in the book's tales and how the author brings them to life with rich details adding dialogue, sounds, and smells. This is not a kid's book with its ribald and violent tales. If you love Norse myths and want a literary and cultural perspective, then I highly recommend it.

The introduction begins by explaining the Viking culture and three-tiered strata. Crossley-Holland explains that Myth 5 in his book explains this strata and that the eddaic poem, "Rigsthula," is the source of information. Viking lifestyles and religions are touched on giving the foundation for how the literature sprang from the culture. I went back to reread the introduction and got more out of it the second time. While reading the myths I flipped back and forth between each story and the notes in the back of the book. I found that when I was confused as to who was whom, the author explained the contradictions as well as put the myth in an understandable context. The myths are not always sequential and sometimes the peoples names changed or I wouldn't understand that it was Odin in disguise. I had many "ah-ha" moments. Overall I enjoyed the book, but it took more concentration than usual and I found by the end I just wanted to finish it. At least the story goes out with a bang. Literally.

5 Smileys

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