Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

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An Indie Next pick for December 2012, Song of the Vikings brings to life Snorri Sturluson, wealthy chieftain, wily politician, witty storyteller, and the sole source of Viking lore for all of Western literature. Tales of one-eyed Odin, Thor and his mighty hammer, the trickster Loki, and the beautiful Valkyries have inspired countless writers, poets, and dreamers through the centuries, including Richard Wagner, JRR Tolkien, and Neil Gaiman, and author Nancy Marie Brown brings alive the medieval Icelandic world ...

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Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

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An Indie Next pick for December 2012, Song of the Vikings brings to life Snorri Sturluson, wealthy chieftain, wily politician, witty storyteller, and the sole source of Viking lore for all of Western literature. Tales of one-eyed Odin, Thor and his mighty hammer, the trickster Loki, and the beautiful Valkyries have inspired countless writers, poets, and dreamers through the centuries, including Richard Wagner, JRR Tolkien, and Neil Gaiman, and author Nancy Marie Brown brings alive the medieval Icelandic world where it all began. She paints a vivid picture of the Icelandic landscape, with its colossal glaciers and volcanoes, steaming hot springs, and moonscapes of ash, ice, and rock that inspired Snorri's words, and led him to create unforgettable characters and tales. Drawing on her deep knowledge of Iceland and its history and first-hand reading of the original medieval sources, Brown gives us a richly textured narrative, revealing a spellbinding world that continues to fascinate.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[The most influential writer of the Middle Ages] wasn't Chaucer, or Malory or the writers of Arthurian romances but…a politically powerful Icelander called Snorri Sturluson…Song of the Vikings puts the works and the man together…His life deserves to be better known.”—Thomas Shippey, The Wall Street Journal

“An important undertaking...The first English-language book published on Snorri in 30 years…Readers will feel affected by the loss of this powerful and complicated man.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Nancy Marie Brown has taught me that the roots of this part run deeper than I knew — down through “Norse Gods and Giants” to the imagination of a gouty poet, historian, and lawyer drinking beer in his hot tub eight centuries ago.” —The Boston Globe

“From magic swords and giants’ gloves to murders in dank cellars, Brown’s story of Snorri Sturluson’s Iceland raises some interesting questions about the literary cannon and shines light on an author whose history could easily have lost.” —Portland Book Review

"'Snorri is the Homer of the North,’ says Brown in this wonderfully evocative biography, rich with Norse myths, told against the stark backdrop of Iceland in the middle ages…thanks to his ‘wizardry with words’ he lives on in our imaginations, inspiring the likes of Richard Wagner, Neil Gaiman and Tolkien, whose Bilbo Baggins is like Snorri himself: ‘fat, cowardly, clever, a collector of old lore, and overly fond of his food and drink’. A remarkable insight into a lost world of magic and myth, best read with a flagon of golden mead – Odin and Snorri's favourite drink.”—PD Smith, The Guardian

"For readers who've long sensed that older winds blow through the works of their beloved Tolkien, Song of the Vikings is a fitting refresher on Norse mythology. Without stripping these dark tales of their magic, Nancy Marie Brown shows how mere humans shape myths that resonate for centuries—and how one brilliant scoundrel became, for all time, the 'Homer of the North.' " —Jeff Sypeck, author of Becoming Charlemagne

"In medieval Iceland, one of the most remote corners of the known Earth, a very un-Viking Norseman named Snorri Storluson crafted the heroic mythology on which rests everything from Wagner's Ring cycle and the Brothers Grimm to Tolkein (who considered Snorri's work more central to English literature than Shakespeare's) and even the evils of Nazism. In "Song of the Vikings," Nancy Marie Brown brings to vivid life this age of poetic Viking skalds, of blood feuds and vengeance raids, of royal intrigue and fierce independence, when the barren, beautiful landscape of the North was haunted by trolls, giants and dragons - all of which Snorri, the most important writer the world ever forgot, captured for eternity."—Scott Weidensaul, author of The First Frontier

"With wry wit and graceful prose Nancy Marie Brown takes us back to medieval Iceland and introduces us to perhaps the greatest storyteller of the period, Snorri Sturluson.  Her depth of knowledge of the era, the rugged landscape, the Vikings, and their lifestyle is impressive." – Pat Shipman, author of To the Heart of the Nile

“For lovers of Medieval history, Norse legend, and myth in general, "Song of the Vikings" is a must read.  Nancy Marie Brown has transformed her extensive knowledge of thirteenth-century Iceland into an accessible and interesting book.  Bravo!”—Marilyn Yalom, author of Birth of the Chess Queen and How the French Invented Love

“Drawing upon her broad knowledge, Nancy Marie Brown not only skillfully situates Snorri’s powerful voice, his tales and his (mis)deeds, in their context, she also adeptly illuminates his modern appeal and curious afterlife in popular culture. This is a sober, well-informed, and imaginative take on Norse mythology.”—Gisli Palsson, author of Travelling Passions and professor of anthropology, University of Iceland

"Nancy Marie Brown, a clear and careful writer, has crafted a compelling evocation of Snorri Sturluson in his place and time, the Icelandic-Norse commonwealth of the turbulent thirteenth century. Although Snorri always remains at the center of this tale, Song of the Vikings is in many ways the biography of an entire, unusual people. Medieval Icelanders struggled for hundreds of years with their political allegiance, religious adherence, social structure and their remote island home itself with its awesome challenges to human existence. Furnished nine hundred years ago with the Latin alphabet, Icelanders began writing remarkable narratives of their own lives and of their Norse heritage—and clever, wily Snorri has long been considered by many scholars foremost among the medieval authors of Iceland as well as the leading power broker of his day on the island.

Nancy Marie Brown concludes her Song of the Vikings in truly constructive fashion with an absorbing essay on the reception of medieval Icelandic literature in the modern world, confirming the indelible signature of this sophisticated people on the texts of our global civilization, from Wagner and Tolkien to Thor (from Marvel Comics) and A.S. Byatt. Like her earlier The Far Traveler, on the expansive journeys of the Norse, Nancy Marie Brown’s Song of the Vikings belongs in the hands of every discerning student of Western civilization."—Patrick J. Stevens, Curator, the Fiske Icelandic Collection, Cornell University Library

Kirkus Reviews
Brown (The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages, 2010, etc.) reexamines the life and work of Snorri Sturluson, the 13th-century Icelandic chieftain known as the "Homer of the North." An Icelandic historian, poet, landowner and "law speaker" of Iceland's high court, Sturluson is the accredited author of two major contributions to the Norse cannon: the Edda and the Heimskringla. His sparkling wit and descriptive elegance distinguish his writing from other accounts and are responsible for making him a favorite of scholars and fantasy writers alike. It was Snorri's renditions of Odin the wanderer, elves, frost giants and epic battles that inspired literary greats like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin. A lover of feasting, women, booze and, most of all, power, Snorri was also a passionate advocate for the preservation of the fading Norse mythology and poetic style of his time. Brown's straightforward voice helps turn the pages, but the narrative is also belabored by an excess of genealogy. Although medieval Icelandic society was one of admittedly prolific breeders, the author makes little effort to help readers untangle her associations. Perhaps popular biographers like Stacy Schiff have left readers spoiled--readers may wonder how much more adeptly a biographer of her caliber might have brought this story to life. However, the book is absorbing enough that by the end, readers will feel affected by the loss of this powerful and complicated man. Despite the scattered feel, Brown's undertaking is an important one. It's the first English-language book published on Snorri in 30 years, and for that reason alone, it will make useful reading for ardent students and dedicated armchair historians.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781137278876
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/7/2014
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 304,042
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Nancy Marie Brown is the author of highly-praised books of nonfiction, including The Abacus and the Cross and The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman. She has studied Icelandic literature and culture since 1978. Formerly the editor of the award-winning magazine Research/Penn State, Brown lives in Vermont, where she keeps four Icelandic horses and an Icelandic sheepdog.

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Table of Contents

Map of Iceland in Snorri's Time vi

Snorri's Family Tree viii

Preface Gandalf ix

Introduction The Wizard of the North 1

1 Odin's Eye 9

2 The Uncrowned King of Iceland 37

3 On the Quay at Bergen 69

4 Norse Gods and Giants 103

5 Independent People 137

6 The Ring 171

Acknowledgments 207

Notes 209

Further Reading 235

Index 238

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2013

    Fun, exciting, and educational

    Brown is a fantastic author. She tells an enthralling tale trecking both the tales of the gods, and Snorri's life. I found this book impossible to put down, and it was a great resource for an essay on 13th century Iceland.

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  • Posted April 20, 2013

    This engaging biography describes the life of Snorri Sturluson,

    This engaging biography describes the life of Snorri Sturluson, a powerful 12th-century Icelandic chieftain and the author of the poetic Edda - one of the oldest surviving documents of Norse mythology. As a novice of Viking history, I found this book fascinating and informative - though I suspect that there is much speculation and Brown isn't always clear when she is speculating and when she has hard evidence for her claims. As such, I think this biography would be enjoyed by people who are interested in learning a bit about the Vikings, but not experts on the subject. 

    Brown started each chapter out with a legend out of Snorri's Edda. Often, she told how this legend differs from other known versions and/or how it has effected modern culture. The rest of the book describes Snorri's life - his youth in the household of "the uncrowned King of Iceland," his marriage, his rise to political power, and his downfall. She seemed to get most of her hard evidence from a few primary documents and an outwardly biased biography written by Snorri's nephew, so often she had to fill in the gaps by saying "it's possible it happened more like this, since his nephew's story doesn't really jive with Snorri's personality." Of course, that makes me wonder if she had just as much positive bias towards Snorri as his nephew had negative bias.  Overall, though, I'd say this biography was a success. When there is so little information available, and when the book is intended for a popular crowd rather than an academic one, such speculation is necessary - it makes the book more fun. 

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