‘Thor: Viking God Of Thunder’ is volume five in the ‘Myths And Legends’ series published by Osprey under its ‘Osprey Adventures’ imprint. The author, Graeme Davis, gained his interest in the Vikings as an archaeology student and has also written a Vikings sourcebook for the GURPS role-playing game, so he comes to the subject with considerable background knowledge.
The book starts with an extremely useful introduction which lists, for the reader’s convenience, the names and descriptions of the Aesir, the principal tribe of Norse Gods, of whom Thor is one. It also describes the nine worlds recognised in Norse mythology including Asgard, the realm of the Aesir, and Midgard, where humans live. As an aside, for those who don’t already know, Midgard translates as ‘Middle Earth’ in English and thus provides one possible source of inspiration for JRR Tolkien’s use of that name for the world explored in ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ and his related writings.
The next section, ‘Thor The Legend’, provides an extremely interesting summary of the two main historical sources for what we know about Thor, both of which were written in Iceland in the thirteenth century. ‘The Poetic Edda’, attributed to Saemund Sigfusson, is split into thirty-two sections, some nine of which refer to Thor. The book briefly summarises these nine. ‘The Prose Edda’, written by the poet and politician Snorri Sturluson, is split into a prologue and three chapters. Again, these are briefly summarised.
Armed with this background information, the rest of the book retells the main stories about Thor that are found in the historical sources, starting with the tale of how Thor got his magic hammer, Mjolnir, and moving on to his various exploits and adventures, including his embarrassment by the magic of the giant Utgardaloki, his subsequent hatred of and battles with the giants of Jotunheim and his bragging contests with various opponents including an old man called Harbard. The main section of the book draws to a close with an account of Ragnarok, the ending of the world during which Thor and the other Norse gods all die.
The remaining chapters of the book recount other legends in which Thor gains a passing mention, summarise what little is known of the worship of Thor and the other Norse gods in pre-Christian times and then discuss the highs and lows of Thor’s legacy, including the interest that the Nazis took in Nordic myth and culture at one end and the modern reinvention of Thor as a comicbook hero by Marvel Comics in the 1960s, now brought right up to date with the ‘Thor’ and ‘Avengers’ movies of the last few years at the other.
I’ve got nothing but praise for this book. It provides a short but comprehensive retelling of all the main Nordic stories about Thor and his exploits, illustrated throughout by a mixture of historical and new illustrations. I should make particular reference to the work of the illustrator, Miguel Coimbra, who has provided seven beautiful new full colour paintings to complement the older pictures and the text. Coimbra’s artwork provides a sense of grandeur and dynamic action that is sometimes missing from the older pictures, many of which are rather static, and his use of colour energises the entire book.
If you’re familiar with Marvel’s version of Thor, whether in comics or on film, and would like to know more about the original mythic figure, I can’t think of a better introduction than this book.
(pub: Osprey Adventures. 80 page illustrated softcover. Price: £10.99 (UK), $17.95 (US), $19.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78200-075-4)
check out website: www.ospreyadventuresbooks.com