Song Of The Vikings And The Making Of Norse Myths by Nancy Marie Brown (book review).

Snorri Sturluson was a poet, politician and scholar. He lived from 1179 to 1241 and is one of the reasons that contribute to Stan Lee and Disney making so much money from super-heroes. He is responsible for writing the ‘Prose Edda’, a poetic tract that explains the origins of the Norse Gods and the Norse mythology. In her book, ‘Song Of The Vikings’, Nancy Marie Brown uses the life of Snorri to explore the origins of these myths and how he came to write them.


A couple of months ago I reviewed Tolkien’s own attempt to re-tell Norse mythology ‘The Legend Of Sigurd And Gudrun’ ( and mentioned that you perhaps didn’t need a primer to tackle the book, though, for example ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ is probably the more accessible work. I tried to read ‘Song Of The Vikings’ back in October 2013, but at that point had not read the ‘Prose Edda’ itself. I gave up on Brown’s book then. However, having tackled both the ‘Prose Edda’ and Tolkien’s version, I felt better prepared to go back to ‘Song Of The Vikings’. That then is my first warning, though the book operates serviceably as a biography of Snorri, you will get more from the text if you have more of a grounding in the myths than say just ‘Thor: The Dark World’.

The book is a well-researched and operates not only as being about the mythology of the Vikings and Snorri, but also the life, culture and politics of living in early Medieval Iceland. Snorri was a ‘lawspeaker’, essentially a judge who knew the law enough in order to be able to recite it. You literally had to be ‘well-versed’ in the law. There is no doubt that because of this position and his writing, Snorri must have had an enormous capacity to recall information but also be a good orator. In the oral traditions of antiquity, these are vital skills not only for people of law, but also storytellers and poets. Snorri was a lawspeaker at the Althing (literally ‘All-thing’), the Icelandic Parliament, where Viking landowners would gather to settle disputes and discuss the political challenges of the day. Brown does a good job of relating the stories and inherent drama of conflicts that occurred at the Althing and how they would have influenced Snorri. The poet was skilled at creating memorable characters and Brown shows us where those influences may have come from.

Brown has created an interesting and enlightening examination of Snorri’s life and history, as well as the foundation of Norse mythology in the death-cults of kings. At some points, I found the writing to be a little dry and you need to know your mythology well to get more out of the book. However, if you do want to understand how and why Snorri came to create the world of Odin, Thor and Loki then the book will undoubtedly help you. It is a scholarly text and, because of that, Snorri will no doubt have approved of it. For myself, though, I would still argue that there is space on the shelves for a broader, accessible history of Norse and Germanic mythology that is waiting to be written.

John Rivers

April 2014

(pub: Palgrave Macmillan. 244 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: £17.99 (UK), $27.00 (US), $31.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-230-33884-5)

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