Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Runes 102 - Book Review - Song of the Vikings

When I began reading Song of the Vikings, by Nancy Marie Brown, I expected to learn about Snorri Sturluson.  I did; but Brown provides so much more than his life story.  She doesn’t simply walk her readers through this essential historical figure’s day-to-day life; she gives us the context (both in Iceland and northern Europe) in which his life existed; she relates him to his culture, and she even gives us tidbits of the myths he recorded, while inferring potential links that Snorri may have made between the gods, himself, and the influential people of his day whom he tried so desperately to impress.  While all of these details are important to understanding Snorri Sturluson and his writing, perhaps the greatest contribution of this book is to show how Snorri’s impressive writing was not only reborn, but came to influence many great writers and, of course, the illustrious composer, Richard Wagner.

According to Ms. Brown, Snorri wanted two things in life – to be the “uncrowned king of Iceland” and the king’s skald, his poet.  Brown tells us how the shrewd Snorri achieved the first by becoming Lawspeaker and the most powerful chieftain in Iceland.  However, what I found to be truly fascinating and engagingly written was not simply that Snorri wrote the Prose Edda and several sagas, but why he wrote them – to achieve the second thing, becoming the king’s poet.  Brown explains this aspect brilliantly.

As I neared the end of the book, and with Snorri being dead by this point in the story, I wondered what else there could be to discuss.  This is when I found Brown’s jewel – she leads us from the myths being forgotten within a hundred years of Snorri’s death to their rebirth and influence on great writers like Stephen King, JK Rowling, and Terry Brooks, but, most notably on JRR Tolkien.  Brown brings the relationship between Tolkien and CS Lewis to life, so the reader feels their enthusiasm and excitement for Snorri’s work and understands its importance to literature.

For anyone wanting to learn more about the life of Snorri Sturluson, life in early medieval Iceland, the origin of the Norse myths or how these great works have affected world literature and culture, I recommend Nancy Marie Brown’s Song of the Vikings.  She takes all of these aspects of Icelandic culture and weaves them together in an appealing and informative way.

1 comment:

  1. Imagine our world, if becoming "king" depended on being a good poet!
    I have Nancy's book waiting and your review makes it all the more tempting.