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Best Books of Norse Mythology

Updated on January 14, 2015

Full Blooded Adventures with the Viking Gods

The Norse myths are peopled with all sorts of fantastic beings - gods and giants, elves, trolls, dwarves and dragons!

Like all mythology, if we pay close attention to what the stories are saying, we learn a great deal about what our ancestors thought was important in life.

Their myths tell us about their perception of the spiritual universe. The world as they saw it.

Let's look at the best books on the mythology of the North, the legends of the Nordic world and the Sagas of ordinary people who understood the great Northern Gods.

Yggdrasil, the World Tree
Yggdrasil, the World Tree

Asgard versus Mt Olympus

If you were brought up, as I was, chiefly on the stories of the Ancient Greeks, then the tales from the frozen North are like something from another world.

Indeed, they are from another world! A world without the luxuries of the Mediterranean. The Nordic Gods had no time for dalliance or for idle games with mortals, to them, courage and loyalty were more important than dabbling in petty squabbles or holding beauty contests.

The mythology is grim, like the breath from the glacier, wreathed in mists and fogs of long, sunless winters, but there are gleams of grandeur and quick, bright sparks of humour.

Gods and Myths of Northern Europe

If you're interested in the Northern way, there are a couple of books that you just have to have. This is one of them.

Gods and Myths of Northern Europe

I've had this book for a long time and I recommend it as the most comprehensive and clear account of the Northern Mythology.

My review on Amazon from 2003 says "Can't be beaten"

This classic work is still on my bookshelf, well-thumbed and well-loved after 45 years of being part of my life. I can't recommend this highly enough!

So, it's now been there for 39 years. About time I got myself a new copy.

Don't forget Beowulf

I've read a few translations since first meeting Beowulf and my favourite is from Seamus Heaney, his version of Beowulf is an absolute read-aloud delight.

There was Shiels Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
a wrecker of mead benches, rampaging among foes.
This terror of the hall troops had come far

If you ever feel the Lure of the North you will know what I mean - and this translation is for you

Gerard Butler as Beowulf
Gerard Butler as Beowulf

More about Beowulf

It was meeting Beowulf in school that opened my eyes (and ears) to the epic poetry of the past. For you need your ears too.

Beowulf, Ancient Hero
In the face of danger and adversity they display impressive courage for the greater good of all. They are Heroes. We have always had heroes and Beowulf, great monster-slayer is one of our earliest Heroes.

Beowulf and Grendel the Movie
Beowulf and Grendel takes you into a world of fable and myth, a world where men, larger than life, stride along the border of light and dark, beset by evil dreams

More on Loki

A refreshing look at the Northern Gods through the eyes of Loki the Trickster and how it all started when he was tricked himself.

Highly enjoyable

More on Loki

Loki the Trickster from Scandinavian Stories
In the old Scandinavian Mythology you will come across Loki, the Trickster, a puzzling and complex character. You either love him or hate him, it's hard to ...

The Sagas

I love the Sagas!

These stories are about ancient Scandinavian and Germanic history, about early Viking voyages and the battles that took place during the voyages, about migration to Iceland and of feuds between Icelandic families. They tell of the peoples' relationship to their gods.

The texts are epic tales in prose, sometimes with stanzas or whole poems in alliterative verse embedded in the text, of heroic deeds of days long gone.

These tales can be rough as guts, they tell us of those times when a harsh climate produced harsh men. And plenty of harsh women too.

The Sagas are part of the heritage of European culture, on the same scale as Homer and Shakespeare

Hrolf's Saga

The stirring saga of Hrolf, king of Denmark, his lineage, and of his companions.

Hrolf, with his treacherous family and famous champions, comes to magnificent life in an earthy, no-holds-barred gutsy account.

Hrolf, a warrior chieftain in the sixth century, was widely remembered in the medieval North as one of the most magnificent kings of "ancient times," The Icelanders' knowledge of the Scandinavian past was so broad that in medieval times they were acknowledged throughout the North to be master storytellers and the keepers of ancient poetic lore.


Sigurd the Dragon Slayer

Based on Viking Age poems and composed in thirteenth-century Iceland, The Saga of the Volsungs combines mythology, legend, and sheer human drama.

It tells of the heroic deeds of Sigurd the dragon slayer, who acquires runic knowledge from one of Odin's Valkyries.

This 13th century Icelandic saga, rediscovered in 19th century Europe, was a prime source for Wagner's Ring cycle.

Elements are also found in Tolkien.


Classic of Icelandic Literature

Hrafnkel's Saga and Other Icelandic Stories (Penguin Classics)
Hrafnkel's Saga and Other Icelandic Stories (Penguin Classics)

To an Icelander of the classic age, all that matters is personal strength, courage, cunning and stamina. Just like Hrafnkel

 

Four Northern Gods

For Younger Readers - It's never too early to start

D'Aulaires' Book of Trolls (New York Review Children's Collection)
D'Aulaires' Book of Trolls (New York Review Children's Collection)

Nasty grubby little trolls, the ones who mostly live under bridges and can be easily defeated

 

The Future is Bleak

The future is bleak. The gods are destined to be defeated as the Forces of Chaos ultimately outnumber and overcome the Guardians of Order.

Heimdall, the watchman of the gods, will summon the heavenly host with a blast on his horn as he sees Loki and his monstrous children burst their bonds and the dead sailing from Niflheim to attack the living. The final battle, Ragnarok, will begin.

Odin will be swallowed by Fenrir. Thor will kill Jörmungandr, but will drown in the venom. Loki will be the last to die, after being wounded by Heimdall.

But, although the gods were destined to be defeated and killed, Baldur and Hoder, along with the new world, will be born again.

Stories from a thousand years ago

A fascinating collection of over 400 Scandinavian folktales and stories.

I'm sure that I had this book as a child but, when searching for a copy, I came up with this published in 1991. Maybe it's a reprint? In any case, the stories are the same.

I loved these tales then and my grandchildren are thrilled with them now.

Ancient Runes

No treatment of ancient Nordic spirituality would be complete without at least a mention of the runes, letters carved on wood, bone, stone or metal that not only served as part of a functional alphabet, but also symbolised key mythical-psychological concepts in the Nordic world view.


A Guide to the Runes

Did you first come across Runes in Tolkien? I think I must have done so, on first reading LOTR many years ago (too many to confess) I know that I was captured by the Lure of the North.

If you're into Runes, or just want to learn about them, this book is a useful reference of current popular rune usage.

A fascinating look at what was in the past and what's being used today.

© 2008 Susanna Duffy

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      AlleyCatLane 3 years ago

      I grew up studying the Romans and Greeks. Never really got into Norse mythology. I am enjoying watching The Vikings though, so I'll have to add some of these to my reading list. Thanks for the recommendations.

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      Ask_Me 3 years ago

      Great books on the Scandinavian way of life here

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      Agapantha 3 years ago

      Thrilling stories

    • mariacarbonara profile image

      mariacarbonara 3 years ago

      I find Norse mythology to be some of the most interesting there is. For us now its just stories but for them it was more like religion.

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      CannyGranny 4 years ago

      I've been getting my grandchildren into tales from the Norsemen recently

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