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

Written by Nancy Marie Brown
Review by Justin M. Lindsay

Norse mythology has long held the fascination of historians, writers, filmmakers and artists. Of these, Snorri Sturluson stands at the heart of the mythology, his name being known almost exclusively to Scandinavian scholars. Indeed, I expected a book about Snorri to be, at best, esoteric knowledge of little value to anyone outside of academia, or at worst, to be terribly boring. Not so, not with Brown’s treatment of this fascinating character.

Had Snorri been nothing more than a successful 13th-century Icelandic chieftain, his name would be relegated to the dustiest of bookshelves. But he was also a skald and a writer of genius proportions to whom we owe a tremendous debt, being our main – and often only – source for the stories about the Vikings. From Snorri’s sagas and poems, we have tales of Thor and his hammer, two-faced Loki, the Midgard Serpent, Ragnarok, Yggrdrasil the ash tree, and so many more.

Particularly fascinating are the closing chapters where Brown explores how Snorri’s work influenced such disparate developments as German nationalism, J.R.R. Tolkien and his literary cabal (Gandalf is patterned after Odin, and each dwarf’s name is pulled from Snorri’s work), and the birth of the fantasy genre, with its werewolves, undead, elves, and dwarves. Recommended.