Myths Of The Norsemen * Hélène Adeline Guerber (1909 Dover 1992 * isbn 0486273482)

While in Europe massive scholarly works were written about the religion, mytholgy and culture of the Northern peoples, at the other side of the water a book was published with the myths and sagas themselves. This book was originally published in 1909. I hadn’t noticed that when I bought this book at the ‘half priced books’ in Seattle and I was in particular caught by the subtitle “from the Eddas and Sagas”. As you know I have both Eddas more than once, but I have only a few separate sagas and I hoped that this book would have more of those.

I noticed that this book is still regarded as a standard work, but I am not sure why. The writer (re)tells the myths of the Northern people and here and there quotes from translations of them. These quotations are not given with their full source, but in ways like: “Balder Dead (Matthew Arnold)”, “Hávamál (W. Taylor’s tr.)” or “Sæmund’s Edda (Thorpe’s tr.)”. Here you can already see a few points of comment. First, these references are entirely unclear. “Sæmund’s Edda” is a reference to the poetic Edda, but this of course consists of different poems, under which the “Hávamál”, so why isn’t the poem named in the third case, while it is in the second? Besides, a line or stanza number would have been helpfull too. It is the same with the rest. Quotes are given, but the sources are kept vague.

For the rest, “Myths Of The Norsemen” is an enjoyable book. It starts with information from the Eddas telling about creation. After this separate gods, goddesses, giants, dwarves, etc. are told about, here and there quoting from sagas, myths or modern tellings. Also there are quite a few images.

For a beginner this may be a nice book to read. When you are digging deeper in the subjects, you will at least have heard about the most important things about the Aesir, the Vanas and the rest. Those of you who are already well informed may (like me) get irritated by the fact that you can hardly look back the information yourself because you have no idea where to look. Still -like I said- this book seems to be regarded as a standard work until the present day, so I am sure that Guerber has brought together information from a respectable amount of sources not easily found in one book.

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