Preparing For The End: A Narrative Study Of Vafþrúðnismál – Andrew McGillivray (2015)

It does not happen often that I review an unpublished work. I ran into this dissertation on Academia.edu (click on the cover). It is a 200+ page work “towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy”. An interesting read!

McGillivray gives a detailed overview of the sources we have of Norse mythology. Manuscripts, prints, their editions, differences, etc. The reason is to paint the picture of which Vafþrúðnismál is part. After this, the author is going to slice the text, making cross-references to other sources, giving context and explanation of each of the verses, alternatives to translations, etc.

For his analyses, McGillivray uses the works of Paul Ricœur (1913-2005), Aron Gurevich (1924-2006) and Mircea Eliade (1907-1986). Quite different authors you may think. Of Ricœur the author uses the method to break stories into segments, Gurevich provides “categories of medieval culture” and Eliade the “myth of eternal return”.

On the secondary level it is also hoped that from the formal analysis some conclusions can be drawn about the society for which these poems were important enough to write in manuscripts.

Thus we follow Odin traveling to meet a wise giants and challenge him to a duel of wisdom in order to become more wise himself. There are parallels in other known stories. Some of the information that is exchanged is more complete in these other sources or rather the contrary.

Because McGillivray takes his time to make his points, the work provides a wealth of information about Norse mythology, but also about the (older and more contemporary) scholarly investigations into this mythology. Preparing For The End is perhaps a bit dry and/or detailed for some, but certainly not as much as it could have been. I enjoyed reading this and wonder why the work has not been made available in print. Another work of the author is so maybe there is hope.

2015 University of Iceland

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