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Gods and Myths of Northern Europe

46 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0140136272
ISBN-10: 0140136274
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Hilda Davidson (1912-2006) was a lecturer and Vice-President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (January 3, 1965)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140136274
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140136272
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Erehwon on October 9, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Though first published some 40 years ago, this volume remains useful as a serious, yet accessible overview of Norse mythology. But, as a starting point to those new to the subject, I would recommend The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland, which is a wonderfully evocative account of the Northern pantheon.
Davidson's book is a fine overview of the subject from a more scholarly perspective. It is a book of modest scope and the author is conservative in her assertions. At times her diffidence is endearing, at others it is frustrating. Clearly, the book is a product of its time. Overall, it has withstood the test of time and I anticipate it will be used for decades to come.
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54 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Elderbear VINE VOICE on April 23, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Davidson provides an accessible, scholarly overview of Norse deities and mythology. Three of her eight chapters give us an overview of the nordic cosmos and themes, the rest tell us stories of the deities.
Odin and Thor each get their own chapters, as well as sharing a chapter on their attributes as underworld deities. Freyr and Freya also receive a chapter dedicated (mostly) to them as fertility deities. Yet another chapter considers sea deities, and a catch-all chapter discusses the remaining gods.
Perhaps the greatest shortcoming of this overview is Davidson's failure to discuss the differences between the Aesir and the Vanir. Although these are pointed out, the significance is not discussed in detail. Could the warrior cult of the Aesir have edged out the fertility cult of the Vanir during the chilling of the climate that has taken place over the past 2,500 years or so? Does this competition reflect the Indo-Kurgan invasions that Gimbutas wrote about, where we see the gods of the victors gaining supremacy over the deities of the conquered? What of the giants? Do they represent deeper, primal forces and archetypes? Or are they the gods of yet an earlier culture?
Those who seek a "Norse" Wicca, will do well to read about the Vanir, Freyr & Freyja. This chapter lays out a nice outline of the nordic fertility tradition (which is congruent with Wicca, unlike the battle tradition of Odin & Thor). Davidson discusses the roles of the "volva" or witches/seers and their magic or "seithr."
This is an excellent comprehensive overview for somebody who would like an introduction to the Norse Mythos.
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65 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on June 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
H.S. Ellis Davidson wrote GODS AND MYTHS OF NORTHERN EUROPE around forty years ago, when other people's belief systems were viewed as myths and Christianity was viewed as "the one true religion" even by scholars. Although Davidson was objective as she could be and still be published, a modern scholar would have less concern with what other people think. Still, this book is a useful place to begin if you seek to know more about the gods of the Germans, Swedes, Danes and other northern people.
Davidson relies on three main sources, Procopius (writing in the early 6th Century in Byzantium), Tacitus (writing in the later Roman Empire), and Snorri Sturlson who attempted to set down the story he found in Iceland in the Prose Edda in the early Middle Ages.
Davidson says of Sturlson, "There is little doubt that on the whole Snorri has given us a faithful picture of heathen mythology as he found it in the poets." Davidson has some reservations about the Prose Edda, however, because it records what had heretofore been an oral tradition. However, all early history has an oral basis, including the Bible. Modern archeology is providing much evidence that what is found in these older texts has a basis in fact.
Why should you read this book? If you are an opera fan, you will learn more about the Valkyries, Valhalla, and the Ring Cycle. If you're a fan of literature you will gain insight into the symbols contained in poems and prose. You might better understand Beowolf or Elliot's poem "The Wasteland." If you are interested old paintings, you might better understand some of the attributes of saints, or other "holy" people. Tarot readers may better understand the cards. If you puzzle over fairytales and nursery rhymes you may find enlightenment.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By The valkyrie Mist on July 29, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you're interested in Norse mythology, there are a few books you just have to have. Most important of all are the primary sources: Snorri's "Edda" (Faulkes seems to be the current favorite translation), the "Poetic Edda" (Larrington is a good translation there), maybe Saxo if you're really into it, possibly a few sagas...

And then there are the secondary sources--that is to say, sources written with the purpose of interpreting and understanding the primary sources. You'll want at least one of the dictionaries: Lindow to start out with, then either Simek or Orchard (or both), maybe a good general-purpose Viking book like Roesdahl's "The Vikings"...

...And you'll want this book. You simply must have this book, if you're any kind of fan of Norse Mythology at all. It's a classic. It's not even half as big as my Lindow dictionary, but somehow it seems to contain five times the information. It's superbly written. It hits on most of the major characters, stories and phenomenon and describes them thoroughly, but it also digs up obscure tidbits of archaeological information, tying one thread of this myth to another, fitting in tiny pieces of the puzzle that you didn't even know existed.

For this book Davidson drew on what must have been her staggering and far-reaching knowledge of mythology and folklore, not simply Norse mythology but mythologies from far and wide, as far away as India. She takes you far, far back into the primordial days in which the roots of these myths took hold, trying to understand the hows and wheres and whys of their origins. She makes no outlandish assumptions, draws no unfounded conclusions: she simply presents what is known and what is, unfortunately, unknown, and points out what might have been.

Can you tell that I'm a fan?
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