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Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths Hardcover – October 30, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Trade; First Edition edition (October 30, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230338844
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230338845
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #435,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“[The most influential writer of the Middle Ages] wasn't Chaucer, or Malory or the writers of Arthurian romances but…a politically powerful Icelander called Snorri Sturluson…Song of the Vikings puts the works and the man together…His life deserves to be better known.”--Thomas Shippey, The Wall Street Journal

“An important undertaking...The first English-language book published on Snorri in 30 years…Readers will feel affected by the loss of this powerful and complicated man.”—Kirkus Reviews

"For readers who've long sensed that older winds blow through the works of their beloved Tolkien, Song of the Vikings is a fitting refresher on Norse mythology. Without stripping these dark tales of their magic, Nancy Marie Brown shows how mere humans shape myths that resonate for centuries--and how one brilliant scoundrel became, for all time, the 'Homer of the North.' "--Jeff Sypeck, author of Becoming Charlemagne

"In medieval Iceland, one of the most remote corners of the known Earth, a very un-Viking Norseman named Snorri Storluson crafted the heroic mythology on which rests everything from Wagner's Ring cycle and the Brothers Grimm to Tolkein (who considered Snorri's work more central to English literature than Shakespeare's) and even the evils of Nazism. In "Song of the Vikings," Nancy Marie Brown brings to vivid life this age of poetic Viking skalds, of blood feuds and vengeance raids, of royal intrigue and fierce independence, when the barren, beautiful landscape of the North was haunted by trolls, giants and dragons - all of which Snorri, the most important writer the world ever forgot, captured for eternity."--Scott Weidensaul, author of The First Frontier

"With wry wit and graceful prose Nancy Marie Brown takes us back to medieval Iceland and introduces us to perhaps the greatest storyteller of the period, Snorri Sturluson.  Her depth of knowledge of the era, the rugged landscape, the Vikings, and their lifestyle is impressive." – Pat Shipman, author of To the Heart of the Nile

“For lovers of Medieval history, Norse legend, and myth in general, "Song of the Vikings" is a must read.  Nancy Marie Brown has transformed her extensive knowledge of thirteenth-century Iceland into an accessible and interesting book.  Bravo!”--Marilyn Yalom, author of Birth of the Chess Queen and How the French Invented Love

“Drawing upon her broad knowledge, Nancy Marie Brown not only skillfully situates Snorri’s powerful voice, his tales and his (mis)deeds, in their context, she also adeptly illuminates his modern appeal and curious afterlife in popular culture. This is a sober, well-informed, and imaginative take on Norse mythology.”--Gisli Palsson, author of Travelling Passions and professor of anthropology, University of Iceland

"Nancy Marie Brown, a clear and careful writer, has crafted a compelling evocation of Snorri Sturluson in his place and time, the Icelandic-Norse commonwealth of the turbulent thirteenth century. Although Snorri always remains at the center of this tale, Song of the Vikings is in many ways the biography of an entire, unusual people. Medieval Icelanders struggled for hundreds of years with their political allegiance, religious adherence, social structure and their remote island home itself with its awesome challenges to human existence. Furnished nine hundred years ago with the Latin alphabet, Icelanders began writing remarkable narratives of their own lives and of their Norse heritage—and clever, wily Snorri has long been considered by many scholars foremost among the medieval authors of Iceland as well as the leading power broker of his day on the island.

Nancy Marie Brown concludes her Song of the Vikings in truly constructive fashion with an absorbing essay on the reception of medieval Icelandic literature in the modern world, confirming the indelible signature of this sophisticated people on the texts of our global civilization, from Wagner and Tolkien to Thor (from Marvel Comics) and A.S. Byatt. Like her earlier The Far Traveler, on the expansive journeys of the Norse, Nancy Marie Brown’s Song of the Vikings belongs in the hands of every discerning student of Western civilization."--Patrick J. Stevens, Curator, the Fiske Icelandic Collection, Cornell University Library

About the Author

Nancy Marie Brown is the author of highly-praised books of nonfiction, including The Abacus and the Cross and The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman. She has studied Icelandic literature and culture since 1978. Formerly the editor of the award-winning magazine Research/Penn State, Brown lives in Vermont, where she keeps four Icelandic horses and an Icelandic sheepdog. She blogs at 

More About the Author

I like extremes: Science and sagas. Science and faith. History and fantasy. The Dark Ages and modern times. Fire and ice. My books combine extremes. They ask, What have we overlooked? What have we forgotten? What knowledge must not be lost? For 21 years, I worked as a science writer at a university. Now I write from a farm in northern Vermont, where the days are quiet and cool. Four Icelandic horses graze outside my office window. Every few years I take an adventure--and write a book about it.

Customer Reviews

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In enjoyed reading it immensely.
Joe Lusk
Nancy Brown's love of it all, the introduction to Snorri, who put it down, and the story of Iceland in its early times are a delight.
I have read much about him, and enjoyed them all, and this one is no exception.
Heather Linnett

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Joe Lusk on December 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I have been traveling to Iceland for almost 10 years now and have been fascinated with the country, the people and the history. One figure always stood out for me, Snorri. He is almost single-handedly responsible for all of our knowledge of Norse myths and he had an interesting life himself. Unfortunately most of the source material on him is in Icelandic, and as an English speaker I was reduced to just snippets and anecdotes of information about him. Thanks to the painstaking work done by the author, this one volume changes that completely. It is well written, scholarly in some parts and conversational in others. In enjoyed reading it immensely. The opinion on his influence on Tolkien and modern fantasy is very interesting as well. If you enjoy myth, folklore or history you will enjoy this book.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By AUTHORAUTHOR on December 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading Song of the Vikings--what an amazing piece of scholarship that brings to life the times and machinations of Snorri Sturluson. At a time in Iceland when a common expression was "Don't kill what you can't pay for," when uncle plotted against nephew and blood feuds carried on for generations, Snorri attempted to create the alliances that would enable him to rule Iceland. In many ways the constant shifting of alliances and enmities reminded me of Martin's "Game of Thrones--except this is history not fiction.

And who would have guessed how much our knowledge of Norse myths is due to the writings of one man? At at time when the medieval aristocracy was becoming enthralled with the legends of King Arthur and chivalry, Snorri chose to write down many of the old Norse myths (some of which he may have embellished). Without this source material, Tolkein's Lord of the Rings may have been very different since in many cases Snorri is the only source for some of these stories. Nancy Brown's analysis of this legacy to modern literature is fascinating.

And it is paragraphs like this one, which foreshadows the death of Snorri, that underlie my enjoyment of this book:

"It is cold in Iceland in late September. The birch leaves are bright gold, the berry shrubs crimson. The songbirds have all flown. Swans flock in the marshlands, sounding their haunting note. Night falls quickly and lingers long: the wind has the bite of ice. When the rain lets up, the northern lights wash the sky with streams of emerald and turquoise and sometimes blood. An old fat man in his nightshirt, barefoot, would not get far in the cold and dark of a late September night." (p. 179)

Nancy Brown has spent considerable time in Iceland soaking up (sometimes literally by relaxing in Snorri's own hot springs) its landscape, history, and culture and this immersion shows in the quality of this book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By K.Cruz on May 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Overall, there is much of "Song of the Vikings" that I find very clever and make the book worth reading. Nancy Marie Brown spends a great deal of time tying Snorri and the myths themselves together, explaining why certain myths reflect points in Snorri's own life or how specific characters like Odin connect to Snorri himself. This not only injects the book with nice interludes of mythology but reminds the reader why we might be reading this book: Snorri wrote these myths down (if he didn't build some of them on his own altogether), and now we want to know about Snorri.

However, while this Snorri/mythology thread weaves throughout the text very successfully, overall I find "Song of the Vikings" a rather patchwork tale. Historically, Brown jumps all over the place. She often mentions someone, offers their entire life story from the get go, and constantly repeats these details throughout the narrative as they actually become important. While this may help someone remember all the names/dates/details, this gets very repetitive very quickly. It also makes it almost impossible to keep track of the time period in certain places, such as what events are happening when. Since so much of this story hinges on when someone is king or when so-and-so was a chieftain, this is an unfortunate and devastating flaw.

My next issue, and it is a related one, is that I didn't see enough Snorri. Brown is obviously very well-versed in this history and literature, and she has a great deal to talk about. However, what often happens is Snorri will have some incident with someone who Brown then goes on a five page tangent about, only to rush back to Snorri as though this tangent in no way took away from the narrative.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Tracy Barrett on December 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed Nancy Marie Brown's The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman, and when I recently heard her talk about her new book on NPR I knew I had to read it too. And I'm very happy I did; it's an enthralling story of a man who made great contributions to Western civilization but is practically unknown outside scholarly circles.

What I particularly enjoyed was the way Brown wove the tales told by Snorri into the account of his life and the history of medieval Iceland and its people. I've tried to read Icelandic sagas (in translation!) and always had a hard time relating to them. I didn't understand people's relations to one another or, many times, their motivations for behaving in sometimes extreme ways. But by grounding the myths in the lives of real people, Brown shows the human side of the myths, bizarre though some of them may seem. Her book will send me back to the tales with a greater understanding and I'm sure a greater appreciation.

This book is a rare combination of scrupulous accuracy and good story-telling. Highly recommended.
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