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Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs Paperback – October 17, 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review


"This book has a very good and thorough dictionary of names.... Its essays on time in Norse mythology and its summary of the historical background are extremely helpful and enlightening."--Nicholas D. Humez, Montclair State University


About the Author

John Lindow is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley specializing in Scandinavian medieval studies and folklore.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195153820
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195153828
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.2 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,741 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
John Lindow's "Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs" is one of three important reference works on the subject currently or recently available, following Rudolf Simek's heavily linguistic "Dictionary of Northern Mythology" (German edition 1984, translated by Angela Hall, 1993) and Andy Orchard's "Cassell's Dictionary of Norse Myth & Legend" (and slightly variant titles, 1997). Each of the three takes a different approach, and I have found them nicely complementary.

Lindow's coverage, which is well-described in the subtitle, is not as complete in some areas. He does not try to match Simek on, say, Roman-era inscriptions, or Orchard on individual Icelandic sagas. In what he does cover, he is generally more comprehensive, and sometimes, I think, clearer (as on, say, the limited evidence for Norse religious practices). Lindow's discussions of methodologies and theories are informative, useful, and at times even entertaining. On this basis, it might well be a better book than the other two for beginners, although it should appeal to a more advanced readership as well. There is, of course, a trade-off, and some will prefer Orchard's more extensive coverage. (Where beginners in Norse mythology are concerned, Simek might be left to those approaching from a fairly advanced linguistic-oriented background, anyway.)

The black and white illustrations are well-chosen, and most of them are clearly reproduced. Bibliographic notes to the articles are supplemented by a section of bibliographic essays (including Internet resources). Again, he provides less raw information than Simek and Orchard, but his presentation is better, and, once again, probably much more useful to a novice.
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Format: Paperback
First of all, a friend of mine to whom I borrowed this book was a little disappointed that it was dictionary-style. There are paragraph- to page-sized entries on a wide variety of subjects, listed in alphabetical order. If you're looking for a good cover-to-cover read on Norse mythology, I highly recommend H. R. Ellis Davidson's "Gods and Myths of Northern Europe".

I own three of these dictionary-style books on Norse mythology, probably THE three such books: Lindow (this book), Rudolf Simek's "Dictionary of Northern Mythology" and Andy Orchard's "Dictionary of Norse Myth & Legend" (or whatever the current publisher's calling it these days).

Of the three, Lindow is by far the most accessible and user-friendly to the layperson. There's a wealth of information here, and it's written and presented very well and with a healthy amount of humor (one doesn't often see the poem "Thrymskvida" described as featuring "Thor in drag").

That said, it's also true that this book doesn't contain the hoard of detailed, otherwise obscure information that Simek and Orchard have to offer. On more than one occasion I went to look up something in Lindow and was surprised that it wasn't there. For example, I find it odd that there's an entry for Ratatosk (a squirrel that inhabits the world tree Yggdrasil, a relatively minor character), but not one for, say, Svartalfaheim (in some accounts, one of the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology, realm of the "black elfs", or dwarfs).

The bottom line is, if you have a casual interest in Norse mythology and want a well-written, simple reference, then Lindow's your man. If you want practically everything there is to know about Norse mythology that's available in English, well, Simek or Orchard are probably your best bet.

But even if you're going whole hog and decide to get Simek or Orchard, get Lindow too, if for no other reason than that he's an absolute blast to read.
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Format: Paperback
This isn't an introduction to the Scandinavian myths, but instead is more a commentary on the information known about the Scandinavian myths. The reader must have a working knowlege of the Scandinavian myths before reading this book. For example, "Ymir" is referred to early in the text without elaboration. If you go to the section titled "Ymir," all you learn is that Ymir was "the proto-giant killed and dismembered by the gods to create the cosmos." You are left wondering what is the STORY behind how this happened.

The writer is well-versed in the subject, and his comments are interesting and reliable, but somehow the pleasure of narrative in the mythical stories is lost. One example is the entry on "Berserks: Furious warriors, in mythology associatd with Odin." The author quotes one line about them from the old stories, then dismisses them: "Other than this passage, berserks seem to have belonged more to the world of men than of gods, which agrees with the project of euhemerism Snorri had adopted with 'Ynglinga saga'...the connection between wolf-skins and berserks supports one of the suggested etymologies for medieval Icelandic "berserkr, namely, 'bear-shirt'..."

As you can see, the vocabulary of the book is aimed at scholars. The book seems to be a conversation about Scandinavian myths for scholars, clarifying the sources of the myths.

The author dismisses my favorite book on Scandinavian myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland, "The Norse Myths," as "not recommended." However, Crossley-Holland's book is just the sort of work to engage the interest of the general reader in the subject--which this book, unfortunately, doesn't.

Still, the book is well-written and interesting as an additional source on the Scandinavian myths. The book's dryness is alleviated by good photo illustrations.
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