Archive for the 'Books' Category

The Eddas of 2011

Continuing our round-up of this year’s new books: these will probably be old, old news to many of you, but surely two of the most significant publications of 2011 are both long-awaited new Poetic Eddas.

1. The Orchard Edda

First, there is the new Penguin Classics translation by Professor Lord Andy Orchard, who now is mainly famous for running Canada. Andy’s translation of the ‘Elder’ Edda was forthcoming and allegedly pretty much finished when I first met him in 1996, so it’s fair to say that the gestation period on this one has been long. And naturally, it’s well worth the wait. I’ve always been happy recommending Carolyne Larrington’s OUP translation, whose merits more than outweigh the faults that some people have perceived in it; but Orchard’s may pip it for useability, simply because its notes and explanatory material are much more copious than in the Larrington.

As anybody who’s heard a conference paper by Andy over the years will not be terribly surprised to hear, the most notable feature of the translation is a predilection for alliteration, although this never becomes overweening. Some will dislike the translation of proper-names, which is always a fraught process, but overall I find Orchard’s version fluent, accurate and idiomatic without resorting to archaism. The only real problem, I have with it, in fact, is its subtitle–‘A Book of Viking Lore’, with every word of which one could take issue, but I can’t really be bothered here and now. Unfortunately, this terminology is used inside the book as well.

So, I certainly am happier with this translation than some people have been. (I don’t really approve of anonymous/pseudonymous reviews, but the commenter raises some valid points.) There’s another early notice of the book on Carl Olsen’s blog, which I’m ashamed to say I’ve only just discovered.

I shall be adding it to the reading lists, happy in the knowledge that the translation is as good as is available, and the notes are extremely useful. I guess no translation will ever satisfy every reader; that’s why we should all translate the Edda for ourselves!

2. Dronke Part III

The second of this year’s new Eddas is the third part of Ursula Dronke’s monumental edition for Oxford University Press. Paratextually, volume three conforms to the standards set by its two predecessors (lest we forget, volume one came out in 1969 and two in 1997: I hope she’s not rushed over this one!), in that it has the distinctive salmon-pink cover and it is exceptionally expensive.

Volume III of Dronke’s Edda is the second of the mythological selections: it comprises HávamálHymiskviðaGrímnismál, and Gróttasöngr. I must confess that I’ve yet to see this book in the flesh, but I’m sure it will contain all of Dr Dronke’s remarkable erudition and her often peerless flashes of insight. Sometimes her readings can be a little adventurous for my timid taste, which makes me chary of using her translation. But alongside the exceptionally valuable commentary that she provides, the singular advantage of the Dronke edition is that has a parallel-text format, so the reader can compare original with the translation with ease.

Has anybody out there seen the Dronke already? Or do you have any thoughts about the Orchard?

A thriving publishing season, Norns and Goddesses

As I started to gather together information about recent publications in medieval Scandinavia, from material people have kindly sent me and from trawling through Amazon’s catalogue, it became clear that 2011 has seen a really impressive number of relevant and interesting books published. I’m going to try to run through as many of these as I can over the next couple of weeks. As ever, if you see something that catches your eye, buying it from Amazon through the link on this site will pay me a tiny commission that I put towards server costs. Don’t forget to recommend these to your local library, too: not all of them are as reasonably priced as Myths of the Pagan North (which I’ll now shut up about). Having said that, our first two titles are both relatively friendly on the pocket. They also feature, in different but I imagine complimentary ways, mythological women.  Read more »

Myths of the Pagan North

If you’ll excuse the shameless self-promotion… I’m very pleased to announce that my new book, Myths of the Pagan North: the gods of the Norsemen (and, in response to queries: yes, the publishers had a hand in the title) will be out later this week. Read more »

Two more books: Odin on the one hand, Sermons on the other

My attempt to get up to date with the backlog of recently published books continues. Slowly.

This time we have a study of contrasts: in the pagan corner, there’s Annette Lassen’s new book about Odin på kristent pergament; from the other end of the Old Norse spectrum, we have a (to me) very exciting collection of essays about the Norwegian Homily Book, Vår eldste bok, edited by Odd Einar Haugen and Åslaug Ommundsen.

Read more »

New Year, New Books: Cambridge Introduction to the Sagas

Alas, our Christmas Book Flood wasn’t more than a trickle, and my list of interesting new books will have to spill over into the new year.

Next to reach the top of the pile is a volume I’m quite excited about, as there still are relatively few good general textbooks on Old Norse that are readily available for English-speaking students (Heather’s book is an honourable exception, of course). The Cambridge Introduction to the Old Norse-Icelandic Saga, from the pen of the ever-productive Margaret Clunies Ross, will no doubt find its way onto syllabuses wherever Old Norse literature is taught.

This is what the blurb says about it:

The medieval Norse-Icelandic saga is one of the most important European vernacular literary genres of the Middle Ages. This Introduction to the saga genre outlines its origins and development, its literary character, its material existence in manuscripts and printed editions, and its changing reception from the Middle Ages to the present time. Its multiple sub-genres – including family sagas, mythical-heroic sagas and sagas of knights – are described and discussed in detail, and the world of medieval Icelanders is powerfully evoked. The first general study of the Old Norse-Icelandic saga to be written in English for some decades, the Introduction is based on up-to-date scholarship and engages with current debates in the field. With suggestions for further reading, detailed information about the Icelandic literary canon, and a map of medieval Iceland, this book is aimed at students of medieval literature and assumes no prior knowledge of Scandinavian languages.

I’ve had my copy for a few weeks now, and it is excellent, just as you’d expect. I’m requesting our library orders multiple copies and will be putting it on reading lists for all levels of classes next year.

P.S. Sorry about the inelegant picture placement–either WordPress has changed its coding or else I’ve forgotten how to do it with lack of practice!

Jólabókaflóðið, Part I: Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages

I have rather a backlog of recent books to announce. Many thanks to everybody who’s sent notices of publications to me (and, in a couple of cases, even actual books!), and apologies for the tardiness.

In the run up to Christmas I shall try to tell you about as many of these new books as possible–who knows, it might not be too late to buy one for a family member or co-worker! (If you click on the links here and then subsequently purchase the volume at Amazon, a tiny percentage is returned to me, which I put towards the costs of hosting ONN.)

Anyway, the first latest book is:

Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages, by Stephen A. Mitchell

Stephen A. Mitchell here offers the fullest examination available of witchcraft in late medieval Scandinavia. He focuses on those people believed to be able-and who in some instances thought themselves able-to manipulate the world around them through magical practices, and on the responses to these beliefs in the legal, literary, and popular cultures of the Nordic Middle Ages. His sources range from the Icelandic sagas to cultural monuments much less familiar to the nonspecialist, including legal cases, church art, law codes, ecclesiastical records, and runic spells. Mitchell’s starting point is the year 1100, by which time Christianity was well established in elite circles throughout Scandinavia, even as some pre-Christian practices and beliefs persisted in various forms. The book’s endpoint coincides with the coming of the Reformation and the onset of the early modern Scandinavian witch hunts. The terrain covered is complex, home to the Germanic Scandinavians as well as their non-Indo-European neighbors, the Sami and Finns, and it encompasses such diverse areas as the important trade cities of Copenhagen, Bergen, and Stockholm, with their large foreign populations; the rural hinterlands; and the insular outposts of Iceland and Greenland. By examining witches, wizards, and seeresses in literature, lore, and law, as well as surviving charm magic directed toward love, prophecy, health, and weather, Mitchell provides a portrait of both the practitioners of medieval Nordic magic and its performance. With an understanding of mythology as a living system of cultural signs (not just ancient sacred narratives), this study also focuses on such powerful evolving myths as those of “the milk-stealing witch,” the diabolical pact, and the witches’ journey to Blakulla. Court cases involving witchcraft, charm magic, and apostasy demonstrate that witchcraft ideologies played a key role in conceptualizing gender and were themselves an important means of exercising social control.

Peter Foote’s library up for auction

When Professor Peter Foote died last autumn, he most generously left his large library to the Viking Society for Northern Research, with the instructions that his books should be sold to raise funds for the society. After quite a lengthy process of packing and cataloguing the books–there are some three thousand volumes–the Society has now opened the auction to bidders. Everybody is welcome to bid, whether they’re members of the Society or not. Here’s how the process works:

1. Download the catalogue from the Society’s website. [It’s also available as a pdf file.]

2. Choose which books you’d like to bid on, and the amount you’d be prepared to pay.

3. Send a list of your bids to Alison Finlay at by 31 July.

4. In August, the people who bid the highest amount for each book (you don’t get to see what others have bid, and you can’t revise your initial bids) will be contacted and invoiced for the books and price of postage. Please bear in mind that the cost of postage may be substantial if you win several books or live overseas.

5. Wait for your books! (It may take some time for them to be delivered, owing to the sheer volume of orders to be processed.)

All proceeds from the sale will go towards the Peter Foote Memorial Fund, which has been established to support postgraduate students in the field of Medieval Scandinavian Studies through the provision of bursaries and prizes.

There are lots of really special items in the list, all of them made much more special by their association with Peter. So please do take a look at the catalogue, and happy bidding!

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