Sunday, August 05, 2012

The Children of Odin, a Review

I grew up a fan of Greek mythology, amazed by the esoteric worldviews of long ago. This love crossed over into a few other cultures—Egyptian and Roman mostly—but nothing compared to Greek. As I grew up I began looking to related things: fairy tales, urban legends, and folklore. I loved the language and mood these stories had, and to this day I still enjoy reading these kinds of things. When a friend suggested I read the free Kindle book The Children of Odin I dismissed it, chiefly because it was not on my 2012 Book Manifesto. But the seeds were sewn and soon I was swept away by unfamiliar tales.

The Children of Odin: The Book of Northern Myths (by Padraic Colum) is a collection of Norse mythology. This collection is composed of thirty-six myths and broken down into four parts. This review will discuss each part and what the tales are about as opposed to individually reviewing each story.

The Dwellers in Asgard: Any self-respecting book on mythology will begin at the beginning, and The Children of Odin makes no exception. Here the Reader learns of the Gods of Asgard, of Odin All-Father, Thor, Baldur, Tyr, Freya, Loki, and many more. We learn of the ever-waging war between the Gods and the Giants and the building of the Wall. Many of these names were very familiar (especially to the Final Fantasy gamer, comic book reader, and Neil Gaiman fan), but I knew very little about the Norse Gods. These histories were both fascinating and funny and a great way to start the book.

Odin the Wanderer: At the end of Part One Odin decides to leave Asgard and roam the world. This section deals with Odin's wanderings and the things he sees there. Additionally there are a few very important stories ("The Dwarf's Hoard, and the Curse that It Brought" chiefly) that set up a lot of things for the eventual Ragnarok.

The Witch's Heart: This is the last main section that deals with the Gods. Here we really get into the cunning and deception of Loki, the dreaded fate of Baldur, and all of the implications of these things for Asgard. I really liked this section a lot, especially the stuff concerning Loki's children. This was probably my favorite section of the book.

The Sword of the Volsungs and the Twilight of the Gods: There is a sudden (and unexplained) shift in the focus of the myths here. While the first three parts deal with the Gods of Asgard and mentions little of Man (of Midgard), Part Four deals almost exclusively with Men. This section is basically a life story of Sigurd, the most fearsome and noblest of all warriors. Sigurd is a man of legend and brawn, equipped with a fierce flame sword and a steed from Odin's stock. There are several stories about Sigurd, and I enjoyed them all. They reminded me of medieval knight's tales. This section also finishes the book with "Twilight of the Gods," an eschatological story of death and rebirth.

One thing that stood out to me throughout this book was Colum's propensity to fall into Old English with his characters. There were several times I chuckled due to a particular word choice or phrase structure. I don't think too many people talked in Old English in 1920, though I suppose contemporary literature at the time was a bit dated. Nevertheless, I found these instances funny whenever Colum would drop into Old English. I could just imagine larger than life Norse Gods speaking like Hamlet.

The Children of Odin is a wonderful collection to introduce the Reader to Norse mythology. Some tales could have been better flushed out, but all really fit the mold of classical myths. I very much enjoyed some of the ideas in the mythos (like the serpent that's wrapped around the world) and am interested in pursuing more Norse mythology.  If you've never read any Norse mythology and you've an e-reader then you should definitely check out this free collection. Quite enjoyable and easily recommended.


Carl V. said...

Sounds great. I have a lovely looking book about the Norse myths that a friend gave me a few years ago for my birthday and I really should get to it. I know these myths form the foundation of so many stories that I like be they in book, television or movie form. It would be nice to be better grounded in them.

logankstewart said...

The foundational inspiration for so many things was a primary reason for reading these. Now I want to re-read a lot of things...