The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland
Wood engravings by Jane Lydbury
Published in 1980; 2016 5th Printing by The Folio Society
Disclaimer: This review will be different from the norm in that it is split into two parts: a standard, albeit shorter, book review and a specific review of this Folio Society edition. I am endorsing this product through my own volition and belief in its high quality.
Part I: The Story
“Burning ice, biting flame; that is how life began.”
Though such brutal conditions often factor in creation myths, the beginning of the world as told in The Norse Myths, by Kevin Crossley-Holland, reflects the temperament of both the people and land that shaped the stories. Comprised of over thirty Norse myths retold with vigor, the book collects the most famous and influential of the remaining myths that have survived the vigorous strain of time and its attempts to steal knowledge so easily forgotten.
The introduction of the book gives necessary context by describing a short history of the Vikings, the Norse Pantheon, and the intent behind how the myths in this tome are organized. Crossley-Holland also describes kennings in Scandinavian tradition; poetic devices used that refer to specific things. An example of this is the skaldic poems’ use of “Otter’s ransom”, “Freyja’s tears”, and “Sif’s hair” to all allude to gold.
The Norse Myths begin with the creation of the world, as described in the above quote. The retellings are primarily taken from an Icelandic poet, Snorri Sturluson, and their origins relate to the extreme conditions of his home land. The fire of volcanoes and ice of whirling winters factor into both descriptions of the creation and end of the world in Norse Mythology. This is explained in the notes, which give context for the myths through the background of each retelling and decisions behind which source materials were used.
There is a main cycle of myths from Creation to Ragnarok with folk stories and other miscellaneous myths mixed in, such as Odin learning 18 charms and Heimdall creating the different human classes in the Viking world. There are also myths that lay out societal and behavioral expectations in the Norse world which give a closer look at the morals and values of a people nearly lost to history.
Part II: The Book Itself
As befits an edition made by The Folio Society, this version is beautifully made. Much like The Folio Society’s edition of The Wars of the Roses, The Norse Myths contains images, though this time they are in the form of wood engravings. Though present, they aren’t overwhelming; the beauty of these stories is in the retellings which take place in a world that would have been surrounding the original tellers. Since this book is about retelling the myths, they are what take precedence and, as such, allow for more personal images to be made by the reader.
Here are some specifications taken from The Folio Society web page:
- Introduced and retold by Kevin Crossley-Holland
- Bound in quarter leather-effect material with paper sides printed with a design by Robert Scott Simon
- Set in Monotype Caslon
- 336 pages with 18 black & white wood engravings
- 9″ × 5¾
- Please note this edition features a lightweight slipcase
I originally read a copy of this book three years ago after finding it by chance in a Half Price Books store. This is one of the source materials for Johan Egerkrans’s Norse Gods and compiles many of the remaining myths that have not been lost from human memory. This is a compulsory read for any budding or veteran lover of Norse mythology since its retellings are easily digested. Grab a horn of mead, say a prayer to Thor (assuming you’re not a noble or a thrall), and settle next to a hearth fire for stories of courage, sacrifice, and a pragmatic belief in fate.
Verdict: 4 retold myths out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of mythology, those who enjoy Norse mythology, Viking enthusiasts, fans of J. R. R. Tolkien, and people looking to learn more about the Norse pantheon.
Not recommended for: Those who think the Marvel versions of Thor and Loki are definitive, giants that get in Thor’s way, or those not interested in mythology.