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Nancy Marie Brown

Fiction and Excerpts [2]
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Fiction and Excerpts [2]

Song of the Vikings (Excerpt)

|| Much like Greek and Roman mythology, Norse myths are still with us. Famous storytellers from JRR Tolkien to Neil Gaiman have drawn their inspiration from the long-haired, mead-drinking, marauding and pillaging Vikings. Their creator is a thirteenth-century Icelandic chieftain by the name of Snorri Sturluson. Like Homer, Snorri was a bard, writing down and embellishing the folklore and pagan legends of medieval Scandinavia. Unlike Homer, Snorri was a man of the world—a wily political power player, one of the richest men in Iceland who came close to ruling it, and even closer to betraying it…

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them

In the early 1800’s, on a Hebridean beach in Scotland, the sea exposed an ancient treasure cache: 93 chessmen carved from walrus ivory. Norse netsuke, each face individual, each full of quirks, the Lewis Chessmen are probably the most famous chess pieces in the world. Harry played Wizard’s Chess with them in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Housed at the British Museum, they are among its most visited and beloved objects.

Questions abounded: Who carved them? Where? Nancy Marie Brown’s Ivory Vikings explores these mysteries by connecting medieval Icelandic sagas with modern archaeology, art history, forensics, and the history of board games. In the process, Ivory Vikings presents a vivid history of the 400 years when the Vikings ruled the North Atlantic, and the sea-road connected countries and islands we think of as far apart and culturally distinct: Norway and Scotland, Ireland and Iceland, and Greenland and North America.

The story of the Lewis chessmen explains the economic lure behind the Viking voyages to the west in the 800s and 900s. And finally, it brings from the shadows an extraordinarily talented woman artist of the twelfth century: Margret the Adroit of Iceland.

Nancy Marie Brown’s Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them is available September 1 from St. Martin’s Press.

[Read an excerpt!]

Seven Norse Myths We Wouldn’t Have Without Snorri: Part VII

The last myth in this series is the Death of Baldur. It is Snorri’s “greatest achievement as a storyteller,” according to some scholars. They compare it to Shakespeare’s plays, with its balance of comic and tragic. Of course, others fault it for the same thing. A 19th-century scholar slammed it as a “burlesque.” One in the early 20th century chastized Snorri for his “irresponsible treatment” of tradition. Snorri, he sniffed, made myths into “novellas.”

That’s why we remember them, it seems to me.

[Read more…]

Seven Norse Myths We Wouldn’t Have Without Snorri: Part VI

As I’ve stressed in this series, Snorri Sturluson’s Edda is our main source for what we know of as Norse mythology. And it was written to impress a 14-year-old king. That explains why Norse mythology is so full of adolescent humor—especially when it comes to sex.

The Norse gods certainly had odd love lives. According to Snorri, Odin traded a lonely giantess three nights of blissful sex for three drafts of the mead of poetry. Another lucky giantess bore him valiant Vidar, one of the few gods who survived Ragnarok, the terrible last battle between gods and giants. Odin coupled with his daughter Earth to beget the mighty Thor, the Thunder God. Of course, Odin was married all this time. His long-suffering wife, wise Frigg, was the mother of Baldur the Beautiful, at whose death the whole world wept (we’ll get to that story next week).

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Seven Norse Myths We Wouldn’t Have Without Snorri: Part V

Norse myths have been very popular with fantasy and science fiction writers. Why? I think it’s because of Snorri’s special touch—the wry and sarcastic humor that infuse his tales.

In 2005, for example, Shadow Writer interviewed Neil Gaiman while he was touring for The Anansi Boys. They asked Gaiman if he had a favorite myth. He answered, “I keep going back to the Norse ones because most myths are about people who are in some way cooler and more magical and more wonderful than us, and while the Norse gods probably sort of qualify, they’re all sort of small-minded evil, conniving bastards, except for Thor and he’s thick as two planks.”

Then Gaiman referred to a tale Snorri wrote.

[Read more…]

Seven Norse Myths We Wouldn’t Have Without Snorri: Part IV

Imagine you are a 40-year-old poet who wants to impress a 14-year-old king. You want to get him excited about Viking poetry—which happens to be your specialty—and land yourself the job of King’s Skald, or court poet. A cross between chief counselor and court jester, King’s Skald was a well-paid and highly honored post in medieval Norway. For over 400 years, the king of Norway had had a King’s Skald. Usually the skald was an Icelander—everyone knew Icelanders made the best poets.

Except, it seems, 14-year-old King Hakon. He thought Viking poetry was old-fashioned and too hard to understand.

To change young Hakon’s mind, Snorri Sturluson began writing his Edda, the book that is our main, and sometimes our only, source for much of what we think of as Norse mythology.

[Read more…]

Seven Norse Myths We Wouldn’t Have Without Snorri: Part III

Where did poetry come from? According to Snorri, it is the gift of Odin—but Snorri’s tale of the honey-mead that turns all drinkers into poets is dismissed by modern critics as “one of his more imaginative efforts.”

The tale tells us more about this 13th-century Icelandic chieftain—poetry and mead being two of Snorri Sturluson’s favorite things—than it tells us what people really believed in pagan Scandinavia. Like most of what we think of as Norse mythology, it was written to impress the 14-year-old king of Norway.

[Read more…]

Seven Norse Myths We Wouldn’t Have Without Snorri: Part II

It was Neil Gaiman who convinced me. Reading American Gods, I was delighted to see the character Mr. Wednesday echoing Snorri Sturluson, the 13th-century Icelandic writer whose biography forms the core of my book Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths.

Mr. Wednesday, I knew, was the Norse god Odin (from the Old English spelling, Woden’s Day). In American Gods he is a tricky figure to pin down, attractive, untrustworthy, all-powerful, but also afraid—for the old gods have been nearly forgotten. And that, Gaiman implies, would be a disaster for all of us.

Which is exactly what Snorri Sturluson was trying to say in his Edda.

[Read more…]

Seven Norse Myths We Wouldn’t Have Without Snorri

We think of Norse mythology as ancient and anonymous. But in fact, most of the stories we know about Odin, Thor, Loki, and the other gods of Scandinavia were written by the 13th-century Icelandic chieftain Snorri Sturluson.

Notice I said “written” and not “written down.” Snorri was a greedy and unscrupulous lawyer, a power-monger whose ambition led to the end of Iceland’s independence and to its becoming a colony of Norway.

But Snorri was also a masterful poet and storyteller who used his creative gifts to charm his way to power. Studying Snorri’s life to write my book Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths, I learned how he came to write his Edda, a book that’s been called “the deep and ancient wellspring of Western culture,” and his Heimskringla, a history of Norway from its founding in the far past by Odin the Wizard-King.

These two books are our main, and sometimes our only, source for much of what we think of as Norse mythology—and it’s clear, to me at least, that Snorri simply made a lot of it up.

[Read more…]

Song of the Vikings (Excerpt)

For you fans of mythology, check out this excerpt from Song of the Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown, out now from Palgrave—it beings with a smackdown between J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis:

Much like Greek and Roman mythology, Norse myths are still with us. Famous storytellers from JRR Tolkien to Neil Gaiman have drawn their inspiration from the long-haired, mead-drinking, marauding and pillaging Vikings. Their creator is a thirteenth-century Icelandic chieftain by the name of Snorri Sturluson. Like Homer, Snorri was a bard, writing down and embellishing the folklore and pagan legends of medieval Scandinavia. Unlike Homer, Snorri was a man of the world—a wily political power player, one of the richest men in Iceland who came close to ruling it, and even closer to betraying it… In Song of the Vikings, award-winning author Nancy Marie Brown brings Snorri Sturluson’s story to life in a richly textured narrative that draws on newly available sources.

[Read more]