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Scott Oden

“The Northern Thing”: Five Books Inspired by Norse Sagas

In 1966, at a gathering of J.R.R. Tolkien fans in New York City, the poet W.H. Auden—once a student of the Professor’s at Oxford—famously stated: “Tolkien is fascinated with the whole Northern thing.” In describing Tolkien thus, Auden coined a phrase that encompassed more than mere geographical direction. It was, according to the late Steve Tompkins, himself a formidable essayist and scholar of Tolkien’s work, “the mythology, many-legended history, and darkness-defying worldview of the ancient Germanic and Norse peoples.” This dynamic was woven into the cultural DNA of the Professor’s beloved Anglo-Saxons, as well. All the peoples of the north held the same basic belief: that Fate was inexorable, that the good fight must be fought, and that victory—however glorious—was transient. In the end the monsters would win, and the long twilight of the north would give way to an eternal darkness where even the gods were doomed.

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Series: Five Books About…