Song of the Vikings

Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

Nancy Marie Brown

Palgrave Macmillan Trade

An Indie Next pick for December 2012, Song of the Vikings brings to life Snorri Sturluson, wealthy chieftain, wily politician, witty storyteller, and the sole source of Viking lore for all of Western literature. Tales of one-eyed Odin, Thor and his mighty hammer, the trickster Loki, and the beautiful Valkyries have inspired countless writers, poets, and dreamers through the centuries, including Richard Wagner, JRR Tolkien, and Neil Gaiman, and author Nancy Marie Brown brings alive the medieval Icelandic world where it all began. She paints a vivid picture of the Icelandic landscape, with its colossal glaciers and volcanoes, steaming hot springs, and moonscapes of ash, ice, and rock that inspired Snorri’s words, and led him to create unforgettable characters and tales. Drawing on her deep knowledge of Iceland and its history and first-hand reading of the original medieval sources, Brown gives us a richly textured narrative, revealing a spellbinding world that continues to fascinate.


Praise for Song of the Vikings

“[The most influential writer of the Middle Ages] wasn't Chaucer, or Malory or the writers of Arthurian romances but…a politically powerful Icelander called Snorri Sturluson…Song of the Vikings puts the works and the man together…His life deserves to be better known.”--Thomas Shippey, The Wall Street Journal

“An important undertaking...The first English-language book published on Snorri in 30 years…Readers will feel affected by the loss of this powerful and complicated man.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Nancy Marie Brown has taught me that the roots of this part run deeper than I knew — down through “Norse Gods and Giants” to the imagination of a gouty poet, historian, and lawyer drinking beer in his hot tub eight centuries ago.” —The Boston Globe

“From magic swords and giants’ gloves to murders in dank cellars, Brown’s story of Snorri Sturluson’s Iceland raises some interesting questions about the literary cannon and shines light on an author whose history could easily have lost.” —Portland Book Review

"'Snorri is the Homer of the North,’ says Brown in this wonderfully evocative biography, rich with Norse myths, told against the stark backdrop of Iceland in the middle ages…thanks to his ‘wizardry with words’ he lives on in our imaginations, inspiring the likes of Richard Wagner, Neil Gaiman and Tolkien, whose Bilbo Baggins is like Snorri himself: ‘fat, cowardly, clever, a collector of old lore, and overly fond of his food and drink’. A remarkable insight into a lost world of magic and myth, best read with a flagon of golden mead – Odin and Snorri's favourite drink.”—PD Smith, The Guardian

"For readers who've long sensed that older winds blow through the works of their beloved Tolkien, Song of the Vikings is a fitting refresher on Norse mythology. Without stripping these dark tales of their magic, Nancy Marie Brown shows how mere humans shape myths that resonate for centuries--and how one brilliant scoundrel became, for all time, the 'Homer of the North.' " —Jeff Sypeck, author of Becoming Charlemagne

"In medieval Iceland, one of the most remote corners of the known Earth, a very un-Viking Norseman named Snorri Storluson crafted the heroic mythology on which rests everything from Wagner's Ring cycle and the Brothers Grimm to Tolkein (who considered Snorri's work more central to English literature than Shakespeare's) and even the evils of Nazism. In "Song of the Vikings," Nancy Marie Brown brings to vivid life this age of poetic Viking skalds, of blood feuds and vengeance raids, of royal intrigue and fierce independence, when the barren, beautiful landscape of the North was haunted by trolls, giants and dragons - all of which Snorri, the most important writer the world ever forgot, captured for eternity."—Scott Weidensaul, author of The First Frontier

"With wry wit and graceful prose Nancy Marie Brown takes us back to medieval Iceland and introduces us to perhaps the greatest storyteller of the period, Snorri Sturluson.  Her depth of knowledge of the era, the rugged landscape, the Vikings, and their lifestyle is impressive." – Pat Shipman, author of To the Heart of the Nile

“For lovers of Medieval history, Norse legend, and myth in general, "Song of the Vikings" is a must read.  Nancy Marie Brown has transformed her extensive knowledge of thirteenth-century Iceland into an accessible and interesting book.  Bravo!”—Marilyn Yalom, author of Birth of the Chess Queen and How the French Invented Love

“Drawing upon her broad knowledge, Nancy Marie Brown not only skillfully situates Snorri’s powerful voice, his tales and his (mis)deeds, in their context, she also adeptly illuminates his modern appeal and curious afterlife in popular culture. This is a sober, well-informed, and imaginative take on Norse mythology.”—Gisli Palsson, author of Travelling Passions and professor of anthropology, University of Iceland

"Nancy Marie Brown, a clear and careful writer, has crafted a compelling evocation of Snorri Sturluson in his place and time, the Icelandic-Norse commonwealth of the turbulent thirteenth century. Although Snorri always remains at the center of this tale, Song of the Vikings is in many ways the biography of an entire, unusual people. Medieval Icelanders struggled for hundreds of years with their political allegiance, religious adherence, social structure and their remote island home itself with its awesome challenges to human existence. Furnished nine hundred years ago with the Latin alphabet, Icelanders began writing remarkable narratives of their own lives and of their Norse heritage—and clever, wily Snorri has long been considered by many scholars foremost among the medieval authors of Iceland as well as the leading power broker of his day on the island.

Nancy Marie Brown concludes her Song of the Vikings in truly constructive fashion with an absorbing essay on the reception of medieval Icelandic literature in the modern world, confirming the indelible signature of this sophisticated people on the texts of our global civilization, from Wagner and Tolkien to Thor (from Marvel Comics) and A.S. Byatt. Like her earlier The Far Traveler, on the expansive journeys of the Norse, Nancy Marie Brown’s Song of the Vikings belongs in the hands of every discerning student of Western civilization."—Patrick J. Stevens, Curator, the Fiske Icelandic Collection, Cornell University Library

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Nancy Marie Brown

  • Nancy Marie Brown is the author of highly praised books of nonfiction, includingThe Abacus and the Cross and The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman. She has studied Icelandic literature and culture since 1978. Formerly the editor of the award-winnin gmagazine Research/Penn State , Brown lives in Vermont, where she keeps four Icelandic horses and an Icelandic sheepdog. She blogs at nancymariebrown.blogspot.com.





    Available Formats and Book Details

    Song of the Vikings

    Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths

    Nancy Marie Brown