Much like Greek Mythology, the Norse myths have inspired grand operas, art, literature, and comic books. This mythology of the Northern climes is primarily derived from the Icelandic Eddas, which date to the 13th century, though the lore is far older in origin. These tales of gods and giants, dwarves and elves—light and dark—inspired the operas of Richard Wagner and the stories of J. R. R. Tolkien.
In 1996, Mary Pope Osborne published her volume of Favorite Norse Myths. Similar in style to her earlier Favorite Greek Myths (see post here), this book presents fourteen of these stirring stories for younger readers and includes a glossary of names and terms. As she states in her introduction: “I believe that, like all the great stories of the world, the Norse myths belong to all of us: to the people of Scandinavia, to the people of every culture around the world, to you and me.”
These myths are presented along with beautiful illustrations by Troy Howell, illustrator of Osborne’s previous volume of Greek myths.
The collection presents the creation of the nine worlds; Odin’s quests for wisdom, runes, and poetry; the origin of the magic horse, Sleipnir; “How Thor Got His Hammer”; the fearsome children of Loki; Thor’s quest to recover his hammer by posing as a bride; the youth-inducing Golden Apples of the gods; Skadi demanding justice for her slain father and acquirng a not-so-compatible husband; a crafty giant king; Frey’s love for an ice maiden; Thor’s quest for a giant’s cauldron; Thor’s battle with a clay giant; and the sad tale of Balder’s death which serves as precursor to Ragnarok, the “Twilight of the Gods.”
These select stories are told in the span of three to six pages, but tend to be more interconnected than those found in Osborne’s Favorite Greek Myths. Case in point… Skadi’s father is killed in the tale of the Golden Apples, and it is because of his death that she storms Asgard, the home of the gods, for recompense.
Many of the stories feature the heroics of the thunder god, Thor, and the wily trickster, Loki, who causes much mischief. These two figures will be familiar to readers of Marvel comics, as Thor is one of their staple heroes. Although unlike the comics, Loki is not Thor’s adopted brother but rather the foster-brother of Odin.
This collection is suitable for ages 8 & up, but personally, I feel Norse mythology skews older. Death is more prevalent in these stories, and the tragic end of the gods may be upsetting for younger readers. One doesn’t expect heroes to die at the end.
Osborne’s book will appeal to those who may have read the D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths, as many of those stories are expanded here. Others who may not have experienced the Northern legends will enjoy this introductory volume.
And for those who have read and enjoyed Greek myths, they may find a comparative look at Norse myths of interest. Golden Apples appear in Greek mythology at the far edges of the known world in the Hesperides. And readers might consider the similarities between Idun and her apples and Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth, who served ambrosia, said to confer eternal youth and immortality to the gods.