Kevin Crossley-Holland


The Norse Myths (1981)


The Norse Myths (1981)

I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. Most of the tales were ones with which I was unfamiliar, which made them enjoyable to read, but the retelling was also quite good. The language was made accessible, which is not something that is always common I've noticed. There were tales and themes that were familiar, and some of it reminded me of different series by different authors (which means that the myths may have been the inspiration for the stories or the foundation for the world created. But I could be wrong. The tales that were unfamiliar were quite interesting, especially those where Loki is one of the main characters. Loki is really a much more complex character than one would give a trickster figure credit for, although his change in character is quite substantial, moving from one's typical idea of a trickster:

(This follows Loki changing into a mare and dallying with the stallion of a giant building the wall of Asgard, to keep the giant from winning a bet.)

A number of months passed before Loki the Shape Changer was seen in Asgard again. And when he returned, ambling over Bifrost and blowing a raspberry at Hemidall as he passed Himinbjorg, he had a colt in tow. This horse was rather unusual in that he had eight legs. He was gray and Loki called him Sleipnir.

When Odin saw Sleipnir, he admired the colt greatly.

"Take him!" said Loki. 'I bore him and he'll bear you. You'll find he can outpace Golden and Joyous, Shining and Swift...(etc) No horse will ever be able to keep up with him.'

Odin thanked Loki warmly, and welcomed him back to Asgard.

'On this horse you can go wherever you want,' said Loki. 'He'll gallop over the sea and through the air. What other horse could bear its rider down the long road to the land of the dead, and then bear him back to Asgard again?'

Odin thanked Loki a second time and looked at the Sly One very thoughtfully. a creature that deliberately sets out to cause harm and destruction to all those about him:

(This occurs after Loki is told that the only thing on the planet that had sworn not to harm the god Balder is mistletoe, so he goes and creates a weapon from mistletoe. The gods have made sport of Balder's invincibility, and are now throwing items at Balder to see them bounce off without harming him. Loki is speaking to Hod, the blind brother of Balder.)

'Take this twig then,' said Loki, and he put the sharpened mistletoe between Hod's hands. 'I'll show you where he's standing. I'll stand behind you and guide your hand.'

Loki's eyes were on fire now. His whole body was on fire. His face was ravaged by wolfish evil and hunger.

Hod grasped the mistletoe and lifted his right arm. Guided by Loki, he aimed the dart at his brother Balder.

The mistletoe flew through the hall and it struck Balder. It pierced him and passed right through him. The god fell on his face. He was dead.

This is, for me, one of the most fascinating parts of the story, Loki's change from jokester to devil. But the other stories, even those not involving Loki, are also well told and interesting, well worth reading in and of themselves. But it's also nice now catch the references to these stories in other works of fiction, especially fantasy. Some of these themes are used in Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionovar Tapestry, as well as Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Not that you need this knowledge to enjoy the books (obviously, since I hadn't read these myths before!) but the knowledge adds further depth and nuance I think. I will say that I wasn't overly enamored of the tales that were simple recitations of history or knowledge, such as The Lay of Loddfafnir though I supposed that they would be different when recited than when read. Something that surprised me was the fact that Odin hanging on Yggdrasill was a recitation more than it was a tale, because this is a theme that I have read on several other occasions, and I guess I expected it to be filled out instead of the bare bones of an idea, although I supposed that is what has made is irresistible to authors. There is so much detail missing, or not given, so much left unsaid, that the simple recitation leaves you wanting to know much more than you are told. I am curious as to whether there was an oral tradition that fleshed out this tale more, that we simply did not receive.

In other words, this is a very good collection and well worth reading.