The best re-imaginings of ancient Scandinavian stories

Who am I?

Mostly, I’m a writer of (hopefully) humorous books and articles largely focused on Vikings and Norse mythology, but I also write non-fiction articles about Scandinavian history, art, and culture. I’ve always been fascinated with the Viking Age, and read as much fiction and non-fiction on the subject as I am able. I’ve discovered many great novels dealing with the “whole Northern thing” (W.H. Auden’s term for Tolkien’s fascination) ranging from realistic historic fiction to highly original urban fantasy that utilizes the standard Norse tropes, but truly imaginative retellings that remain faithfully grounded in the plot points of the ancient stories are rarer. These are my favorites. 


I wrote...

The Scandinavian Aggressors

By Rowdy Geirsson,

Book cover of The Scandinavian Aggressors

What is my book about?

The Scandinavian Aggressors is an offbeat odyssey into the freezing heart of the modern Northlands full of fatalistic quips and self-deprecating jokes, allusions to Norse mythology and the sagas, and informative and factual commentary about Nordic geography, history, and culture.

Structured around a series of quirky escapades, the book takes readers on an unusual journey to encounter enslaved leprechauns, beheaded mermaids, elite warrior sisterhoods, dysfunctional dragon-slayers, perverted trolls, and craft-beer-brewing zombies.

The books I picked & why

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War of the Gods

By Poul Anderson,

Book cover of War of the Gods

Why this book?

Poul Anderson is best known for his science fiction, but he was also one of the great fantasy and historical fiction writers of the 20th century, as well as a founding member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. His fantasy and historical fiction novels tended to focus on the Viking Age and/or Norse myths, and War of the Gods is my favorite of these. It is a rousing novelization of Book 1 from Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum, one of our foremost sources of Norse mythology. War of the Gods takes Saxo’s brief story, uniquely positions it against the background of the mythological war between the Aesir and Vanir, and expands the tale from its short foundation to be an action-packed novel that remains faithful to its original inspiration. 


The Hurricane Party

By Klas Ostergren,

Book cover of The Hurricane Party

Why this book?

Klas Östergren is one of Sweden’s foremost literary novelists and The Hurricane Party was his contribution to Canongate’s early 21st-century Myth Series (although it was apparently subsequently removed from it). The Hurricane Party is the most imaginative retelling of Norse mythology that I’ve read. It focuses on events that precede Ragnarök and takes place in a futuristic, climate-ravaged, dystopian Stockholm. The plot centers around the Flyting of Loki, a pivotal scene from The Poetic Edda in which Loki turns against the gods and kills one of their servants. Östergren’s novel follows the journey of the father (his own invented character) of this servant as he searches for answers to his son’s death against this unique backdrop. The setting and premise are among the most original I’ve ever encountered. 


Styrbiorn the Strong

By E.R. Eddison,

Book cover of Styrbiorn the Strong

Why this book?

E.R. Eddison was an early fantasy novelist best known for The Worm Ouroboros, but like Poul Anderson, he also took a serious interest in bringing the ancient stories of the North into the modern age. Styrbiorn the Strong was his effort to capture the adventure of the old sagas by recreating a presumably lost full-length saga about the titular character. With Styrbiorn the Strong, Eddison built a convincing and original saga-inspired story from the fragments that exist about him (remaining references to Styrbiorn exist in Flatey Book, Eyrbyggja Saga, and the Heimskringla). The book was originally published in 1926 and features the sort of verbose and eloquent language typical of novels of that era, which itself is very un-saga-like, but is a joy to read. 


Nutcase

By Tony Williams,

Book cover of Nutcase

Why this book?

Tony Williams is a writer living in the United Kingdom and his novel, Nutcase, is the most recent one on my list. Nutcase is a faithful retelling of The Saga of Grettir the Strong, only set in a slum in modern-day northern England. The transposition of a story originating in medieval Iceland to this present-day context makes it one of the most bizarre and unique novels I’ve ever read (in a good way). The story stays true to the saga’s plot and characters while bringing them to their new context in a very believable manner. The book is a wild ride and full of all sorts of English slang and colloquialisms which I enjoyed immensely in their own right. 


Eaters of the Dead

By Michael Crichton,

Book cover of Eaters of the Dead

Why this book?

Michael Crichton is the only author I’ve selected for my list whose name is likely to be known to most readers. Eaters of the Dead isn’t generally considered to be one of his greatest works, but for me, it’s probably the most influential novel I’ve read (going back to early school hood days). Essentially a retelling of Beowulf (an English poem but a Scandinavian story), Crichton made the tale fresh for a modern audience, setting it in the Viking Age (rather than the Vendel Period) and introduced Ibn Fadlan, an actual historic person, as the main narrator and character. Crichton stripped away the full-blown fantasy elements of monsters and dragons, making it more plausible while staying true to the original. Great fun and a wonderful twist on the old poem. 


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