The best books on Norse mythology

The Books I Picked & Why

Norse Mythology

By Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology

Why this book?

Gaiman is an exceptional and popular modern storyteller, his work in comics (Sandman), his own novels (such as the superb American Gods) and in various movie adaptations (Beowulf, 2007) demonstrates a deft and agile touch. This is an excellent introduction to the Prose Eddas, with a lively re-telling of the core tales of Norse mythology, from Odin to Loki, the frost giants to the Valkyrie. It’s a quick read which will pique your interest to research further.


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The Mighty Thor Omnibus Vol. 1

By Marvel Comics

The Mighty Thor Omnibus Vol. 1

Why this book?

For a generation brought up with Netflix, Disney Plus, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the original Marvel comics are a modern form of mythology. I grew up with such comics, reading Thor and Tolkein, Dune and Asimov’s Foundation series alongside tales of Celtic and Greek mythology. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s version was the Thor I knew, an exaggerated, simplified but utterly compelling character with his trickster brother Loki and all-too-serious father Odin. I loved it, so I’ve included this as pure nostalgia – don’t judge me!


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Beowulf

By Seamus Heaney

Beowulf

Why this book?

Beowulf is fascinating because it was written in Angle-land, probably Suffolk, probably in the 900s AD, when the Angles (Southern Scandinavians) held sway, with the Danes in Northumbria and Mercia, before the Anglo Saxons began to create the first truly English dynasty in Alfred the Great. It tells of a hero from Geats (in modern Sweden, possibly in the 600s AD) who rids the king of the Danes of the monster Grendel. Of all the translations Seamus Heany is the most vigorous and beautiful, and I often return to it as a reference.


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In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire

By Tom Holland

In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire

Why this book?

Tom Holland’s excellent series of contextual historical books bring a rare quality, seeking beyond boundaries to understand the sweep of civilisation across continents. This book focuses on the period we call The Dark Ages in the West, from the Fall of Rome to the rise of the Anglo Saxons. But in Asia and the Middle East literature, science and religion flourished, just as the Vikings raided and traded through Europe across to Arabia where eventually they encountered the great cultures of the East.


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The Prose Edda

By Snorri Sturluson, Jesse L. Byock

The Prose Edda

Why this book?

For serious readers of Norse mythology, its origins in literature and early culture the Byock translation of the 13th-century text by Snorri Sturluson presents the Viking equivalent of Heroditus’ Histories of the Ancient Greeks and the religious texts of the Abrahamic religions. It’s a thrilling read and forms the basis of all modern versions of Viking legend. I still refer to this, years after first reading it.


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