The Norse myths

by Kevin Crossley-Holland

Paper Book, 1980



Call number

BL860 .C76


New York : Pantheon Books, c1980.


After a lengthy detailed introduction on background material, the important myths are retold.

User reviews

LibraryThing member aethercowboy
In the world of myths, Norse myths are like that cool kid that you don't really know is cool because he always keeps to himself and doesn't really talk about the same stuff as everybody else. Maybe he's a bit too much of a hipster, but after talking to him for a few minutes, you realize he's a cool
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guy, even if he is familiar with stuff you've never heard of. Norse Mythology is like that. Sure there are the more popular Greco Roman mythologies, or the more indie Mesoamerican mythologies, or the more fringe Judeo-Christian mythologies, and the more hip Celtic mythologies, but Norse mythology is itself pretty much worth knowing.

While other books I've read on the subject barely do enough to do Norse mythology justice, this book does a fabulous job of covering all the established myths from the existing authorities on the subject, including Snorri Sturluson, all translated into English for the US/UK/AU/CA/etc. reader.

In reading this book, I realized just how much Norse mythology influenced popular fantasy authors, especially Tolkien, in which just about every single Dark Elf/Dwarf has a name that appears in Tolkien's legendarium, which makes one think twice before kowtowing to a demand by the Tolkien estate to not use a term like Dwalin, Gandalf, or Mirkwook (all names originated in Norse mythology). But I digress...

If you'd like a book that does a fairly good coverage of Norse myths without having to learn Scandinavian, then this is a great place to start. Crossley-Holland does an excellent job of presenting the material to the reader in a way that's easy to understand and doesn't get bogged down in the arcane (but does delve a bit into the arcane in a way that's completely enjoyable). I would highly recommend this book as as starting place for anybody interested in Norse mythology, as well as the other Pantheon books of mythology and folklore for those interested in other cultures as well.
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LibraryThing member elenchus
All parts are eminently useful: Crossley-Holland's retellings adopt a pleasing tone, his selection never neglecting the big three (Odin, Loki, Thor) but attentive to less popular characters so as to serve up a rounded portrait of the myths. The introduction is meatier than expected, the notes
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detailed as to sources as well as Crossley-Holland's decisions regarding what to keep, what to change, how best to adapt contradictory or mutually exclusive versions. Anglo-Saxon words, he notes, are preferred to others of Greek or Latinate origin. Crossley-Holland conveys his enthusiasm as well as his admiration for the myths here, as well as for those who told them.

This was an ideal return to the stories, my appetite for the myths themselves whetted by Davidson's survey. No question but that I'll revisit these, and the edition is a fine one in both design and illustrations. Lydbury's headpieces are as detailed and varied as her larger woodcuts, incorporating Norse motifs such as wildlife and nautical knots, armour and landscape.


Vikings defined as Danes, Swedes, Norwegians living between 780-1070 AD, who in part due to overcrowding + primogeniture were compelled to adventure South, East, and West, with resulting profound cultural influences. The Norse settled Iceland, where many of these myths ultimately were written down. (Are there no other Icelanders than those descended from Vikings? Greenland?)

A key characteristic of Icelandic culture (unfamiliar to me): always a republic, no tradition of kingdoms and monarchy. Yet the Danes were steeped in it, The Song of Rig emphasizes this, and the Swedes and Norwegians also have strong lines of royalty. If Iceland settled by Scandinavians organised under royalty, interesting that royalty rejected in Iceland. Political parallels with USA, have these been noted before? But of course a different scale, at least ultimately, perhaps as clear an example of modernity's influence as any.

Loki's character arc interesting: here he is always the "boon companion" to Thor and Odin (and H), but in the myths told here he also evolves from trickster to evil nemesis. Does that character arc mirror a transformation found within the larger Norse chronology, or merely emerge as selected and arranged here? And assuming it is found in Loki's character generally, what does it portend: a cultural shift or religious theme, or merely reflecting a choice of audiences who wanted Loki to get more fiercely and intensely and unapologetically Loki, and not be merely a figure of fun?
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LibraryThing member -Eva-
Kevin Crossley-Holland's retelling of 32 Norse myths, beginning with the world's creation and ending with Ragnarök, along with notes on which source was used for which retelling. The stories are very good renderings of the myths, but they aren't very vivid and the characters are a little stiff for
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a retelling. They are very true to their characters, though, which is what really matters. The various theories of Norse mythology's ties with other countries' myths are interesting, but they seem a stretch, e.g. when the idea (in "Thor and Geirrod") that Gjálp is flooding the river with her menstrual blood. The Prose Edda doesn't say anything about blood and it's more likely (and widely accepted) that she is peeing. The blood part seems to have been added purely to tie it to a random Egyptian myth. In light of this, I would recommend this book as an introduction to the original texts rather than for someone looking for a thorough academic text.
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LibraryThing member Crowyhead
This is a really excellent collection. The myths are retold with humor and enthusiasm, and Crossley-Holland's notes are excellent. A lot of times it's hard to find collections of myths that are well-documented and scholarly (rather than simply being retellings that don't list the source material)
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but are still readable as complete stories rather than being fragmentary. This collection lands right on the money.
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LibraryThing member nymith
I read this book at the request of my mother, who has an avid interest in all things norse. She read it in the appropriate scholarly manner, reading the footnotes and lengthy introduction.

Me, I just read the stories themselves as a simple diversion. I looked at it the way I do with all fiction --
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judging plot, characters, world-building, etcetera. So of course my view of the myths is that of a complete ignoramus, and I doubt I'm the right person to go about reviewing it.

However, I enjoyed it. It was a quick, easy read with an extremely original style of gods, especially when compared to the greeks...

I most enjoyed the adventure stories with Loki and Thor. I often wished those had been elaborated on, and more often still I longed for some solid world-building. Did all the dwarves have to be greedy pigs? Did all the gods (except for Thor, Odin and Loki) have to have interchangeable personalities? And I didn't buy Loki's abrubt turnaround from backstabbing troublemaker to out-and-out murderer.

I realise it's very easy for me to complain about this book, because I read it with a different set of expectations than most and I just kept seeing what could have been fine stories never properly thought out.

But I think it's probably a good set of retellings for someone truly interested in the norse myths, as it's clear, concise (except for the trivia games the gods and giants seem to love challenging each other to) and comfortable to read, not at all lofty or grand. I'm just not the right person to review it.
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LibraryThing member -AlyssaE-
I have been in a mythology phase lately. I was told this book is a good introduction to norse mythology, and i really think it is. Anyone that had a curious mind about norse myth should read this book.
LibraryThing member nillacat
The best tellings of any mythology I have ever read. The first stories sound like translations, but as the book gets underway Crossley-Holland finds his own voice and the characters come alive. Loki is given a development from mischievous to malignant that makes dramatic sense.
LibraryThing member Malarchy
The Penguin Book of Norse Myths re-tells a range of the myths emerging out of northern Europe and famously recorded in the sagas. With the Gods as primary characters - Loki, Odin, Thor, Freyja etc - the tales are an insight into a long expired culture that held storytelling in high esteem.
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Crossley-Holland prefaces his story cyle with a thorough introduction and the book concludes with useful notes to help the reader's understanding of the context.

Many of the famous myths of the Norse are told in as chronological order as possible leading up to the most famous of them all - Ragnarok. Crossley-Holland takes much of his work from Snorri Sturlson who was writing in 13th century Iceland. Crossley-Holland's translation makes frequent reference to Prose Edda but also includes earlier sources. The translation itself is easy to read and several wise decisions to aid the flow have been made.

I do have two issues though - the first is that the notes section comes far too late in the book. I appreciate that adding in notes after each tales would risk disrupting the flow but as a left to right reader I was not looking to scroll to the back of the book and so read the notes en masse when I reached that point. The structure would have been improved by having those notes inserted at the right place.

The other issue will probably be more controversial to other reviewers and readers - the stories themselves are just not that great. The Gods change character frequently and cross over each other's jurisdictions. I'm less fussed about the chronological inconsistencies but what is left of the ancient myths is insufficient. Crossley-Holland alludes to a merger of some kind between the War Gods and Fertility Gods but by the time the sagas are written much of the context therefore the depth has been lost.

Crossley-Holland decides to include a couple of poems that are merely genealogical lists. These he acknowledges as being hard going and they are not really all that interesting to a lay reader - not knowing the kinglists of ancient Germanic/Nordic domains makes the lists inaccessible.

Reading in English also presents a problem as the poetry is clearly lost at points. The rhyming and intonation disappear making the quality of the wording itself decline. While I can imagine the song that the words once produced, they do not have the same effect in modern English.

Having been controversial though, there is much to praise about the book. I particularly enjoyed the introduction that set the scene for the tales. The insight into the culture is fascinating, the role that the Gods play and their struggles demonstrate the values and cultural signifiers that lay over northern Europe. The reconstruction by Crossley-Holland of this legendary story cycle will be hard to surpass and for anyone interested in the subject is well worth enjoying.
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LibraryThing member jburlinson
Just to pick a bone with one of my fellow reviewers, I think Crossley-Holland made the right decision in putting his, rather extensive, notes in a section of their own, after his rendering of the myths themselves. Crossley-Holland's primary achievement is to structure these tales, mostly drawn from
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the Prose Edda, into a sequential narrative, at least as much as is practicable. To arrest the flow would undermine this accomplishment. References to page numbers where the appropriate notes can be found, as Crossley-Holland has done, seems to me a fine solution to the problem. Good show!
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LibraryThing member PardaMustang
This book had a nice introduction to Norse cosmology as well as basics of the mythology. It provides a good grounding in the myths, along with a section at the end containing tidbits of information pertinent to each story. A wonderful book for exploring Norse myth.
LibraryThing member elenchus
I own the Folio Society edition, which I read and will re-read. This edition is part of Penguin's Pantheon series, and is worth keeping for the black-and-white illustrations. The Folio's illustrations are good, yes: but these are different, and apart from the headpieces there is an illustration of
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the Norse cosmos which itself is worth the price of admission. A pity the illustrator is uncredited, even on Penguin's website.

The text appears to be very similar if not identical to the Folio Society edition.
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LibraryThing member ScoutJ
A great introduction to the myths, obviously well-researched, but also pleasantly told. There are extensive notes on each myth, which is good, but they are in a separate section at the end of the book, which I found annoying. I can't imagine that most readers would just read straight through
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without the explanations, so I would have preferred the notes to follow each myth.
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LibraryThing member tole_lege
Exactly what it says on the tin: stories of the Norse Gods, in a readable translation. (I don't know enough to know if it's a particularly good translation, mind...).
LibraryThing member setnahkt
“Retellings” of Norse myths, but thoroughly based on the original stories from the Eddas, Gesta Danorum, and Heimskringla. Something of an antidote if your perception of Odin, Thor and Loki comes from the MCU. Author Kevin Crossley-Holland notes that Thor was seen as a protector of the
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“middle class” – yeoman farmers – and is generally the most likable of the Norse gods, even if he loses his temper and smashes people with Mjolnir periodically. One interesting difference between the Greek and Norse gods is most of the Greek myths involve humans interacting with gods – Jason and the Argonauts, Helen of Troy, etc. – while the Norse myths are primarily god vs. god and god vs. giant. Odin is apparently just as likely to mess around with mortal women as Zeus, but the results, if any, just vanish rather than creating half-divine characters like Heracles and Achilles and Helen.

Almost a quarter of the book is detailed notes, explaining how Crossley-Holland picked the sources and what editing he did. There’s an extensive bibliography, with original sources, original sources in translation, and secondary works.
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LibraryThing member Stefuto
I loved this book so much! The author has notes after each myth detailing the sources of each myth, the changes he made, parrallels with myths from other cultures and more. I love all those details!
And I was very surprised to read in the myth "Thor and Geirrod" that Thor had to cross a river of
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menstrual blood of a giantess. Good job Vikings acknowledging women's periods!
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LibraryThing member nebula21
A collection of Norse myths translated into English. I did not like the illustrations in the book. I did not enjoy the stories. They were told in such a way that they lacked excitement.
LibraryThing member nx74defiant
I am unfamiliar with the Norse gods so this was all new to me. Listening to the audio book, sometimes it was confusing with Freyr and Freyja.


Original publication date


Physical description

xli, 276 p.; 24 cm


0394748468 / 9780394748467


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