H.R. Ellis Davidson,
Gods & Myths of Northern Europe
(Penguin Putnam, 1964; Viking, 1990)

Gods & Myths of Northern Europe is another book that has been around for decades and undergone publication in many editions. Penguin Putnam published the original edition in Middlesex, England, in 1964. I own their 1973 American edition. This book is considered one of the rare classics of folklore simply because very few books have ever been published that deal with the Germanic folklore and cultural religion from a serious perspective in easy-to-read language. Much of the available text is new-age fiction, especially fantasy. The older books tend to be written in German or Middle English and are inaccessible to the majority of average American readers.

There is a lengthy introduction containing three sections: "The Myth-Makers," "The Sources of Our Knowledge" and "New Light on the Myths." This is a powerful introduction to the lore of the region and will make you stop to consider how the modern world has treated folklore in general. It points out that we have been schooled in the folklore and myths of Rome and Greece to the exclusion of all others, especially the Anglo-Saxons. Who has cared about the Vikings? Every person with an interest in folklore should read this book and pay especially close attention to this introduction.

Gods & Myths of Northern Europe is divided into nine major sections: "The World of the Northern Gods," "The Gods of Battle," "The Thunder God," "The Gods of Peace & Plenty," "The Gods of the Sea," "The Gods of the Dead," "The Enigmatic Gods," "The Beginning & the End" and "Conclusion: The Passing of the Gods." Each section, except the last, has three to seven chapters. For example, under "The Thunder God," we find: "Thor in Myths," "The Temples of Thor," "The Hammer of Thor," "The God of the Sky" and "Thor & his Adversaries."

The writing is lively and descriptive. There are no lulls in this book! It will keep your attention focused and your imagination engaged. It is narrative throughout. It is an excellent reference because it is heavily footnoted with an extensive bibliography at the end. But for pleasure reading, you cannot beat it! There is a wonderfully enlightening glossary that defines each god or creature and provides a brief origin. Be sure to read through the entire section.

This is an excellent book for all purposes. It should be in the home or office of every folklorist or student of Germanic studies. It is a fantastic read for a stormy afternoon. It is absolutely priceless for the information it contains!

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 7 June 2003

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