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The Norse Myths That Shape the Way We Think

Carolyne Larrington


A fresh look at the stories at the heart of Norse mythology, exploring their cultural impact right up to the present day

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The heroes and villains of Norse mythology have endured for centuries, infiltrating art, opera, film, television and books, shape-shifting – like the trickster Loki – to suit the cultures that encountered them. Through careful analysis of the literature and archaeology of the Norse world, Carolyne Larrington takes us deep into the realm described in the Icelandic sagas, from the gloomy halls of Hel to the dazzling heights of Asgard. She expertly examines the myths’ many modern-day reimaginings, revealing the guises that have been worn by the figures of Norse myth, including Marvel’s muscled, golden-haired Thor and George R.R Martin’s White Walkers, who march inexorably southwards, bringing their eternal winter with them.

This sophisticated yet accessible guide explores how these powerful stories have inspired our cultural landscape, from fuelling the creative genius of Wagner to the construction of the Nazi’s nationalist ideology. Larrington’s elegantly written retellings capture the essence of the original myths while also delving into the history of their meanings. The myths continue to speak to such modern concerns as masculinity and environmental disaster – after the inevitable, apocalyptic ragna rök, renewal comes from the roots of Yggdrasill, the World Tree.


'Thor Blimey! … Larrington is an expert guide to the origins of the stories and an opinionated interpreter of their modern descendants. Like its predecessors in the series … this book shows how stories help us to understand who we are and the times we live in'

'Larrington has been our best interpreter of the medieval Icelandic sources of Norse mythology. In this new and very readable volume, she shows how those stories and characters have stayed alive … how the enduring appeal of the originals comes from the way in which the myths can be employed to engage with the big questions of our own time'
BBC History

'A marvellous book, erudite and well-written, proving once more how relevant Norse myth remains to the modern reader'
Joanne Harris, author of 'The Gospel of Loki' and 'Chocolat'

'We’ve all heard of the Norse myths, but here Carolyne Larrington takes us deeper to explore their influence on myths of our own – the stories and stereotypes that have built up around the people arguably known as the Vikings. Urgently corrective, occasionally controversial, but always insightful and entertaining, one could not hope for a better guide'
Professor Neil Price, author of 'The Children of Ash and Elm'

'A compelling examination of the power and influence of these ancient legends and the continuing effect they have on contemporary society and culture. Touching on a surprisingly wide array of topics, Larrington manages to present her arguments in an intelligent yet accessible manner'
All About History

'Colourful and wonderfully made … A solid primer for the extant sources of these myths, drawing on the author’s clear expertise and revealing interesting new configurations. Touching on everything from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung to Noggin the Nog, this is an ambitious book that shows how Norse pagan culture continues to be reforged in compelling ways'

'The paradox of this world, as Carolyne Larrington explores, is that though it is weird, cruel and violent, its protagonists are a lot closer to us than those elegant Olympians. And Norse mythology as it has come to us is inextricably mixed up with the lives of real men and women'
The Times

'Detailed, accessible and also immensely enjoyable'
The New European

'There is no better guide to Old Norse mythology and its many reincarnations than Larrington. In this sumptuously illustrated book she weaves together different strands of history, bringing to life tales … for the modern era'

'Well organized and clearly written ... models how an academic can engage a broader public. Larrington wears her vast erudition lightly, ranges widely, and shares her excitement about the novels, games, and movies she discusses'
Fafnir: Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 320 pp

Illustrations: 99

Publication date: 2 March 2023

ISBN: 9780500252345

Contents List

1. Yggdrasill, the World Tree: A Green Myth
2. The Valhöll Complex: The Myth of Undying Fame
3. Óðinn: The Myth of the Wanderer in Search of Wisdom
4. Þórr: The Myth of the Superhero
5. Loki and his Children: The Myth of the Monstrous Brood
6. Vikings and Berserkers: Myths of Masculinity
7. Sigurðr the Dragon-Slayer: The Myth of the Monster-Killer
8. Ragnarr Shaggy-Breeches: The Myth of Viking Conquest
9. Vínland the Good: The Myth of American Colonization
10. Ragna Rök: The Myth of the End
Note on Names and Pronunciation

About the Author

Carolyne Larrington is Professor of Medieval European Literature at the University of Oxford. Her previous books include The Norse Myths, The Poetic Edda and All Men Must Die: Power and Passion in Game of Thrones.

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