Tuesday, July 27, 2010

NORSE STORIES by Hamilton Wright Mabie

Norse Stories, Retold from the Eddas, also known as Norse Mythology: Great Stories from the Eddas, is an 1882 book on Norse mythology by Hamilton Wright Mabie. While never explicitly stated, this book is obviously geared toward a young adult audience.

Norse Stories reads like something of a greatest hits of Norse mythology. There’s so much missing: many of the mythos’s best-known tales are here, but ripped from the context needed to fully understand them. What is here, though, is well done. Mabie tells the stories well, and he provides some wonderfully rich descriptions. But feels like Mabie went through the Eddas and just ripped out whole pages without making the slightest effort to link things together. He was sloppy, too; an example: here we get “Odin’s eyes began to flash” six pages after he trades one for wisdom at Mimir’s Well.

In its degree of violence and pessimism, Norse mythology is unmatched throughout the world. Yet Norse Stories has a distinctly positive tone, perhaps due to the book’s younger audience. Whatever the reason, this book doesn’t really provide the true mood or tone of Norse mythology.

Ultimately, Norse Stories is a collection of well-told stories severely hampered by their lack of context and other limitations. If you’re well-versed in Norse mythology, you may enjoy what Mabie does with the stories here. If not, you aren’t going to get a coherent understanding of it from Norse Stories. But it shouldn’t be difficult to find half a dozen better books on the topic.