Myths of the Pagan North

The Gods of the Norsemen

Christopher Abram

258 Pages, ISBN 978 1 8472 5247 0     
Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011     

The Norse myths make up one of the world's great mythologies, and their popularity shows no sign of diminishing in the twenty-first century. The deeds and personalities of gods like Odin, Thor and Loki continue to fascinate readers and to inspire authors and artists in a wide range of genres and media. Many books about Norse mythology are already available - ranging from retellings of the myths to comprehensive descriptive handbooks to detailed, painstaking academic works. This book is designed to introduce the myths to a non-specialist readership in a new way, and to encourage people who are already familair with the Norse myths to think about them differently.
Myths of the Pagan North is a history of myth-making in medieval Scandinavia. My aim is to establish as far as possible when people created these powerful stories about the pagan gods of the North; why they did so - what religious, social, or cultural impulses have shaped the myths; and how the myths came into being.

The main theme of this book, then, is the way that myths change in time and space; how they evolve to meet the needs and desires of the people who make them. Its structure is roughly chronological. To begin with, we will examine the different types of sources that contain Norse myths or which may help us to understand their origins. The second chapter provides a brief overview of Scandinavian pagan religion, since mythology always has connections to people's beliefs, even if those connections are not always as straightforward as we might think. Then, we will trace the history of the myths themselves in the works of poets from the Viking Age through the era of conversion, and into the work of learned writers in the Christian period.
My book, therefore, is as much about myths about Norse paganism as it is about pagan myths - the myths produced by those people whom we can identify as pagans, who lived in a primarily pagan society and exhibited a pagan worldview. It is about how the Norse myths changed over time, as religion and society developed, and as paganism co-existed with and then gave way to Christianity. But it is also about how medieval Christian attitudes towards pagan religion have shaped 'pagan' myth. Norse mythology may deal with stories, themes, and subjects that are ancient, widespread, and eternal, but the Norse myths have never stood still. They form a dynamic network of belief and narrative, not a static monument to a lost civilization. Myth is eternal, but it never stops changing.

Christopher Abram is Lecturer in Medieval Scandinavian Studies at University College London. He did his PhD in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge and now specialises in Old Norse literature and mythology. Myths of the Pagan North is his first book, and in writing it he has been much influenced by his experience of teaching and discussing Norse mythology with students at UCL.

(The text above comes from the intro and the back of the book)     

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