John Lindow, Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs (Oxford University Press, 2001)

A careful reading of John Lindow's Norse Mythology will not only acquaint the casual reader with the primary themes and characters of Norse mythology, it will also introduce the reader to the sources, the arguments, the geographic settings, and the various contradictory and interwoven nuances that abound within this branch of folklore. Then this book will continue to serve the reader as a reference both to and for the source texts, should one wish to further explore this fascinating and transcendant mythos.

While a large percentage of Norse Mythology necessarily draws upon Snorri Sturluson's (and, to a lesser extent, Saxo Grammaticus') writings, Dr. Lindow also draws upon other sources to fully inform the alphabetical guide that makes up the bulk of this work. Each such reference is mentioned in the copious footnotes. These footnotes underscore the usefulness of this book for the average English reader, as most of the references cited are not available in English translations, but are scholarly texts of Germanic and Scandinavian origin.

The book opens with an introduction that explores the historical background of the Scandinavian people, their ties to Indo-European culture, the tradition of Skaldic poetry, and the texts of Snorri Sturluson. In addition, problems that arise in studying Norse mythology are addressed, problems that develop as texts dealing with Norse deities were composed by Christian authors writing in different languages centuries after the actual worship of the deities.

This lengthy introduction is then followed by a second essay on the concept of (and entitled) "Time" as it applies to the bulk of the mythic cycle, providing a framework within which to understand the order of events. It also explores several differing views that arise from linguistic confusion among translations.

The third section, the body of the book, is an alphabetical concordance entitled "Deities, Themes, and Concepts." Entries include the references to the various names of each deity, such as Heid, the name taken by Gullveig, who may have been Freyja, when she preforms seid, a kind of prophetic trance. Or such as Odin, head of the ęsir and the only male deity who performs seid, who counts Bölverk (Evil-deed), Bileyg (Wavering-eye), and Bįleyg(Flame-eye) among his many names. Herein you will also find references to Thor, Loki, Tyr, and Frigg, as well as obscure deities like Ull, who for a time replaced Odin as head of the ęsir, or Suttung, the giant Dr. Lindow jokingly blames for pop song lyricists and other poetasters. Place names, events, items, and poems are also listed, and the entries are indexed and footnoted for easy reference.

The fourth section, "Print and Non-Print Resources," rounds out the book with an overview of recommended texts. More than compiling a simple bibliography, Dr. Lindow explores what makes the texts useful or useless in several different areas, as well as making a few pointed comments about the dangers of relying upon the internet for research.

In summation, if you are looking for a simple recitation of the basic stories that comprise Norse Mythology, look elsewhere. This is not a simple book. The massive amount of information is intended to be used as a tool to explore ideas and texts related to Norse mythology. But it is not a difficult book, either. The entries are neither dry nor tedious, and one does not need to be a serious student of all things Norse to appreciate the lively and evocative prose of Dr. Lindow. In fact, those entries that explore divergent and contradictory meanings, which could easily prove to be the most convoluted, often turn out to be the most entertaining. This is a scholarly book for the average reader, a difficult thing to achieve by any standard.

[Wes Unruh]