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Song Of The Vikings

Mythic storytelling out of Iceland, and the song of the Vikings.

A black-and-white reproduction of a painting showing Norsemen in a ship. The list of illustrations on page vii gives this one the title Norsemen Landing in Iceland'. (Wikicommons)

Long ago and far away, the old Norse tales and poems of Vikings and lore were fading.  A young Norwegian king – fourteen – was enchanted by the English tales of King Arthur.  A wayfaring storyteller from Iceland stepped into the breach.  Spinning northern tales of Thor and Odin, dragon and dwarf, magic weapons and rings.

He may be the most influential medieval writer you’ve never heard of.  But Tolkien did.  And Wagner.  And Neil Gaiman.  And Michael Chabon.

This hour, On Point:  the Homer of the north, and mythic storytelling out of Iceland.

-Tom Ashbrook


Nancy Marie Brown, author of Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths.

From Tom’s Reading List

Scienceblogs.com “Icelandic sagas and a single archaeological site in Newfoundland document a Viking Period presence of Norse people in the Americas. Now National Geographic’s November issue has a piece (here and here) on new work in the field, lab and museum collections by Dr. Patricia Sutherland. It deals with a group of additional and somewhat later sites that may expand that evidence. Dr. Sutherland, of the Memorial University in Newfoundland, kindly answered some questions of mine via e-mail.”


You can watch the trailer of the book here.


You can find an excerpt of the book here. 


Hoppipolla by Sigur Ros

Das Rheingold by James Levine

Concerning Hobbits by Howard Shore


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  • keltcrusader

    Ah, ah,
    We come from the land of the ice and snow,
    From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
    The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
    To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla, I am coming!

    On we sweep with threshing oar, Our only goal will be the western shore.

    Ah, ah,
    We come from the land of the ice and snow,
    From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.
    How soft your fields so green, can whisper tales of gore,
    Of how we calmed the tides of war. We are your overlords.

    On we sweep with threshing oar, Our only goal will be the western shore.

    So now you’d better stop and rebuild all your ruins,
    For peace and trust can win the day despite of all your losing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Smith/1298305789 Matt Smith

    cannot wait for this to start.  working away on a graphic novel this morning heavily inspired by the Icelandic sagas and Norse mythology…

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Today, my religion gets an hour.  This will be interesting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/garret.woodward Garret K. Woodward

    Is there any indication of these stories and lore translating into Americana storytelling? I’m always fascinated by the tales of the sea and land that have been molded throughout the east coast of the United States, with a lot of the material coming through from older European words/lyrics…

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       Mostly, those would be English and Irish, but the Norse people invaded and immigrated into both of those countries.

  • AC


  • J__o__h__n

    As a child, I loved D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths (also their Greek myths book).  It is probably why I’m an atheist as monotheism couldn’t compete with these stories.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Tolkien also drew from the Kalevala from Finland.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Our democratic institutions and common law come as much from Germanic culture, including the Norse peoples, more than from ancient Greece.

  • J__o__h__n

    It was unfair of Tolkien to claim the stories in Norse were better than Shakespeare as he wasn’t reading Shakespeare in the original Klingon. 

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    By the way, Icelandic singer Bjork (pronounced “Byerk”) doesn’t have a single name out of affectation.  It’s common practice in Iceland to be known by one’s given name.  The patronymic is added only to clarify.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    In Norse mythology, humans live on Midgard–literally, Middle Earth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1066792915 Robert Andrews

    Iceland’s modern culture is still rich with mythology and continues to honor creativity, music and art. It is curious that more North Americans are not aware or exposed to this amazing country and culture.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robdunlavey Rob Dunlavey

    My wife’s family, Oddleifson, is related back to Snorri. And we live in Boston.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    As always, Christianity was adopted by a king as a way of increasing his power–one God, one king.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Smith/1298305789 Matt Smith

     I’d love to hear some Skálmöld when they go to break!  Now there’s some Icelandic music that would be very much on point….

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Look up reconstructionist heathenry.  The religion of the Norse lives today.

  • J__o__h__n

    Does the author have a preferred translation?

  • http://www.facebook.com/dreamingmatthew Matthew Stephenson

    Ask the guest if she has played Elder Scrolls, Particularly Skyrim. She would love the willful mining of these traditions

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Odin knows that a new world will be born after Ragnarok.  See the Voluspa.

  • ttajtt

    are they not the first world conquerers, boat war like people. 

  • Ron94

    What is the relation of these myths to the Icelandic sagas?

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    The Danes ruled a large part of England for several hundred years.  Because Old English and Old Norse were so close, the two languages blended.  The root words were the same, but the grammatical endings were different, so English lost those endings.

    Then the Norman French (Norse people themselves, but speaking a Latin-derived language) invaded and mucked things up.

  • stillin

    Makes me want to strike a fire in the hearth( I do have one), get a cup of something and read the books! This winter, when it’s dark, I can’t wait! A plan to pass some time and perfect for the season…

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Waldorf?  Last hour was about trolls.

  • stillin

    Would the caller who uses this material for her 4th grade class please write in the name of the books she uses…I teach 4th and would like to use it for art illustration…thanks!

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       The Prose and Poetic Eddas.

      • stillin

        Thank you!
        Subject: [on-point] Re: Song Of The Vikings

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Smith/1298305789 Matt Smith

       I don’t know much about the Waldorf school system, but I am very jealous it took until my college years to delve into this stuff–especially as an illustrator myself working with this material now!

    • conniehelms

      Although I am not the caller, I am a trained Waldorf teacher and parent. Waldorf education is a world wide movement 90 years old; in western countries the Norse myths are part of the language arts curriculum in every 4th grade. The qualities of the characters speak to the 9 and 10 year olds who realize that all humans have strengths and failings, and that with courage, insight, shrewdness, etc. we can be solid individuals. The books that a Waldorf teacher may use to create his or her own colored chalk drawings are by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire (Norse Gods and Giants) The d’Aulaires wrote and illustrated about 14 books.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    I appreciate the humor and realism of the Norse gods.  They aren’t the distant and impersonal divinity of monotheism.  Norse gods are like elder relatives.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=653317248 Jukka Westhues

    The sagas also give us great insight into the legal proceedings of the Icelanders, which was far more civilized than the rest of Europe’s at this time.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    The Vikings weren’t just pirates.  They were merchants and explorers with a trade network that stretched from India to the islands of what is today northern Canada.

  • laffingman

    The sagas talk about the great dragon ships that the Norwegian kings built. I just came back from sailing on the largest replica dragon ship built in 800 years. One sail, 3200 sq.feet of red silk. Right in the Viking heartland. The idea is to retrace the greatest Viking voyages.   Would love to talk about it. Tug 617-284-2802

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Smith/1298305789 Matt Smith

       I’d certainly love to hear about it.  Have you written about your experience in print or online?

      If not, I hope you plan to.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Smith/1298305789 Matt Smith

    My dog is harassing me to no end to go for a walk and i want to finish listening to this program…  She must be a descendant of Garm…

  • laffingman

    Missed my chance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/laura.farnham Laura K. Farnham

    This was one of the best shows I’ve heard in a while! I love Tolkien, and I knew he loved Norse mythology, but it was wonderful to hear Brown speak about Tolkien and Lewis discussing the myths at Oxford!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612220663 Carol Anine Goss-Daniels

    I cannot wait to buy the book!  Fabulous show today!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=612220663 Carol Anine Goss-Daniels

    I cannot wait to read this book.  Fabulous show this morning! 

  • TinaWrites

    Was this intentional?  Trolling in hour one; trolls in hour two?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10402082 Mary Murphy

    I really loved this show, it took me back to my days as a Medieval Studies Major.  I’m glad On Point covers the classics!  It was a welcome break from the endless election speculation as well.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/eduardo.finger.1 Eduardo Finger

    I would like to buy the book for my 12 year old. Is it appropriate?  Some of the stories I heard on line did not sound like they would be.  Also, does this book tell the tales or tell Snorri’s history?  Is is a story book or a history book?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jennpici.falk Jenn Pici Falk

    I’ve been passionate about Iceland for years now and have been to where Snorri lived in Reykholt, Iceland twice.  It’s so wonderful.  I led a yoga adventure vacation there 2 years ago where we discussed norse goddesses/gods, hiked the nearby ravines and waterfalls, and we did yoga in the room looking over Snorri’s land.  So special.  
    Many more trips like that planned in various places around Iceland.  Hoping for next one in summer/fall 2013.  
    Thanks so much for this show!  So fun for me to hear.  


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  • http://www.facebook.com/jane.jordan.39 Jane Jordan

    I have now bought two copies of this book for my son and husband who are Tolkein fans (he leaves me cold), however, I wish Tom Ashbrook would learn not to interrupt his wonderful guests over and over.

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