VIKING MYTHS SHAPE MODERN CULTURE. According to Nancy Marie Brown, “the defining artistic moment of the twentieth century was the publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” in 1937. This book and its sequel “The Lord of the Ring” created an entire industry. Not just fantasy novels, but fantasy films, video games, board games, and role-playing games. “World of Warcraft,” an online multi-player game, has about 12 million Internet subscribers.”
“Yet the ideas that make Tolkien popular and the ideas picked up by his imitators—are not all original,” she adds. “Many are the work of a thirteenth-century Icelandic writer: wandering wizards who talk to birds; tall, beautiful, immortal elves; warrior women on horseback; trolls who turn to stone.”
“The millions of readers and gamers worldwide who enjoy these fantasy elements owe a debt of gratitude to Iceland. They have no idea who Snorri Sturluson is. I thought it was time they learned.”
A college literature class assignment in 1977 piqued Brown’s curiosity and led to her fifth and latest book “Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths.” The book is to be published October 30. On that afternoon, Brown begins her national book tour at Lyndon State College’s Samuel Read Hall Library with a free public lecture.
In “The Prose Edda,” a collection of Norse tales from the thirteenth-century Icelandic writer Snorri Sturluson, Brown recognized several names. It was a list that included Tolkien’s dwarves and Gandalf, the wizard in “The Hobbit.”
“What were they doing in medieval Iceland?”
This encounter led Brown to study Old Norse literature as a hobby for the next 35 years, while writing for and editing an award-winning research magazine. “For most of my professional career, I’ve lived a double life: science writer on one hand, medievalist on the other,” she explained. She learned Old Norse as a graduate student and picked up a rough fluency in modern Icelandic. She traveled to Iceland frequently and held language practice sessions with college students there.
“Getting to know Iceland and Icelanders,” she says, “I was continually surprised by how much their medieval culture had influenced modern America.” This insight led her to write “Song of the Vikings.”
Brown’s talk will begin at 12:30. The lecture is free and open to the public and is presented as part of the College’s Lecture and Arts Series. The series is made possible, in part, by the Harriett M. Sherman Lecture Fund.