While researching Norse Mythology and Viking age culture, I stumbled upon something interesting. Walk into any book store and you'll find 428 books on Roman, Greek, and Egyptian mythology, but gods help you if you're looking for something about Scandinavia. Sure, sometimes I got lucky, but despite the huge uptick in interest in the last couple years, the non-fiction section of your local bookstore just hasn't caught up.
So in order to help facilitate your research, may I give you five suggestions:
The obvious beginning. If you're just getting into the fabulous world of Norse Myth, you should start with The Prose and Poetic Eddas. These are two of the source material books that all retellings are based on. There are many translations and I'm not equipped to tell you which are better. Honestly, I just picked up two of each. After reading them, I suggest checking out some of the criticism of the books as well, which draws attention to possible flaws. For example, Sturluson wrote The Prose Edda well after Christianity came to the north, and was Christian himself, hinting at the possibility for bias within some of the myths.
The Viking Way is the book on the history of seidr (magic) in Scandinavia. Until recently it was only available in university libraries or for $300 on Amazon, but the reprint has not only made it more accessible but has added new content. The book focuses on the history of magic rather than modern practice and uses evidence from text and archaeology to support its research. This approach was exactly the scientific mindset I was looking for in a field of research that can easily become muddled with speculation and personal/group traditions.
This is a topic that's very much worth exploring, even if this specific book doesn't enthral you. It doesn't touch at all on Scandinavia but does encourage readers to examine history at the end of polytheism. Its harsh critique of double standards was both hilarious and educational. If you're looking for something more specific to Scandinavia, look for books that focus on Christianity entering the area and don't skim around the details of the social cost of converting. Artefacts were destroyed, stories were lost, and people were tortured and killed in the name of one God.
This short but effective book is a look at the way in which our modern society has clouded the interpretation of archaeology and history since its beginning. Many of the references are to South American archaeological sites but it draws attention to aspects of those cultures that were originally viewed under a straight, cis, white European lens, which clouded the facts that the archaeology presented. Ancient cultures should be examined without bias. For me, this helped with my exploration of Norse Myth from a lens other than the popular one we see it from today.
And last but certainly not least, Trickster Makes This World is a look at the Trickster archetype across world mythologies. While it's not centre stage in this book, Norse Myth makes frequent appearances via Loki. The book helps the reader look at the underlying purpose of the Trickster as the catalyst who creates change within not just mythological societies, but within real-world environments and seasonal cycles. While it's not the kind of book you can devour in an evening, it's well worth the investment.
There are tons of great non-fiction books out there about Norse Myth, Viking age culture, and connected concepts, including plenty that I never found. If your favourite didn't make this list, make sure to leave a suggestion in the comments!
Until next time!