Echoes of Valhalla

The Afterlife of the Eddas and Sagas

Jón Karl Helgason

Echoes of Valhalla

Jón Karl Helgason

Distributed for Reaktion Books

Translated by Jane Appleton
256 pages | 50 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
Cloth $24.95 ISBN: 9781780237152 Published June 2017 For sale in North and South America only
Tolkien’s wizard Gandalf, Wagner’s Valkyrie Brünnhilde, Marvel’s superhero the Mighty Thor, the warrior heading for Valhalla in Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” and Donald Crisp’s portrayal of Leif Eriksson in the classic film The Viking—these are just a few examples of how Icelandic medieval literature has shaped human imagination during the past 150 years. Echoes of Valhalla is a unique look at modern adaptations of the Icelandic eddas (poems of Norse mythology) and sagas (ancient prose accounts of Viking history, voyages, and battles) across an astonishing breadth of art forms.

Jón Karl Helgason looks at comic books, plays, travel books, music, and films in order to explore the reincarnations of a range of legendary characters, from the Nordic gods Thor and Odin to the saga characters Hallgerd Long-legs, Gunnar of Hlidarendi, and Leif the Lucky. Roaming the globe, Helgason unearths echoes of Nordic lore in Scandinavia, Britain, America, Germany, Italy, and Japan. He examines the comic work of Jack Kirby and cartoon work of Peter Madsen; reads the plays of Henrik Ibsen and Gordon Bottomley; engages thought travelogues by Frederick Metcalfe and Poul Vad; listens to the music of Richard Wagner, Edward Elgar, and the metal band Manowar; and watches films by directors such as Roy William Neill and Richard Fleischer, outlining the presence of the eddas and sagas in these nineteenth- and twentieth-century works.  

Altogether, Echoes of Valhalla tells the remarkable story of how disparate, age-old poetry and prose originally recorded in remote areas of medieval Iceland have come to be a part of our shared cultural experience today—how Nordic gods and saga heroes have survived and how their colorful cast of characters and adventures they went on are as vibrant as ever.
 
Review Quotes
Washington Independent Review of Books
“Helgason follows the trail of 12th-century Icelandic literature and Norse gods, heroes, and heroines like Gunnar, Hallgerður, and Leifur Eiriksson as they appear in contemporary books, comics, plays, films, and even videogames. . . . His study will please readers thoroughly familiar with the saga characters and edda poems in their original appearance in Icelandic medieval literature. While some purists may resent the modern transformations of these sources, Helgason sees the constant adaptation not so much as a destruction of the original versions, but more as a signal to readers to consult the source, stating that the contemporary adaptations ‘are instrumental in promoting the eddas and sagas internationally.’”
Martin Arnold, University of Hull
“From the fascinating history of Viking myths, legends, and sagas to their refashioning in opera, plays, novels, films, comic-books, and heavy metal. . . . Jón Karl Helgason’s compelling study is simultaneously learned, insightful, and highly entertaining.”
Judy Quinn, Cambridge University
“In Echoes of Valhalla Jón Karl Helgason takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the myriad forms that hark back to the literature of medieval Iceland, with discoveries at every turn. . . .Weaving in the less familiar with the well-known—Wagner, Tolkien, and Thor movies—Jón Karl’s learned and witty commentary will engage readers as he explores the remarkable influence of medieval Icelandic mythology and sagas on the many works that construct and reconstruct our cultural memory.”
Terry Gunnell, University of Iceland
Echoes of Valhalla effectively underlines the ways in which many of our favorite modern narratives are interwoven with enduring ancient Nordic threads.”
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