BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature
A lively discussion of ancient and modern Pagan literature -- including children's books, graphic novels, science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries -- along with interviews, author highlights, and profiles of Pagan publishers.
On Norse Mythology, For Children
Unlike Greek mythology and even Egyptian mythology, the Gods and heroes and lore of northern Europe appear rarely in books aimed at children. This is unfortunate, as Norse mythology is rich with wondrous tales, grand adventure, amazing Gods, and tragic but noble heroes. There are several picture books that I recommend though, as well as chapter books and teen books and a few activity books; there are also some general mythology books which feature good sections on Norse lore. These would all make great additions to the private libraries of Heathen families, or even lending libraries maintained by particular Kindreds.
There are several picture books which the youngest children will enjoy; some retell a single myth while others focus on a specific Deity or hero. First is Gods and Goddesses of the Ancient Norse by Leonard Everett Fisher* which features short, encyclopedic entries on the Deities along with beautiful full-page chalky illustrations, a map, and a pronunciation guide. Iduna and the Magic Apples by Mariana Mayer and Laszlo Gal, which I profiled in a previous column, retells the story of that Goddess's kidnapping and rescue. The Adventures of Thor the Thunder God by Lise Lunge-Larsen (author of the wonderful Gifts From the Gods) and Jim Madsen, is a humorous and exciting collection of that God's most well-known stories, while Shirley Climo and Alexander Koshkin's Stolen Thunder: A Norse Myth focuses on Thor's quest to reclaim his lost hammer from the Frost Giants. Leif the Lucky by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire is a biography of the famous explorer, while Sister Bear: A Norse Tale by Jane Yolen and Linda Graves is a folktale featuring a spunky heroine, an adorable dancing bear, and some terrible tattooed trolls.
For those interested in collections of short stories -- which work great as bedtime reading -- Favorite Norse Myths by Mary Pope Osborne and Troy Howell collects fourteen tales (including some lesser-known adventures); it is unfortunately out of print, but copies are readily available online and at your local library. It's worth tracking down just for Howell's stunning paintings.
Perhaps the most well-known and most highly-recommended children's book is d'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths, along with the companion volume, d'Aulaire's Book of Trolls. While the tales here are simply told, they are not simplistic and authors Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire do not talk down to their audience. The Gods are powerful and great and often wise, but they are not perfect. Plus, the bright, bold artwork is terrific.
Slightly older children (say, ages nine and up), will probably gravitate towards The Children of Odin by Padraic Colum and Willy Pogany. Available in multiple print and digital formats, Colum's retellings are funny, sometimes bloody, always clever, and graced by Pogany's truly exquisite line ink illustrations. Kids in the same age group who need a good laugh should look for Thor's Wedding Day: By Thialfi, The Goat Boy, As Told To and Translated By Bruce Coville; snarky, witty, and a good way to pass a long car ride.
Children themselves are sometimes the heroes, especially in stories penned by modern authors. For example, Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman and Brett Helquist is not a retelling of an ancient myth, but rather one inspired by the world of the ancient Norse. Here, the completely luckless Odd is sent on a quest to save Asgard and the Gods from the Frost Giants. In Loki's Wolves by KL Armstrong and MA Marr, the first in The Blackwell Pages series, we are introduced to a small town in South Dakota where most of the residents are descendants of the Norse Gods -- except the Gods are gone and when Ragnarok rolls around, it's up to Matt Thorsen and his friends to save the world. Tessa Gratton's The Lost Sun, the first in the United States of Asgard series, is set in an alternate world where the Gods walk among the people -- and when Baldur goes missing, a teen berserker and a prophetess just coming into her powers must save the God and the world.
If activity books are more your thing, Color Me Goddess by Lithia Brigan, Goddesses: A Paper Doll by Julie Matthews, Goddesses Paper Dolls by Renee McElwee, and Norse Gods and Goddesses Coloring Book by Jeff Menges should be on your shopping list. Just remember to keep an eye on the scissors and the glue!
Kindertales: Stories Old and New For Children of the Folk and Kindertales II: More Stories For the Children of the Folk by Freydis Heimdall, John Mainer and Hedi Graw are two of the few books on this list written explicitly by Heathens, for Heathens. Here, you will find both retellings of classics stories and original fables highlighting important Heathen virtues and ideals. Plus, I totally love the covers.
Lastly, there are Kevin Crossley-Holland's The Norse Myths; Myths of the Norsemen by Helene Grueber; John Lindow's Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals and Beliefs; Rudolf Simek's Dictionary of Northern Mythology; and, of course, The Prose Edda and The Poetic Edda. Technically written for adults, such nonetheless will come in handy when the little ones start asking detailed, probing questions.
So, there you have them -- a few of the surprisingly few books on Norse Gods, Goddesses, heroes, and monsters that are aimed at children. Check them -- then go write some more.
*Fisher also wrote and illustrated children's books about the Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, and Mayan pantheons. His books are all out of print, but can be easily acquired at a reasonable price online.
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