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ClassicsOnline Home » FERRIE, E.: Tales from the Norse Legends (Unabridged)
The tales of the Norse gods, of the giants, demons, trolls and dwarves, still have the power to fascinate more than a thousand years after they were first told. Here are the stories of the one-eyed god Odin, the all-seeing, who from his throne in Asgard the home of the gods, has to prepare for Ragnarok, the final conflict between good and evil. There are tales too of Tyr the god of war, of the cunning Loki, of Thor the mighty thunder god and a host of others. These retellings of the old tales are given extra dramatic perspective by the music of Mahler, Grieg, Smetana. They come to life as never before.
Tales From the
The tales in this collection are selected from the Old Norse
myths and legends, but who were the Norsemen? Broadly speaking they were the
peoples of Iceland and what is now modern Scandinavia: Sweden, Denmark and
Norway. These old stories explain their understanding of the world and their
vision of life.
The lands where they lived were far to the north and the
geography of the region is one of extremes. Their world was a world of polar
opposites — night and day, fire and ice, black and white, good and bad — and
this is reflected in the stories. Iceland in particular is a place of volcanic
rock, mountains and crevasses, hot springs and geysers, where fire bursts from
Most of the demons and monsters in the stories are born out
of nature. The giants (or Jotuns) are colossal beings of ice, rock, fire and
storm, which were the natural dangers the men of those times confronted in the
natural setting they inhabited.
The gods, though personalized, represent the benign aspects
of nature. The Sun and Moon give heat and light: and Odin and Thor, the sky
gods, send rain to irrigate crops and wind to carry the Norsemen’s ships across
the seas. The importance of the gods was such that the days of the week were
named after them — Sunday (the Sun), Monday (the moon), Tuesday (Tyr, or Tuw),
Wednesday (Odin, or Woden as the Anglo-Saxons called him), Thursday (Thor) and
The Icelandic poets told their stories rather than writing
them down and they were passed from generation to generation as part of an oral
Although the essence was unchanging, details often varied
from telling to telling. Stories, or sagas as they were called, were used to
teach history, philosophy and even religion. With the arrival of the first
Christian priests, these stories were finally written down. The result was a
confused and confusing work called the greater (or poetic) Edda. Almost a
century later, Snorri Sturlesson produced an attempt at a more rational version
of the myths and legends, which became known as the newer (or minor) Edda.
The Norsemen were also known as the Vikings and were famed
for being terrible, savage fighters. Their attitude was fatalistic — they saw
the hand of the gods in nature, and knew nature could be very hostile. In the
depths of their being their greatest necessity was to be courageous.
Odin despised cowards and anyone who died a coward’s death
would never be accepted into Valhalla, the home of the dead heroes. It was a
Viking’s duty to be brave. Honor and the duty to offer strangers or travelers
hospitality were also important ideas in their code of behavior. The belief
system was cyclical, following what was observed in nature — birth, growth,
maturity, and death. Ragnarok signified the end of life, not just for humanity
but for the gods too; yet an important part of their religion was the belief
that after Ragnarok the world should be reborn with new gods and new people —
the evil cleansed away by the fire. This may have been a religious belief taken
from Christianity. The god Baldur (sometimes known as the White god) was to die
before Ragnarok and the Vikings believed that he would return afterwards, just
as Christians believe in the resurrection.
ASGARD - The home of the Aesir; literally, the garden of the
BALDUR - The god of the dawn, the shining one, also called
god. Baldur is invulnerable to all things except mistletoe.
FENRIR - The monster wolf, another of Loki’s sons whose
destiny it is to
Odin at Ragnarok
GARM - The hound of hell that threatens to swallow the sun.
HEIMDALL - The watchman of the gods and guardian of Asgard
on the rainbow bridge Bifrost. His senses are so sharp he can
a leaf falling half a universe away or see into the depths of the
HEL - The underworld
IDUN - The goddess of the orchard who grows the golden
apples of immortality.
JORMUNGANDER - The Midgard serpent - one of Loki’s monstrous
A serpent so big it encircles the entire earth, destined to battle
Thor at Ragnarok.
JOTUNHEIM - The home of the Jotuns or giants
LOKI - The god of mischief and evil who goes from being a
gods to being their greatest enemy.
MIDGARD - The home of man, the earth
MUSPELHEIM - The land of fire
NIFFLEHEIM - The land of ice
ODIN - The one-eyed god and king of the gods of Asgard. His
Villi and Ve.
RAGNAROK - The final conflict between good and evil, when
- the Twilight of the Gods.
SURT - The oldest being. The fire demon, whose destiny is to
world at Ragnarok.
SWARTELFHEIM - The land of the dark elves
THOR - The god of thunder, defender of Asgard and scourge of
He travels in a magical bronze chariot drawn by two enchanted
and wields the hammer Mjolnir the destroyer.
TYR - The grim faced god of war, the bravest of the gods,
who lost his
to bind the wolf Fenrir.
VANAHEIM - The home of the Vanir, a different group of gods
to the Aesir
VIDAR - The silent god.
YMIR - The first living being, the greatest of the ice
giants. He is killed
Notes by Edward Ferrie
Benjamin Soames trained at LAMDA. Since then he has been
active on both stage and screen, appearing in the popular TV series Sharpe and
Absolutely Fabulous and having toured worldwide in the acclaimed Cheek by Jowl
production of Measure for Measure directed by Declan Donnelan.
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FERRIE, E.: Tales from the Norse Legends (Unabridg...