In the Edda, Snorre included a practical learner’s
guide to the style, language, and metaphors of drottkvett,
the poetic style used in Norway, and later in Iceland and possibly
other lands, from about 800 A.D.
The drottkvett style, and the time period it was used to describe,
has inspired many writers over the years, including J.R.R. Tolkien.
The style of his Lord Of The Rings is short and concise, like
the drottkvett style, and the work has many Norwegian words and
In the Edda Snorre is inspired by the myths and legends of the
Aesir, deities as familiar to most of northern Europe as Zeus
and Athena are to the south. Here is the story of Odin, chief
of the Norse gods, who gave one of his eyes to the Well of Wisdom
so that he could become the wisest of all. Where Zeus and the
Greeek gods lived on Mount Olympus, Odin lives in Valhalla, a
great hall where he receives and feasts on the souls of the dead.
Here is the story of Odin’s son, Thor, also called Tyr,
god of war, who creates thunder with his mighty hammer, and of
his half-brother and bane, Loke, the trickster, god of mischief
and deceit. Here are frost giants and the Fenris wolf, and Baldur
the bold, who bound it with a magic rope, and the Valkyrie who
collect the souls of fallen heroes, and all the other Norse gods.
Snorre recorded these stories not only to excite and entertain
his readers, but also so that they might not be forgotten. During
Snorre’s reign, these gods no longer ruled the northern
territories. Some 200 years earlier Olav the Holy had brought
Christianity from England to the Norse regions and christened
Norway the Viking way. That is, if people did not affirm their
belief in God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--when asked at spear
point, then their heads were cut off. Snorre knew, from the growing
ignorance of those to whom he talked, that when people no longer
believe in the old gods, they tend to forget about those gods.
His Edda is both tribute, history, and mnemonic device.
The stories in the Edda are dramatic but events are never overstated--as
they are in American comic books that feature Thor. For example,
consider the story of the gods’ attempt to capture the
Fenris wolf. It was huge, and scary, and they had been told it
would eventually play a big part in Ragnarok, the prophesied
destruction of their world. Still they play around, joke, and
laugh, and are almost surprised when their plan succeeds and
Fenris is captured. Everybody except one, that is. Snorre tells
us that “then all the Aesir laughed, except for Tyr --
for he lost his hand.” Short, not so sweet, but to the
The Aesir are very like human beings. The have normal lives and
families; they eat, drink, and can get hurt, just like ordinary
humans. They are stronger, and they do have special abilities,
at least most of them, and this makes them fun to read about.
They can get themselves into the strangest of messes, especially
as they try to trick the most cunning of enemies, all in relatively
good spirits. They are like real people, just larger than life,
and in Snorre’s writing they come alive. Even though the
way they speak seems old fashioned, the joy and cleverness of
their speech are not lost on a modern reader.
Scholars argue that the Edda is a collection of tales, not a
novel in the modern sense. This makes it appear more fragmented
than a 20th- century novel. Others see patterns, thematic unities.
In either case, the Edda is the original that has inspired many
other works, and it has stood up well against time. If you’ve
never heard of it, you should definitely take a look, and if
you’re among those Scandinavian students who had to read
some in high school, take a new look.