Tolkien’s wizard Gandalf, Wagner’s Valkyrie Brünnhilde, Marvel’s superhero the Mighty Thor and the Vikings heading for Valhalla in Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’: these are just a few examples of how Icelandic medieval
literature has shaped the human imagination during the past 150 years.
Echoes of Valhalla is a unique account of modern adaptations of the Icelandic eddas (poems of Norse mythology) and sagas (ancient prose accounts of Viking history, voyages and battles). Jón Karl Helgason looks at comic books, plays, music and films, exploring reincarnations of the Nordic gods Thor and Odin and the saga characters Hallgerd Long-legs, Gunnar of Hlidarendi and Leif the Lucky, as well as the works of the medieval writer Snorri Sturluson. He looks at Scandinavian, British and American cases, as well as German, Italian and Japanese adaptions. Examples include the cartoonists Jack Kirby and Peter Madsen, playwrights Henrik Ibsen and Gordon Bottomley, travellers Frederick Metcalfe and Poul Vad, composers Richard Wagner and Edward Elgar, rock musicians Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and film directors Roy William Neill and Richard Fleischer.
Echoes of Valhalla shows how disparate, age-old poems and prose from medieval rural Iceland have become a part of our shared cultural experience today – how the eddas and sagas themselves live on. The book will appeal to the wide audience interested in Viking mythology and history, as well as films, books, music, graphic novels.
‘this is a highly entertaining study of how the Old Norse sagas and myths have been reinvented and adapted in comic books, plays, music and films. Highlights include a discussion of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song and the development of the subgenre Viking metal (strains of which can sometimes be heard coming from my office door when I’m in need of inspiration).’ – Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, Top 10 Books about the Vikings, The Guardian
‘From the fascinating history of Viking myths, legends and sagas to their refashioning in opera, plays, novels, films, comic-books and Heavy Metal, Echoes of Valhalla tells us as much about the present as it does about the past. Jón Karl Helgason’s compelling study is simultaneously learned, insightful and highly entertaining.’ – Martin Arnold, Reader in Old Northern Studies, University of Hull
‘Echoes of Valhalla effectively underlines the ways in which many of our favourite modern narratives are interwoven with enduring ancient Nordic threads that would have been well known to the Vikings, threads that have adapted and changed in line with the material they are used to shape, yet still retain their essential nature. Perhaps most interesting of all is the examination made here of the dark attraction that the Viking narrative held for readers and theatre audiences of earlier centuries, and still holds for modern audiences in search of a simpler, more heroic, mythical past.’ – Terry Gunnell, Professor of Folkloristics, University of Iceland
‘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: a ballet based on Þrymskviða; a cantata by Elgar about King Olaf; Japanese manga series; Lego toys and Led Zeppelin’s invocation of Valhalla. 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.’ – Judy Quinn, Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic, Cambridge University
Jón Karl Helgason is Professor of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Iceland.