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216 × 138 × 23 mm
256 pages
50 illustrations
01 Mar 2017

Echoes of Valhalla The Afterlife of the Eddas and Sagas Jón Karl Helgason

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

‘Succinct, engaging, and insightful, this book is an excellent supplement to collections on the topic. Recommended for both general interest readers and scholars’ — Library Journal

‘the content and quality of the writing make Echoes of Valhalla a quick and enjoyable read and well worth the reader’s time. Helgason’s ability to present a great deal of detail in very brief descriptions allows him to focus on the overlap and evolution of ideas over time and across media in a manner that is creative and entertaining.’ — Folklore

‘Helgason’s 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 . . . This reader puts the book down not with disdain for the distortions of the old stories, but rather with gratitude for their “afterlife,” including in comic-book form, as a reminder of a great medieval literary tradition’ — Solveig Eggerz

‘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 Helgasons 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

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Jón Karl Helgason is Professor of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Iceland.