The Children of Odin – The Book of Northern Myths

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have developed a keen interest in myths and fairy tales.  Natural I suppose with my history background as myths are the past handed down in storytelling form; not in the modern sense of history but as art with seeds of the past embedded.

I have explored myths in non-fiction and fiction and have dipped into some young adult versions as well.  When I was looking into Odd and the Frost Giants I stumbled upon The Children of Odin by Padraic Colum.  There was a practically free Kindle edition so I quickly added it to the collection (you can read it for free online).

Here is the publishers description of a recent version (the original was published in 1920:

Before time as we know it began, gods and goddesses lived in the city of Asgard. Odin All Father crossed the Rainbow Bridge to walk among men in Midgard. Thor defended Asgard with his mighty hammer. Mischievous Loki was constantly getting into trouble with the other gods, and dragons and giants walked free. This collection of Norse sagas retold by author Padraic Colum gives us a sense of that magical time when the world was filled with powers and wonders we can hardly imagine.

Unknown to me until I found this book, the author Padraic Colum (1881-1972) was a poet, a playwright, and a leader of the Irish Renaissance, but he is best known for his works for children, including The Children of Odin and The Golden Fleece (a newbery honor book).

"Odin with Gunnlöd" (1901) by Johann...
Image via Wikipedia

As noted, the work is Colum’s retelling of the Eddas and the Volsung Saga for young adults but I would hesitate to label this a book for “children.” Yes, there is a simplicity and straightforwardness to the stories in Colum’s telling. But that only heightens, for me at least, their mythical quality.

Instead, this struck me as the perfect introductory text for Norse and Teutonic mythology. You get introduced to the characters, personalities, places, and historic events that make up these famous myths. Odin the All Father, Loki the trickster, Thor with his hammer, Asgard, the Great Wall, the Rainbow Bridge, etc.

The book is broken up into four sections:

  • The Dwellers in Asgard
  • Odin the Wanderer
  • The Witch’s Heart
  • The Sword of the Volsungs and the Twilight of the Gods

Each section then has seven to ten stories. The stories can be read as stand alone pieces of the mythology but the collection reads well together; like linked stories rather than a traditional novel. And they are filled with the ingredients of good stories.  There are interesting characters and interesting settings; powerful emotions and high stakes; action and intrigue; the birth of the world and its possible destruction.

These stories have lasted for centuries and have influenced untold authors and artists – from JRR Tolkien to Neil Gaiman – and their power to intrigue and entertain is retained even today. In many ways these stories are the building blocks of much of what makes up fantasy fiction and epic adventure. And if you enjoy those genres you will enjoy this book.

So whether you are looking for an accessible introduction to these myths, something interesting for the younger readers you know or if, like me, you just like exploring myths and ancient stories check out the Children of Odin.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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