More Norse stories
Tales from Norway: Giants, Gods and Vikings, vol. 2
Battles between Viking kingdoms and sea serpents, three interesting, but dangerous siblings spawned by Loki and giant Angrboda, and a little bit about Viking navigation are some of the yarns recounted in Tales from Norway Monsters, Gods and Vikings, vol. 2 by Anne-Lise Bay Braathen.
In January 2019, I wrote about her first volume and stated, “It is nice to have a children’s book dedicated to Norwegian mythology rooted in fact. While popular culture has adopted many Nordic creatures, they have been utterly severed from their historic origins.”
We now owe a great deal of gratitude to the author for expanding this series, which makes for a richer and more nuanced understanding of Norse culture for a young American (English-speaking) audience—but that does not mean adults will not enjoy them as well.
Besides the design of the book remaining consistent, the same illustrator, Caterina Moretti, links the two volumes together visually. Braathen also maintains her charming conversational format between a grandmother, herself, aka Mimi, as explained in the introductory page—“Welcome to Mimi’s sagas” and her granddaughters. Farmor as storyteller adds gravitas as a trusted member of the family; she is a respected elder.
This book is divided into three sections of unequal length. They are about the Battle of Svolder (a large naval battle during the Viking Age, fought in year 999 or 1000 A.D. in the western Baltic Sea) and King Olav Tryggvason, the sea serpent Midgardsormen and his two siblings, and maritime navigation.
Olaf Tryggvason, the leader noted for bringing Christianity to Norway is introduced. And—of course—one granddaughter immediately thinks of Olaf the Snowman from Disney’s Frozen. This interaction between storyteller and listeners, as well as the easy linking of past to present, is part of this book’s appeal. Without stating it, Mimi is highlighting attributes that the Vikings cherished, such as physical strength and agility. “Olaf could walk along the ship on the oars,” she says.
His Danish wife, Tyra, owned Wendland (today’s northern Poland and Germany). Shortly after they were married, she asked Olaf to negotiate on her behalf for those lands. Olaf was hesitant, because he would have to go through enemy territory of a Norwegian earl and two kings, a Swede, and a Dane, making him very vulnerable. He hesitated wisely, but Tyra goaded him and berated his manhood. Finally, Olaf gave in, and his voyage went smoothly, at least the first half. To see the outcome of the Battle of Svolder, you will have to read this book.
I loved that information in this section includes specific details about one of Olaf’s ships, the Ormen Lange. As described, it is about 160 feet long, and it could carry more than 100 people. Mimi mentions that one of Norway’s oil fields now bears that name and that there are others named after Norse gods. I also note the image of the battle for its authenticity. The Vikings have helmets sans horns, leather-wrapped leggings, and a variety of weapons.
Midgardsormen and his siblings
The illustration and text of the three siblings will fascinate children and more than likely introduce them to characters never before encountered. Fenrir the wolf, Hel, a girl with demonic features (“Half her face and body were pale, and the other half was dark”), and Midgardsormen, the sea serpent that encircles the entire earth and still has enough length to bite its own tail. This part of the book also includes a myth about Thor and Odin’s struggle with these three beings.
North Star navigation
The briefest section of the book focuses on how the Vikings used the North Star to navigate their watery roads. It ends with the Chicago skyline and two identifiable constellations. The brightest and biggest, the North Star, reigns over all. This visual also binds the girls back to farmor, who from her window shares the same spectacular skyscape as the children do.
The book is full of entrancing illustrations, especially that of Freya, even though she is only a mere mention in this book. With her flying fiery red hair and fierce focus, she soars across the clouds on her cat-pulled chariot. She looks like a glamorous Viking Pippi Longstocking.
It is wonderful that maps have been included. Our children, albeit all of us, could use more exposure to these. In fact, the book’s first illustration is a map that includes Leif Erikson’s world, Scandinavia to North America and beyond. It connects Mimi’s home outside of Oslo to her grandchildren’s home in Chicago.
One sea serpent is seen in the ocean, reminiscent of medieval maps that scattered drawings of mythological and real sea creatures throughout the waters. A rose compass, another easy tool that expands our understanding of geography, is included. A smaller map focuses on Olaf’s voyage to Wendland and traces his movement. Without a word, one can see why Olaf was hesitant to go, as we can easily see how he is surrounded by enemy lands.
What a delight it must be for Braathen to have found a way to create an intimate thread that stretches across the ocean twining her to her grandchildren. It is as if she is snuggled next to them, reading a bedtime story or weaving a tale beside a fire in Viking times, for storytelling is always an intimate experience and never goes out of fashion.
All illustrations by Caterina Moretti
This article originally appeared in the March 18, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.