Brown (The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages, 2010, etc.) reexamines the life and work of Snorri Sturluson, the 13th-century Icelandic chieftain known as the “Homer of the North.”
An Icelandic historian, poet, landowner and “law speaker” of Iceland’s high court, Sturluson is the accredited author of two major contributions to the Norse cannon: the Edda and the Heimskringla. His sparkling wit and descriptive elegance distinguish his writing from other accounts and are responsible for making him a favorite of scholars and fantasy writers alike. It was Snorri’s renditions of Odin the wanderer, elves, frost giants and epic battles that inspired literary greats like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin. A lover of feasting, women, booze and, most of all, power, Snorri was also a passionate advocate for the preservation of the fading Norse mythology and poetic style of his time. Brown’s straightforward voice helps turn the pages, but the narrative is also belabored by an excess of genealogy. Although medieval Icelandic society was one of admittedly prolific breeders, the author makes little effort to help readers untangle her associations. Perhaps popular biographers like Stacy Schiff have left readers spoiled—readers may wonder how much more adeptly a biographer of her caliber might have brought this story to life. However, the book is absorbing enough that by the end, readers will feel affected by the loss of this powerful and complicated man.
Despite the scattered feel, Brown’s undertaking is an important one. It’s the first English-language book published on Snorri in 30 years, and for that reason alone, it will make useful reading for ardent students and dedicated armchair historians.