Norse Gods by Johan Egerkrans
Illustrations by Johan Egerkrans
Published as Nordiska gudar in 2016; English translation published in 2017
Susan Beard Translation
Genre: Mythology, Norse mythology
“In the beginning – before the world existed, before men and before the gods themselves – there was only fire, ice, and nothingness.”
There are few characters as provocative, intimidating, and fascinating as the gods that reside within Norse mythology. Many books retelling the myths that survived the oral tradition have been written, but none so beautifully realized as Norse Gods by Swedish illustrator, Johan Egerkrans. In the first English edition of his book, translated by Susan Beard, Egerkrans leads the reader into the halls of Asgard, the depths of the sea surrounding Midgard, and through dwarven holds in a book that maintains its fidelity to the old tales while injecting a refreshing visual translation of the old gods and their tales.
Norse Gods begins with the creation myth of the world being made from the parts of the giant Ymer. There is a map of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, and the Nine Worlds that exist within it. The book then moves on to give brief descriptions of the Norse gods; the Aesir and Vanir. The Aesir are the gods of wisdom, war, and power; they are led by Odin and include such famous characters as Thor and Loki (though they are far removed from their Marvel Comics versions). The Vanir, on the other hand, are connected with nature, magic, and are led by the god Freyr.
Norse Gods then goes into detail about the gods, beginning with Odin and Thor and moving into the lesser known deities. Each god is given a short section that describes their personalities and what they preside over before telling some myths in which they take center stage. This section is followed by one describing the giants, beings, and monsters of the world. Though the myths don’t necessary follow a chronological order, the tale is book-ended by the creation and destruction of the world. Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse, comes to pass at the end of the book in a final battle between the gods and their enemies. The world is cleansed with fire, but new life buds and a fresh start is given as the cycle begins anew.
There is an illustration on nearly every page, and this is what makes the book truly stand out. Not only are the characterizations vivid in detail and vitality, they have their own unique style that reminds me of a cross between comic book art and video game character concepts. This helps bring these well-known myths into the 21st century and gives a personalized twist to the deities while remaining true to their core attributes. Norse Gods also includes a list of further reading and a glossary at the end of the book to encourage those who enjoyed this work to delve further into the myths.
This is the first English edition of the book, and I did find a couple of small errors in the text. Some character names were misspelled on the very same page as the correct spelling, others were mentioned and then dropped as if they were referred to incorrectly, and Odin’s spear, Gungnir, is referred to as a sword on one page; however, this didn’t diminish from the overall enjoyment of the book. It is a collection of some of the more well-known myths, but that isn’t necessarily the selling point of the book. The illustrations are the star in Norse Gods and they truly do justice to the hard-edge of the gods they portray. I have only read a couple of other books on the Norse myths, but this was one I happily picked up because of the new perspective and beautiful art it adds to the collection of works. If you are a fan of Norse mythology, and want a book that is filled to the brim with breath-taking images, then look no further.
I want to give a special shout-out to the fine folks over at Grimfrost, which is where I purchased this book; they are a Swedish company specializing in Viking literature, clothing, jewelry, and other merchandise. I really find beauty in their pieces and look forward to ordering more books and some shirts from them.
Verdict: 4 amazing illustrations out of 5
Recommended for: Fans of mythology, Viking enthusiasts, fans of J. R. R. Tolkien, those who enjoy beautiful art, video game fans, and those looking for a gorgeous visual guide to the pantheon of Norse gods.
Not recommended for: Those who dislike mythology, the Aesir, the Vanir, Fenrir, Jormungand, Tyr’s right hand, or those who don’t like beautifully rendered art.