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NA204112 - FERRIE, E.: Tales from the Norse Legends (Unabridged)
Tales From the
The tales in this collection are selected from the Old Norse myths and legends, but who were the Norsemen? Broadly speaking they were the peoples of Iceland and what is now modern Scandinavia: Sweden, Denmark and Norway. These old stories explain their understanding of the world and their vision of life.
The lands where they lived were far to the north and the geography of the region is one of extremes. Their world was a world of polar opposites — night and day, fire and ice, black and white, good and bad — and this is reflected in the stories. Iceland in particular is a place of volcanic rock, mountains and crevasses, hot springs and geysers, where fire bursts from the sea.
Most of the demons and monsters in the stories are born out of nature. The giants (or Jotuns) are colossal beings of ice, rock, fire and storm, which were the natural dangers the men of those times confronted in the natural setting they inhabited.
The gods, though personalized, represent the benign aspects of nature. The Sun and Moon give heat and light: and Odin and Thor, the sky gods, send rain to irrigate crops and wind to carry the Norsemen’s ships across the seas. The importance of the gods was such that the days of the week were named after them — Sunday (the Sun), Monday (the moon), Tuesday (Tyr, or Tuw), Wednesday (Odin, or Woden as the Anglo-Saxons called him), Thursday (Thor) and Friday (Frey).
The Icelandic poets told their stories rather than writing them down and they were passed from generation to generation as part of an oral tradition.
Although the essence was unchanging, details often varied from telling to telling. Stories, or sagas as they were called, were used to teach history, philosophy and even religion. With the arrival of the first Christian priests, these stories were finally written down. The result was a confused and confusing work called the greater (or poetic) Edda. Almost a century later, Snorri Sturlesson produced an attempt at a more rational version of the myths and legends, which became known as the newer (or minor) Edda.
The Norsemen were also known as the Vikings and were famed for being terrible, savage fighters. Their attitude was fatalistic — they saw the hand of the gods in nature, and knew nature could be very hostile. In the depths of their being their greatest necessity was to be courageous.
Odin despised cowards and anyone who died a coward’s death would never be accepted into Valhalla, the home of the dead heroes. It was a Viking’s duty to be brave. Honor and the duty to offer strangers or travelers hospitality were also important ideas in their code of behavior. The belief system was cyclical, following what was observed in nature — birth, growth, maturity, and death. Ragnarok signified the end of life, not just for humanity but for the gods too; yet an important part of their religion was the belief that after Ragnarok the world should be reborn with new gods and new people — the evil cleansed away by the fire. This may have been a religious belief taken from Christianity. The god Baldur (sometimes known as the White god) was to die before Ragnarok and the Vikings believed that he would return afterwards, just as Christians believe in the resurrection.
ASGARD - The home of the Aesir; literally, the garden of the gods
BALDUR - The god of the dawn, the shining one, also called the
White god. Baldur is invulnerable to all things except mistletoe.
FENRIR - The monster wolf, another of Loki’s sons whose destiny it is to
kill Odin at Ragnarok
GARM - The hound of hell that threatens to swallow the sun.
HEIMDALL - The watchman of the gods and guardian of Asgard who
stands on the rainbow bridge Bifrost. His senses are so sharp he can
hear a leaf falling half a universe away or see into the depths of the
seas at night.
HEL - The underworld
IDUN - The goddess of the orchard who grows the golden apples of immortality.
JORMUNGANDER - The Midgard serpent - one of Loki’s monstrous
sons. A serpent so big it encircles the entire earth, destined to battle
with Thor at Ragnarok.
JOTUNHEIM - The home of the Jotuns or giants
LOKI - The god of mischief and evil who goes from being a companion of
the gods to being their greatest enemy.
MIDGARD - The home of man, the earth
MUSPELHEIM - The land of fire
NIFFLEHEIM - The land of ice
ODIN - The one-eyed god and king of the gods of Asgard. His brothers
were Villi and Ve.
RAGNAROK - The final conflict between good and evil, when all are
destroyed - the Twilight of the Gods.
SURT - The oldest being. The fire demon, whose destiny is to consume
the world at Ragnarok.
SWARTELFHEIM - The land of the dark elves
THOR - The god of thunder, defender of Asgard and scourge of the
giants. He travels in a magical bronze chariot drawn by two enchanted
rams and wields the hammer Mjolnir the destroyer.
TYR - The grim faced god of war, the bravest of the gods, who lost his
hand to bind the wolf Fenrir.
VANAHEIM - The home of the Vanir, a different group of gods to the Aesir
VIDAR - The silent god.
YMIR - The first living being, the greatest of the ice giants. He is killed
Notes by Edward Ferrie
Benjamin Soames trained at LAMDA. Since then he has been active on both stage and screen, appearing in the popular TV series Sharpe and Absolutely Fabulous and having toured worldwide in the acclaimed Cheek by Jowl production of Measure for Measure directed by Declan Donnelan.
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