Melvin Burgess on a retelling of Norse tales that makes him jealous as hell…
I love the Norse myths and legends. They are our own native myths – we still have days of the week named after these gods – and feel more appropriate than the Greek ones to our northerly mind-cast. Above all, they have that pagan sensibility that lends itself to tragedy, my favourite literary form. The Christian myths are great, but if you have a god who dies and then comes back to life – where’s the fun in that?
I often sit down and think about doing a re-telling myself, but there are two huge obstacles. One is my inability to read Old Norse; the other is Barbara Leonie Picard.
Tales of the Norse Gods and Heroes was published in 1953 and it’s still in print today with Oxford University Press in a truncated form as Tales of the Norse Gods – pity, although not a huge loss, except for the disappearance of the Volsunga Saga. I read it as a child and I am so imprinted with it that I can’t conceive of another way of telling them. Lucid, bright, colourful – but the main thing as in all myths is the stories themselves. Loki the Trickster, Odin, who speaks to the dead and loves discord and poetry – somehow they still appeal directly to us. The individual tales and the inevitable decline of the gods to Ragnagarok, the end of all things, are so clearly told, with no fancy phrases or clever frills to get in the way – just perfect. It makes me as jealous as hell.
Tales of the Norse Gods retold by Barbara Leonie Picard, illustrated by Rosamund Fowler, is published by Oxford University Press (0 19 275116 6, £4.99 pbk).
Melvin Burgess’s next book is the sequel to Bloodtide, to be published by Andersen Press in spring 2005.