Reviews of Asgard (1977)
Review by spiphany (2005-08-03)
"Of the beginning of Ragnarok does this tale tell, Ragnarok, the day of doom, the twilight of the gods..."
There isn't much fantasy based directly on Norse mythology; even more difficult to find are stories focusing on the death of Balder, which has always had a powerful appeal for me. Needless to say, I was quite excited when I chanced upon a copy of this.
I was swept away almost immediately by the language. Frith draws on the phrasing and style of the ancient epics to tell this story--more, perhaps, that of the Iliad than of the Eddas, but it gives a wonderful flavor to his writing nonetheless. There are times when it doesn't completely work, where the style seems contrived and artificial, and the complete lack of chapter breaks can make it difficult to find stopping place. On the whole, however, it works, and seems well suited to what he does with the story.
Frith takes a number of liberties with the myths, which is a bit disconcerting. He takes the leshii--Russian woods-spirits--and transplants them willy-nilly into the Norse setting, calling them elves (which here are small bird-like creatures not at all resembling the beings of Tolkien or Goethe)...this is a perennial peeve of mine or it wouldn't have irritated me so much; it works with the story otherwise. He alters some of the episodes as well, although I found this much more tolerable. The myth of Iduna is unrelated to that of Balder; she is never his wife. In combining these elements, in the adventure with the giant Thiazi, in the addition of mistletoe lore from various traditions, he draws a lot of disparate threads together, creating a tighter, more streamlined and coherent tale.
Most importantly, he really brings the story to life, he has a clear vision of the whole. There's a fair amount of humor in the story; the gods are frequently portrayed as somewhat ridiculous, and there's an earthiness about it which is a bit surprising, but on consideration quite appropriate, elements from an oral tradition which have been lost in the more formal written style of the heroic epics.
There are places where I disagreed with Frith's interpretation. I was annoyed by the intrusion of a Christianity-influenced perspective at times, and in several places I felt like he had missed the boat as far as what the myths were about. On the whole, though, his story is a convincing modern version of an ancient story.